This awesome, heavy, beautiful piece of equipment quickly became one of my favorite weight room crushes.
Like many of you;
I became fascinated with kettlebells when they became “hot” in the fitness world in the early 2000’s.
I began using them in place of dumbbells, doing “stunt-workout’s” with them and everything I could dream of….
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This article is going to take a dive into kettlebells.
Where they came from, Types of kettlebells, Ways to use them, Why they’re awesome
And of course;
How to use kettlebells for building muscle!
Strap on your reading pants and let’s dig in!
Thank you to Kettlebell USA for supplying some of the history facts.
Kettlebells were first on the scene in the early 1700’s in Russia. Farmers selling their goods at markets would use them as a counterweight to properly determine an items weight.
As dumb men like us will do;
Men started throwing them around, doing tricks with them and eventually they began to be used as a form of resistance training.
In 1900 Dr. Vladislav Krayevsky in Russia wrote a book called “The Development of Physical Strength; With Kettlebells and Without”.
1948 Kettlebell lifting became the national sport of Russia.
Side thought: Russian Kettlebell Drinking game; Single arm kettlebell swings while taking a vodka shot with the other arm. Switch sides every five reps. Last one swinging wins!
1985 was the first ever kettlebell competition in Russia with rules and regulations.
The Russian military requires their people train with kettlebells. Since then the United States has adopted some of the kettlebell training requirements for their secret service and FBI agents.
The US forces do a similar drinking game except it’s eating a large fry and downing a large Coca-Cola between sets.
A Russian guy named Pavel Tsatsouline came to the United States of America in 1998 and began teaching kettlebell training. He is single handedly accredited as the reason for the popularity of kettlebells today.
Types of Kettlebells:
There are a ton of companies making kettlebells these days. For the most part they all look similar. But there are differences that become a HUGE deal during training.
Let’s break it down.
There are two basic types of kettlebells;
Competition Kettlebells & Cast-Iron Kettlebells
Everything else is really just a waste of time.
Let me explain;
Vinyl coated kettlebells; Seriously? Whoever invented these clearly never trained with a kettlebell.
Or maybe they were tired of their perfectly manicured hands getting roughed up from the iron?
Either way, these are garbage. After a few uses the vinyl coating starts to split and come off. Especially if you are dropping the kettlebells…..As they are made to do.
And, if your sweating at all, these suckers are like holding a fish out of water.
Adjustable Kettlebells; I see where they were going with this. Not a bad idea in theory. But just like adjustable dumbbells & dildos, they will never beat the real thing.
I feel like they are going to fall apart the entire time I am training with them. That’s not comforting.
Plastic or Rubber Bottoms; Similar to the vinyl coating. Did this person ever use a kettlebell? If they were so worried about their hardwood floors getting scratched they should have put down a mat.
The plastic and/or rubber bottoms on the kettlebells get beat up and begin to fall off. Now you have an uneven kettlebell often times with a screw sticking out the bottom.
Here’s a stroke of genius. Kettlebells naturally have a perfect flat bottom. Why mess with that?
Kettlebells With Faces; I do have to admit. These are badass.
But they are far from practical. The uneven and unpredictable surfaces make them dangerous if you’re doing any exercises grabbing the bell versus the handle. And especially risky if you’re throwing them.
Back to the two types that should get your attention;
Competition and Cast -Iron.
Competition Kettlebells; These guys have a squarer handle and are made of steel. The handle stays the same size regardless of the bell size.
They are great for most any kettlebell exercises, however, if your planning to do a lot of two-handed work, they may not be the best option.
Then again; who does exercises with two hands on one bell anyway?
It will not be possible to do two handed squat variations, two handed swings, etc.
If you’re into tossing the bells around and catching them. These make that a little more difficult.
Cast-Iron Kettlebells; These are personally my favorite.
I am a big fan of how they are one solid piece, all the same material, and personally I like that the size of the handle increases as the weight increases.
The handle has a “D” shape and allows for a little more space.
This makes two handed exercises possible and allows for more room when throwing and catching the kettlebell.
A cast-iron bell would be my top pick.
But there’s one more factor…..
Enamel finish or powder coat finish?
I’ll make this easy.
The enamel finish sucks.
- It chips after the first few times dropping it
- It gets super slippery
- It’s ugly and can’t read good
The powder coat finish is so much better!
- It can literally be thrown into the sidewalk and still look great
- The grip stays even when your super sweaty
- The only downside
- If you’re a chalk user, it tends to become one with the bell….
That looks cool anyway. Shows you use it.
Ways to Use Kettlebells:
Kettlebells are one of the most diverse pieces of exercise equipment.
Kettlebells are the most diverse piece of exercise equipment!
The ways to use a kettlebell are completely unlimited.
You can use them:
- For single arm exercises
- One in each hand
- Two hands on one
- In place of dumbbells in nearly every situation
- For static exercises
- For dynamic exercises
- For power movements
- For functional movements
- For grip strength
- For throwing & or catching exercises
- As a paperweight
- And so, so much more.
I realize that’s a short list. But what I’m saying is there isn’t much you can’t do with kettlebells.
With the exception of barbell lifts, they can replace most free-weight movements.
But even for barbells;
They can be hung off the ends with bands to add a stabilization factor.
And they can be hung off your body during body weight exercises.
Boom! Two more uses.
How to Use Kettlebells to Build Muscle:
As you can imagine by the above portion of this article. There are unlimited possibilities to using kettlebells for building muscle.
Something you must consider;
Regardless the training style or equipment. You can’t do only one thing or one style of things.
YOU WILL NEVER GROW.
Variety is not only the spice of life, but also, the way to make gains in the gym.
Changes in exercises have actually been shown to be as effective as load variation in workouts (1). Both are great variables to switch up for gains!
Back to kettlebells for muscles.
Just like any other hypertrophy program; you want to assure you are getting in VOLUME with your training.
That means lots of weight and lots of sets.
If you’re going for size gains, then you want big heavy movements.
Like squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls.
These are what stimulate major muscle growth in your body.
It has been shown that compound movements like squats have a significant increase in muscular hypertrophy (4). And that will increase testosterone and growth hormone throughout your entire body.
Sure, there is a time and place for concentration curls if you want to focus on hypertrophy specifically of your bicep.
But, we want to stimulate as much growth as possible!
In my sample program below, you will see I do use bicep & tricep specific movements.
Why is that?
Because BIG arms are F*$king important too!
So even though I know they aren’t going to have the best payoff for the remainder of my body, nothing stimulates bicep growth like bicep curls.
Here is a good sample kettlebell program for hypertrophy:
Chest & Triceps Routine for Hypertrophy
|Flat Kettlebell Press||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Dead Bug Variation||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|Incline kettlebell Press||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Side Plank Left||5||30 Sec.||30 sec.-1min.|
|1-Arm Kettlebell Press||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Side Plank Right||5||30 Sec.||30 sec.-1min.|
|Close Grip Kettlebell Press||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Front Plank||5||30 Sec.||30 sec.-1min.|
|Overhead Kettlebell Extension||5||8-12||2-1-2||60-90 sec.|
|Kettlebell Skull Crusher||5||8-12||2-1-2||60-90 sec.|
Back & Biceps Routine for Hypertrophy
|Incline Kettlebell Row||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Crunches with Kettlebell||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|One Arm Kettlebell Row||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Kettlebell Russian twist||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|One Arm Kettlebell Row at 45 degree angle||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Around the World with kettlebell||5||20sec each way||Slow to fast||30 sec.-1min.|
|Standing Kettlebell Curls||5||8-12||2-1-2||60-90 sec.|
|Seated Kettlebell Curls||5||8-12||2-1-2||60-90 sec.|
Legs & Shoulders Routine for Hypertrophy
|Double Kettlebell Front Squats||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Standing Kettlebell Press||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|Double Kettlebell Deadlifts||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Kettlebell Upright Row||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|Kettlebell Lateral raises||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Kettlebell Rear Delt Flys||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
|Kettlebell Alternating Lateral Lunges – Bell at shoulder||5||8-12||2-1-2||Superset|
|Kettlebell Seated Lateral raises||5||8-12||2-1-2||30 sec.-1min.|
Try that out for a few weeks.
About the routine.
As you can see, a lot of this was simple swaps from dumbbell to kettlebell.
Some of it was kettlebell specific movements.
All of it will mix up your current routine, get your muscles working hard and create some growth.
How to do this routine.
There are 2-3 exercises paired together for each superset.
Refer to the “rest” section.
If it says “superset”, that means no rest, move onto the next exercise immediately.
If it says an actual time that means you should actually rest for that amount of time. Then start again for the stated amount of sets (5 in all cases).
The way I did the tempo is down phase, pause or bottom phase and finally the up phase.
So, 2-1-2 means;
Take two slow seconds down, pause for one second go up for two seconds.
Yes, this will suck.
This is time under tension.
More time under tension equals more growth!
In fact, it is well documented that the more time your muscles spend under tension the greater gains you will have (5).
It’s a 3-day routine. Complete it TWICE PER WEEK!
There you have it.
Most everything you need to know about kettlebells.
To sum it up:
- Kettlebells are from Russia
- Don’t waste your time on lame ass wanna-be bells
- Buy Cast iron kettlebells with a powder coat finish
- Kettlebells can be used for all forms of training
- And they’ll kick your butt in the process
- Muscle Growth can be stimulated using kettlebells
- And there is a routine to help you sample them
Enjoy your kettlebell workouts!
1. Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength.
Fonseca RM, Roschel H, Tricoli V, de Souza EO, Wilson JM, Laurentino GC, Aihara AY, de Souza Leão AR, Ugrinowitsch C.
J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3085-92. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539.
2. Volumefor Muscle Hypertrophy and Health Outcomes: The Most Effective Variable in Resistance Training.
Figueiredo VC, de Salles BF, Trajano GS.
Sports Med. 2018 Mar;48(3):499-505. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0793-0.
3. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men.
Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, Townsend JR, Wells AJ, Jajtner AR, Beyer KS, Boone CH, Miramonti AA, Wang R, LaMonica MB, Fukuda DH, Ratamess NA, Stout JR. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug;3(8). pii: e12472. doi: 10.14814/phy2.12472.
4. Early Functional and Morphological Muscle Adaptations During Short-Term Inertial-Squat
Illera-Domínguez V, Nuell S, Carmona G, Padullés JM, Padullés X, Lloret M, Cussó R, Alomar X, Cadefau JA.Front Physiol. 2018 Sep 10;9:1265. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.01265. eCollection 2018.
5. Intramuscular Anabolic Signaling and Endocrine Response Following Resistance Exercise: Implications forMuscle Hypertrophy.
Gonzalez AM, Hoffman JR, Stout JR, Fukuda DH, Willoughby DS.
Sports Med. 2016 May;46(5):671-85. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0450-4. Review.