When you think about building lower body strength, the kettlebell is one of the most utilized pieces of workout equipment to get bigger glutes, hamstrings, and quads. But this type of weight is also a fantastic tool for serious upper body gains — and our team here at Haven can fill you in on all the details.
Let’s take a look at some of the most effective kettlebell exercises to pump up muscle mass in the upper body.
1. Shoulder Press
The way that kettlebells distribute the weight throughout the piece of equipment is very unique compared to traditional dumbbells or barbells. For that reason, it makes it one of the most effective tools for growing out the shoulders with an overhead shoulder press.
By racking the kettlebells on each hand, it forces you to stabilize the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles in unique ways as you drive the weight overhead. You can do alternating shoulder presses for longer reps or do both arms at the same time.
You can also combine a lower body movement by hinging the hips and driving the kettlebells up to the shoulders with a clean to turn this into a full-body clean to press. Either way, this is one of the most effective moves for making your shoulders look big and bulky.
2. Upright Row
Upright rows also target the shoulders, but they emphasize the trapezius muscles that connect from the base of the neck down to the shoulders. This is an often underworked muscle that upright rows target well.
Think about keeping the kettlebells as close to the center of the body as possible, driving the weight up towards the chin, and letting the elbows flare out to the sides. This move is best done with a single arm at a time to allow the kettlebell to really situate within the midpoint of the body.
You can drive heavier weights by adding a squat before your upright row. This uses leg drive to power the weight up towards the chin, allowing you to go heavier. Bear in mind that this move can put a lot of tension on the shoulder joints, so tread carefully if you’ve got a shoulder injury.
3. Bent-Over Row
The bent-over row is a classic exercise for targeting the lat muscles in the back. You can use kettlebells in place of dumbbells or a barbell when completing this move.
The main points to keep in mind when completing this move are related to hinging the hips and driving the elbows back. Firstly, hinge at the hips until your chest is almost parallel to the floor. The more parallel you are, the more you’ll target the lats rather than the rear deltoids (shoulder).
Next, think about driving your elbows back to your waistline. This helps you engage the lats rather than the delts while also forcing you to use your back instead of your arms to drive the weight.
You can do this move single-armed or with both hands at the same time. You can also prop yourself up against a bench for a supported row that gives you more stability when doing one arm at a time.
4. Kettlebell Push Up
Push-ups are a quintessential exercise for growing the chest, shoulders, and triceps, but you can use kettlebells to enhance your range of motion and make a typical push-up even more effective.
Place two kettlebells on the floor with handles facing one another. Then grab both kettlebells and plant your feet so you’re in a high plank position. From there, bring your chest as close to the floor as possible, stretching the chest muscles through their entire range of motion, before returning to the starting position.
You can also do this from your knees if it feels a bit challenging, or choose to do an offset push-up using only one kettlebell. This emphasizes one side of the chest over the other, which is helpful for fixing muscle imbalances.
5. Kettlebell Chest Press
There are countless chest press variations to grow your pecs, but if you’re skipping out on a kettlebell chest press, it might be time to give it a go. By holding a single kettlebell by the sides, you are essentially doing a close-grip chest press that targets the chest and tricep muscles.
This move is a great alternative to the close grip chest press because it forces you to squeeze your chest at the top of the move since you’re only holding onto one weight. It can also have a bit more of a comfortable grip in comparison to holding two dumbbells.
Your triceps are two-thirds of your arm, making it a large muscle that helps to give you the toned and muscular appearance near your shoulders. Skullcrushers are a great move that extends the triceps through their full range of motion.
You can do this move by holding two kettlebells at the handles, or by just holding one. While lying down on a bench or the floor, slowly bring the weight down to your forehead, keeping your elbows locked in place above you. Once you get a good stretch in the triceps, slowly press back up into the starting position.
Pullovers focus their efforts on your shoulder and rotator cuff, but this is also a phenomenal exercise for the core. With a pullover, you’ll lay on the floor and slowly bring the kettlebell back overhead, then slowly bring it back towards the ceiling. You can emphasize the core here by adding leg lifts or scissor kicks in addition to the pullover.
8. Lateral Raises
Lateral raises work the trap muscles as well as the middle delt muscles on the top of the shoulders. This move will require you to use a smaller weight compared to a traditional overhead press, but it will burn just as much.
The key here is to complete slow and controlled movements to keep your muscles under tension for longer. This is a fantastic move for growing bigger deltoids and trap muscles.
9. Bicep Curl
While it can be challenging to hold two kettlebells and complete bicep curls, you can hold one kettlebell and really maximize your bicep gains. With your palms facing each other as you grip the weight, this move targets the brachialis muscle, which is a large muscle underneath the bicep that fills out your sleeves and makes you look jacked.
You can combine this move with an overhead press to work the biceps and the shoulders at the same time. Either way, this is a great basic move that can help you make use of the kettlebell.
The kettlebell is an excellent piece of workout equipment that is perfect for hitting maximum gains in every part of the body. Even though most people use them for lower body moves like swings or lunges, they are great for the upper body. Shoulder presses, bent-over rows, and push-ups are just a few of the ways you can amp up your workout with a kettlebell.
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Rotator cuff injury - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
Trapezius Muscle: Middle Back Pain, Shoulder Stretches, Trapezius Pain | Cleveland Clinic
Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf
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