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Kettlebell push press: technique and variation guide

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November 25, 2022

The kettlebell push press; a great exercise for building muscle, overhead strength and power!

If you find yourself getting confused with the variations of an overhead press, fear not – I’m here to make it simple for you. Similar to the strict press, a push press begins with weight at the shoulders and finishes in an overhead lockout position.

The key difference here is that a push press allows you to use your legs to drive heavier weights overhead, rather than just using the shoulders, as you would for a strict press.

We’re going to kick this article off by diving into the benefits of using a kettlebell for this exercise, followed by a step-by step guide for correct kettlebell push press technique.

Why use kettlebells for push press rather than dumbbells?

You might spot a rack of kettlebells in the weight training area of your gym and wonder what makes them different to dumbbells, or whether they’re worth using at all. You can decide that for yourself once you’ve finished reading this article!

Unlike dumbbells, which have their weight evenly distributed, kettlebells have an offset centre of mass, demanding more overhead stability and core strength (Dicus et al., 2018). You can see this for yourself in an overhead press – with a dumbbell, one head sits in front of the shoulder socket, and the other sits behind, making it nice and balanced.

With a kettlebell, the weight sits entirely behind the socket, meaning that the shoulder has to work a lot harder to find overhead stability. Kettlebells are known for their role in building strength, power and endurance, making them a common feature in both strength and conditioning research and in injury prevention programs (Meigh et al., 2019).

In a nutshell, it’s fun and beneficial to keep your training varied and interesting, so mixing your dumbbell routine up by including kettlebells will provide a novel training challenge!

Kettlebell push press: which muscles are we working?

This exercise will target your upper body; specifically your deltoids, upper pectorals, and triceps, as well as forcing you to keep your core engaged. But are you doing the exercise correctly?

 Kettlebell push press: The technique

1) Stand with your feet set below your hips and the kettlebells resting in racked position on each shoulder, with the elbows just in front of the body. This is your starting position.

2) Maintaining an upright position, dip by bending the knees, keeping the heels flat on the ground.

3) Drive straight back up, and only once the hips have extended, punch the kettlebells up overhead, keeping your torso tight and arms close to your ears.

4) The rep is complete once your arms are locked out in overhead position, and both your knees and hips are fully extended.

5) Lower the kettlebells back down to your shoulders with control, returning to a stable standing position, before beginning the next rep.

Common faults to look out for and avoid

Here we’re going to cover some of the biggest mistakes people make so that you can learn to avoid them

Pressing early before the hips have extended

The lower body is made up of the largest muscles in the body so we want to make sure we’re using them and not just relying on our shoulders to do all the work as with a traditional push.

The kettlebells should not be leaving our shoulders until we’ve extended our knees and opened up our hips. Once you’ve dipped down, think about exploding up, and as you’re reaching full extension, punch the kettlebells up overhead.

Hips going backwards in the dip

For the dip phase, we want the torso upright. We want to avoid pushing our hips back, as this will change the movement direction, sending the kettlebells out and in front. Instead, imagine you have your back flat against a wall with nowhere for your hips to go. Knees will come forwards as you slide down the wall, and then you’ll pop the hips before pushing the kettlebells up overhead.

If you struggle with this, practise the movement with your back against a wall and without kettlebells, until you feel you’ve perfected the dip.

Coming on to your toes

 If your heels come up off the floor during the knee bend, you will lose your stable position and tip on to your toes. Not only is this a bad position that will cause you to lose your balance and stumble forwards, but it will also mean that you’re not able to recruit your posterior chain. This will reduce your lifting power, making the movement much harder than it needs to be (Myer et al., 2014).

If you’re finding this difficult, check if you can wiggle your toes whilst standing with your kettlebells at chest level in front rack position. If you can, then your weight is correctly sitting on your heels!

Variations

The kettlebell push press can be done as single arm, with just one kettlebell, or with two kettlebells; one in each hand. For beginners to weight training, practising it with just one kettlebell is a good way to get a hang of the technique before moving to the double-kettlebell push press variation. The exercise will stay the same, with the dip and hip extension helping to drive the weight up overhead.

What weight should I be using?

Finding the right kettlebell weight to use will depend on a few factors; your ability or experience with kettlebell training, the purpose of your training – e.g. strength, power, cardiovascular fitness or hypertrophy – and therefore the number of repetitions (reps) you are aiming to complete.

Prioritize technique over weight

It’s always important to start light and prioritize form, only go heavier if it doesn’t compromise your technique. If training for strength, you will want to use a heavier kettlebell for fewer reps, whereas muscle-building goals will require a lighter to moderate kettlebell for more reps.

Some sports will suggest target weights for kettlebell workouts, for example in CrossFit training, the recommended weight for conditioning workouts is usually 24kg for males, and 16kg for females.

Weight for novice

Novice push pressers should try warming up with a light kettlebell for a strict press to get an idea – the weight you use for your push press should be heavier than this because we get that extra help from your legs! The best thing to do is to start light, gain confidence and good movement, and build from there!

Hopefully you’re now a little clearer on the benefits of kettlebell training and ready to include the kettlebell push press in your next gym session. If you’re looking for a chance to practice the exercise and build shoulder strength, try the infamous ‘Death by..’ format: at the start of Minute 1, perform 1 kettlebell push press (single arm if new to the movement). Rest for the remainder of the minute, then at the start of minute 2, perform 2 kettlebell push presses.

Repeat this format, adding one rep every minute, until you can no longer complete the required number of reps within the minute.

Happy push pressing!

About Julien Raby