The Kettlebell is rarely the first thing you would think of when it comes to putting on muscle. What it is well known for though is its effect on building functional strength, strength endurance, conditioning and Power.
You can, however, build serious muscle using just Kettlebells. Sometimes Kettlebell exercises even trump others for effectiveness. Still, you don’t see the Kettlebell used that much – other than for Swings or some (not always pretty) Squats – by the average Gym goer.
Kettlebell training always requires skill and a healthy dose of grit, if you want use it effectively. The best Kettlebell movements do a fine job of making you feel very uncomfortable very fast. That is why they also lend themselves to great muscle building workouts.
So let’s have a look at the best Kettlebell exercises for putting on muscle mass and getting stronger along the way.
Best Kettlebell Exercises
The Double Kettlebell Front Squat
In the Double KB Front Squat you hold two Kettlebells in the Rack position. The Kettlebells are resting on your forearms, elbows tucked in to the body with your hands underneath the chin. Women need to hold the bells further out to their sides.
This is the toughest Squat you are likely to find, because the bells will not only light up every muscle in your midsection and upper back, but they also make breathing very difficult since the bells are constantly pushing down on your ribcage.
This is a very functional exercise for combat athletes, who need to practice breathing when in compromised positions.
The exercise is also a great remedy, if you tend to have too much trunk flexion when you squat. The Double KB Front Squat forces your torso to stay upright as you squat.
This movement uses more muscle than the Barbell Front Squat, because you can’t rest the weight on your shoulders, but you need to hold it up by the strength of your arms. It will work your shoulders, upper arms, upper back, core and legs obviously.
A few sets of heavy Double KB Front Squats will humble even the toughest of tough guys. But I assure you, if you add these to your training and progressively pile on weight and repetitions, you will develop a new level of toughness, muscle thickness and strength to your body.
The One-Arm Kettlebell Press is one of the safest and healthiest options when it comes to overhead pressing and is among the top exercises for developing strong, muscular shoulders.
Here is why: Compared to the Barbell, The Kettlebell holds the advantage that it allows your shoulder to rotate as you press. This gives you a more natural shoulder movement.
Then, not being able to create torque off a Kettlebell makes stabilizing the movement much more challenging, increasing neural drive and tapping into more muscle fibers to get the job done. This will increase strength.
The Kettlebell Press also has the largest range of motion out of all the Pressing varieties, assuming you’re taking the bell back to the Rack position – hand below chin – on each rep (which you should).
Lastly, the Kettlebell’s weight is always off center, as its bulk is not right above the forearm when you press – like in a DB Press for instance – but resting out to the side. This makes the KB Press even more challenging.
One Arm Pressing has the added advantage that we can use a heavier weight than what each arm would be able to handle on two arm Presses, as you can use your entire body to stabilise just one side, rather than both. This is called the bilateral deficit. We can handle more weight, but the core needs to work hard to keep you fixed and centered.
If you switch to Kettlebell Presses for awhile and then go back to the Barbell, you will be able to move heavier weights.
The Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up must have been cooked up by some evil genius with a train of thought along these lines: “How can I inflict the biggest pain onto the trainee using a single movement, that challenges the whole body and at the same time exposes any weakness, while separating the strong from the weak?” And that’s when he came up with the Get Up.
It’s a shame the majority of people don’t take the time to learn the get up, because it would provide them with a lifetime of functional strength and good mobility. The Get up is a great muscle builder because it requires constant tension in the whole body. Keeping that heavy bell locked in the overhead position builds impressive shoulder bulk and upper back thickness.
Heavy Kettlebell Swings
Doing heavy Swings regularly will add some serious muscle to the back of your body – the glutes, hamstrings and back extensors. It’s hard to find Kettlebells heavy enough in most gyms, that’s why doing the Double Kettlebell Swing is your best option. Keep in mind, this adds a whole new level of difficulty.
Each Swing must be done with a violent hip snap. Take the bells to chest height and no higher. Lots of sets at 5-8 reps done multiple times a week will add a new layer of armor to your posterior chain in no time.
Double Kettlebell Cleans
This movement is advanced. When I first started learning the Double KB Clean I found out the hard way, that a good one arm clean does not guarantee a smooth transition to two bells. Watch your fingers and your shins. Trust me. Learn the move slowly with light bells before you go heavy.
Once you can use a decent weight here, few exercises will shoot your heart rate up faster and give you that full-body lactate burn, that will lead to a most welcome surge in human-growth hormone that you want to put on precious muscle.
Standing Heavy Curls
I’m no fan of isolation exercises. The heavy standing Biceps Curl, however, is an exception, as it is really a full body movement. You need to tense every muscle in the body to get the weight up. Much like when you overhead press.
You do run the risk of looking stupid doing Kettlebell curls. Like one of those Kettlebell exercises performed by a that guy wearing spandex in a 99 cent fitness app. And indeed, if the only thing you know how to do with a Kettlebell is a Curl, you will look stupid. But in this case, you just know something that others don’t.
So, why on earth would you curl a Kettlebell you ask? When you curl a Dumbbell or Barbell the curl becomes gradually easier as you move the weight up and past the midpoint of the movement (where the forearms are horizontal), because more of the weight is now supported by your forearms.
When curling a Kettlebell, however, this is not the case. The tension and the cruel powers of gravity remain the same throughout the entire movement, because the Kettlebell’s body dangles below the arms.
Take two heavy Kettlebells and curl them at the same time. You will feel a lot more muscles working than just your biceps.
Here’s what a Muscle building Kettlebell workout could look like:
- Double Kettlebell Clean 5×5
- Double Kettlebell Front Squat 5×5
Perform the above exercises back-to-back, resting up to 60 seconds between exercises
- Heavy Kettlebell Swings 6×8
- Turkish Get Up 6×1 (each side)
Perform the above exercises back-to-back. After each set of Swings perform one Turkish Get up on each arm.
- One-Arm Press 8-6-4-2
- Double Kettlebell Curls 4×8
Perform the above exercises back-to-back. Do each rep count for both arms on the Press before moving on to the Curls.
Give this one a go and give Kettlebell moves a shot next time you want to put on some size. You might be surprised by the great results.