Upper Body Blast | Kettlebell and Bodyweight Workout and Tabata

by Marianne  - September 20, 2011

Hey everyone,

Yesterday I put together a workout to train my upper body more specifically and I discovered that even though I am getting stronger in many exercises, I have got weaker in some too.

It’s a very difficult task to ensure that you remain strong in everything and I don’t even think it’s necessary that we are. I think what matters is that we are happy and confident about our ability to progress in anything we try and the weight you lift is not the only mark of success.

For example, in this workout I was doing KB Military Presses with 16kg and only managed 6 reps on my right and 4 on my left. About 8 months ago, I was able to do 12 reps with the same weight and was even able to manage a few reps with 20kg. However, 8 months ago I was not Deadlifting 100 odd kg with better form or doing Weighted Glute Bridges of over twice my bodyweight, or barbell squats etc. Therefore I am 100% confident that, should I decide to focus more on this great exercise for a few weeks, my numbers will soar! Even though during the workout I was initially disappointed in my performance, I soon realised that I have become good at so many other things.

It’s the same as most things really, if you stop practicing it, you will lose some strength in that movement. Just 5 weeks ago in the USA, I was struggling to Squat 55kg with good form, yet now I am managing 55kg to a below parallel box with great form in comparison and have managed 60kg without the box to parallel x 4 good reps – All because I am practicing squats 1-2 times per week!

Everything seems to work in cycles. Certain exercises become “flavour of the month” and you work hard to perfect it – then a while down the road your focus moves to something else. I actually think this helps keep things fresh without fleeting from one programme/exercise to the next. Become good at something first and then either progress that exercise, introduce a completely new one, or a different variation. Rather than try something for a week and stop, it’s better to get the most out of that exercise before rotating it with something else.

Because of what I have learned during this workout, I will be aiming to include KB Military Presses (doubles, singles, seated, half kneeling etc) in to my “programme” along with the Barbell Overhead Presses in the gym. I think by having this slight variation in the same exercise, it will improve my overall strength AND stability!

Anyway, those were just a few thoughts I was having about “progress” and how sometimes I get frustrated because I am not good at everything all the time. What I need to remember is that it is in me to be good at ANYTHING I PUT THE WORK INTO. Except maybe the Snatch 🙁 LOL!!

The Workout

There are 3 rounds of 7 exercises, mixing Kettlebell and BodyWeight strength exercises with set reps and set times. Then finishing with a killer Tabata.  For the timed exercises I set my Gymboss Interval Timer for 45 seconds. I have provided a rep range for the other exercises as a guide. This will vary depending on the weight you have have available.

As usual, my reps and weights are in brackets.

  1. Kettlebell Halos x 15 reps each direction (14kg, then 16kg)
  2. Pull Ups x sub max (5, 2×2, 3) (tired from pull up maxes the other day)
  3. KB Military Press (right) x 8 – 12 (14kg, then 16kg) (10, 6, then 4 & 5 negatives)
  4. KB Military Press (left) x 8 – 12 (14kg, then 16kg) (10 eventually, 3 & 5negs, 3 & 5negs)
  5. Kettlebell Bent Over Ballistic Row x 45 secs (14kg then 16kg) (28, 21, 18)
  6. Push Ups on Kettlebells x 8 – 12 full reps (12, 10, 10 )
  7. KB Vertical Swing x 45 secs (20kg) (17, 15, 14)


Set your Gymboss Interval Timer for 8 cycles of 10 seconds rest and 20 seconds MAX effort. Complete 4 rounds of the following 2 exercises:

  1. Heavy Two-Handed KB Swing (24kg) (13, 12, 12, 12)
  2. Jump Rope (max reps, if you don’t trip up)

Don’t ask me why, but upper body strength is something that is very empowering or even Badass to train!

Talk to you all again soon.



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  1. Marianne, this is exactly what we were discussing!!! I love that you put an upper body workout together. I do this at least once a week. I do one of your KB workouts Monday and Friday and on Wednesday is usually focus on arms and chest….similar to this workout…..I have listened to you and I am now doing HIIT recumbent bike work 30 sec slow 30 sec max for 10 total minutes and have cut back on the amount of time on the treadclimber. You have changed the way I look at workouts so much…..I can’t thank you enough…..I am glad I. Found you

  2. I think I love you Marianne!
    I was introduced to your site by a friend I met online through Bodyrock.tv
    You just about killed me today, but I loved it!
    So glad you hav such a back catalogue for me to work through.

