Kettlebells and strength gains. That’s a really big question and it’s not discussed nearly as much as I think it should be. After all, while we have tons of studies about how dumbbells and barbells can increase strength, there aren’t quite as many dealing with kettlebells.
All in all, it looks like one can gain strength with a kettlebell, which stands to reason.
However, the science is far from settled on the matter, which is why a new study from August, 2020 deserves some attention.
The study in question looked at high school students in Russia, where kettlebells aren’t just common, but lifting them is basically a national sport.
From the paper’s problem statement.
One of the ways to optimize the educational process in physical education is to search for rational approaches to physical education and health of students, the development of strength and strength endurance with the use of kettlebell lifting exercises in physical education lessons (Prontenko et al., 2017).We set the following tasks: to study scientifically – methodical literature on the research problem; to develop and test an experimental set of exercises with weights for the development of strength in students of 11th grade; to evaluate the impact of theexercises with weights on the change in the level of strengthdevelopment in high school students in physical education lessons.
Their purpose was to “develop and test a set of exercises with a kettlebell that ensures the development of strength in high school students in physical education lessons.”
In other words, they wanted to see if they could get high school students stronger.
They tested a standing broad jump using both legs, “bending and unbending the arms while lying down,” and the kettlebell jerk.
As part of their methodology, they did a couple of very good things. For one, they utilized progressive overload. They also looked at increasing the complexity of the exercises. In other words, they didn’t just teach the swing and leave it there. They also added levels of complexity. That can be a form of progressive overload as well.
Now, the experimental group performed better in initial testing than the control when it came to the bending test. However, it performed more poorly than the control when it came to actually lifting the kettlebell.
After the test, there was significant improvement in both measures by the experimental group–in other words, the guys lifting the kettlebells performed better. In fact, now the experimental group outperformed the control group with regard to lifting the kettlebell. The kettlebell group went from +0.3 to +4.4 with the bends and from -0.5 to +7.8 lifts of the kettlebell.
There was also a significantly better improvement in the experimental group when you look at the jump as well.
While the control group improved 1.6 cm, the kettlebell lifters increased by 11.8 cm.
Thus, the result of the use of experimental sets of exercises with a kettlebell was an increase in the level of strength training of the young men of the experimental group, which allowed them to improve the results when fulfilling the proposed standards of the ARPCSC GTO complex for students 16-17 years old (V stage).
Analysing the results of our pedagogical experiment, it can be argued that the developed experimental sets of exercises with weights have a positive effect on the level of strength development in boys of grades 10-11, and weight-lifting equipment can be successfully used in training such a physical quality as strength.
Now, with that said, there are still issues with the study.
As seems to be the norm, the study has a very small sample size. The two groups of only 10 subjects each lends itself to the possible statistical noise.
However, that’s far from the only or, arguably, the biggest issues. The exercises tested, though?
See, the massive difference in kettlebell lifts may well be related to strength. It also may have been tied more to technique.
The experimental group was getting practice in lifting kettlebells. One they likely did–though the paper doesn’t specify–is the jerk or clean & jerk. This would give them familiarity with the lift and technical cues that would likely help them in the test.
It would have been more useful to use a measure that would have been alien to both groups.
Do the issues it matter?
I’m going to guess that they don’t. If anything, they may overstate the magnitude of any strength gains, but not the fact that there are some.
Strength is gained by progressive overload. This experiment included progressive overload. As a result, the subjects got stronger.
We’ve known that since Milo of Croton.
I’m still concerned with sample size, but this seem to be the norm in exercise science. I don’t like that at all. That said, it is what it is.
Further, those design issues don’t really matter when taken in light of other studies on kettlebells and strength gains. Almost all of them find that yes, you can get stronger with kettlebells.
If you’re looking at using kettlebells for your strength gains, you should be able to achieve those goals just fine.