Everyone knows that kettlebell workouts are great for developing full-body conditioning and functional strength. But if you structure your workouts properly, you can also bulk up and build your muscle mass with kettlebells.
In the following article, I’ll briefly go over the fundamentals of designing a mass-gain program, then I’ll show you how to use kettlebell exercises to meet the requirements of a bulking program.
All mass-gain programs share these fundamentals
To add muscle mass, you need to do these things:
- Eat enough so you gain weight.
- Do Pushing exercises.
- Do Pulling exercises.
- Perform squats (or similar exercises).
- Do hamstring exercises.
- Do core exercises to tie everything together.
- Keep adding weight according to the principle of progressive overload.
If you neglect one or more of those basics, your ability to build muscle will stall and probably result in eventual injury.
How kettlebell exercises build muscle mass
In keeping with the basic requirements of a mass-gain program as summarized above, here is a simple program using kettlebells that should build muscle all throughout your body. It consists of compound exercises which shouldn’t leave any weak spots or strength imbalances.
Kettlebell pushing exercises
- Military press
- Floor press
- Dips (sorry, not a kettlebell exercise, but it’s a good one anyhow)
The military press emphasizes the shoulders and upper back, while the floor press puts most of the stress on the chest and triceps. If your kettlebell is too heavy, feel free to do push presses instead of military presses. If it’s too light, get a heavier ‘bell because otherwise your gains will stall.
Kettlebell pulling exercises
- Bent-over rows
- Upright rows
- Chin-ups (weighted)
Rows are important for gaining mass. But they can be a bit problematic with kettlebells, since grip strength quickly becomes an issue. Feel free to use weight lifting straps if this will help you intensify the training effect. Or, use a modern kettlebell with a thinner handle than those found on old-fashioned, traditional cast-iron ‘bells.
As effective as kettlebells are, there is no substitute for pull-ups or chin-ups. If you need to, add weight to the movement. If not, do assisted pull-ups by resting your foot on a chair.
Kettlebell exercises to work your squatting movement
- Front squats
- Suitcase squats
Pick at least two of the squatting exercises listed above.
For mass gain, keep the reps relatively low. You’ll need a heavy kettlebell (or two) to get the most out of a leg bulking workout.
Kettlebell exercises to work the hamstrings
- Kettlebell swings target the back of your legs; use heavy weight for mass
- Heavy kettlebell cleans also work the hammies
Never neglect your hamstring training if you have been squatting/lunging. You have to build your legs up evenly or you risk injury and painful joint problems.
Kettlebell core exercises
- Turkish get-ups
Although heavy mass-building exercises invariably work the core muscles, you probably want to add some dedicated core work to your bulking program. Windmills and get-ups are two of the best kettlebell core-building movements.
Put it all together into a kettlebell mass-gaining program
I won’t write out a one size fits all program here. Everyone is different and it’s best if you find your own way when it comes to building muscle. But by way of example, here is a simple three-day split that will work for most beginners:
Day 1 — Push
- Military press
- Floor press
Day 2 — Pull
- Bent-over rows
Day 3 — Legs
- Squats with kettlebells in the clean position
A good guideline for reps and sets is to do 5 sets of 5 reps each.
When you start to get in shape, add some core work after each workout.
Make sure to schedule your leg workouts before a weekend so you get that extra day of rest.
If your kettlebells are not heavy enough to make this a challenge, you now have an excuse to get heavier ‘bells, or add some more weight to your adjustable kettlebells!
Why do many people say kettlebells are no good for gaining mass?
Simply put, kettlebells make it very difficult to get just the right weight you need during a mass-gain program. Unless you increase the intensity each time you work out, your rate of muscle building will stall.
Because older, traditional cast-iron kettlebells are fixed weight, it’s difficult to add progressive resistance into your training program. The only way to increase intensity is to either increase the reps or perhaps try to decrease the rest time between sets. And this isn’t a very effective way to design a program to add muscle mass.
But the folks who denegrate kettlebells in the context of a bulking program are forgetting something: adjustable kettlebells.
With modern adjustable kettlebells, it’s easy to dial in exactly the weight you need so your gains keep coming. You won’t have to work around a kettlebell that’s either too light or too heavy for what you’re trying to accomplish.
Do yourself a favor and check out our adjustable kettlebell reveiws. Either the Weider Powerbell or the sturdier but more expensive Stamina Kettle Versa Bell gives you the adjustability you need to set the perfect weight for whatever kettlebell exercise you want to do.