02 Dec How To Build A Strong Posterior Chain You Can Be Proud Of (Part I)
Do kettlebells build muscle?
This question might surprise you, but it’s actually a common question I’m asked.
You might be even more surprised when I tell you about one particular exercise and how it can be a unique fit in a muscle building program (most specific to the posterior chain though).
When talking about building muscle, kettlebells do not replace bodybuilding-style training for maximizing muscular development.
But, I will share the benefits of one exercise that you might not even associate with as a “muscle builder.”
That exericise is the hardstyle kettlebell swing and I’ll explain why.
THE KETTLEBELL SWING
In short, the kettlebell swing is a very powerful total body exercise that offers unique strength and conditioning benefits. You already know that.
The perception by most people is that the swing is primarily a general strength and conditioning exercise – and it is.
However, the benefits of a well executed hardstyle swing go far beyond.
I’d argue that the hardstyle kettlebell swing is an essential part of any athlete’s training program.
Let’s just say that kettlebell swings forge athleticism.Kettlebell swings forge athleticism.Click To Tweet
When we’re talking about muscle building though, do kettlebell swings really build muscle mass?
Well, a heavy single bell can certainly work very well for this, but doubles (a pair of kettlebells) seem to work better.
Double kettlebell swings challenge the body differently than a single bell. Why? You’re holding 2 bells and, therefore, each side side is targeted more as compared to holding a single.
The double kettlebell swing is an athletic muscle building exercise.
Here’s what I’ve experienced.
THE MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT BENEFITS OF THE DOUBLE SWING
- Forearms. Sustained grip strength is required while swinging a pair of kettlebells and because of this, double swings will develop your forearms very nicely. And, let’s face it. Muscular forearms make you look a bit jacked.
- Upper Arms. Indirectly, the static and dynamic nature of the swings will help develop the upper arms, as well. If you want bigger arms, I certainly would NOT replace double bell work for direct arm work, but they can be an indirect contributor due to the isometric contraction.
- Anterior Chain Swings will build strong abs (superficial and deep). This isn’t even a question and is supported by EMG research in clinical studies.
- Quads While not like doing squats, the swing will definitely contribute to strong legs and quad development.
- Posterior Chain (We’ll cover this in great detail below.)
THE POSTERIOR CHAIN
Developing the posterior chain is the real essence of the muscle building benefits with the double swing (or heavy singles).
Keep this in mind.
A strong, muscular posterior chain defines the athlete.A strong, muscular posterior chain defines the athlete.Click To Tweet
What is the posterior chain?
Dense, Thick Deep Back Muscles. Kettlebell swings are typically done for rep ranges of 10 or more. This enhances strength endurance and strength endurance is a primary strength quality that’s improved with kettlebell swing training. Digging deeper here, the spinal stabilization required to maintain proper spine position works the deep muscular stabilizers or paraspinals (muscles that run up and down your spine). These deep muscles are working extremely hard as you swing the bells. The continuous “time-under-tension” helps to build dense, strong, deep back muscles in a very unique way that’s almost unparalleled to anything else.
Powerful Glutes. Glutes are the hallmark of athletic development. Hip extension and hip power are essential in sport and activity and there may be few exercises that rival the kettlebell swing for improving explosive hip power. Glutes are the center of the athletic universe and double swings forge powerful and muscular glutes. It’s been said that strong glutes are the fountain of youth. I agree.
Lats. The lats are highly active throughout the double kettlebell swing. And, the lats are one of the largest muscle groups in the entire body. Performing double kettlebell swings isn’t a replacement for doing barbell rows or pull-ups, but they are a solid way to build stronger and more muscular lats. To put this simply, swinging the bells highly engages the lats.
Traps. Swinging kettlebells are also a great way to work the traps. Like other muscle groups here, the traps are firing the entire time you’re swinging the bells. The isometric contraction is needed to stabilize the entire shoulder girdle and I’ve noticed that consistent use of double kettlebell swings are phenomenal for developing the upper and middle traps.
Shrugs have always been a targeted upper trap builder, but swings are a lot more dynamic and provide significantly more benefits than the old barbell shrug (*the barbell shrug still remains one of my favorites for the upper traps as a “recovering bodybuilder”). To clarify, you are not actively shrugging during swings, rather it is the stabilization effect of working these muscles.
These are the key muscle groups active in the posterior chain that get the majority of the workload.
Oh, let’s not forget the hamstrings in this group as they are highly active, as well. We know that swings really light up the hamstring group. We’ve probably all experienced that wonderful hamstring soreness the day after heavy – or high volume – swings.
In addition to the muscle building benefits I just covered, you’ll also get a helluva lot leaner and stronger with solid programming.
SPEAKING OF PROGRAMMING…
In part II of this post, I’ll have a simple and effective double kettlebell program you can use.
Yes, you can use this as single kettlebell program, as well.
When do you swing doubles?
Only after you have a strong foundation with the single kettlebell swing.
Remember that doubles are a progression from the single kettlebell swing.
Anyway, stay tuned for part II.
I didn’t want the program to get lost, so I’ll post that in a separate short post.
The program is called the “triple-double” and you’ll see why.
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