    1. Hi Nina, thank you for your comment and compliment 🙂 Anytime I hear “it killed me” – I smile! hehe!!

      I hope you enjoy the change of style from BR. Something a little different is good for the spirit … a new challenge 😀

      1. Really enjoy the change thanks, although I did do a Bodyrock workout this morning! – agree changing things up keeps things fresh and keeps the body guessing. And as I’m trying to reduce fat and build muscle, rather than lose weight, it’s time for me to up the ante on the strength training!
        I think I need to work on my form though – I have a bruise on my left forearm this morning from the military presses.

        1. Nina, I wouldn’t worry too much about the bruises, you could have been doing the Military Press 100% and still got them. It’s one of the badges of honour that comes with using KBs! I would have always got bruises from push presses especially. Think it just takes your forearms time to get use to the pressure of the KB on them. But of course I will never discourage you from striving to improve your form 🙂

          1. Thanks for the info; it’s good to know (that I’m not doing it wrong, not that the bruises are good!)
            Someone advised me to wear wrist bands (you know, the towelling ones off of the 80s) to stop wrist bruising, but as you say, I’m quite proud of my bruise!

    1. With Thrusters you use the momentum from your squat to assist the KB up to the press position. With Military Press, you use strict full body tension to push the KB up. No help from the legs. As I fatigued, I used the legs to push the KB up (push press) then I slowly lowered it. This meant I was still working on the muscle required to improve my Military Pressing Strength. There is a tutorial on each of these exercises on the site 🙂

  3. I enjoyed the halos! Something about them immediately reminded my of the old Conan the Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He swing the sword in a similar fashion. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but for a brief moment, I felt like Conan!! lol

  4. I have never done the halo, this should be interesting, it looks like my abs could be sore after that move. can’t do the pull ups no bar, and i hate jump roping, so i will mimic that. ha ha

    1. The halo will really activate the core if you keep your feet togther. But it is primarily a shoulder exercise. For the pull ups do single or bent over rows, for the jump rope, do mountain climbers or side to side step ups. Enjoy! 🙂

  5. Marianne thank you so much for your wonderful reply you really know your stuff and I appreciate your time in replying in so much detail as I am a detail person and love to know WHY 🙂 I had some horid news today – I had a calometry test the one where you breathe into a mask hooked up to a machine and it tells you your BMR- well with everything I do and eat by rights I should be dropping more Bfat. My BMR was 850 I nearly died I have a slow metabolism bugger. Anyway he advised 30g carbs 1200 cal a day and train like a body builder with only 2 cycle classes instead of 4 per week oh and 15 fish oil caps PER DAY yuk… It’s so frustrating I guess all my yo yoing has affected my metabolism like this or maybe it’s always been slow as I’ve never been able to eat like my other gym buddies. Anyway enough whining green is my favourite food NOW lol. aaaaaaaaaaarggh 30 g carbs 🙁 Keep your fingers toes and anything else you can crossed for me. Buff here I come 🙂

    1. Lynda, don’t fret about it too much. I am just wondering what your goal is? You say “buff here I come” but then you talk as if you want to be leaner? My advice to you is, lift weights and eat. Eat more than 30g of carbs too btw!! That is, to me, not sustainable! You have to find a place of balance between dedication/sacrifice and realism. If you want a higher metabolism then you NEED to build more muscle first. To do that, you cannot cut your calories and vital carbs! Besides, you will end up tired, grumpy and pissed off at your sacrifice and this will affect your training.

      When I wrote “My Diet Update” I advised people to consider what they are realistically prepared to “give up” or “cut down on” for the sake of their physical goals. I also said that if I were to do it all again, my main focus would have been to BUILD muscle and have a more sensible diet (not extreme). But, I wanted it all. I wanted to be muscular and ripped, which are two conflicting goals (for someone who is starting out).

      I agree that you should train like a bodybuilder and do more lifting and less long duration cardio. But I also know that BBs eat to build their bodies. 30g of carbs equates to 120 kcal per day, so where are you going to get 1080 kcal from? 15 fish oil caps per day? What about a varied diet with nuts, seeds and fish, with lean meats and more healthy carbs. I’m sure this guy has a plan in his head, but it’s not like you are entering a BB or figure competition. If this “diet” is going to cause you an issue, then you won’t be able to stick to it anyway. Besides, you said that you have already had experience with yo-yoing your diet. So I say, DON’T DIET ANYMORE. Train better, train for strength and build some muscle and then see how your metabolism is. Don’t do too much to your diet and just train like a BB. Go back to this guy in a few months and see the results then. If your BMR is still 850, then I will eat my own arm and my words.

