We talk a lot about making gains around here, and that sort of encompasses the entirety of fitness: whether your goal is shredding, putting on muscle, boosting your endurance, etc … “making gains” is making strides toward that goal.
Today, I want to talk about making “actual” gains, in the form of muscle.
Typical talk around kettlebell and bodyweight training centers around shredding, mobility, and HIIT-style cardio work, so I want to take a pause and show you some tips for putting on muscle, with and without kettlebells.
Training for muscle gains involves using a few different methods of lifting and training, so if you’re looking to start gaining, start here.
Let’s hit it.
Top Tips for Making Muscle Gains
1. Grab a Heavier Weight
This is probably one most of you are aware of, but building gets easier when you add more weight. This isn’t to say that you can’t build muscle with bodyweight circuits alone, but you’ll fatigue your muscle faster (and therefore build faster) when you put them under a higher load.
What does this look like? Well, if you’re using a kettlebell or dumbbell weight that’s comfortable for your now, grab one or two that are more challenging. The key is to use a weight where you can’t perform as many reps (between 5-7 versus. 12 or more).
Form becomes extremely important when you do this, so focus not on speed when you upgrade, but quality movement.
2. Be Eccentric
Nope, not in the personality sense (but that’s a great option too): focus of utilizing eccentric training.
Eccentric training is a training style that focuses on going slooow on the lowering, or expanding, phase of movements. For instance: If you were to do eccentric pullups, you’d pull up as normal, but lower slow and controlled (at least half speed) when lowering back down. The same with curls or pushups: normal lift or rise, slow and controlled lower.
Research has shown this is one of the best ways to build muscle mass, with scientists stating that the increased load on the muscle is responsible for building muscle fibers better than other forms of training. [*]
3. Work Large Muscle Groups + Utilize Compound Movements
Focusing on big lifts and working multiple muscle groups at once can significantly boost HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone, two of the most important hormones for gaining muscle. [*] This is because these moves activate more muscle fibers at once than isolated movements (plus the intensity activates more metabolic processes), creating a higher hormone response.
“Big lifts” and compound movements include movements like deadlifts, squats, the clean-and-press, bent over kettlebell rows, and pull ups. Focus on these in your circuits, and remember to stick to that 5-7 rep range.
4. If You’re Doing Cardio, Focus on HIIT
Doing too much steady-state cardio when trying to build can dampen muscle gains, while research shows that HIIT can actually fuel muscle growth by significantly increasing HGH levels. One study in particular found that just a single 30 second sprint increased HGH significantly [*]
HIIT involves alternating periods of intense “work” and rest. A HIIT session could be as simple as all-out sprinting for 15-30 seconds, followed by a 30-60 second walk, and repeated for 15 minutes, or you can even structure a bodyweight strength circuit in a similar fashion.
5. Adequate Recovery Time + Diet
Don’t forget to allow for recovery time between heavy lifting and training days – this is the time where your muscles repair themselves, becoming stronger and bigger. Cutting off that time could cut off gains and potentially prime you for injury due to overwork. Be sure to rest and get in those Epsom salt baths!
As for diet, growing muscles require plenty of protein, so make sure you’re eating enough high quality, whole-food sources such as organic chicken, grass fed beef, and pastured eggs. Along with this, add a serving of clean carbs to your meals such as sweet potato, winter squash, or starchy veggies like carrots, as muscles like using glycogen to grow (just don’t go crazy, and avoid processed carbs).
If you’re looking for specific workouts, consider checking out my daily workout subscription option (14-day FREE trial going on right now!). I also showcase some moves over on Youtube, so give a subscribe and follow along.
Also, check out some of these moves for inspiration: