There’s more than one way to build rock-solid muscle in these modern times of high tech machines and gizmos promising a leaner and more muscular you. You already know the endless benefits of the tried and true barbell and its little brother, the dumbbell. But let’s go further back in history and pull out a favorite of strongmen of yore and functional trainers of today to see how we can adopt an age-old practice to get present day results.
The kettlebell is of the most basic form of training equipment dating back to the 1600’s. There simple yet flexible function provided the basis of training for strongmen for centuries. It was not uncommon to see bodybuilders as recent as in the 1960’s utilizing this barbaric hunk of iron. Of course the rise of machines, new free weight equipment, and other odd inventions proverbially buried the once famed kettlebell into obscurity. The neo obsessed culture gravitated toward machines and other “state of the art” methods of training in hopes to accelerate their progress with science and engineering in their corner.
It didn’t take long for the tide to turn and with the help of the surge of functional training and new methods and modes that the kettlebell made a triumphant return to take its rightful place. With the ability to last forever sans any maintenance, the kettlebell has made a comeback with the testimonials of countless strongmen and bodybuilders of the past to draw upon. Its script has already been written. It isn’t new, sexy, and doesn’t require a power outlet. It’s simple, deliberate and will kick your ass if you ask it to.
Below are some kettlebell exercises to boost your muscle building arsenal up a notch. Don’t be afraid to add these in an existing routine once in a while to shock your progress into high gear. Big and asymmetrical displacement of weight in nature, the kettlebell will force you to face new challenges you’re not used to with traditional dumbbells.
1. Clean and Press
Not only is the clean and press a power builder for overall strength and function, it also serves as a sure-fire way to build impressive levels of muscle tissue on the shoulder girdle and yolk of the back. Upper pecs, traps, all deltoid heads and not to mention the entire posterior chain will get a good dose of growth potential from this one move.
Begin with the kettlebell in front of you on the floor and clean the weight up to shoulder level. Take a breath and with a slight leg drive from the knees press directly overhead in a locked out position. Reverse the move back to the floor and repeat.
2. One Arm Bench Press
This move will not only challenge your pecs, shoulders and triceps, it will also be a test of balance and coordination when performed with the proper amount of weight and form. The one arm bench press will tax you in a very different way and recruit a number of new muscles calling upon abs, back and stability areas of the hips and legs.The asymmetrical design of the kettlebell throws in another twisted variable to make this move an effective muscle builder.
With a neutral grip, lower it down to your chest with your elbow about a 45 degree angle from your torso. After a good stretch, press the weight back up alongside and over the chest. You will have to fight to keep balance but after you grasp the learning curve you will be able to increase weight as you grow stronger.
3. Front Squats
As a great alternative to squats with a bar (front or back) the kettlebell front squat is a highly efficient way to target the quads, hams and glutes without waiting for the local a-hole to finish his curls in the squat rack. This move is also a must for those who find keeping the bar planted on the front delts during front squats a challenge or for those looking to try a little shock therapy in a stagnant routine to get the gains flowing again.
Simply clean two bells up to your shoulders (this is called the racked position) and begin the decent keeping your upper body as upright as possible. Perform a full range of motion and return to the starting position without locking your knees.
4. Renegade Rows
Sure the barbell and dumbbell row can put some quality beef onto any frame and anyone who has lifted for a while can perform these with decent form but what about throwing in a new twist for even more of a challenge?
Enter the renegade row. This variation will not only pack mass on your back but will also strengthen other notable areas such as abs, chest, shoulders, triceps and traps. Another point to consider is that this move will force you to utilize strict form so you will have to lighten the load a bit.
With two kettlebells assume the pushup position stabilizing on each bell. While keeping the pushup posture begin a row on one side pulling in a full range of motion. Once complete, change sides and row with the other side. The degree of difficulty is high on this one so be sure to use a weight you can handle with proper form.
Lunges and all variations included are some of the best lower body muscle builders and conditioners around. Utilizing kettlebells opens up a whole new world of options for the trainer looking for more creative ways to stimulate growth and development. Walking lunges, static lunges, reverse lunges, lateral lunges are all great versions but kettlebells allow even more when it comes to weight displacement. Simply try different hand placements such as the traditional position of by your sides, in the rack position or even overhead. Or you can play around a bit and carry just one by your side, in the rack position or overhead. Or alternate each for more of a challenge or stagger grips. The option is yours, just be aware of the difficulty level of each position.
Swings are most likely the most popular and recognized move in the kettlebell arsenal. Designed to create power and strength specifically in the posterior chain, swings will not only pack on some serious muscle but will also transfer to other lifts as well. This translates to a more stable and more powerful upper body with significant gains in the traps, upper back, shoulders and pecs.
Many variations are available such as single and double swings, overhead, inside the legs, outside the legs, static start swings, etc. The list can go on and on, but the main focus is to build power and muscle.
7. One-Leg Deadlift
Another great variation specifically for the hamstrings is the kettlebell one-leg deadlift. This is especially advantageous for those with limb imbalances and who are always performing bilateral moves for hams. Moreover, you will find it adds a new element of balance and coordination to your routine. Hams, glutes and to a lesser extent lower back are well stimulated throughout the movement.
With a bell in your left hand slightly bend your left knee but keep it rigid. Start bending over letting the weight pull your upper body forward while your right leg extends behind you. Keep your back straight throughout the movement. Touch the bell to the floor briefly before reversing the direction. Repeat for the right side after all reps are completed.