How To Build Muscle Mass With Kettlebells

Ellen Grant
• Monday, 30 November, 2020
• 18 min read

Massaging yogis was always great for anatomy exploration, but some of my clients were everyday bodybuilders, forever chasing the Hollywood superhero body. Massaging through gym rats’ chronically tight and tense muscles was a workout in itself.

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Arguably, the reason why many needed to see me in the first place was due to poor training habits (coupled with too much time spent in a chair). They’ll also use external apparatus to stabilize movements for the sake of muscle isolation and “extra focus on the muscle fibers.” These training habits eventually rewire the nervous system to forget how to activate the stabilizers it was born with and effectively make the everyday bodybuilder prone to injury and, in the long run, substantially less capable at life.

Training for functional mass involves protocols that build nice big Hollywood muscles while also making the body more useful at real life tasks and less prone to back, shoulder and knee injuries. Their muscles are rock hard when activated, but unlike powerlifters and bodybuilders, they have the ability to switch off when not in use and are not short and chronically tight.

If the goal is functional mass, arguably the best training modality would be Olympic lifting with a mix of calisthenics. O-lifting is a long and highly rewarding path, for those who possess the movement ability.

However, it’s not accessible to the vast majority of everyday people, because we just don’t move well enough. I encourage anyone to start their O-lifting journey if they can pass my simple litmus test: being able to hold a naked (20 kg) Olympic bar overhead while sitting in the deep squat for two minutes.

Never use a bench, chair, pad, fixed resistance machine or anything to help stabilize movement or isolate target muscle groups. Smashing the muscle fibers to destruction, so they’ll grow back bigger and stronger is absolutely achievable using the stabilizers you were born with.

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I think that avoiding the use of external apparatus for help with stability is the most important rule that should be applied to all training, no matter the goal. Forget back ‘n’ biceps, shoulders ‘n’ triceps or chest ‘n’ abs.

Replace it with squat ‘n’ pull, hinge ‘n’ push, loco mote ‘n’ resist rotation, say. Don’t go the gym and further train yourself to flex into the shape of a cashew nut (biceps, chest and superficial abs).

Be more superhero and train extension, with dead lifts, pull-ups, push-ups×, squats, cleans, military press* and loaded carries. *A skilled practitioner presses from their lats while radiating tension throughout the midsection with their glutes.

For mass training, two kettle bells always beats one because this increases the work volume. When I’m programming for my remote clients, any given functional mass session only lasts 40-55 minutes.

Given that the first 15-20 minutes of that is spent on joint mobility, this leaves a short window for the main workout component. Ballistics involve kettebells being swung through two-planes of motion (swings, cleans and snatches).

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For goals such as losing weight or improving conditioning, ballistics should outweigh grinds. Since the golden years of bodybuilding in the ‘70s, it’s been known that the more time the muscles spend under tension, the better for hypertrophy.

I served in the Royal Marines Commandos with a dude who had a better body than Captain America. He only ever did thousands of really light reps and isometric holds with resistance bands and baby dumbbells.

We may have admired his physical appearance, but we relished in the fact that he was weak and sub-par as an operational Commando. His dead lift was pathetic, he couldn’t outrun a hedgehog, let alone run a heavy backpack over a mountain, he often had lower back pain, and he couldn’t reach his magazine pouches because his big, useless muscles were in the way.

Through my years of training I know that loaded jump squats are a very reliable ingredient for developing legs like tree trunks. But crippling injuries also usually come as a complimentary extra for those who can’t deep squat slowly without load.

If someone can sit in a deep squat position for over 4 minutes, they qualify for adding load. Then after some months, adding explosive speed will induce miracle muscle growth.

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This is an age-old ingredient for muscle mass because it optimizes hormone release and facilitates the highest possible volume. Strength is tension… How much full body tension you’re able to produce reflects your ability to apply force.

More relaxed, loose muscles = better blood flow, faster recovery, less chronic tension and related injuries. But if the goal is looking like a Marvel superhero in the shorter term, without breaking the first two (and most important) of these golden rules, training to failure in some lifts for 2-3 months won’t do any harm.

A great way to deplete the glycogen stores within the muscles and leave your arms or legs feeling like they might drop off. Many uneducated or inexperienced trainers think it’s their mission to create delayed onset muscle soreness (Does) for their paying clients after every session.

Regular, weekly Does creates excessive muscle toxicity, which has a plethora of negative side effects and cripples good movement. Soles Does in unavoidable for people who’ve been wearing foot coffins (shoes) all their lives and want to learn to run properly.

If all the muscle chasers I know put half the energy and discipline into planning and executing their rest as they do their workouts, they would be bigger. Intermittent fasting has endless health and body composition benefits.

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Every session should begin with 20 minutes of joint mobility and muscle activation, relative to your individual movement needs and injury history. All programs should contain all human movement patterns and should obviously be suitable for the person it’s written for.

