Building Muscle on Just Kettlebells and Calisthenics

“I enjoyed your article very much on  I’m going through the police academy next month. I’ve been training for a few years, started for football then bodybuilding.  Now I am really pushing myself to become an athletic freak before the academy, just to let you know.  I liked your article, and it really pumped me up to train even harder.

Thanks for the motivation,
Joe H.”

Hi Jim,

I’m a huge fan of your blog. Great stuff. Your articles make a lot of sense. You are a blessing to a lot of people. 

I’m 33 years old, skinny, but with 17% body fat. I’m planning to do body weight exercises with kettlebells and dumbbells. I don’t have time to hit the gym due to my busy schedule. 

I hope your ectomorph workout will add more muscle to my frame and change the way I look. I aim to have a more commanding presence, since I’m a school administrator.  

Kind regards,

My Answer: Thanks for the kind words.  The Hypertrophy Training for the Ectomorph (HTE) will add more muscle to your frame, but the exercises in the program are gym exercises.  In other words, the program requires the use of barbells and machines.  So if you’re just using kettlebells, dumbbells and body weight exercises, then you will not be able to follow the set and reps outlined in the program.

The HTE program is based on pyramid sets, and hence progressive overload is used.  You can easily progress from lighter to heavier weight with barbells, dumbbells and machines.  With kettlebells and calisthenics, however, the weights are fixed.  So you can’t easily pyramid the weight with kettlebells and calisthenics.  You can move up from a lighter kettlebell to a heavier kettlebell, but with kettlebells the increments are large.  A ten pound plus difference is quite a jump in weight.  This makes for a very steep pyramid.

To add smaller increments of weight to kettlebells, you can do stacked kettlebell exercises.  So instead of jumping from a 50 pound kettlebell to a 60 pound kettlebell, you hold on to a 50 lb. and a mini kettlebell that’s 2.5 or 5 pounds.

You can certainly build a muscular physique on just body weight exercises, kettlebells and dumbbells, but you just can’t do the HTE program.  To build lean muscle on just KB’s, DB’s and BW, you have to perform a wide variety of these exercises and understand which of these exercises generate high muscular tension.

Muscles grow when they are placed under high mechanical tension.  So if you want to grow from body weight exercises, then don’t just go for high reps and plyometrics.  Do harder calisthenics such as pistols, one arm push-ups, pull-ups and dips, as these exercises create more tension on your muscles.

The following are standard kettlebell exercises that every KB enthusiast should learn:

KB swings
KB clean and press
KB snatch
KB Turkish get-up
KB windmill

As for BW exercises, you should include pull-ups, chin-ups and dips in your regimen as well as pistols:

and hanging leg raises:

As for dumbbell exercises, you have a wide variety from which to choose, but I suggest you include DB exercises that cover muscle groups not covered by KB and BW exercises.  There aren’t any KB and BW that build up the lateral deltoids, so you should definitely perform DB lateral raise variations:


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