When it comes to building and developing muscle tissue, most people think of more traditional training methods. Most of these include barbell or dumbbell based training, combined with the occasional cable or machine based exercise thrown in for good measure.
While this does unquestionably have some merit when it comes to promoting muscle growth, there is one more training modality we can use to take the results of our training to the next level.
Kettlebells have been used for decades by strength and performance athletes as a way to increase strength, power, and athleticism, and to pack on slabs of muscle – in what is a relatively short amount of time. Kettlebells provide a unique stimulus to the body, in which they demand both heightened stability and increased muscle activation, through an increase in muscle fibre recruitment.
Additionally, it is a requirement of most kettlebell exercises to be performed explosively, and with intent – which can further increase muscle fibre activation.
The combination of these two factors make kettlebells an incredible tool to promote rapid muscle growth, in which they could be the missing piece of your training puzzle – with their inclusion unlocking some serious training potential.
In this article I will outline the 7 best kettlebell exercises for serious muscle growth!
1. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is effective a hip hinge (think deadlift like movements) that is performed VERY explosively. It loads up the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, while also placing demand on the muscles of the core. This movement allows us to produce a huge amount of force, which maximises muscle fibre recruitment, absolutely smoking those key muscle groups of the lower body.
These are best performed for relatively high rep ranges (think 12-50… yes 50), to induce increased muscle damage and metabolic stress – both of which are known to contribute to muscle growth.
2. Single Arm Kettlebell Push Press
The single arm kettlebell push press is very similar to an overhead barbell press, but is performed with only one arm at a time, and requires the integration of the hips (in which a small squat is performed to initiate the movement – creating explosive force to ‘drive’ the kettlebell overhead).
As with this movement we are only using one arm at t time, it creates an extreme stability demand to both the hips and core. Additionally, as we use the hips to drive the movement, the absolute load we can use is greater, which greatly increases the mechanical stress placed on the deltoids and triceps – leading to increased muscle growth of these muscle groups.
These are best performed explosively for relatively low reps (6-8 reps per side).
3. Kettlebell goblet Squat
This squat variation is very similar to a barbell front squat, but the kettlebell is held in front of the body by the handles. This variation creates an extreme demand on the abdominal (as the weight is held in front of the body), while also lighting up the quads and glutes.
The trick with these is to remain as upright as possible, and squat down directly between your heels – if you feel like you really need to sit back it might be worth opening up your stance a little to allow an increased range of motion.
These should be performed for moderate reps (8-12) to promote maximum muscle hypertrophy – just be ready to feel the burn.
4. Single arm kettlebell clean
This movement is similar to a traditional barbell clean, but is performed with one arm, which again increases the demand placed on the muscle of the hip and core. This is a fairly complex movement that requires explosive power at the hips, absolutely smoking the quads and glutes.
As a bonus, this exercises also works the traps and upper back to move the kettlebell from the hips and up to the shoulder.
These should be performed explosively for low reps (4-8 reps) to create extreme mechanical stress.
5. Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift
This exercise is one of the few kettlebell exercises that prioritises stability and doesn’t require explosive power. It is effectively a single leg deadlift, but the kettlebell is held in the contralateral hand (so if you are deadlifting on the right leg, the kettlebell is in the left hand).
This movement creates an extremely high stability demand at the hip, while also requiring a HUGE amount of work to be reformed by the hamstring muscle groups.
These should be performed in a slow and controlled manner, for moderate reps (8-15) to increase metabolic stress on the muscle tissue.
6. Bent Over single arm kettlebell Row
This bent over row variation is performed with a single arm, in which we row the kettlebell toward the chest (similar to a single arm dumbbell row). The key is to keep the spine nice and neutral, and drive your thumb towards your armpit – this maximises the use of the muscles of the upper back, while also increase activation of the lats.
As we are using a single arm, this further increases muscle activation of the abdominals.
These can be performed for higher reps (10-20) to increase muscle damage, promoting muscle growth of both our fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres.
7. Kettlebell Floor Press
This exercise is performed lying on the floor and very closely replicates a traditional bench press. The kettlebell is pressed up explosively, and then lowered under control.
This movement creates a heap of tension through both the pecs and triceps, which can lead to some fantastic growth of the upper body. These can be both performed bilaterally (both limbs) and unilaterally (one limb for increased core activation), and should be done for low to moderate reps (4-12).
When it comes to building mass, there is so many other options than barbells and dumbbells.
Kettlebells provide a different and unique stimulus that maximise both stability demands and muscle fibre recruitment, leading to huge improvements in muscle growth.
Try out these 7 exercises and you will seriously notice the difference – just be prepared to work hard!