To build muscle you need to ensure you are working within the correct repetition range … So to build muscle with kettle bells you need to ensure that every set challenges you between 7 – 15 reps.

If you want to build muscle with kettle bells then you need to focus more on the “grind” based exercises … All the ‘grind based’ exercises above can, and often should, be performed with 2 kettle bells to save time and overload the body.

It is very important to balance all exercises to improve your posture and avoid injury. Muscle tissue needs time and good nutrition to regenerate.

Good quality protein should be consumed to help regenerate muscle tissue. If your heart rate is higher than usual then you should probably take another days rest.

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Above I have provided a quick rundown of what is needed to add muscle using kettle bells. Make sure that you are using: the correct sets and reps, the right kettle bell exercises, optimizing your workouts, and monitoring your recovery and diet.

If you don't associate kettle bell exercises with building muscle, well, that's understandable. But make no mistake: Kettle bells can be a huge ally in the quest for mass.

As I explained in my article Grind to Grow: Try Your Squats and Presses with Kettle bells,” part of the reason the kettle bell triggers newfound strength and muscle growth is because of its offset shape. It forces the body to stabilize its joints differently from barbells, dumbbells, and other traditional bodybuilding equipment.

This forces your muscles to contract differently than normal, and increases the demand placed upon them. Look no further than the extra depth that every lifter instantly discovers when they front squat with a pair of kettle bells in the rack position, versus a barbell across the back.

With this new and increased range of motion comes increased muscular growth in your legs, and strength in your entire torso, from the inside out, including the all-important core musculature. Best of all, the kettle bell lends itself to a simple, but very challenging programming.

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(Source: www.onnit.com)

This 12-week program requires only two kettle bells and time for three workouts a week. But after one time through it, you'll find yourself more muscular in all the areas that matter: shoulders, upper back, upper chest, arms, legs, and posterior chain.

Mechanical Tension: Lifting heavier weights for lower reps, similar to the way powerlifters train; think multiple sets of 2-5 reps. Muscular Damage: Lifting moderate weights for medium to higher reps, similar to the way bodybuilders train; think multiple sets of 8-20 reps. Metabolic Stress: Doing either high reps or complexes where you don't set the weight down, producing intense burning and the release of metabolites like lactate.

Start the program with a pair of matching kettle bells you can press approximately 4-6 times. If you're at all unsure or uncertain about your capability, drop back to swinging one kettle bell.

More important than which variety you choose is that you focus on making each rep as explosive as possible, like I explained in my article Kettle bell Explosion: Harness the Power of the Kettle bell Swing.” Your goal is to do as many sets of each exercise, with perfect form, as you can in that time.

Then, when you're ready, clean the kettle bells back into the rack position and perform a set of front squats. Your goal is to do as many sets of swings as you can, with perfect form, in that time.

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To start this phase, determine your rep max (RM) with both the military press and the front squat using your two trusty kettle bells. Always round down the number of reps if you hit a decimal point in your math.

Your goal is to do as many sets of each exercise, with perfect form, as you can in that time. Clean the kettle bells to the rack position, then perform a set of military presses.

Clean the kettle bells back into the rack position, and perform a set of front squats. Do an RM test with your pair of kettle bells for the swing.

If not, use these weeks to keep practicing with the one-handed swing, trying to build up to 20 reps per hand, each at chest height. Your goal is to do as many sets of swings as you can, with perfect form, in that time.

Once again, find your RM for the military press and the front squat. There's one big difference in these workouts: You'll clean the kettle bells to the rack position and perform a set of military presses, followed immediately by one set of front squats.

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When your rest time is over, clean the kettle bells back into the rack position and repeat. This slight variation may not seem like much, but it increases the time under tension you experience and triggers metabolic stress.

*Your RM will drop due to fatigue as the sets progress. By this point, you should be able to comfortably swing a pair of kettle bells.

If not, keep on practicing with the one-handed swing, working up to 20 reps per hand, each at chest height. The amount of tension running through and across your abs will already be severe, especially combining the military presses and front squats in the same day.

However, if you can't live without ab training, I recommend you do hanging variations, like hanging leg raises, to decompress your spine from all the loading. Since this is a strength and muscle program, you need to eat a lot.

A tried-and-true starting point is to multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 15-20 for total calories. In my book, you can't beat the time-tested 30/40/30 split of protein/carbohydrates/fat when growth is the goal.

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If you start putting on fatter than you'd like, cut back. Otherwise, your assignment is simple: Eat, sleep, lift, and grow.

The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Looking cool requires flawless technique, accounting for all safety points, and training with intention.

However, since strength is a function of mobility and stability, we must pay homage to the details of healthy movement. No other tools in modern history have offered more for dynamic strength gains than kettle bells.

Certainly there are trade-offs in training which must be considered when setting goals, and more strength should always be a top priority. How we look communicates our work ethic, discipline, overall health, confidence, and other aspects of our character.