      Basically train for your goal of being stronger first (which you will need kcal for), then work at the leanness slowly without extreme cuts in kcals and you will be happier with the whole package! Also, forget about numbers and go with what makes you feel healthy and happy. That’s my philosophy now, and the results speak for themselves 😀

      1. Hi Marianne

        Thank you so much for your reply you have made me feel a lot better. I’ve been on holidays so excuse my late thanks. I was thinking the same thing ie – very hard to put on muscle and lose fat at the same time. I do think I have not given my self enough recovery time and as we all know more is not necessarily better. I wish it was as the training is the part I love. So I’m going to weight train hard and heavy over a 3 day split add 2 cycle classes and a couple of pilates and yoga classes to fill the void so I’ll let you know how that works. I couldn’t do 30g carbs I just could not get off my bum so I’m eating about60 – 80g average which still feels low but manageable.

        Do you know anything about the Leptin Diet – which is 3 meals a day all with protein but spaced 5 – 6 hrs apart to encourage fat burning and glucagon release as opposed to being in an insulin state all day with the 5 – 6 meal eating style??

        1. I don’t know how you do it Lynda with only 80g carbs! I used to cut carbs and stay at around 60g per day, but what happened was I naturally found the calories elsewhere, like from fats, so it made no difference to my body fat levels as the total calories stayed the same.

          This Leptin Diet sounds interesting, but I have referred your question to a friend (Brad Pilon, who is an expert in that area) who will know how to answer you better. So, I will get back to you on that when I know more 🙂 The only thing I don’t like is all their selling of “Leptin enhancing” products! I like the 12 hour fasting window between dinner and breakfast and, I like that there are longer periods between each meal. I agree that it sounds better than planning your life around 5-6 meals per day. Besides, managing your carbs will be a lot easier with 3 meals than with 6.

          Your new training schedule sounds promising, and I wish you well with it. I will return to this thread when I hear back from Brad, or have any other info 😀

  6. OH how easily I get side tracked what I wanted to ask about is the ballistic rows. I haven’t done a lot of ballistic work and I’m just starting to incorporate some olympic moves. can you give me some tips – I do get a bit nervous about ballistic movements. I don’t want to get injured and can you tell me the benefits.

    1. Lynda, as with any methods of training there is always a risk of injury. The important thing is that you are taught the exercise before hand and have a mental plan of how to do it and the basic physical ability and co-ordination to perform the exercise.

      Ballistic Training is training for power, so with the ballistic for example, it is first important that you are good at the row without the explosive element. To make it Ballistic you focus on making the concentric portion of the exericise the most explosive and then release the weight at the top, passively catching it on the way down. Common ballistic training exercises are bench throws, jump squats, cleans, snatches, and push presses. I believe that you should include this type of training to balance fast and slow twitch muscle fibres and also learn to recruit more of the muscle for speed and power.

      I like the following Q&A about Ballistic Training:

      “So what is ballistic training? And why do it?

      An athlete training by using ballistics, lifts a weight, accelerates the weight throughout the lift and releases the weight at the end of the lift into “free space,” all in less than one second. A ballistic lift is an athletic move that activates and trains the fast-twitch muscle fiber. In traditional weight training the lifter must hold the weight, slow down the weight, stop the weight and then return the weight to the starting position. These weight lifting motions require mostly slow-twitch fibers and take more than one second to complete. Ballistic training trains muscle to be fast. Fast-twitch muscle fiber is only activated for a short time before shutting off. Traditional strength training is concerned more with muscle size than muscle speed. Research has shown that increased muscle speed not muscle size is more beneficial to athletic performance. Since most athletic movements are explosive, the slow speed contraction of traditional weight lifting has limited positive transfer to sports.

      What are the benefits of ballistic training?

      First, ballistic weight training trains both the fast-twitch and the slow-twitch fiber. Second, ballistic weight training provides a highly effective cardiovascular workout. A ballistic lift requires full muscle utilization and this elevates the heart rate. By measuring the time of the lift and the rest period between lifts the lifter will keep his heart rate at an elevated rate throughout the workout. Ballistic lifting is an effective method for not only increasing muscle strength and speed, but also an effective means to gain flexibility and burn fat.”

