“Can You Build Muscle With Kettlebell Swings?” (Part 1)

“Can You Build Muscle With Kettlebell Swings?” (Part 1)

Mike messaged me asking:

“Can you build muscle with swings?”

Great question.

Let’s take a deeper dive because it’s an important topic.

First off, muscle is built by exercising against resistance.

Are Swings “resistance?”


But not all “resistance” is the same.

If Mike is really asking, “Can you build muscle and look like a bodybuilder from using Swings?”

The answer is a resounding “NO.”

Or “Heck No.”

Or “NO WAY.”


Or however you want to say it.

But(t) you can build muscle.

And that muscle will primarily be in your posterior chain – your glutes, hamstrings, even calves. Maybe some abs.

Yes, you’ll build *some* (a.k.a. Not a lot – so don’t pin your hopes on doing so) in your arms, shoulders, and upper back.

Why not?

I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second, according to Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, there are 3 primary ways or methods to build muscle:

[1]  Mechanical Tension: Lifting heavier weights for lower reps, similar to the way powerlifters train; think multiple sets of 2-5 reps.

[2]  Muscular Damage: Lifting moderate weights for medium to higher reps, similar to the way bodybuilders train; think multiple sets of 8-20 reps.

[3]  Metabolic Stress: Doing either high reps or complexes where you don’t set the weight down, producing intense burning and the release of metabolites like lactate.

Where do Swings fit in there?

For optimal programming, “Muscular Damage” – usually sets of 10-20, or between 15 and 30 seconds.

(Sets of 20 typically cause too much soreness for most to bear.)

Or “Metabolic Stress” – when you can and are willing to tolerate muscle soreness. (More on this later…)

Mike than followed up stating:

“I know they are usually used more for fat loss.”

He’s 100% right.

Swings are great for fat loss and building “CONDITIONING.”

Most people can’t go wrong with using them if those were the “only” two outcomes you received from doing them.

They are the “entry level” kettlebell exercise and many people, like my friend Mark Reifkind, StrongFirst Master Instructor Emeritus, states:

“It has been said that a properly executed kettlebell swing is better than 99% of all strength and conditioning exercises. I respectfully disagree. I believe it is better than 100% of all the strength and conditioning exercises – at least for 99% of all people.”

I wouldn’t agree 100% with that statement, but it’s close, especially when we see that kettlebell ballistics check the boxes for staving off the aging process:

[+]  Increase power production / output

[+]  Improve glucose tolerance / decrease glucose intolerance 

[+]  Improve insulin sensitivity / decrease insulin resistance

[+]  Decrease body fat

[+]  Train postural muscles

[+]  Strengthen grip

[+]  Strengthen legs

[+]  Improve cardiovascular health

Traditionally, multiple sets of 10 reps – like 10 sets of 10 – is standard operating procedure in the “kettlebell world” for the “right amount of conditioning.”

(I tend to lean more toward TOTM (Top Of The Minute) protocols for conditioning and fat loss using “just” Swings. I find them more time-efficient.)

But we can build muscle AND achieve all the aforementioned benefits by using more productive exercises.

Which ones?

This is where the double KB exercises come in.

The “best” for building muscle are:

[1]  Clean + Press

[2]  Clean + Push Press

[3]  Clean + Jerk

[4]  Front Squat

… With a sprinkling of the other double KB lifts mixed in, like the High Pull, Snatch, and Swing.

The Clean uses more upper back than the Swing, so your upper back and shoulders get more “love,” and therefore more muscular. Yet it also trains all the muscles of the lower body, the same as the Swing.

The Clean also eccentrically trains the biceps – they stretch on the backswing. And your grip.

The Press directly trains your triceps and shoulder, and your upper pecs to a lesser extent. Plus, your lats. And your abs.

So now, your entire body is covered.

“Yeah, but what about my quads?”

Double Kettlebell Front Squat.

… Which also puts the hurt on your abs, and upper back.

So, Swings for “building muscle?”

Not so much.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you how to use Swings to build muscle if you insist on doing so.

Stay Strong,


👉 P.S. If you want a muscle-building program using the Double Clean + Press and Front Squat, guys are loving this one.


👉 And if you want to “just” use the Swings for fat loss and conditioning, here are 10 of them.


👉 And if you have bad knees and only want to use the Clean + Press, I recommend this program.


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