Kettlebell training was once thought of as a new way to elevate your training, adding in exercises and routines that neither you nor your body had seen before. However, with its boom in popularity in recent years, even kettlebell exercises are now becoming a little dated and overused.
Now that the staple kettlebell variations of the top exercises have been identified, most of the best kettlebell routines feature the same collection of exercises, just in a different order. With that in mind, we want to take you back to the drawing board and help you shake things up all over again.
With that in mind, I am going to outline for you a comprehensive kettlebell upper body workout, made exclusively from exercises that often get overlooked. This will help reinvigorate your training and get you excited again, as you start experimenting with the new exercises on offer.
So, if you want to start smashing through plateaus and really enjoying your sessions again, while taking advantage of all the benefits kettlebells have to offer, this is the article for you.
The Benefits Of Kettlebells
There are a number of benefits that can be gained by using a kettlebell that you will struggle to achieve with any other types of fitness equipment.
They are ideal for improving explosiveness, as the weight is located in a small, single mass, designed to be used with both hands. This enables lifters to switch up their training and work their fast twitch muscle fibres by performing full body exercises that require lots of momentum.
The compactness of a kettlebell also lets it pack a large amount of weight into a small bit of kit. This is ideal for people training at home or away from the gym, as they can perform variations of big, compound exercises, without needing larger pieces of gear or multiple bits of equipment.
Finally, the versatility of a Kettlebell means it can be adapted to be used in any type of training. They can be used to replace barbell exercises, including squats and deadlifts, dumbbell exercises, such as pec flyes and bicep curls, and even their own specialised exercises, like kettlebell swings.
Kettlebells can also be used to do dynamic exercises like the farmers walk, where their singular mass allows them to hang and swing much more naturally than other options. This all makes a kettlebell a perfect choice for anyone seeking a single piece of equipment to completely shake up their training.
How Do You Warm Up For Kettlebells?
Like with most pieces of resistance training equipment, the best way to warm up for kettlebell training is by reproducing the same movements you will be performing in your main workout with little or no weight. This is effective as it prepares the body for exactly what it is about to go through.
A short session on a rower is another good option for warming up for a kettlebell session, as it uses all of the muscles throughout your body, has you work against resistance, elevates your heart rate, includes explosive movements, and generally gets your entire body warm and ready to go.
The last option you have to warm up for kettlebells is dynamic stretching. This is a great way to get the muscles ready to work out, but it is vital you don’t confuse these moving, dynamic stretches with static stretches, which are proven to be counterproductive and may even increase the risk of injury.
Comprehensive Kettlebell Upper Body Workout
As we move on to our comprehensive kettlebell upper body workout, I am going to show you a selection of 8 exercises, as well as variations of said exercises, that are often left out of workouts. This collection will include at least one option to hit every muscle in your body.
You can use the workout either on its own as a new total upper body workout or add some of the exercises to your current routine to spice things up, give yourself a little variety, and trick your body into letting you smash through those plateaus.
1. Two Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
A two handed kettlebell shoulder press is a move primarily designed to work in a way much like the Arnold press, starting the exercise at a lower point to involve more muscles.
Its main aim is to hit the delts, but it also works the triceps, traps, upper pecs, and even the biceps to differing degrees.
How To Do The Two Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and grip the kettlebell firmly with one hand on either side of the handle. Engage your deltoids and use them and your triceps to drive the weight up over your head, until your arms are fully extended.
Hold this position for a second and really squeeze the delts, before lowering it back to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner.
Benefits Of The Two Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
Doing two handed shoulder presses with a kettlebell is great as it overloads your shoulders, thanks to the narrow grip. This means that more weight will be placed on the shoulders directly, as it isn’t as easy for the triceps to take over while holding the kettlebell this way.
Two handed kettlebell shoulder presses activate and work most of the muscles in the shoulder girdle, helping to improve overhead strength and conditioning and develop better alignment.
This will then be directly transferrable to your other shoulder exercises.
Additional benefits of the two handed kettlebell shoulder press include helping to develop stability and core strength, while also improving your cardiovascular conditioning, and even enhancing grip strength, thanks to the awkward hand positioning.
