Using kettlebells to improve your overall strength and gain muscle.
Kettlebells are typically known for improving endurance, but they can also be used for strength training as well. We discussed using kettlebells to improve your power endurance last time, and now we’ll look at how the kettlebell can help you improve your strength and pack on the pounds over the next few months. With that in mind, here are the lower body and upper body kettlebell exercises I use to get my power athletes as strong as humanly possible.
Lower Body Exercises
The goblet squat is a great exercise to introduce the squatting pattern to beginners and advanced trainees alike. Typically you hold the kettlebell by the horns (handle) when performing the goblet squat, but I like to hold it by the bell itself. Holding it by the horns makes the grip the limiting factor, and you can’t get the most out of your legs.
The goblet squat allows perfect, deep, squats, with none of the stress on the spine. As with all anterior loaded squats, the goblet squat is self-correcting, i.e. lean too far forward and you’ll simply dump the weight! Perform 5 sets of 5 if trying to maximize your strength.
Double Front Squat
Having mastered the goblet squat, move on to the double front squat. As with the goblet squat, the double front squat is a great because you can’t get in a bad position without dropping the weight. Remember to keep your elbows tight, your chest up, and your knees out. Again, 5 sets of 5 is just what the doctor ordered.
Zercher Good Morning
The Zercher Good Morning teaches a pure hip hinge. As you would with a regular good morning, you’ll feel a big stretch in your hamstrings. Simply place the bell on your stomach and push your belly into the bell. Work to keep your chest up and upper back tight throughout the movement. If strength gain is the goal, consider doing 3-4 sets of 6-8 to feel the deep burn in your hamstrings.
The double kettlebell deadlift is a great lower body exercise that works the hips even more than a sumo deadlift. If you’re looking for explosive strength and improved power this is the place to begin. 5 sets of 5 on these are usually enough, but work to master the form before really getting after it.
Upper Body Exercises
Tall Kneeling One Arm Overhead Press
The overhead press is one of the best upper body exercises for both strength and size. Unfortunately, many people perform the barbell military press with poor form. One common mistake occurs when the lifter leans back excessively and presses the bell forward, sort of like a standing incline press. In reality, the arm should be completely vertical at lockout and the spine should be neutral. Fortunately, the kettlebell’s unique design allows for better form across the board, as it sits behind your hand, enabling a straighter press and placing less pressure on your spine. If adding strength is the goal here, perform 3-5 sets of 6-8.
One Arm Overhead Press
Once you’ve mastered kneeling, progress to standing. Just remember that form is of the utmost importance to maximizing results and avoiding injuries. In a good rack position your elbows should be tight to the body and tucked in, with a neutral wrist position. This helps ingrain proper wrist positions when doing other pressing variations in the future. Keep the reps on the lower side, which means 2-4 sets at 6-8 reps is perfect.
One Arm Rows
Kettlebell one arm rows are a great exercise for pulling strength. Since the kettlebell handle is much higher off the ground then a dumbbell’s, it allows for a more controlled rowing motion. I’m sure you’ve seen this exercise done a million times before, but feel free to mix it up with chest supported versions, standing version, etc. Regardless of which variation you choose, 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps with each arm is perfect.
See Saw Rows
The see saw row is a great advanced row progression that also increases core strength. Simply perform bent over rows in an alternating fashion while keeping your lumbar spine stable. The key is resisting rotation in order to complete the movement. This is a great way to train the core and the pulling muscles at the same time. Make sure to use the same rep/set scheme discussed above.
Eight exercises, one article. Talk about bang for your buck! The takeaway is that while kettlebells are great for work capacity, if you want to improve your strength you can/should add the exercises above into your strength and conditioning program. These exercises will help you add the size you’re looking for, while teaching the proper biomechanics for their barbell equivalents. Take it slowly, nail the form, and reap the numerous benefits kettlebells offer.
To gain muscle and maximize your strength using the exercises above, 1R would recommend the following supplements: