If you’ve been on the lookout for a new upper body workout involving building strength with kettlebells then this article is for you. Many people skip over kettlebell training when they have things like dumbbells and barbells, but if you’re bored of doing the same exercises or simply want to increase your muscle growth in a new way, then look no further.
Skip the barbell training and try these upper-body kettlebell exercises that will be the best new addition to your workout regimen:
- Two-Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
- Kettlebell Bent Over Row
- Kettlebell Upright Row
- Unilateral Kettlebell Push-up
- Kettlebell Skull Crusher
- Two-Handed Kettlebell Curl
- Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
- Kettlebell Halo
- Is a single kettlebell good enough for an upper-body workout?
- What size kettlebells should be used when implementing them into the upper body workouts?
- Are kettlebells better than dumbbells and barbells for upper-body workouts?
Two-Handed Kettlebell Shoulder Press
Many people think about doing the single-arm presses, but if you’re wanting to overload your shoulders then stand with your feet hip-width apart or wider if more balance is needed. From there, cup the kettlebell at chest level with both hands.
Lift the kettlebell overhead while bouncing just slightly from your knees if needed, before engaging your triceps to assist in bringing it back down to chest or shoulder height. If you’re wobbly and unseated, go to a lighter kettlebell to achieve maximum muscle mass.
Kettlebell Bent Over Row
This one is typically done with a dumbbell, however, if you are needing an intense back and abdominal workout, this is your exercise. Begin by holding a kettlebell of an adequate weight in one hand at your side with your feet shoulder-width apart.
The weight shouldn’t be slipping from your fingers or so light that it’s not a big enough challenge. While keeping a neutral back, make the hip-hinge movement backward until your torso is parallel with the ground and you feel a slight pull in your hamstrings. Engage your lats to pull the kettlebell upwards. When the weight reaches about chest height, lower it back down slowly. Do that repeatedly until your set is done, which is great between a 10-20 rep range.
Kettlebell Upright Row
Compared to the traditional upright row you’ll have way more motion with the kettlebell because you’re taking a narrower grip, which means more time under tension, and more tension typically means more muscle.
To do this exercise, set your feet in your conventional deadlift stance and place your kettlebell weight between your feet. Follow your natural hip-hinge movement forward and raise the weight to the starting position with both hands.
Make sure to keep your back straight and your abdominal muscles engaged. From the typical deadlift position, use your upper back to lift the kettlebell up your body and to your chest while driving your elbows up toward the ceiling until you can’t raise it any higher.
When you’ve reached the top position, lower it slowly back down to the deadlift position. Then raise it again and repeat until the set is finished.
Unilateral Kettlebell Push-up
This exercise is a favorite because it doesn’t require any lifting but also guarantees maximum burn in many areas, including core and grip strength. You’ll start by placing the kettlebell on the ground positioned as it would be for renegade rows.
So when you grip it, your right palm will be facing your left one. From there you’ll get to the plank position with one hand on the kettlebell handle and the other one firmly placed on the ground. Another reason it’s a favorite is because we usually save it for the end of the workout and go until failure.
Kettlebell Skull Crusher
The kettlebell skull crusher isn’t just a fun exercise to say, it is certainly going to put your triceps to work and is very effective at improving your bench press. It’s considered to be a good workout for people with joint pain as well since it’s less taxing on the elbows.
This one is also done from the ground, with your back against the floor. Similar to a regular overhead extension, you’ll hold the kettlebell out in front of you and then slowly bend your elbow to bring it just over your head and then back again, repeating until your set is done at an 8-10 rep range.
Two-Handed Kettlebell Curl
One of the easiest moves on this list is the two-handed kettlebell curl. It’s more of a grinding lift and might need an increase in weight if your normal kettlebell weight is too easy. This exercise can be done standing or kneeling (if you want more abdominal strengthening). Either way, with both hands on the kettlebell handle, curl the weight to your chest.
Remember to squeeze your biceps at the top of the rep and take your time back down to the starting position. If you’re not feeling much after increasing weight, try turning the kettlebell upside down (imagine bringing the heavy part to touch your chest instead of the handle) and lift it that way instead for more resistance.
Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
A super friendly beginner exercise is the kettlebell suitcase carry, which might seem easy at first, but when in proper form and with a heavy weight, it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. If this is your first time, start at a lighter weight and hold it in one head at your side.
Once in the ready position, bring your shoulder blades in and down while keeping your eyes and head straight in front of you. The idea is to carry the weight across the floor without looking like you’re carrying anything at all, meaning no severe leaning, no arched back, and no bent elbow.
Every step should be controlled and steady and if it’s not then you need to decrease the weight and slowly work your way back up. We recommend walking with the weight up and down the floor once before switching. If you have a smaller space then do a few “laps” before going to the other hand.
To bring things full circle, pun intended, this kettlebell halo exercise is a great warm-up or cool-down and is a fantastic workout for the shoulder girdle, arms, and upper back. It is very important to not overload this exercise with a heavy kettlebell as most if not all of the benefits come from the mobility generated by the movement rather than the heavier weight.
Keeping your head straight and with good posture, keep the light kettlebell close to your neckline as possible as you rotate it around your head while both hands stay firmly gripping the kettlebell for the entire kettlebell halo exercise.
Is a single kettlebell good enough for an upper-body workout?
The short answer is yes. You can do a wide range of exercises with a single kettlebell from variations of a kettlebell swing to overhead presses and so much more. Most dumbbell exercises can be swapped out for kettlebell workouts and depending on your fitness level, opens up an even wider range of exercises to try and is perfect for building strength for the major muscle groups.
What size kettlebells should be used when implementing them into the upper body workouts?
The kettlebell weight will depend on which exercise you’re doing, but it’s always good to start lighter. If you’re new to kettlebell workouts, a 20-pound kettlebell is a great place to start and doing 3-4 rounds of each set is typically the standard.
The goal is to eventually increase to heavier kettlebells, but going at lightweight will decrease your chances of injury. Meaning, avoid a heavy kettlebell if a 5-pound kettlebell is all you can lift without struggling.
Are kettlebells better than dumbbells and barbells for upper-body workouts?
While there are major benefits to all, the way the cast-iron weights are made allows a wider range of motion when it comes to body movement. The upper body kettlebell workouts, when done properly, offer the same or more benefits than the dumbbell and barbell training, including things like joint stability and cardio benefits .
So whether you want to bring kettlebell moves into your circuit training or want to make them the main part of your training program, either will bring you significant benefits.