Kettlebells may not be the usual training tool of choice for bodybuilders, but you can build muscle and get lean with a bell-focused training routine. While kettlebells are designed more to build muscular endurance and cardio fitness, programmed in the right way and combined with a bodybuilding diet, you'll put mass on your frame and build an impressive physique.
Base your leg training around two basic kettlebell moves -- swings and squats. Kettlebell swings focus on the back of your legs -- the glutes and hamstrings, along with your lower-back, while squats hit your quads on the front. When swinging all the force should come from your hips, advises trainer Bret Conteras in "The Science of Kettlebells." Think about snapping your hips forward explosively on every rep and squeezing your glutes and hamstrings at the top of the movement. Use as heavy a kettlebell as you can manage while maintaining perfect form and perform five sets of 10 to 15 reps. For squats, hold a kettlebell close to your body at chest height and squat down by pushing your butt back, advises senior Russian Kettlebell coach Andrew Read. In the bottom position your elbows should touch the insides of your knees.
Many staple upper-body moves usually performed with barbells or dumbbells can be performed with kettlebells too. For your upper-back, switch from barbell or dumbbell rows to kettlebell ones and add in chinups with a kettlebell hanging from a weight belt around your waist for added resistance if needed. Swap dumbbell overhead presses to kettlebell overhead presses to work your shoulders. Chest training can be a little more awkward as it's difficult to bench press with kettlebells, so do floor presses instead, where you lie on the floor with a kettlebell in each hand and push them up until your arms are straight. Pushups with your hands on kettlebells are another effective chest-builder.
The main limitation you'll find bodybuilding with kettlebells is that increasing the resistance can be difficult. In a goblet squat for instance, the heavier you go, the greater the temptation to lean forward. This takes the stress off your legs and onto your core and lower-back. With a barbell squat however, adding weight is a relatively simple process. Kettlebells come in increments of 4 kilograms, meaning this is the smallest jump you can make, opposed to the 2 1/2 pound jumps you can make with barbells and dumbbells. You may also find kettlebells place more strain on your hands and wrists, as the handles don't rotate, according to coach Charles Poliquin. This makes it very difficult to perform isolation exercises like curls and lateral raises.
Kettlebells can be an effective addition to your bodybuilding routine, but you'll get better results in the long run by combining them with other modes of resistance training -- dumbbells, barbells, machines and body-weight moves. Split your training into upper-body and lower-body sessions and perform each workout twice a week, sticking mainly to three to five sets of six to 15 reps and aiming to increase your sets, reps or weight each workout. To build muscle you also need to eat enough calories to grow. Increase your intake until you gain 1/4 to 1/2 a pound per week and focus on healthy muscle-building foods such as chicken and turkey, lean red meat, oily and non-oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, olive oil, fruits and veggies and whole-grains like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread and wraps.
- The Science of Kettlebells; Bret Contreras; January 2013
- Breaking Muscle: How To Do The Perfect Goblet Squat
- Charles Poliquin: The Kettlebell Decision
- Photo Credit Majid Saeedi/Getty Images News/Getty Images