      As for injury, the main reasons for injury are a) Not being well warmed up, b) not knowing the movement/exercise and c) using too much weight, too soon.

      If you regularly perform Kettlebell exercises, you are already including ballistic training in your programme as many variations of the clean, snatch, swing, and the push press are ballistic in nature 🙂 The Oly lifts are a totally different ball game with regard to skill and risk of injury, so please ensure proper tuition when working with a loaded barbell. They are totally badass lifts though!!

      Hope this helps a little?

  7. Hi Marianne

    Great workout – great strength. Just reading the comment by Coco, I have a weighted vest and the TRX (I’m worth it) and to be honest the TRX is awesome and my first pick. I actually started with a ski rope at first which worked really well but was a bit difficult to adjust. Ask your local motor trimmer they are very clever and could probably make something up for you much cheaper. If I don’t work my abs on the TRX I don’t feel like I ever get into that deep core. You know that gut wrenching fatigue LOL. Mind you the way you train I think your doing just fine without it 🙂 but the TRX is fun, just like KB’s. again awesome workout you are amazing.

    1. I really enjoy suspension training too – you can mix things up in so many ways. I must say it is somewhat pricey for what it is. However, a homemade DIY alternative can be easily assembled and hung from a pull up bar which requires no construction at all (works very well for me). Basically you buy 2 6ft-cambuckle tie-downs straps ($13 for 2 pairs) – these already come with hooks which are used to secure a motorcycle on a truck for transport and are certified for 1200kg load) and a pair of ultra-heavy duty workout handles ($12/pair). Both can be bought from amazon (links below)



      Simply hook 2 straps to the pull up bar, connect the handles at the bottom hook and voila… Also, since you the straps are hung at separate points it allows dips – which cannot be done using a regular TRX.

  8. I’m so glad I found your site. Everytime I watch a video, old or new, I get pumped to go do a workout;) I haven’t consistantly lifted weights for almost 7 years so I’m really trying to be thorough and consistant again and your helping me stay focused and safe. Your pushups are amazing. I love your pull ups as well. They are my challenge for sure. Can’t wait to do one full awesome pullup and I can see it’s possible. Thanks for all the inspiration!!

  9. Marianne – Given you exercise from home, have you considered incorporating a suspension training device (e.g TRX) that can hang from the pull-up bar into workouts?

    1. Coco, it is something that I have considered! But with everything else I do, I don’t think can warrent the expense. Besides, I am thinking that my next purchase will be a weighted vest 🙂 Resistance for push ups and pull ups 😀

  10. good workout. looks like you need to practice the skipping rope more often. I will try this workout as soon as I heal from getting beat up sailing this past weekend.

  11. Hey Marianne, I haven’t written for very long time and I just posted something, which doesn’t have to do anything with sport (sorry my english) …just this wonderful girl said she is from Irland and I thought about you. Hope you are gonna like it. There are talents everywhere…in sport, musik, theater whatever you name it 🙂

  12. Greetings from MN!

    I stumbled on your site and have enjoyed seeing the workouts you put together.

    Can you explain (forgive me if you have else where)how you are using the gym boss? Is it that you do each exercise for the desired time and just keep track of the reps you are able to get done?

    1. Greetings BD 🙂

      I use the gymboss in this workkout to count down an interval of set time (45secs), then as you say, I count the reps I manage in that time. Then I set it up for 2 intervals for the Tabata section. This way it counts the rest and effort periods so I can focus on the training. Is this what you mean?

    2. So you exercise by time rather than a planned number of reps. Is there an advantage to using time rather than a planned number of reps?

      I have a gymboss too but have never thought of using it for anything other than tabata type workout.


      1. Training for timed intervals works better for some exercises, either mentally or just by the type of exercises. You can set the reps too if that works best for you. There is sometimes a better advantage to setting a time and aiming for MAX reps, which serves to push you harder. Like swings, planks, burpees etc. It’s just a method of motivation really, but the times exercise in this workout can be set for reps too. Just sometimes I don’t know how many reps I am likely to have benefit from, so that’s why working to a challenging time is good. Like I wasn’t sure how many reps I would manage for the Ballistic Row, so setting reps of 16, 18, or 20 would be too little, as I got 28 in the first round. So for that reason it can be better to use a set time. I often use set times for “core”, cardio and plyometric exercises – that always works better than set reps.

        Also keep in mind that you can use set times with any exercise as it provides a different focus and a little variety, which can be more fun 🙂

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