Can You Build Muscle With Just Kettlebells?
Whether your goal is to build muscle mass and strength, or you enjoy gains as a nice added benefit of working out, kettlebells are a dynamic workout that will make your muscles scream.
A healthy workout routine has a mix of cardio, strength, and—you guessed it—rest. The beauty of the kettlebell is it can give you a powerful cardio workout and build your strength, which we all need to focus on as we age. Kettlebells are unique because they allow you to move with resistance. You will be forced to work on balance, mobility, range of motion, core strength, and you will be able to challenge yourself with higher weight once you have your form down.
A tool like this is perfect for building muscle where you need it most. Some people have reported burning through 900 calories in one-hour of a kettlebell workout! That’s a whole lot of calorie burn.
Why Kettlebell Workouts Are Good for You
Kettlebells give you the opportunity to move athletically with additional resistance from a variety of angles and more challenging positions.
Not only that, but exercises such as kettlebell swings can help increase your heart rate, burn extra fat and tone muscle, but where they really come into their own is in building strength throughout your posterior chain. Kettlebells are best for swinging to develop your posterior chain. As these are your body’s biggest muscles, you’ll also torch calories.
Additionally, kettlebells are an incredibly useful tool for those looking to build their base of strength and mobility, so if you're struggling with your barbell back squat, for example, utilising the kettlebell goblet squat is a good way of practising proper form with a safer exercise that can then be upgraded as your strength increases.
Well-suited for swings, presses and carries, kettlebells also lend themselves to more dynamic movements, where a dumbbell or barbell may be more difficult to use.
How Kettlebells Are Great For Building Muscle
There are a few reasons why kettlebells are a fantastic implement for building muscle. First, kettlebell training lends itself to compound exercises based on multi-joint movement patterns rather than single-joint isolation exercises. Not only is this a more efficient manner of training, but it also causes your body to release more muscle-building hormones.
That’s the beauty of a kettlebell. You will never pick it up and think to do an isolation exercise. It just doesn’t go with the tool. Kettlebells are made for compound movements. And compound movements are king for hypertrophy.
You will be employing functional movement patterns - squat, hinge, push, pull, rotation/anti-rotation (core) - which is how we, as humans, are supposed to move. These are natural, primal movements, so they best promote hypertrophy.
Furthermore, with kettlebells, you will be working your joints through their full range of motion. You get extra depth in your movements simply by the design of kettlebells…
Take the squat as an example. Think about your range of motion with a barbell then compare it to a double kettlebell front squat. You will get an increased range of motion when doing kettlebell front squats. Moreover, you will have a lot less pressure on your spine.
So, how does this relate to building muscle? Well, an increased range of motion means you are working your muscles to their full capacity. This leads to increased muscle growth and strength.
Lastly, kettlebell training involves offset loading, both in the exercises you do and the tool itself. The kettlebell is an offset shape, unlike barbells and dumbbells which have balanced loads. Kettlebells force your body to stabilize the joints in a unique manner. It causes your muscle to contract differently and it places more demand on them. This is great for building muscle. Then, couple that with single-kettlebell exercises and you are doubling down on the offset loading, getting even more muscle stimulation.
Key Aspects To Building Muscle With Kettlebells
We can all agree that the barbell is the all-powerful tool for building muscle. However, kettlebells can be just as effective if you know how to approach your training with them. When it comes to building muscle with kettlebells, there are a few important aspects that must be in place.
- CHOOSE THE RIGHT EXERCISES (GRINDS > BALLISTIC)
Compound movements are essential to building muscle with kettlebells. But, when it comes to kettlebell training, not all compound exercises are the same. With kettlebell exercises, you have two main categories - ballistics and grinds. Grinds should make up the bulk of your kettlebell training if your goal is to build muscle. That doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate ballistics, but you should keep it to 80/20 (grinds/ballistics)
- STAY WITHIN THE RIGHT REP RANGE (LOAD X REPS X SETS X VOLUME)
For kettlebell training to be effective for building muscle, you need to choose the right repetition range. Moreover, the weight load needs to be appropriate for the hypertrophy rep range. You should not be going to failure each set, but the last few reps should really burn.
Rep ranges based on fitness goals:
1-6 is for strength
7-15 is for hypertrophy
16+ is for muscular endurance
If you want to build muscle with kettlebells, stay within the 7-15 rep range and make sure you choose a weight load that works.
- EMPLOY PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
Progressive overload is an essential component of building muscle, and this applies to any kind of training. By employing progressive overload you can build muscle with just your bodyweight alone.
Building muscle requires adequate resistance, time under tension, and muscle adaptation through progressive overload. Progressive overload simply means you need to continually place more stimulus on your muscle as you progress through your training. So, each workout should be a little harder than the previous if you want to build muscle.
- GET GOOD NUTRITION
No matter how much time you spend training, if you are not eating right, you will not build muscle.
Get plenty of protein and carbs and adequate fat. Eat 4-5 meals a day, and stop when you are nearly full. Don’t stuff yourself until you are super full. While building muscle with food is a science, it doesn’t need to be so complicated. You don’t need to count calories. Monitor your weight and adjust your diet if you are losing weight or gaining weight too fast.
- TAKE YOUR RECOVERY SERIOUSLY
Just like a good healthy diet is critical for building muscle, getting adequate rest is too. This means good sleep and enough rest days. Your body repairs itself and adapts (builds muscle!) when you rest, so enjoy that rest! Take it as seriously as you do your workouts.
Have 2 off days a week and get 8 hours of sleep per night. That is perfect for building muscle and avoiding overtraining, as the last thing you want to do is overtrain. Overtraining is killer to muscle gains.
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 has employed the principles in this post on some level.
The only golden rule our there to build muscle whether by dumbbells or kettlebells is the same: lift heavy kettlebells, eat, sleep, repeat!