I don’t know about you, but in my pursuit of strength (at
least now that I’m in my 40s) does not include getting fatter.
I mean, who wants to be strong and fat?
Not exactly something that sells informercials… Or anything
for that matter.
Yet, it is possible, and when you’re over 40 (heck, over 25
really, but worse over 40), it’s totally probable if you’re
kettlebell program isn’t set up right.
How’s that happen?
2. Inflammation (our little friend rears his ugly head again)
Sarcopenia is simply muscle tissue loss.
And it happens as early as 25 years old.
And it happens at an average rate of 0.5-1.0% per year.
Think about that – that’s 10% per decade. Or 40% over the
course of 40 years, say, between 40 and 80.
“No problem-o,” you say, “I’ll just pull out my kettlebells
and do some traditional low volume, grease-the-groove
training. That’ll fix it.”
Uh… No, it won’t.
Sure, you’ll get stronger, but you won’t stop or reverse the
muscle tissue loss.
Because muscle growth is based on one major factor:
And most of the traditional kettlebell strength programs
tend to be on the lower side of volume. Furthermore, most
basic kettlebell programs revolve around the Swing and
the Get Up, two exercises, which although great for conditioning
and structural strength, are poor choices for building muscle,
especially when you’ve put your time practicing in.
Not only does your body becomes more neurologically
efficient at those exercises, but there isn’t enough mechanical
tension created to stimulate muscle growth.
In the kettlebell community, we tend to focus on the neural
benefits/aspects of strength training (which is fine) to the
detriment of the structural aspects – growing muscle.
There may be a question of doubt in your mind right now
so let me show you this post gleaned from a private
kettlebell forum. (I’ve edited it for privacy reasons.)
Daniel is measurably stronger in the 2 years between his body
comp measurements but has lost a pound of lean tissue.
What’s going on?
Like he said, he’s made the muscle (all but the pound of it
that he lost) more efficient at doing the work required of it.
Why is losing muscle a bad thing?
Muscle is your fat-burning machinery. It’s what uses energy –
i.e. stored body fat (and sugar) – for fuel. The less muscle
you have on your frame, the less energy you’ll use both
working out AND in the all-important post-workout period
(where you’re body can burn up to an additional 20% of it’s
daily caloric expenditure).
So the more muscle you have, the more potential mechanical
work you can do. And the more mechanical work you can
do, the more calories you’ll burn, both at work and at rest.
Lose that muscle, and if you’re calories remain the same on
average over any given period of time, and you’re body
will start storing fat, no matter how neurologically efficient
the muscle you have left is.
Furthermore, when it comes to strength, science has proven
time and time again that strength is directly proportional
to the cross-sectional area of a muscle. So a bigger muscle
has more strength potential than a smaller one.
It’s the difference between supping up a Honda Civic and a
Pontiac GTO. No matter how much you do the the Civic,
the GTO will always have more power output and more
power potential because it has a bigger engine.
But Daniel is one of the “lucky” ones – he also lost half a
pound of fat (no doubt due to his outside activities combined
with his kettlebells).
What would be really great is if he could both gain muscle
and lose fat simultaneously – over the course of a measured
period of time.
And he can.
And so can you.
By programming in specific muscle-building phases at very
specific periods, into your annual kettlebell training plan.
Wait – What?
Annual training plan?
What? What’s that?
You don’t have one?
You don’t have some sort of plan that you follow so that
you can measure your progress and see the results you’re
You just wing it?
Well that’s not gonna cut it – not in the long run.
Nor the short run neither.
And it might be one of the explanations for your lack of
We’ll have to do something about that, won’t we?
More on that in a bit – I want to get back to where specifically
to program in your muscle building phases.
First, we need to cover that “inflammation” or “chronic
Yeah, our ugly friend that reared his head yesterday when
talking about fat loss. (You did get that email, didn’t you?
If not, you’ll want to go back and look for it in your inbox –
some good stuff in there.)
The same thing happens to your body when you’re programmed
for strength and have pain or “issues” that you keep pushing
through, running up against or whatever.
Let’s say you’re trying to get that half bodyweight press but
you have a dinged up shoulder. Pushing through that pain/
discomfort/pinchy feeling isn’t going to help you in the
Sure, you may be able to “warm it up” but the “issues” still
return once you’ve cooled down.
What’s going on?
Quite simply, you have some movement dysfunctions that
have created some movement compensations and muscle
imbalances. And if you don’t take care of them, you’re
looking at some sort of injury like a rotator cuff tear, or
in my case with my hips, torn labrum(s).
Furthermore, all that discomfort/pain is creating inflammation
in your body, which, like we discussed yesterday (go back
and read yesterday’s email) stimulates fat accumulation, due
to chronically elevated cortisol levels.
(Pain / discomfort = stress = cortisol release. Chronic pain =
chronic stress = chronic cortisol release.)
That chronically elevated cortisol will, along with the increased
systemic stress that comes from training for strength in while
in pain, will essentially chew up your muscle tissue. It
becomes too costly for your body to maintain it and it will
literally, many times, use it for energy.
(The process is a little more complicated than that – that’s
the simplified “what you need to know now” version.)
That means training for strength only, while in pain, is a
surefire plan for losing muscle. So, address the pain and
movement dysfunctions first.
And that of course leads to the very obvious question:
How and when do you program in your muscle building
workouts into your overall kettlebell plan?
We’ll cover that in upcoming emails, and of course include
the where and when of our traditional strength training.