Reader Question: “How Strong Can Kettlebells Get You?”

That’s an interesting question I received this morning
from Niko. He goes on to clarify:

“I’ve been wondering this a while  and the simplest I can
phrase my question is  this: could I be a lot stronger
using 32-40kg kettlebells than “average” gym goers who can
squat 140-150kg, bench 120-130kg and deadlift 180-200kg
(these are my long term goals btw)?

If two guys would wrestle and the other guys best kettlebell
lifts would be C+P using 40kg double kettlebells 10 sets of
six with one minute rest periods and can complete ONE-program
with it and the other guy has above numbers in barbell lifts,
who would have strength advantage?

Getting those numbers in barbell lifts are not that much
impressive and takes about couple of years or less If one
dedicates himself but getting your Strong and one programs
done with 40kg takes much more time (depending of course
strength levels when starting) and are really impressive
kettlebell feats.

Why I’m asking this is because my main goal is to get really
strong and healthy, stronger than most gym goers (again, not
powerlifters) but starting early next year my job changes and
I no longer have easy access to gym like I do now and I have
to decide whether to find new gym and try to find much more
time than now or use kettlebells exclusively at home. I have
2×16, 2×24 and about to buy 2x32kg kettlebells for the future.
Kettlebells would be a lot easier with time constraints but
can I increase my strength levels radically using only them?”

There are many layers to this question that we can all learn
from, so let me break it down.

Niko, I think you live in Europe. Here in America, the
“average” gym goer cannot squat over 300lbs, in fact he doesn’t
squat at all. He’s lucky if he’s got a legitimate mid-200
pound bench, and there’s no way in H-E-double hockey sticks
he’s got a 400 pound deadlift. No. Way.

So, if that’s average in Europe, then that’s not bad.

Here’s the thing
:

You should never compare yourself to what others can do.

It sets limits on your mind.

Instead, take the limits off. Dream BIG.

And then set small, step-wise goals to get there.

Next –

Comparing strengths between KBs and the barbell -
depends on how you use them.

KBs give you fantastic “in-between” and “awkward” strength
that is more practical to real life than a barbell.

Although I admire powerlifters’ great strength, I don’t think
we should emulate their training unless we want to become
powerlifters.

My good buddy Mark “Rif” Reifkind once quipped that
powerlifters give up all movements to perfect three.

You don’t just want to be able to deadlift, squat, and bench.

You should be able to do whatever you want.

Speaking of – interesting story Pavel told me about a world
class / world champion powerlifter who I am not at liberty
to name:

He hurt is back squatting and was on the “DL” – the disabled
list. (He’s a superheavyweight.)

So he started swinging a KB for the first time and get this –

He used “only” a 24kg. Here’s a man who had a high 800
deadlift.

After using “just” the 24kg for swings, he rehabbed his lower
back, and put noticeable muscle on his hamstrings, glutes,
lower and upper back.

From “just” a 24kg KB. “Only” doing swings.

And when he did return to competition, he increased his squat
and deadlift. He told Pavel that he credited the KB.

I think you see the point I’m trying to make.

To your question on the wrestlers –

I’d put my money on the wrestler who trained using the
STRONG! and the One program over the wrestler who used the
barbell.

I know what you skeptics reading this might be thinking –

“You’re just saying this because you’re a KB guy.”

No, actually I used to train college wrestlers and I had
this EXACT scenario play out.

I had a lightweight – a 125 pounder who got up to 130 in
the off-season using a traditional barbell strength program.

In fact, he got WAY stronger pound-for-pound than your
“average” gym lifter. We got him up to a TRIPLE bodyweight
squat – a real powerlifting legal 390 pound squat.

When he got on the mat that year, he got pushed around.

My jaw dropped open when I saw it happen. Very little of
that barbell strength transferred.

I didn’t have KBs at the time, but I knew they existed.

So his program became one based on heavy single dumbbell
and fat handled, loadable dumbbell lifts. (I think we
threw in some double dumbbell work too.)

The result?

He started dominating his opponents.

Why?

He could actually use and apply his strength – “real world”
strength.

These are just two stories of many.

There are many others of powerlifters who used the KB to
learn how to engage their lats and drove their bench press
up.

Or who learned how to wedge properly from the swing and
drove their squat and deadlift numbers up.

The bottom line is that the kettlebell, or more specifically,
a pair of kettlebells, like 32s, will give you an all-around
strength that a barbell just won’t give you.

Two points to consider:

1. I love this “rumor” – certain units within the Soviet
Spetsnaz (special forces) were rumored to do their PT with a
pair of 24s – high rep clean and jerks. Multiple sets of 20
to 30 reps were “all” they needed.

That’s a pretty good testimony right there.

Anyone who’s done high rep clean and jerks knows what they
will do for your body.

And –

2. I was actually texting back and forth with my coach this
past Saturday. He’s Cuban and is in his mid-60s. So he grew
up in Cuba before the revolution and after the revolution.
He went to high school and college under Soviet standards.

He excelled in boxing, cycling, swimming, track and field,
and weightlifting.

Here’s what he said on Saturday:

“Give me an olympic bar, and a pair of kettlebells for men,
the big ones, and I will excel at any sport, even if I don’t
practice. Take them away, and I will be a mere mortal.”

This coming from a man who at 90kg could snatch 150kg for a
3×3 and C+J 180kg for a 3×3 and would’ve won the Cuban

National Championships if it weren’t for his political views.

My final point is this:

If you want to use a barbell, awesome. Go ahead.

However, there are many, many stories of barbell lifters who
have taken their physique and strength levels to new heights
by using KBs.

Which is why I state that if you want to get REALLY strong
and REALLY conditioned, work up to doing the “One” program
with a pair of 48kg KBs.

In your case, Niko, your pair of 40s.

Oh yeah, and when you do complete the STRONG! program

with a pair of 40s, make sure you send my your “before” and
“after” pictures.

I don’t think we’ll be able to recognize you from the “before”
pics.

I think that pretty much covers it.

When you want to get strong – REALLY strong – using “just”
kettlebells – follow both the STRONG! program and the “One”
program – twice a week each.

Gotta run.

Geoff

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