Can you use kettlebells for hypertrophy and is the barbell superior? Can the kettlebell create hypertrophy?
The above are some common questions asked in our kettlebell training groups. Especially by people that just joined and have more of a generic gym background. The answer is. Yes, you can and you should use the kettlebell for hypertrophy. The barbell can be loaded with more weight at some stage, but before you get to that stage you will already be super swole.
The following is taken from an answer I provided on Quora in regard to kettlebells and biceps curls.
Question: I have two 20kg kettlebells. How can they be used for bicep work like curls?
First, anyone that tells you that cleans are a great bicep exercise, stay clear of their recommendations. A clean is a lower body powered exercise, i.e. the prime movers for the clean are in the legs, not the elbow flexors. If you start using your elbow flexors with the clean you will be asking for kettlebell injuries.
I’ve just written a book called Master The Kettlebell Curl and that covers exactly what you’re asking for, I will take a few photos and points from that book.
Second, the people that say kettlebells are no good for curls, they’re wrong. The kettlebell design provides a mechanical advantage when it comes to curling and hypertrophy, that advantage is high mechanical tension. In layman’s terms, when you get to the end of the upper part of the rep with a dumbbell, that weight is resting right above your forearm, which means the tension on the elbow flexors is no longer there. However, when you use a kettlebell, even at the top of that rep the tension remains. The kettlebell still wants to fall away from the body and the elbow flexors (biceps curl) need to prevent them from falling.
During nearly two decades of training, I have picked up on the following things that seem to occur with most unsupervised beginners or those not researching first. The first one is that one can’t expect to curl the same weight as you do with a dumbbell or barbell. The reason for this is that the weight distribution is completely different and a lot of the exercise variations will involve some forearm rotation (forearm supination and pronation), which is a movement, especially under load, that one is generally not conditioned for. So, take this with a weight selection too heavy, different weight distribution, and you have a recipe for disaster. Does that make the kettlebell curl a dangerous or inefficient exercise? No, it does not, the only reason it will cause injury is when the athlete in question does not do their research, studying, learning, proper programming, and conditioning. The fault is with the user.
The weights you have, 2 x 20kgs, are heavy. So, first I’ll recommend some variations that will allow you to curl with two arms and share the load.
The above will be your safest option to start with, the seated curl.
The above is a variation where you share the load again, but it’s still a very hard variation with that weight. Once you progress with strength you can look at this.
The towel curl is one I would recommend for you. You can also use two kettlebells on the towel once you get to that level.
Yes, you can load a barbell with more weight.
1) Does that make the barbells more superior if the person in question could only ever get up to 96kg lifts in total or if that was all he ever needed for hypertrophy?
Yes, the barbell is easier when it comes to stability and the learning curve.
2) Does that make the barbell superior or does instability actually provide benefits?
Yes, the barbell is used by the majority of bodybuilders.
3) Is that because barbells always have been available everywhere; the kb has a higher learning curve; and/or because kettlebells are not widely available in gyms, especially in good increments?
Yes, you see people with bigger muscles using barbells rather than kettlebells.
4) Is that because those people that do use the kettlebell simply have other priorities or are they following the same program but just fail because the barbell is superior? Or is it because the kettlebell is generally more popular for cardio? And if so, would that make it automatically not suitable for hypertrophy, even though a weight is a weight!?
Yes, the barbell is cheaper due to its loading capacity.
5) Does that make it superior or make the kb less capable of producing hypertrophy?
Is 96kg not 96kg and if you know how to use it, it will provide hypertrophy?
6) If you take 96kg in kettlebell weight and 96kg in barbell weight. You take a person who follows the same program, the same diet, and everything exactly the same. Is one going to be superior to the other?
Yes, I also use barbells in my training and for other people.
7) Does that make the barbell superior or the kettlebell incapable of inducing hypertrophy?
If you’d make a list with benefits for both, which side would have the most ticks? And would the side with the most ticks make it superior, or does it all depend on the case at hand?
Let’s also point out that 96kg on the kb feels heavier due to the stabilization that is required. Forget the good ol “but you can load the barbell with more weight”, yes you can, but before you get to that point you’d already be yoked up. Hence, hypertrophy with the kettlebell was effective.
