MYTH: Kettlebell Swings Make My Legs Bigger (They won’t)


Do you want to know how to get stronger legs, without making them look bulky and big? Do kettlebell swings.

That was my recommendation to one of my clients who wanted to get physically fit but was concerned about her leg size (hint: it worked).

Today I will explain if doing kettlebell swings (even every day) makes your legs bigger.

my legs after kettlebell swings

A kettlebell swing does not make your legs bigger. This training is a powerful tool to strengthen the muscles in the lower body, however, it does not lead to huge legs. To develop muscle mass you need to use a progressively heavier weight in order to increase muscle activation.

This is my brief answer but to learn more about the mechanism of muscle growth and why kettlebell swing is the best workout to get stronger (without growing bigger legs), keep reading.

Kettlebell swings do not make your legs bigger

Kettlebell swings won’t make your legs look bulky. For maximum muscle size, you need weight training with progressive overload. This means that progressively, over the time of a few months, sometimes even years, you need to add more weight to your lifts.

In a nutshell.

  • If I do squats for a year, and systematically add extra weight, then I’m on the fastest way to gain muscle mass.

Most of my clients want to know more about kettlebell training at home. And they not necessarily are looking for adding muscle bulk to their legs.

They just wanna be fit. So they buy a kettlebell to be able to work out at home. Which means they will use the same weight.

  • If I do squats over the course of a year with the same weight, I won’t get huge muscle gains.
  • I will develop muscle endurance, and I will get fit, and strong, but I won’t maximize muscle size.

The same with kettlebell swings.

  • If you are doing kettlebell swings with the same weight, even if you are getting stronger, and you’re able to do more repetitions, this won’t maximize the muscle size.

Case study

  • One of my clients said that she started to do full body exercises that will make her stronger, but without adding size to the legs.
  • She said that her legs (especially the quadriceps) are her biggest concern and she does not want them to be bigger.
  • Long story short, I recommended kettlebell swings (and she loved it).

The kettlebell swing is a hip extension movement. Unlike squats, doing a high volume of swings with low to moderate weight, you will only target the posterior chain muscles (glutes and hamstrings).

Of course, you can use kettlebell swings for hypertrophy, but this will require doing ridiculously high training volume and systematically adding more weight.

How to use kettlebell swings without getting bigger legs

So if you want to get in shape, but you don’t want to have bulky legs, kettlebell swings will do the trick. You won’t need a ton of volume, but for the best results, you want to train every day.

It doesn’t mean that you will do swings every day.

  • Use one day a week as an active recovery where you stretch, go for a walk or play with the ball. Do something fun.
  • Do yoga, pilates, or other low-intensity exercises that help to improve your flexibility, range of motion, and even recovery.

I will show you two separate kettlebell training workouts that won’t make your legs bigger (the same workout I gave to my client).

One for swings only and one for a combination of kettlebell movements. Before we carry on, I want to just remind you that if you are new to kettlebell swings you may want to keep extra attention on the correct form.

Workout 1

  • In the first workout, I want you to go immediately from one exercise to another. Back to back.
  • First, you start with squats and kettlebell swings, followed by lunges on the right side (this means you take 10 steps forward carrying the weight and you start the steps with your right leg only).
  • Then you repeat the process and you finish off with lunges on the left leg. By the time you get to the second lunge, you will hate your life!
  • Do 2-3 rounds in total (if you’re brave).
ExerciseRepsRest
Goblet squats 10
Kettlebell swings10
Walking lunges (right leg)10
Goblet squats10
Kettlebell swings10
Walking lunges (left leg)105 minutes

Workout 2

Here the job is simple.

  • This workout is all about doing kettlebell swings with sufficient rest in between.
  • With each set, you will add more reps.
  • Once you get to the 35 reps per set, take a longer rest and come back to the first round.
  • Do as many rounds as possible.
Kettlebell SwingRepsRest
Set 1101 minute
Set 2151 minute
Set 3202 minutes
Set 4252 minutes
Set 5305 minutes
Set 635

The best thing about this program is that you start slow, but then you have a set or two where you feel the burn. Feel free to adjust the rest time to your fitness level.

Related article: 5 ways to use kettlebell swings for conditioning

Weekly workout plan

Here is an example of a program that will help you build up your legs over time.

This training is a full-body workout that targets posterior chain muscles (glutes and hamstrings). It’s not easy, but it works like hell.

Monday – Workout 1
Tuesday – Workout 2
Wednesday – OFF
Thursday – Workout 1
Friday – Workout 2
Saturday – OFF
Sunday – Active recovery

Workout 1

ExerciseRepsSetsWeight
Back squats12360% 1RM
Bench press12360% 1RM
Deadlifts12360% 1RM
Kettlebell swings12360% 1RM
WORKOUT 1

Workout 2

ExerciseRepsSetsWeight
Front squat8475% 1RM
Shoulder press8475% 1RM
Leg press8475% 1RM
Kettlebell swings8475% 1RM
WORKOUT 2
  • Reps – reps means how many repetitions you do for each round.
  • Sets – This relates to a number of rounds.
  • Weight – This relates to how heavy weight you should be using (described in percentage of your one rep max).

Every 6 weeks make new 1RM measurements and adjust the weights accordingly. So, if after 6 weeks your 1RM for deadlift went from 100kg to 110kg, then adjust the numbers.

My thoughts

The reason why I love doing kettlebell swings is becasue they make you stronger, but they don’t beat you up as the heavyweights do.

For example, the deadlift is one of the most popular hip hinge movements. If you’ve been in the trenches for a while, I’m sure you have done some deadlifts. Heavy deadlifts can build your legs like no tomorrow. But here’s the difference.

  • After 5 sets of heavy deadlifts, I feel destroyed.
  • After 5 sets of heavy kettlebell swings, I feel energized.

No wonder why.

Kettlebell swings are tough, minimalistic, and very effective in building a strong physique. I said it many times. If you get stronger at swings, you get stronger at everything else.

Hope that helps.

Conclusion

  • Kettlebell swings do not make your legs bigger. They help to develop muscle endurance, not the optimal muscle size.
  • The kettlebell swing is a hip hinge exercise. The movement comes from the hip joint. The muscles that are firing (activating), and allowing for this hinge to happen are the glutes.
  • So, even if you were adding more weight by using the heavier kettlebell, your quads won’t grow. Only your glutes.

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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