How To Use Kettlebell Swings For Hypertrophy (Easy guide)


Do you want to build muscle with kettlebells? Or maybe your goal is to get stronger, burn fat, and be able to maintain a lean physique all year round.

Today I will share with you some of the coolest kettlebell workouts that I did with kettlebells that focus on hypertrophy.

Overall, you can use kettlebell swings to maximize hypertrophy by applying progressive overload. This can be in the form of doing more reps and sets to increase your overall training volume. This can also be done by using heavier kettlebells than you used to.

Here you have my general answer, but to learn more details on the mechanisms of hypertrophy and see examples of simple workout plans, keep reading.

Why hypertrophy is important

I started to pay attention to my muscle mass in my late 20s becasue that’s when the musculoskeletal deterioration slowly creeps in. I knew if I don’t do anything to build muscle, sooner or later, my strength and health will start to dip.

More muscle mass is the goal not just to have a better-looking physique, but is also strongly associated with better health and longevity.

In the picture below you can see the MRI images from the study, published by Jan Lexell, PhD., in The Journals of Gerontology – Human Aging, Muscle Mass, and Fiber Type Composition.

illustration of muscle mass in people of different ages
Image source: TJOH 1995
  • Picture C – The picture on your left is an MRI image of the muscle mass of a 24-year-old male with 57 kg of muscle mass.
  • Picture D – The picture in the middle is the MRI image of a 66-year-old male with 13 kg of muscle mass.
  • Picture E – The picture on your right is the MRI image of another 66-year-old male who has the same body weight as the person from picture D, but almost three times more muscle mass (36 kg).

Needless to say, the last two MRI scans show two people of the same age, but with completely different body compositions and muscle mass. Looking at these images, I don’t wanna be like the guy in the middle.

I want to be like the guy in the last picture.

Kettlebell swings are good for hypertrophy

The only problem I have with kettlebell training is you need to have a variety of weights to stimulate muscle growth.

If (like me) you train at home, and you only have one kettlebell, this means you need to look for other ways to implement progressive overload.

Kettlebell swings can be used for hypertrophy training, but you need to systematically keep on adding more and more reps or sets to stimulate the muscle to continue promoting training adaptations.

The good news is that hypertrophy can start to develop within just a couple of months of training.

It doesn’t take long to see the results

Bent R Rønnestad, PhD., a researcher from Inland University of Applied Sciences in Norway, said that beginner who just start to lift weight consistently can increase their muscle mass by 10-15% within the first couple of months.

In his study, Dr. Rønnestad said that “untrained individuals were able to gain 10-15% of lean mass after just 10-14 weeks of heavy-resistance training”.

This phenomenon is also called newbie gains. People who just getting started will see significantly more results, compared to advanced lifters.

And as you advance further, it becomes progressively more difficult. That’s why if you’re looking to continue seeing progress, it’s important to have a proper hypertrophy routine in place.

How to build muscle with kettlebell swings

The beauty of kettlebell swings is that they can be used from multiple angles.

  • You can use them to stimulate muscle growth, and the best options would be doing heavy load (mechanical tension) or chasing the burn (metabolic stress).
  • They can also be used for strength and conditioning as a part of the “finisher” work.

This means that getting jacked can be done through a wide range of resistance training programs, some routines will lead to greater hypertrophy than others.

There are a couple of ways to promote muscle hypertrophy.

Mechanical tension

Mechanical tension is primarily about the intensity (heavier weights or higher training volume). It is well established that mechanical tension is the main driver behind muscle growth.

  • This is how heavy you can go.
  • The more weight you can lift, the more you “shock” the muscle, and as a result muscle fibers have to adapt, and therefore increase the diameter.
  • And the more you progress with the weight (progressive overload) the more effects you get.
  • Heavyweight will maximize motor unit recruitment, which leads to a greater hypertrophy response.

Think of a motor unit recruitment like you have 5 guys trying to push the car. If they do it one by one, they won’t get any effect. That’s what happens when you use low resistance. You won’t recruit all the muscle fibers.

But why those 5 guys will come together to push the car, then it’s much easier. And that’s what happens when you add weight. More motor unit recruitment.

Kettlebell swing workout plan 1

In the workout below, you see the example of progressive overload that uses heavier weight over the period of three months.

Kettlebell SwingsRepsSetsWeight
Month 110 reps3 sets10 kg
Month 210 reps3 sets14 kg
Month 310 resp3 sets20 kg

As you can notice, the number of reps and sets remains the same. The only thing that changes is the weight of the kettlebell.

