kettlebells for hypertrophy

Kettlebells For Hypertrophy!?

HYPERTROPHY: the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in the size of its cells.

Kettlebells For Hypertrophy!?
Is It Possible?

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Yes it’s possible, but you have to change the way most people work with them, you have to follow the same program as bodybuilders do, heavy and slow reps paired with a strict diet.

The staple of bodybuilding exercises are deadlifts, front squats, shoulder presses, chest presses, rows, carries, isometrics, and curls. Nothing different between time under tension or time under tension, weight equals weight, you just need to know how to use it, those that say otherwise just don’t know.

“But the kettlebell only goes up to 48kg!”

Yes, and before you get too strict pressing a 48kg kettlebell with one arm I guarantee you will have obtained some serious swoleness. Unless of course you’ve not been doing it right and eating crap food. And for those tough SOBs there is also the stacked grip (two kettlebells one hand)… hmmm

“But look at Ivan Denisov no one lifts heavier kettlebell weights than he does and he doesn’t look big.”

He’s as strong as an ox and what he lifts most bodybuilders probably can’t even lift, but Ivan trains for Kettlebell Sport, not hypertrophy. Ivan trains for high reps and endurance, one does not get YUUUUGE from that.

If you want hypertrophy, you have to train for hypertrophy, and if you want to run 100 miles you have to train to run 100 miles.

Nothing beats the barbell. This is somewhat true, but within the right context and not for all exercises. If you need to deadlift, front-squat, row, or press more than 96kg go to the barbell. But… let us not forget about the unilateral quality of the kettlebell and its design, two 48kg kettlebells weigh the same as a 96kg barbell but the kettlebell adds a complexity that requires more muscle recruitment (stabilization). There is also a transfer of strength from Kettlebell exercises to the Barbell Deadlift.

The angles you can chest press in with kettlebells are far more superior to the barbell.


“So if you wanted to get swole from kettlebells what would you do? And why don’t you look swole yourself, how can you tell me how to get swole when you’re not swole or yoked up?” Simple answer, I train for GPP, movement, strength, endurance, agility, and cardio combined, I don’t focus on one thing. But here is how I train my clients when they want to get big.

First, I make sure they’re truly committed and understand that most bodybuilders use something else than a barbell, something most don’t talk about, but let’s not go there right now. Second, they follow a strict program and diet. If you can’t do that, don’t expect to be looking like the Hulk anytime soon.

Barbell Versus Kettlebell Deadlift

This is strength and not 100% hypertrophy related, but the same concept transfers to the topic at hand. I specifically want to cover the Kettlebell Clean versus the Barbell Deadlift as it’s very common to get people who are new to the Kettlebell world, and even those in it for a long time, to say that you need to do Barbell work because the Kettlebell just isn’t heavy enough.

I want to first say that when I have access to a gym and Barbell then I do Barbell Back Squats, simply because I like the weight on the back, it takes less effort than racking heavy weights at the front. I am not trying to dis the Barbell, I am simply offering my thoughts and personal experience on this topic, i.e. do you need Barbells, or can a heavy enough Kettlebell produce the same or very similar result?

It has been since 2019 or longer that I have semi-seriously Deadlifted with the Barbell. I did about 160kg 1RM, not much for some, but it was an effort for me. Since then, all I have done that works the same or similar muscle groups is Swings, Cleans, and Snatches with the Kettlebells.

It’s the Kettlebell Cleans and Snatches that I believe are the contributing factor that I today Barbell Deadlifted 140kg/308lbs with ease. I could have gone to 160kg, but my training right now doesn’t push my volume and load to the max as I’m in my 23rd consecutive day of training with the aim of 30 (and perhaps more).

Let me just recap, for 5 or more years, and at age 50 I have not done any Barbell Deadlift and only worked with Kettlebell Swings, Cleans, and Snatches that work the same or similar muscles, and today I pulled 140kg/308lbs with ease.

Out of the 3 Kettlebell exercises that I mentioned, in my case, the Clean and Snatch are the ones responsible for the transfer of strength to the BB Deadlift. I mainly do Swings for cardio, it’s the Power exercise variations of the Clean and Snatch like the Double Kettlebell Dead Clean, Dead Start Swingclean, Open Palm Dead Clean, Dead Snatch, and Half Swingsnatch that I perform with weights on the heavier side.

