Kettlebells, a centuries-old Russian exercise weight, looks like a bowling ball with a handle. Using a kettlebell, you can perform many of the familiar exercises you do with free weights and exercise machines. Serious strength and muscle-building kettlebell routines require you to use weight close to or at your max, perform multiple sets of each exercise and perform muscle contractions correctly.
You build muscle through a process called hypertrophy, which occurs when you create micro tears in muscle fiber using resistance against a muscle. The ensuing recovery process builds your muscles. In order to build muscle with a kettlebell, you'll need to find the maximum weight kettlebell you can lift, or one that is close to it. You will need to rest at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours to get the benefit of the recovery and repair process that builds your muscles. To maximize muscle size and strength, use your muscles for uplifts and downlifts; don't let the kettlebell drop downward after you've raised it — lower it with your muscles.
To create workouts that provide the best muscle contractions, warm up before you begin your strength exercises, advises British performance coach and fitness author, Brian Mac, at his website. A warm-up gets blood flowing to your muscles as you gradually stretch and warm them. You begin your workout with muscles that are able to immediately perform at their peak.
Reps and Sets
The classic Reg Parks bodybuilding workout creates a series of increasingly difficult sets of reps, beginning with two warm-up sets and three sets at your max. You perform five reps of one exercise, and perform five sets of that exercise before moving on to a new exercise. Perform the first set using 60 percent of the maximum weight you can lift. Perform the second set using 80 percent of your max. Lift your max the final three sets. Take several minutes between each set.
Perform exercises that target the muscles you want to build. For upper body, use your kettlebell to do biceps curls, triceps extensions, arm raises, flyes, snatches, chest presses and other lifts, using either one or two kettlebells. For your lower body, perform deadlifts, squats, lunges and other lifts with which you are familiar. You may not need to perform targeted core exercises if you work with a kettlebell. The handle of the kettlebell creates an unstable center for the weight, requiring you to use your abdominal muscles to stabilize you and the kettlebell throughout your workouts.
A unique exercise associated with the kettlebell is swinging. Holding the handle, you begin to swing the kettlebell away from you, letting momentum return the ball back toward you, ending between your legs. Swing the ball back, reversing the momentum. Don't use the kettlebell's momentum on all exercises -- resist the weight during uplifts and downlifts for maximum results.
If you have never used a kettlebell before, start slowly and practice all of the exercises you intend to do with a lighter kettlebell, if you have one. Because of the instability of a kettlebell, you might hurt your back or shoulder during exercises like triceps extensions, which has the weight behind your back, or swinging. You may also drop the kettlebell if you try to use a maximum weight without practice.