Mobility Required For The Two Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
The awkward hand positioning of the two handed kettlebell shoulder press means it requires a high level of shoulder and upper back mobility to perform. If you lack the mobility necessary in the upper back, compensations will be made further down the body, in order to maintain correct alignment.
The human body is strongest when all the joints are stacked in good alignment, with one on top of the next.
When people press overhead with poor levels of mobility, they tend to arch their lower back, as they lack the ability to extend their arm vertically overhead, which can lead to injury.
Test your own back and shoulder mobility with a lighter weight when you first attempt the two handed kettlebell shoulder press. This will show you if you can safely perform it to begin with or if you need to improve your level of mobility first.
2. Kettlebell Chest Press
The kettlebell chest press is the premier kettlebell exercise for working the pectoral muscles, and it also helps to develop the triceps and front delts as well.
Like the traditional bench press, it is a large compound exercise that helps to develop a great deal of strength and power in the upper body.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Chest Press
To perform a kettlebell chest press, lay flat on your back on a bench and raise two kettlebells to chest height, just outside of shoulder width.
Hold the weights with an overhand grip, palms facing forward, and the weighted sections hanging down the backs of your forearms.
Flex the pecs and triceps to drive the weights up over your chest in an arcing motion, bringing them together as your arms reach full extension. Pause and squeeze the pecs for a sec before returning to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner and repeating for the desired number of reps.
Kettlebell Chest Press Variations
While the kettlebell chest press is undoubtedly a great kettlebell chest exercise, it is also extremely similar to a traditional bench press. That is why, for those who really want to shake things up, we will now look at 5 of the best variations of the kettlebell chest press to work your chest.
1. Kettlebell Floor Chest Press
The kettlebell floor press involves performing a kettlebell chest press while lying flat on the floor. By keeping the arms close to your body, it enables the kettlebell to be lowered to the shoulder, rather than past it.
This is a great option for those who want to focus on the top part of the range of motion or go really heavy. It is also the best option for beginners and people who have hyper mobile shoulder joints, as it puts less strain on the shoulder joint, helping to strengthen it and reduce sloppiness.
2. Half Get Up Chest Press
A half get up chest press is a single arm movement that starts at the top of a traditional chest press, with the arm fully extended. You then use the arm and leg on the opposite side of the body to move to a seated position, all the while pushing up with the kettlebell to keep it at full extension.
This is not only great for core development but also hits a part of the chest’s range of motion that is virtually never worked in other exercises.
3. Stability Ball Kettlebell Chest Press
The stability ball kettlebell chest press is identical to a traditional kettlebell chest press, except it is performed while laying on a stability ball, instead of a bench. The slight arch this causes will increase the chest muscle activation, allowing for more well-rounded development.
You will also activate the muscles of the shoulder joint to stabilise the motion, while your core muscles will become engaged to counterbalance the movement. It is, however, recommend you use a burst proof stability ball, due to the amount of weight you will need it to support.
4. Close Grip Kettlebell Push Up
To do a close grip kettlebell push up, take either a large kettlebell or two small kettlebells pushed together and place it/them on the floor, with the handle running left to right. Get in position to do a normal press up, but put your hands on the kettlebell handle, instead of the floor.
With hands almost touching do a press up. As you go down try to keep your upper arms by your side for as long as you can, only flaring your elbows slightly at the bottom to avoid needing to change your hand position. Hold the stretch at the bottom for a second before slowly pushing back up
Perform 20 to 30 good quality push ups but do them in a slow and controlled fashion to avoid the kettlebells wobbling. This is one of the best all round chest developing exercises there is.
5. Push Up To Kettlebell Renegade Row
Much like the option above, this exercise requires you to perform push up while holding the handles of kettlebells, only this time your hands will be the normal distance apart. However, whenever you reach the top of each rep, you will raise one of the two kettlebells in a single arm kettlebell row.
Known as the push up to renegade row, this combines two very important movement patterns, the horizontal push and horizontal pull. It requires solid core muscles to hold a good plank position, plus mastering the two different kettlebell exercises involved, making it exceptionally well rounded.
