Kettlebells and Muscle Mass

Kettlebells and big muscles? Nah!

Will Kettlebells Make Me Too Bulky?

By Coach Izzy

First off, I would like to start this article by thanking you.  Your questions and feedback bring the muse and allow my articles to address your concerns.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

On that note, one of the issues generating a significant number of e-mails comes from females who want to start kettlebell lifting but are deeply concerned about putting on “too much muscle size” or “getting too bulky like those women in the magazines”.  After all, the lightest kettlebell of them all weighs about 9 lbs which in the traditional fitness approach for women is used “for low reps to build strength but not to tone“.  How is it possible to lift that much weight (or more) without putting on unwanted size? The legacy of conventional gym wisdom is clear when one sees women who are otherwise healthy, fearful of approaching loads exceeding 20 lbs.

Now, developing “bulk” (I will assume you are referring to substantial increases in muscle mass) is very specific to a small segment of the exercise and fitness population whose paychecks or livelihoods depend on the amount of muscle mass they can pack.  In addition, their training and lifestyles revolve around enhancing the stimulus needed to develop “bulk”.  They may make it look easy but it is a lot more work and sacrifice than one could possibly speculate.  One does not pick up a weight and immediately starts putting on stage-worthy size.

As far as kettlebell training goes, the way it is traditionally approached (endurance drills designed to take maximum advantage of the shape of the kettlebell) makes it virtually impossible to trigger the specific stimulus needed to pack significant amounts of muscle mass.  There will be improvements in your strength, stamina and noticeable changes in your body but monstrous size will not be one of them.

There is also an important distinction you have to keep in mind. If you want to improve body composition, the most efficient and long term solution is adding muscle and adding muscle is not the same as “getting bulky.  I am sure all the talk in the world will do very little to ease the concern of those who fear excessively large muscles (women are the grand majority) as a result of lifting kettlebells so, what better than a real life example to calm those fears?

If there’s such thing as a prime candidate to “bulk-up” through kettlebell training, it would be Four-Time-Kettlebell World Champion Lorna Kleidman, who regularly handles 16 Kilo (35 lbs) and 20 Kilo (44 lbs) kettlebells in her superbly conditioned body for hundreds of reps.


The 3-Time World Champion and her head-turning body Lorna’s gravity-defying side-view The “Kettle-Belle” inspires both men and women

Lorna trains with nearly 5 to 10 times the resistance the average female fitness enthusiast uses and one look at her is enough to shatter the “bulky” muscles myth.  Her physique and hard work inspires thousands of kettlebell enthusiasts, both male and female, to pursue excellence in kettlebell lifting with the realization that a healthy, strong, and powerful body does not have to be massive.Lorna Kleidman's Book

Lorna guides her loyal supporters through her popular classes and one-on-one sessions in New York.  Both private and class sessions are on high demand and highly coveted so if you land a spot, hang on to it!  The experience and what you’ll learn will be well worth it.  If distance is an issue, the second best way to be under Lorna’s guidance is through her book “Body Sculpting with Kettlebells for Women”. Many of my former female kettlebell students in New York are under Lorna’s guidance and I have yet to hear of one complaining of “too much size“.

This is not to say you cannot “bulk-up” (Frankly, I am not too fond of this ambiguous word) through kettlebell training.  There are effective ways of doing so with kettlebells but from my experience there are far more efficient and proven methods to achieve muscle mass and none of them involve the use of kettlebells.

The emphasis of kettlebell training is to give you a leaner, stronger, more powerful body by building a solid foundation of skill and conditioning. I’m sure you are excited about the prospect and looking forward to it.  Once the goal is accomplished, you can veer and adapt towards your more specific goals, including “bulking up” if that is what you desire.

See you on the Exercise Floor!

P.S. My gratitude to Lorna Kleidman for her support.  Lorna has a DVD to be released this summer.  Please visit the 4-time World Champion at

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