For the Double Kettlebell Dead Clean, I am at 2 × 24kg/53lbs for 6 to 8 reps, and 2 × 28kg/62lbs one rep max, the same applies to the Double Kettlebell Half Snatch. For the Dead Snatch, the heaviest I have is 32kg/70lbs. This gives you a general idea of what less weight in Kettlebell work can do for Barbell work.

If I had the means to store Kettlebells in the 36kg to 48kg range I would, and I would be adding heavy Hardstyle Swings to my training as well and I’m sure that strength would transfer as well.

The other thing that people coming from a Barbell or Dumbbell world usually say is that it’s not possible to a Kettlebell Curl, or at least not comfortably. Again, this is incorrect, I have written a whole book on this topic called Master The Kettlebell Curl, and in fact, the Kettlebell is superior when it comes to mechanical tension at the top of the exercise.

Kettlebell Exercises

Some of the exercises, but certainly not limited to, that you can do with kettlebells are:

  • Weighted cossacks
  • Front-squats
  • Back-squats
  • Chest presses
  • Shoulder presses
  • Raises
  • Rows
  • Carries
  • Curls
  • Pull-overs

I’d focus on isometrics with static holds like:

  • Overhead holds
  • Static front-squat
  • Iron cross
  • Etcetera

I’d throw in eccentrics at the right time:

  • Push press, jerk or snatch the weight up and focus on the down-phase of the shoulder press
  • As a trainer you can assist with bringing the weight up for chest presses
  • Clean and slow squat with an eccentric curl to lower at the bottom of the squat
  • Bent press and eccentrics from different angles
  • Clean and eccentric curl

And so on…

Just because kettlebells are mostly used for anything but hypertrophy—because most of us kettlebell enthusiasts care more about other things than looking huge and impressive—doesn’t mean that they can’t be used to achieve hypertrophy to the extent of what bodybuilders do.

There’s more
So… Is kettlebell training a waste of time for hypertrophy?
Barbell versus kettlebell

Kettlebell hypertrophy training

“STOP THE PRESS! So you’re telling me that unless I workout really slow and eat right I don’t get any hypertrophy (muscle growth)?”

Nope, that’s not the case, hypertrophy will occur if you’re lifting weight, it’s just that when people talk about hypertrophy training they refer to the type of training that is intended to induce the fastest and largest muscle growth—that usually comes paired with something that starts with an S and is injected.

Kettlebell Strength and Hypertrophy Program

Our kettlebell split workout 12-week program for strength and hypertrophy is a great program for anyone training at home or in the garage gym. The program has 4 split workouts to work each muscle group once a week. The program also contains a 3-day split which can be turned into a 6-day split to hit all muscles group twice a week. The program comes with a detailed book/ebook and many videos that cover technique, alternatives, progressions, common mistakes, warm-ups, cooldowns, and follow-along videos. Buy the program here.

For those that prefer something without a routine or progression to measure results, there is the kettlebell combo Poseidon which is a grinding combo with some awesome kettlebell exercises. But, you need to figure out by yourself how to program this.

Barbell versus Kettlebell

Rows are usually done with dumbbells to provide the unilateral quality required to provide more isolation that the barbell can’t provide. Thus the kb is just as great.

Deadlifts, no doubt that you can go higher in weight with the barbell, consider this though, stacked grip with two 48kgs (96kg) in one hand! The grip strength required is also double, grip strength defines a lot of your training, no grip strength, no heavyweights. Two birds one stone type of thing.

On the topic of grip, the next in line are the wrists, weak wrists mean injury and inability to lift heavy, the kettlebell is great to work on the wrist due to the different weight distribution compared to the dumbbell, I’m thinking overhead tricep extensions, pull-overs, etc.

Curls, I’ve previously written enough on, but again so many angles possible and the kettlebell curl is superior in providing mechanical tension at the top of the biceps curl.

In the end, use what works best for you, use what you prefer to use, but don’t say you can’t do hypertrophy training with kettlebells.

Side note: I’m not saying that kettlebells are all you need, just like a bodybuilder doesn’t just use the barbell, so include pull-ups and other exercises.

The kettlebell also has increments of 1kg or less with KETTLE WEIGHTs.

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