Other Kettlebell Chest Workout Ideas
One of the main benefits of kettlebell training is that the exercises are dynamic and flow from one movement to the next. This allows you to combine exercises to create an effective workout, which is particularly true for the chest muscles.
For example, you could go from a kettlebell floor chest press immediately into a half get up chest press or a stability ball chest press into a stability ball chest flye. Experimenting can be a great way to boost results, but try and limit your routines to 3 to 4 exercises, each with 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 10 reps.
3. Half Kneeling Kettlebell Press
The half kneeling kettlebell press works your shoulders and triceps, as well as your core and even parts of your legs. It is a great option if you want an exercise that will help to improve your core stability and hip mobility, while significantly increasing the strength and power in your shoulders.
How To Perform A Half Kneeling Kettlebell Press
The half kneeling kettlebell press begins in a position similar to the bottom of a lunge. You will have one knee and one foot on the floor, with a 90 degree angle in the back of each knee. You will then raise a kettlebell to shoulder height, just outside of shoulder width.
Holding the weight with an overhand grip, with your palm facing forward and the weighted section hanging down the back of your forearm, use the shoulders and triceps to drive the weight straight up until your arm reaches full extension.
Tilt your hand so your little finger raises and your thumb lowers and really squeeze the delts for a few seconds before slowly return to the starting position. It is important to use slow, controlled movements throughout and match the reps you hit on your first arm exactly on the second.
You can then evolve this exercise if you wish, adding in things such as lunges or push presses to add even more variety.
4. Kettlebell Upright Row
A kettlebell upright row is a great exercise for targeting the shoulders and traps, and also hits the rhomboids and biceps.
It also gives you a great deal of flexibility, as you can use a mix of close and wide grips and one or two kettlebells, depending on where you want most of the stress to be.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Upright Row
Take your kettlebell or kettlebells and hold it/them in front of you with your hands by your waist and arms fully extended. You then want to lift the weight up to shoulder height while keeping your hands the same distance apart at all times, raising the kettlebells up in a straight line
Your elbows will flare out to the sides and at the top of the rep your elbows must be higher than your shoulders and you shouldn’t be able to move the weight any higher. Squeeze the traps together throughout the movement and pause at the top for a second, before slowly lowering the weight.
The Benefits Of The Kettlebell Upright Row
The kettlebell upright row is great for developing growth and strength in the muscles throughout the shoulder girdle. It can also be used to effectively enhance stability and conditioning in the region, while also offering benefits to arm power as well.
Kettlebell Upright Row Form Tips
To safely perform a kettlebell upright row, getting your position and posture right is essential. You must also be sure you activate all of the muscles involved in executing the lift and make sure you keep them engaged through both the concentric and eccentric parts of the movement.
Make sure you don’t start with a weight that is too heavy and don’t yank the kettlebell to your chin, as the delicate nature of the movement means both can lead to injury. You also want to try not to slouch or roll your shoulders while doing the exercise, as this could lead to injury or poor posture.
Related Kettlebell Upright Row Exercises
The kettlebell upright row is a particularly good exercise for combining with other movements to build a routine from. Options like the kettlebell row, kettlebell push press, and kettlebell halo are all great options you have at your disposal.
5. Kettlebell Push Press
The kettlebell push press is extremely effective for developing explosive power in the shoulders and triceps, while also hitting the core, legs, back, chest, and biceps to differing degrees.
How much each muscle is worked will depend on your execution of the move and how strictly you follow the form.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Push Press
With two kettlebells placed about a foot in front of your feet, grab them by the handles and perform a hike, fully extending the hips and securing the weights at chest height.
Breathe in deeply, bend your knees, and perform a forced exhale, pushing your feet into the ground. Extend the hips into an upright and stable standing position and drive the weights overhead, extending the elbows until the arms are straight but not locked.
Take another deep breath and pull down with the lats as your elbows flex, lower the weights back to the chest, then repeat for the desired number of repetitions. If your movement is compromised, stop, reset, and begin the movement again.
6. Kettlebell Curl
Also known as a KB curl, the Kettlebell curl is primarily designed to hit the biceps brachii, although also works the brachialis, brachioradialis, and forearm flexors as well.
