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.
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.
When you go back to “traditional” weight training, don't be surprised if you destroy your old performances—and have to buy bigger shirts. According to research by Brad Schoenberg, PhD, there are three basic ways to stimulate muscle growth:
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.
That may not sound like enough variety to grow on, but all major movement patterns are covered by these exercises: Military Press : Upper body pressing and pulling (due to the clean that accompanies the press) Front Squat : Lower body pushing and upper body pulling (you'll need to clean again!)
Swing (single or double kettle bell): Lower body pulling 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. 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. 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. Do an RM test with your pair of kettle bells for the swing.
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.
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. In the last few years, kettle bells have gone from a popular but still somewhat esoteric strength-training obsession to being considered as a fundamental tool right alongside barbells, dumbbells, body weight, and machines.
Case in point: After an interaction over social media, I recently had the opportunity to train Nicole Wilkins, a four-time CFBB Figure Olympia champion and a three-time CFBB Figure International champion, to dial in her form on the major kettle bell lifts. She's also been a competitive physique athlete since 2003, which means she has a level of muscularity, body awareness, and overall training experience that is truly elite.
But for a period of four months, she dedicated upward of 80 percent of her training time to kettle bells—”in my garage, first thing in the morning without makeup or dressing up,” she wrote on Instagram. On the contrary, there are plenty of ways to fit them in, depending on if you're in-season or off-season training and if you are looking to add muscle or lose fat.
Secondary strength/volume: Single-arm standing or seated kettle bell presses, before a superset of dumbbell or cable lateral and front raises. Burnout and/or cardio: Kettle bell snatches, 5-8 per arm at the top of each minute, to burn serious calories and boost shoulder strength, or heavier kettle bell swings to hammer the rear Delta while also building up the entire back side of your body.
“ Kettle bell snatches and swings are just a great way to incorporate cardio into your routine and get your heart rate up,” she told me. One of the biggest advantages of training with kettle bells is the ability to increase both mobility and stability throughout the joints that need one or the other.
Maintaining joint mobility is a crucial part of staying injury free, because the inability to move through exercises with a full range of motion can be detrimental in your ability to get into the correct positions needed to lift safely. Joint stability, on the other hand, is essential for being able to safely bear the load you're lifting, without one of your “weak links” raising the white flag.
If you are looking to improve mobility and stability, the Turkish get-up is a great exercise to add to your routine. After four months of training Wilkins for her kettle bell certification, she agreed that learning proper form was difficult at first—especially on a movement as complex as the get-up.
On the flip side, she also felt more powerful and explosive in her training after dialing in her technique on the kettle bell swing. For one, of course, it can help you develop a stronger posterior chain—seriously, have you not heard of the term kettle bell booty yet?—but it also builds core strength, burns fat, increases your muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and burns immense amounts of calories.
But kettle bells should absolutely get consideration for your secondary lifts—the ones that are focused more on accumulating some solid volume and activating lots of muscle tissue. However, once the weights get heavy, the long handle of the dumbbell places immense pressure on the hands and wrists, making it unstable and harder to push heavier loads overhead.
If you use a kettle bell, the weight is more compact and the pressure will remain on the forearm allowing for a neutral or rotating grip. If you're like most people, you'll find you're able to move more weight through a greater range of motion, with a more natural movement pattern.
That's why strength coaches love the double- kettle bell front squat as a spine-friendly way to build athletes' quads, glutes, and hamstrings, while also demanding serious work from secondary and tertiary muscle groups such as the shoulders and core. “Kettle bells may be more form-oriented than other tools used for strength training, but if you put in the work consistently you will get better and you will see progress,” Wilkins told me.
I started out as a beginner with kettle bells six years ago, after injuring my back in CrossFit so badly that my doctor told me to never lift again. Whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, Crossfire, or just enjoy swinging kettle bells, we all want to stay healthy and be able to keep learning new ways to do what we love.
The goal of bodybuilding may be to increase muscle mass and decrease fat to look aesthetically your best, but by supplementing your training routines with kettle bells, you can develop more muscle, improve cardiovascular conditioning, build up muscular endurance, improve overall mobility and stability, and develop better body awareness while still reaching your goals.