Kettlebell swing workout plan 2

In the workout below, you see another example of progressive overload, this time with the manipulation of adding more reps and sets, while keeping the same weight.

Kettlebell SwingsRepsSetsWeight
Month 110 reps3 sets14 kg
Month 215 reps4 sets14 kg
Month 320 resp5 sets14 kg

Best exercises mechanical tension

Below you can see the list of the best exercises that elicit maximum mechanical tension.

DeadliftsShoulder PressSquats
Bench PressChin-upHip Thrusts
Pull-upBend-over RowKettlebell Swings (heavy)

These exercises allow you to add significantly more weight becasue they use more muscle groups.

Metabolic stress

Metabolic stress is an effect on the muscle that appears after anaerobic glycolysis and the accumulation of by-products like hydrogen ions, intramuscular metabolites, and lactate.

  • This is the proverbial “pump” or “burn”. It’s about doing specific exercises (usually isolated) that will lead to lactic acid production.
  • This process leads to the most profound training adaptations (changes). Metabolic buildup promotes the release of hormones like IGF-1, testosterone, and growth hormone.
  • The more you chase the burn, the more it will impact your hormonal status.

To achieve metabolic stress with kettlebell swings you need to lower the weight and do as many reps as you can until you feel the burn.

Kettlebell swing workout plan 3

Kettlebell SwingsRepsWeight
Set 1As many as possible20kg
Set 2As many as possible20kg
Set 3As many as possible20kg

Best isolated exercises for metabolic stress

Here you can see the list of exercises that helps to elicit metabolic stress most effectively.

Pec DecPull-over MachineLeg Extension
Lateral RaiseBack ExtensionLeg Curl
Frog SquatsGlute BridgesFrog Pumps
Rope TricepsBand WalksKettlebell Swings (medium)

Kettlebell swings hypertrophy training for advanced lifters

Metabolic stress can also be done with compound exercises. This will involve doing more advanced techniques like forced reps, drop sets, heavy negatives, or supersets.

Forced reps

A study done by Dr.Juha P. Ahtiainen from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland documented the effect of forced reps (reps that involve using a spotter who assists the lifter).

  • They revealed that people who used a spotter to help them go beyond what they could lift normally had significantly greater levels of growth hormone, compared to people who lift the regular weight (source).

Drop sets

Drop sets increase time under tension, which is associated with more metabolic stress, and greater fatigue.

A study done by Dr.Kazuhisa Goto from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, documented that just adding a single set of low-intensity resistance exercises at the end of the set can significantly raise the growth hormone response (source).

Kettlebell swings and drop sets

Below you can see the example of a drop set workout using the kettlebell swing.

Kettlebell SwingsRepsWeight
Set 1Until muscle failure32kg
Set 2Until muscle failure24kg
Set 3Until muscle failure20kg
  • Start the set by using the 32 kg kettlebell and do as many reps as you can.
  • When you feel the burn, stop and immediately pick up a lighter weight (24 kg) to continue with your set.
  • This time you should feel the burn much faster. Once it occurs, again, reduce the weight (20 kg) and perform another set to failure without any rest.
  • After you finish, take a long rest (5-8 minutes).

Heavy negatives

Heavy negatives are loaded eccentric movements. You must lift the weight (usually with the help of the spotter) concentrically, and then slowly lower the weight during the eccentric phase.

  • Because muscle is not fully fatigued during the concentric move, this allows doing multiple reps with 1RM or more.
  • There is a number of studies that show eccentric movement is critical in achieving muscle hypertrophy.

A study done by B M Hather’s from the University of Ohio documented that maximal muscle hypertrophy after resistance training can’t be done unless eccentric muscle actions are performed (source).

Supersets

Supersets are already well known in the bodybuilding community, however, there is not much research that reveals a direct correlation between supersets and metabolic stress.

A superset is basically the combination of two or more exercises done back to back. It is known however that reduced rest between sets ramps up muscle fatigue and metabolic stress.

Kettlebell and supersets

ExerciseRepsWeight
Deadlift1080kg
Kettlebell Swing2024kg

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Conclusion

  • You can use kettlebell swings to build muscle mass in a variety of ways. Progressive overload isn’t only about the weight. It’s also about how often you lift and how many reps you do.
  • Hypertrophy is a term used to describe building lean body mass (muscle).
  • You can train with kettlebell swings 4-5 times a week. You can combine mechanical tension and metabolic stress in one training day.
  • Start from heavyweight and then move on to the lighter weight where you chase the burn.
  • First results you should start seeing in the first 12 weeks of training.
  • If you mix and utilize all of the training methods, it may be even quicker.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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