Building Size And Strength With Kettlebells.

Thousands of people have experienced the cardio and muscular endurance benefits of kettlebell training. However, not too many people realize that kettlebell training is a great way to pack on some functional size and strength.
Over the last few years, kettlebell training has grown by leaps and bounds in the U.S. and overseas. Thousands of people have experienced the cardio and muscular endurance benefits of kettlebell training. However, not too many people realize that kettlebell training is a great way to pack on some functional size and strength. In other words, be as strong as you look with the strength and size that you build via kettlebell training.

Is kettlebell training the best way to get bigger and stronger? Of course not. Progressive resistance with barbells will always reign supreme for that. However, if you enjoy the benefits of kettlebells and want to use them to get bigger and stronger, then this article is for you.

The Best Kettlebell Exercises

Lets go over the best kettlebell exercises for getting bigger and stronger as well as a training program to get the job done.

Mahler's Kettlebell Arsenal

  • Double Front Squat.
  • Double Swing.
  • Double Snatch.
  • Double Windmill.
  • Turkish Get-Up.
  • Double Military Press.
  • Double Bent-Over Row.
  • Kettlebell Pull-Up.
  • Floor Press.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that most of the above kettlebell exercises require two kettlebells. Why? The reason is obvious more resistance equals faster hypertrophy [Define] and strength gains. Let's use the example of the double military press to illustrate this point further.

When you press one 70 lb kettlebell overhead, your body is working against 70 pounds total. When you press two kettlebells overhead, your body is working against 140 pounds. I say body, as the military press requires a full body effort when executed properly. To lift the most weight overhead, you need to flex your butt, legs, stomach, lats, shoulder, triceps and bicep.

The more weight that your body has to work against, the more intense the exercise is and the more hypertrophy will be developed. If lifting one kettlebell were superior or even just as effective, then why do thousands of bodybuilders and athletes focus on basic compound barbell exercises?

Why not do one-arm bench presses instead of two-arm barbell bench presses? Unilateral exercises are great for addressing imbalances and have a place in a training regimen. However, focusing on compound bi-lateral exercises is the way to go for maximum size and strength.

The Power Of Kettlebell Training: Why Should You Use Kettlebells?
Thanks to strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline, brutal and effective training is back in the form of kettlebell training. No need to purchase a gym membership or spends $1000s on expensive equipment. One or two kettlebells are all that you need.

Let's use the example of the kettlebell front squat to drive the point home. Do you really think that front squats with one 88-pound kettlebell will be as effective as holding two kettlebells? Sure with one, your core has to work hard to maintain balance, but you are only working with 88 pounds. With two kettlebells, you have to work against 176 pounds and believe me this is harder than it sounds.

Holding two big kettlebells in place for full body squats requires concentration, a strong upper body, and some strong wheels. The payoff? You get bigger and stronger legs. The only exercise listed above that is done with one kettlebell is the Turkish get-up. The TGU has many benefits. One, TGUs build a strong core, which is mandatory for heavy leg and overhead work. Two, TGUs build up shoulder flexibility and stability, which is critical for strong pressing.

The double windmill will work as well for building the core and shoulders. However, the TGU is still a wise choice to implement.

Mahler's Plan Of Attack

Next, let's go over a 12-week training program to get you going.

Weeks 1 - 4 :: 5 x 5 Training

5x5 training is a standard protocol that has been around for many years. It is also an extremely effective way to pack on some size and strength. It was a favorite of legendary bodybuilder Reg Park who just happens to be Arnold's idol.

Here is how it works. Pick a training weight and do five sets of five reps. If and when you can complete all sets of five, increase the weight by 5-to-10 pounds and shoot for five sets of five again. Take 3-minute breaks in between each set.

Obviously incremental weight increases are not possible with kettlebell training so we have to look at other factors to manipulate. One factor to manipulate is time under tension. When you can do 5 x 5 with a quick tempo, increase the negative to four seconds and the positive to two seconds. When that becomes easy, try five seconds up, a pause at the bottom and five seconds down.

Mike (the author) doing front squats on an Indo Board.