(FYI kettlebells are also unilateral)
“On average, most people are able to lift roughly 20% more with a barbell, compared to the combined weight of 2 dumbbells, on the same basic exercise. This is because you are using fewer stabilizer muscles on barbell exercises, which allows you to lift more weight.” Chris Muir
Can stabilization training help increase muscle size?
While stabilization training itself won’t do much to increase lean muscle mass it will properly prepare your body to get the most out of hypertrophy training that does increase lean muscle mass.
To get the most out of your hypertrophy training you need to have proper stabilization of the joints and connective tissues to be able to handle the loads necessary to bring about increases in lean muscle mass.
Stabilization training is a good preparation phase to use before hypertrophy training and should also be periodically revisited to help you recover from extended periods of hypertrophy training. Remember that it is important to periodize and change up your program in order to keep progressing and avoid overtraining.
Is unilateral better than bilateral lifting?
Unilateral lifting has three main advantages over bilateral:
- It recruits more muscle fibers and fatigues more motor unit pools with each rep. This simply means that it makes each lift more effective.
- It allows you to concentrate and focus more on one specific muscle. This can help you maintain good form which leads to an increase in performance and a decrease in injuries.
- It helps to repair strength imbalances between your right and left sides. This is through a phenomenon called Contralateral Effect, and we’ll get into that in a moment.
Even though bodybuilders have been doing single-limb lifts for a long time now, science has recently revealed the reason behind these benefits. Even findings in the field of neurophysiology indicate that single-limb work is more beneficial than bilateral work when looking at the recruitment of higher-threshold motor units. Taken from https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/exercise/heres-why-training-one-limb-at-a-time-builds-more-muscle
Yes, there can/will be a time that the kettlebell is not heavy enough anymore because it can’t be loaded with additional weight. How big can you get till that happens? How long is a piece of string? Will there be people that outgrow the kb weight? Yes. Many? No. Does that make the barbell superior? I guess it will depend on whom you ask. In my opinion, the safety and other qualities far outweigh those of the barbell. Now, I used 2 x 48kg as an example but there are actually 80kg kettlebells, and 2 x 80 equals 160kg, you have to be Hulk to lift that weight in kbs.
I won’t even go into the unilateral qualities and shoulder safety here, done that enough, let’s focus on the above and provide your concrete and scientific answers below or here. I won’t cover biceps curls, done that enough, they can also be done and just as effective when done properly.
For those who are unsure of what I’m saying. I’m saying that neither is superior in my books. But most of all, I’m saying that kettlebells do cause hypertrophy, and seriously, anyone that suggests they’re not capable of inducing hypertrophy really should get a check-up.
What is the best curl variation for hypertrophy?
The best kettlebell curl variation for muscle growth is the standing side curl, well, to be honest, it’s one_of_the_best as the best one would be where you isolate more. Isolating is what you do when you take out other muscle groups that need to do work. When we’re standing and holding a weight we are using all the muscles to remain upright, etc.
Getting back to the debate that prompted this post. If a person that uses kettlebells asks about hypertrophy in a kettlebell group and is at the stage of just comfortably lifting 20lb at the moment, then the logical response would be to provide advice on how to progress from there and not be putting kettlebells down with random statements.
“The precise mechanisms which induce muscular hypertrophy are not clearly understood, with currently accepted hypotheses regarding some combination of mechanical tension, metabolic fatigue, and muscular damage as relevant factors.” Wikipedia
Don’t be that guy. This guy was kicked out of our groups immediately. After running a group/community for such a long time we get to know what people are going to store things and how they’ll be putting others down.
For those wanting to join the biggest and most popular group on Facebook, here it is www.facebook.com/groups/kettlebell.workout and yes, the moderators and admins run a very tight ship, hence the reason it’s such a great group.
[sarcasm]More context as to what this post is about, it’s about who can pee the furthest, for one person anyway. For those interested in debating, provide answers to the questions. For those interested in whether kettlebells can provide hypertrophy, read the above and make up your own mind. For those who think pissing contests are pathetic, I’m with you on that one, I usually don’t give in to them, but I was in a mood to start with, and then it escalated because a group of kids got together and whined about their buddy being removed from a group. LOL[/sarcasm]