Will Kettlebell Swings Make Me Look Bulky?


One of the most common misconceptions about using weights, especially from women’s side is that weights make them look bulky. So in this post, I will go through everything you need to know about kettlebell swings, and the impact it got on your physique.

Will Kettlebell Swings Make Me Look Bulky? Doing kettlebell swings isn’t enough to bulk up on muscle mass. Factors that influence the increase in muscle mass are muscle protein synthesis, caloric surplus, and gender. A high-protein diet and progressive overload are the main drivers behind muscular hypertrophy.

This can sound really confusing, especially if you haven’t study biochemistry. So, let me simplify that for you.

I will explain how does the kettlebell swings doesn't build bulky muscles

How To Use Kettlebell Swings And Not Get Bulky?

There is this stereotype of a big man lifting heavyweights. And, unconsciously, it creates the belief that big weight equals big muscle.

Which is only half true. It’s kind of like the belief, that people who wear glasses are smarter.

Or that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s not the rule. It’s the perception.

Here’s the recipe on how the perception can become reality. We see images, pictures, and videos of huge guys lifting tons of weight.

But to make it stick, we need to see it over and over. Sometimes even for decades.

And, just like any other marketing strategy, if you see something, over and over again, you began to trust that message, and therefore, believe it.

So let me quickly explain some key concepts that will help you really grasp the science of bulking on muscle, in a plain English language.

And, most importantly, let’s see should you be concerned about doing kettlebell swings.

Related article: Kettlebell Training For Cyclists

Muscle Protein Synthesis

Our body needs protein every day to rebuild itself.

Let’s use nails as an example.

Your nails regrowth every day. And, from time to time, you must get those clippers and trim them.

This growing process is possible because of protein synthesis. Building process.

We eat proteins, and our cells use them to re-grow. We also cannot “manufacture” protein in the body. This means we can only get them from the diet.

Protein is the only macronutrient that our body cannot manufacture

The same goes for muscles.

The process for building, and re-growing our muscles is called Muscle Protein Synthesis.

Every time when you train hard and when you eat proteins, it’s kind of like you tell your body to build muscle.

Progressive overload (lifting more weight) and a high-protein diet stimulate muscle protein synthesis

So to build muscle we need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. How? Eating a high-protein diet and exercising. Now watch this.

Even if you train hard, doing “progressive overload” (increasing number of sets, reps, or weight each month), but don’t have enough protein in your diet, this will lead to Muscle Protein Breakdown (muscle loss).

Without the surplus of protein in the diet, you cannot build more muscle

On the flip side, tons of protein in your diet, combined with hard, progressive training, will lead to muscle building. Great.

So what does it mean?

This means, even if you do kettlebell swings every day, as long as you stay moderate with your proteins, you won’t bulk up on muscle.

You will be stronger, fitter, but you won’t increase in size.

Here is my own example. In the picture below, you see 4 months difference.

I was doing kettlebell swings every day. And at the same time, I was eating moderate proteins.

4 months of doing 200 kettlebell swings a day

ptorein-image

Calorie Surplus

Another factor is the total number of calories you eat.

Because you may stay moderate on your daily protein, but if you eat too much food in general, you will put on weight.

And it won’t be muscle.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after spending years of training others, and working out myself.

The more intensity I put on myself, the more “high-intensity interval training” I did, the more hungry I was.

This means that not only I would train more, but I would eat more, too.

I used to do crazy amounts of T25, Burpees, P90X, and Insanity. But this always backfired later on.

So by switching into less intense workouts, I was able to control my hunger better.

And in the end, I was able to eat less.

Related article: Does Calorie Deficit Work Without Exercise?

Less intense daily weight training led me to control my hunger better than daily high-intensity training

This means that even if you choose to do kettlebell swings every day, and stay at an optimum calorie level, you won’t bulk up on muscle.

Gender

Many studies confirmed that muscle protein synthesis is strongly dependent on the amount of testosterone in the body (source).

This means females (who have much more estrogen than males in general) will have a much harder time building muscles.

That’s even beyond eating a lot of protein. Here’s what I mean.

If you take male and female, and they will do the same high-protein diet, the same hard training, male will develop so much more muscle, comparing to females. That’s just how it works.

Can I Only Do Kettlebell Swings?