Another factor to manipulate is the breaks between each set. Instead of taking three-minute breaks in between each set, take two-minute breaks. When that becomes easy, decrease the breaks to 90 seconds. When that becomes easy, go to 60 seconds. When you can do 5 x 5 with 1-minute breaks and slower tempos, I have no doubt that you will be ready for some heavier bells.

A third variable that can be manipulated are the training exercises. When you can do 5 x 5 on the standing military press, work on 5 x 5 on the seated press, and then 5 x 5 on the sots press. When you can do double swings easily with 5 x 5, move up to double snatches. There is always something that you can do to make an exercise harder or a training regimen more effective.

Here Is A Sample 5 x 5 Kettlebell Program

    Day 1

    • A-1: Double Military Press.
    • A-2: Kettlebell Pull-Up - (a regular pull-up with a kettlebell attached to your waist via a weight belt)

        Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do one set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and then do another set of A-1 and so forth. Keep going back and forth between A-1 and A-2 until you have completed all five sets.

    • B-1: Double Front Squat.
    • B-2: Double Swing.

        Same directions as A-1 and A-2.

    • Double Windmill - 5 x 5 (left and right).

        Take two minute breaks in between each set. One complete set equals five reps on each side.

    Click here for a printable log of Day 1.

    Day 2

    Click here for a printable log of Day 2.

    * Linked to one-armed version of exercise.

Take a day off in between each workout. In other words, do day one on Monday, day two on Wednesday, and then day one again on Friday.

After four weeks of the 5 x 5 protocol, it will be time to ramp up the volume with GVT (German Volume Training)

Weeks 5 - 8 :: German Volume Training (GVT)

I learned about German Volume Training (GVT) from top strength coach Charles Poliquin several years ago. Coach Poliquin stated that many German athletes used the GVT protocol to successfully add ten pounds of muscle. Here is how it works.

Take 60% off your one rep max on an exercise and do ten sets of ten reps. Use the same weight on all ten sets and do not increase the weight until you can do ten sets of ten with the same weight.


Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)

Weight Lifted
Reps Done

= One-Rep Max

95% 1 RM
90% 1 RM
85% 1 RM
80% 1 RM
75% 1 RM
70% 1 RM
65% 1 RM
60% 1 RM
55% 1 RM
50% 1 RM


Enter the amount of weight you lifted (Lbs/Kg) and the number of reps you completed. Your One Rep Max (1 RM) will appear at the bottom left, and your various percentages of 1 RM will appear on the right side.

This program is of course effective, but extremely brutal. Ten sets of ten on exercises such as squats and deadlifts are real pukers and great way to handicap you for the rest of the week. I remember the pain of getting up in the morning the day after doing GVT for legs.

Another drawback with GVT is that while following a 10 x 10 protocol will increase muscle size, it does not increase brute strength. In fact many trainees reported that they actually got weaker after six weeks of GVT. Hardly the results that we are after. Thus, I think that changing GVT from 10 x 10 to a starting program of 10 x 5 is more appropriate.

Now since we cannot increase the weights incrementally with kettlebells, lets work on other factors. First, start with 10 x 5 and when you can complete 10 x 5, go up to 10 x 6. When you can complete 10 x 6, go up to 10 x 7. Once you can do 10 x 8, move up to heavier kettlebells or pick harder kettlebell drills and start back at 10 x 5. You can even start at 10 x 2 or 10 x 3 to get started and gradually work up to 10 x 5 and above.

Use the same kettlebells for all ten sets rather than doing the some sets with heavier bells and some sets with lighter bells. One final modification that you can do with GVT is to pick two exercises instead of one. For example, do one-legged squats for five sets of five and then double front squats for five sets of five right after.

The total volume will still be ten sets. This is a great way to get around possible overuse injuries and the sheer boredom that can come with doing ten sets of the same drill over and over again.

Here Is A Sample GVT/Kettlebell Program

    Day 1

    • Double Front Squat - 10 x 5.
    • Double Swing - 10 x 5.
    • Double Windmill - 3 x 5 (left and right).