Male or female it is important to maintain our muscle mass as we age and the kettle bell gets results. That’s why we train with kettle bells for massive shoulders, thick arms, solid legs, ripped abs and athletic skills for any task.

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Two key variables in the strength and hypertrophy equation are “X” (the speed of the work) and “Y” (time under tension). We don’t want to isolate the targeted muscles, because that approach doesn’t yield as much mass.

Compound exercises are universally accepted as the most effective way to build muscle and strength. Compound movements involve more than one muscle group, and usually use two or more joint systems.

With double servings from a simple menu of exercises, we will stimulate the growth environment. The concept of irradiation is important for creating tension and linking tensing muscles together.

One must force neuromuscular activity to call as much of the muscle fibers into the workload through a full range of motion. By making light training weights feel heavier during your reps, you force more supporting muscle tissue into activation.

We demand results, and that’s why we crush the handles tightly for the entire set. That’s why we flex our glutes, quads and abs as we stand through the top of our squats.

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When we make our training more difficult by adding tension, we will force more hypertrophic adaptation with 85% resistance for sets of eight to twelve reps. The tempo of the lift and instructions for maintaining tension throughout the set are the missing pieces from most mass building plans.

Add tension and stay active as the resistance is loaded through the eccentric or “negative” phase. Pause and hold at the fully loaded position for at least one full second, sometimes up to five.

Exploiting this isometric position under great resistance yields significant results. To make the muscles grow, place great emphasis on the negative phase.

A lifting tempo of 5-2-2 is a five-second negative, a two-second isometric pause, and a two second focused contraction until there is a full squeeze of the working muscle groups. Your breathing may need to change with the longer duration lifts, but never lose your structure.

“Breathing behind the shield” is an important cue to remember, especially when briefly holding those isometric positions. The get-up is a great drill to set up a strong and stable body.

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It will get your shoulders fully functional, fortify strength, and build coordination throughout the entire kinetic chain. The snatch does a great job of eccentrically loading the posterior, but it happens so quickly that barely any time is spent under that tension.

This is why it is not the greatest muscle building” exercise even though what it does for the glutes, legs and abs is incredible. To achieve this most effectively, training weights should be in the calculated ranges of 80%, 90-95% and even beyond 100-105% efforts.

It’s great that Dragon Door manufactures the “in between” weights in increments of two kilograms. Having these options will help smooth out the growth curve so the jump up to a bigger kettle bell won’t take nearly as long as before.

Sets of double military presses will make your upper body, shoulders and arms more massive than single kettle bell work of the same volume. The beauty of training with kettle bells is that asymmetries are attacked since each weight must be unilaterally stabilized.

Perfect technique doesn’t just make you look cool, it is also the only way to achieve your strength or size goal. Your strength will build as you slowly increase the resistance, but be smart, if there is pain then stop.

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Training with a coach is the surest way to get rock solid technique in the shortest time possible. Other ways to check your technique are training with a partner or taking video of your lifts.

To force the muscles grow, this program will call for “heavy” lifts. Finding the right work / life balance in a lifting program is important for continued progress.

I like to split the year up in four periods and let my fitness goals change with the seasons. It is a harmonious to try to gain size in the fall, strength in the winter, hypertrophy in the spring, and then get ripped for the summer.

For mass gaining programs, I would recommend lifting four days a week. This template demonstrates the simplicity of working opposite modalities to push and pull your way to a bigger, stronger body.

After making progress with very rigorous training days, it’s necessary to bounce back. Here are a few simple tips to help shorten recovery time between training days: set a bedtime, eat for recovery not flavor, drink a gallon of water every day, stretch twice a day, nap daily, limit inflammatory foods like sugar and alcohol.

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The only thing missing from this mass building plan is eating, abs and arms. I just stick to a few simple principles to fuel muscle growth while keeping me lean in the process.

The heavy squats, weighted pull ups and other such drills require so much abdominal recruitment that accessory work is not necessary. Even though it is difficult to balance gaining mass and strength while keeping a lean physique, it can be done masterfully.

Similar to the abdomen, the arms are always working, so making them grow is as easy as adding a few extra sets and reps before or after your workout finishers. The two drills below do a great job of isolating and adding volume to the biceps and triceps.

Rome wasn’t built in a week, so take time building your physique. While there are many muscle building techniques and strategies out there to sort through, every expert I have asked for help has employed the principles in this post on some level.

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10: Kettlebells Vs. Free Weights: The Smackdown
1 www.menshealth.com - https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19534489/kettlebells-vs-free-weights-the-smackdown/
2 www.muscleandfitness.com - https://www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/training/trial-kettleballs-vs-free-weights/
3 livehealthy.chron.com - https://livehealthy.chron.com/difference-between-using-weights-kettlebell-4585.html
4 noahstrength.com - https://noahstrength.com/fitness/kettlebells-versus-dumbbells/