By Scott Iardella
In this writer’s opinion, kettlebell training is revolutionary! It’s revolutionary because it’s a very simple, bad ass training tool that offers many benefits. After weight training for many years now, I definitely have a sense for what works and what doesn’t. And my hope is that more people will discover how to use kettlebells to accomplish the things they want. — Things like size and strength, for example.
As a matter of fact, people often ask if they can really get bigger and stronger using kettlebells? My answer is “of course you can,” when you learn how to use them properly (technique) and learn what to do with them (methods and programming).
It’s important to remember that you can use kettlebells for many different goals. Goals like size, strength, conditioning, fat loss, flexibility, mobility, and improved function and performance. But, there are different exercises and programs for different goals.
One of my favorite quotes is “keep the goal the goal” by strength coach, Dan John. It’s a brilliant statement and it’s very true. Think about it.
That’s the solution (and the problem). If you keep the goal the goal, it’s the solution for getting what you want. And, if you don’t do it, that’s the problem. For the goal of size and strength, it’s proven that training with double kettlebells is a solid method. Add heavy double kettlebells to a complex (a series of exercises performed together without rest) and there you have your kettlebell program for size and strength.
Double kettlebell training is great for size and strength, but you can’t progress to doubles until you have your single kettlebell skills down first. Again, you MUST be proficient with one kettlebell before progressing to two.
What double kettlebell exercises are the best for size and strength? There’s actually quite a few, but here’s 5 of my favorites that are fundamentals and a great way to begin with double kettlebell work.
DOUBLE KETTLEBELL SWINGS:
Here’s the deal with double kettlebell swings. Yes, swings are for conditioning, but they are also unbelievably awesome for posterior chain hypertrophy and strength. For example, a stronger than average male doing double kettlebell swings for 10-15 reps with double 32 kg kettlebells is, without question, going to build strength and muscle mass in the spinal stabilizers, glutes, and hamstring group. Heavy double swings build explosive strength and power. Don’t think you aren’t going to get strong, powerful, and put on muscle doing heavy double kettlebell swings because you definitely will.
DOUBLE KETTLEBELL CLEANS:
Now, just to be transparent, the double kettlebell clean can be a bit tricky. Remember that all of these are intermediate to advanced exercises, so double cleans can require a bit of a learning curve. The double cleans are great builders of forearms, biceps, traps, hips, and trunk stabilizers. This is a very powerful kettlebell exercise for building total body mass, power and explosiveness, and also some “armor building” or durability with the safe, guided movement of the bells into the rack position. And, combining double cleans with the press or the front squat is an absolutely wicked combination of exercises that can quickly build size and strength.
DOUBLE KETTLEBELL PRESSES:
The greatest misunderstanding with the double presses is thinking this is just a shoulder exercise. While it’s an outstanding upper body strength and muscle mass developer, it is also an incredible total body lift that integrates all your trunk and lower body muscle groups to stabilize and provide a powerful base of support from. To gain size and strength in the upper body (shoulders, arms, and trunk), the double kettlebell press is exceptional. There’s nothing like pressing a pair of heavy bells overhead. And, the double KB military press is probably my favorite press variation, because of the natural arc of motion coming out of the rack position. It’s very natural and a safe position to press from (pressing in the plane of the scapula position).
DOUBLE KETTLEBELL FRONT SQUATS:
You could do this exercise alone and just call it a day for size and strength. The double kettlebell front squat is a “beast” of an exercise. Here’s why.
This exercise forces you to contract just about every muscle in your body as you’re moving through the squats, holding 2 heavy kettlebells in the rack position. A few sets of 5 with a pair of heavy kettlebells and you’re toast, believe me. You have to maintain incredible “tension” in your abs and trunk muscles to stabilize with the bells sitting anteriorly on your body and in a high position. It’s an incredible challenge and very physically demanding, just to maintain the position, let alone squat with the weights.
Full body tension, abs contracting, the trunk stabilizing, and let’s not forget the front delts, lats, biceps, forearms, hips, quads, and hamstrings. Like I said, there’s virtually NOTHING you’re not working here. And, for size and strength, there’s no question.
DOUBLE KETTLEBELL ROWS:
First of all, there’s a few variations of this exercise, but the variation I’m reviewing here is a simple bent over double kettlebell row, which is the least technically demanding. I included this here because it’s a fundamental movement (a pull), and it’s easy and effective. Bending over while maintaining a neutral spine and abdominal brace while pulling in 2 heavy kettlebells to your side is a great way to build a strong, powerful back. I think this one is often forgotten in the double kettlebell exercises, but it definitely deserves attention as a great exercise for size and strength. It fits nicely into the double kettlebell fundamentals.
As a physical therapist and a strength coach, Scott has spent 3 decades teaching unconventional approaches to strength & performance training for long term health and fitness results. With numerous training and nutrition certifications, Scott is also one of the world’s foremost experts in kettlebell training and the prominent host of the Rdella Training Podcast. — Scott is the author of The Edge of Strength, a comprehensive new book describing his philosophy and methodology of training and performance (now available at Amazon.com)