    Click here for a printable log of Day 1.

    Day 2

    • Double Military Press - 10 x 5.
    • Kettlebell Pull-up - 10 x 5.
    • TGU - 3 x 5 (left and right).

    Click here for a printable log of Day 2.

Take a day off between each workout. In other words, do day 1 on Monday, day 2 on Wednesday and then day 1 again on Friday.

Weeks 9 - 12 :: High Intensity Training (HIT)

High Intensity Training is one of the most controversial training programs around. People either swear that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread or that it is complete garbage. Like many things in life, the truth is often in the middle.

Hit With A Hammer.
Learn all about how high intensity interval training (HIT) was founded, the ten HIIT commandments and the seven laws of weight training and much more ...

The truth about HIIT and really any program is that it does not work forever. Many people test drive HIIT and are amazed with the progress that they make in the first few weeks. They often believe that they have found the holy grail of training and preach the benefits of HIIT to everyone in site.

Even after their progress comes to a screeching halt in four to six weeks, they still hang onto the false belief that HIIT is superior to every other form of training. Unfortunately this blind devotion only results in training plateaus and frustration. Executed correctly, HIIT works great for about four weeks. After four weeks, you adapt and it is time to move on to something else.

Let's go over what HIIT is and then discuss how to incorporate it into kettlebell training for strength and size.

With HIIT the goal is to do a few sets, usually no more than three and to take each one to failure. For many HIIT trainees, it is usually one all out set that is taken to absolute failure. Absolute failure means that you cannot possibly get another rep in the set no matter what.

Once you have completed this one super intense set, you move on to the next exercise. You have done all that you can do to build that muscle. Sounds great in theory. However, it is not the best approach to take to really benefit from HIIT.

I believe doing three low rep sets and taking the third set to your limit is a better approach. With this approach you build up your confidence with the first two sets and then go all out on the last set. Also, instead of going to absolute failure use some common sense. For example, on the third set of five, shoot for as many reps as possible.

Let's say you do seven reps. You doubt that one more rep will go so you stop at seven. Wise move as building a pattern of success is always better than a pattern of failure. You got close enough, so increase the weight or difficulty at the next workout and live to fight another day. You don't have to puke after a workout or risk an unnecessary injury with poor form.

Also, forget about forced reps, negatives, and all that jazz. As Franco Columbu once said, "forced reps are better done by you". Just take your last set to the limit and end it.

Here Is A Sample HIT/Kettlebell Program


    • Double Military Press - 3 x 5.
    • Kettlebell Pull-Up - 3 x 5.
    • Double Front Squat - 3 x 5.
    • Double Swing 3 x 5.
    • Double Windmill - 3 x 5 (left and right).

    Click here for a printable log of Monday.


    • Double Floor Press - 3 x 5.
    • Double Bent-over Row - 3 x 5.
    • 1-legged Squat - 3 x 5 (left and right).
    • Double Snatch - 3 x 5.
    • TGU - 3 x 5 (left and right).

    Click here for a printable log of Wednesday.


    One Arm Sots Press

    • Double Sots Military Press - 3 x 5.
    • Double Bent-over Row - 3 x 5.
    • Double Front Squat - 3 x 5.
    • Double Swing - 3 x 5.
    • Double Windmill - 3 x 5 (left and right).

    Click here for a printable log of Friday.

On the last set of every exercise, do as many reps as you can in good form. No crappy reps or forced reps allowed. When you can do seven reps on the last set, upgrade to some heavier kettlebells or pick a more difficult exercise.


Okay you know what weapons to use and you have a plan of attack. The only thing left is commitment and hard work on your part. If you are up to the challenge and want to get bigger and stronger with kettlebells, then execute the plan in this article today and email me in 12 weeks with your results.

Live Life Aggressively!

About The Author

Mike Mahler is a strength coach and kettlebell instructor based in Los Angeles, Ca. His upcoming DVD and book "The Kettlebell Solution For Massive Gains In Size And Strength" will be released soon. Check out Mike's website at for updates and for more information on his workshops and products.