An isolation exercise solely meant for the arms, it is great for developing strength and can be performed even by beginners.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Curl
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a kettlebell in each hand. Tighten your core and lift the kettlebell to your shoulder by bending at the elbows, focusing on contracting only the biceps the whole time.
Make sure to keep your elbows in front of your hips throughout the movement.
Lower the kettlebell back down in an equally slow and controlled manner, until your arms are just shy of fully straightened, then repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure to keep steady and don’t swing your upper body, only moving your lower arms.
7. Kettlebell Halo
The Kettlebell Halo is a fabulous warm up and mobility exercise for the shoulder girdle and can be used as a great shoulder strengthening exercise for seniors or people with shoulder problems.
It works your shoulders first and foremost, as well as your triceps, biceps, and upper back.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Halo
A kettlebell halo is performed with your feet just apart, in line with the hips. Take the kettlebell and hold it by the edges of its handle against your chest in an inverted position, with the weight as the highest point.
Keep your hips and torso stationary and circle your head with the kettlebell.
Gradually rotate it 180 degrees so that the weight is at its lowest point when it reaches the centre of your back and continue the circular motion in the same direction, until you complete a full rotation, and the weight is back in its starting position.
A full rotation is one rep, and you should continue without stopping until you’ve hit the target number of reps or length of time. You can change direction either after each repetition or perform each alternating set in the opposite direction to the last.
Teaching Points For The Kettlebell Halo
To safely perform kettlebell halos, keep the elbows tucked in and the weight close to the body throughout the movement. You also want to ensure that the kettlebell stays as close to the base of the neck as possible, as the closer it is, the more it will improve your shoulder mobility.
Holding Options For The Kettlebell Halo
There are two different ways to hold the weight when performing a kettlebell halo. You can hold the kettlebell by the ball or hold it upside down by the horns. As neither has a massive impact on its effectiveness, you should select the option you feel the most comfortable with.
Example Workouts Using The Kettlebell Halo
Below we have listed a few circuit options which include kettlebell halos that you can try out to use it as part of a larger routine.
- Two Handed Kettlebell Swing – 30 secs
- Halo – 30 secs
- Repeat 6 times
- Slingshot – 30 secs
- Halo – 30 secs
- Single Handed Swing – 30 secs each side
- Repeat 4 times
- Two Handed Squat – 10 reps
- Halo – 10 reps
- Two Handed Squat – 9 reps
- Halo – 9 reps
- Repeat down to 1 rep
8. Kettlebell Swing
The two handed kettlebell swing is perhaps the most famous and unique kettlebell exercise available. When performed correctly, it is a great way to build total body strength, power, explosiveness, mobility, and balance.
There are a number of slightly different variations of the kettlebell swing. The Russian style version is often considered the safest, most effective way to master a kettlebell swing, so that is the one we will be focusing on here.
How To Perform A Kettlebell Swing
To avoid excessive strain on your back, avoid leaning forward to pick up the kettlebell. Instead, keep your heels planted, engage your core, and bend your knees to slowly lower yourself down and grip the handle of the kettlebell, with the weight between your legs and slightly behind you.
Swing the weight up from the floor by exploding upwards, driving through your heels, snapping your hips, contracting your legs, shoulders, and arms, and keeping your back straight at all times. Go until you are standing tall, still gripping the kettlebell, with it straight out in front of you.
Keep your arms long and loose, soften your knees, and let the weight do the work as you ready your body for the next rep. Shift your weight back onto your heels, receive the weight of the kettlebell and lower back to the starting position, before again driving through your heels and hips to repeat.
Kettlebell training can be a great way to mix up your workouts but, even then, you need to be sure to continue to switch up the exercises and keep things fresh if you want to guarantee you keep on seeing results.
Our comprehensive kettlebell upper body workout will hopefully have given you a great new plan to try or, at the very least, plenty of ideas of exercises and routines to shake up how you are currently training.
All you have left to do now is find your perfect kettlebell and start putting the techniques into practice.
That way, you will be able to start experiencing all the benefits and smashing through plateaus yourself, as soon as possible.