In the short-term, it’s ok to do only kettlebell swings. But in the long-term, it’s better to add other exercises, like push-ups. Kettlebell swings work mainly on the posterior chain muscle groups, and it can create asymmetry.

This is a great question and definitely needs some further explanation. I’m gonna share with you my personal opinion and hopefully, this will help you make a good decision.

The posterior chain means muscle of your back, back of your legs, and glutes. If you skip doing any anterior chain exercises (chest, shoulder, quads) it will create some imbalance.

Doing only one form of long term exercise will lead to an asymmetric physique.

It’s kind of like saying I will just eat corn flakes for the rest of my life. It will lead to some nutrient deficiency.

I did myself plenty of kettlebell swings on its own, and I’m still doing it. But every now and there, I throw in some other exercises.

Related article: Are Kettlebell Swings Better Than Squats?

What Other Exercises Can I Do?

Always start from the warm-up. For that, I usually do some bodyweight squats, few push-ups, and stretches. Just keep moving for around 5-10 minutes.

This will help you prep your body for more challenges, and help you prevent injuries.

My typical workout is usually the swings. I do around two hundred reps, in the sets of 20-25.

So it takes me around 8-10 sets. But, on some days I go full-body workout. Every exercise I do is with just one kettlebell.

Squats (kettlebell between my legs)6-8 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Single-arm row6-8 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Goblet squat6-8 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Biceps curls12 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Push-ups (without KB)10 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Single-arm overhead press5 reps3-4 sets3 minutes rest
Kettlebell Swings20 reps5-8 sets3-4 minutes rest
My full body workout

This is a very long workout. It usually takes 90-minute to 2-hours. But remember that I do it at home. And, during the rest time, I’m always doing something else.

Cooking, cleaning, blogging, or just calling some friends. This way I feel like I’m more productive. That’s my sweet spot.

But it doesn’t mean you must do the same exercises. My idea behind this workout is simple.

  • I Always Do A Full-Body Workout In One Day.

I just like how it feels after. Energetic, awaken, productive, and not drained. So I can focus on what’s on my plate for the day.

That’s one of the reasons why I use kettlebell at home.

It just saves me so much time. I know many people who break down their routine into “chest and arms”, “back and biceps”, or “legs day”.

I used to do that in my 20s.

Back then I wanted to be muscular, and my body could cope with the flood of lactic acid. It didn’t bother me.

But today my priorities have shifted. I can’t handle this lactic acid burn anymore. Plus, I would need to go to the gym.

  • I Try To Mix One Upper-body Exercise, Followed By One Lower Body.

Starting with the lower body (squats), followed by the upper body (rows), then again lower body (goblet squats), and so on.

This is based on the PHA (peripheral heart action training) and it helps with cardio (source).

It’s like doing weights, with a bonus of getting your cardio in. I know I should be doing shorter rest times, but it’s good enough.

  • I Can Do It Everyday

Would you like to do legs day, every day? I wouldn’t.

But here is different.

Because I stay with moderate daily sets, this way I can do it every day.

So in the week time, the volume will add up. Here’s how it works. Let’s compare the typical “leg day” to a full-body, everyday approach.

In the full-body, I do just 3-4 sets of one exercise, but I do it for 7 days. This will give me a minimum of 21 sets in a week.

7 days x 4 sets = 28 sets

If I choose to go to the gym just for my legs, then I would probably need to do at least 4-5 exercises. Let’s say I do 4 sets each.

1 day x 5 exercises x 4 sets = 20 sets

That is 8 sets more in just one week. Then, try to multiply that for 26 weeks (6 months), and you will end up with 208 sets more! So that’s the math behind it. But I don’t do it for the numbers. It just feels right for me.

Related Questions

What weight should I choose for my kettlebell?

Normally, for male clients I recommend to go anywhere from 16kg – 24kg. For my female clients I recommend to go for 8kg – 12 kg.

However, if you have an injury, or you’ve never exercised with weight, and you believe that this range is way too much, then bring it down.

How soon should I see any results?

It depends on your goals. If you want better body composition, then 12 weeks of kettlebell swings, together with good diet should be a good start. If you want to see progress in performance, it is strongly depending from your current fitness level.

Beginners usually have faster results comparing to advanced lifters.

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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