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Free weights are versatile, but that doesn’t stop us from pigeonholing them to specific uses. 

Barbells, for example, are the favorite for bodybuilders and powerlifters who use them for bench presses, deadlifts, back squats, and overhead presses. Dumbbells, likewise, are for movements like curls, raises, and flyes.

Meanwhile, the kettlebell, arguably the most versatile free weight in the class, is reserved almost exclusively for kettlebell swings. Using kettlebells for this sole purpose leaves them underutilized, underappreciated, and highly underrated.

“You could get a full body workout with a single kettlebell,” says Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, and GGR Senior Staff Writer. “They’re one of the best pieces of gym equipment.”

Today, we’re focused on the arm muscles, providing ten exercises that you can use to create a great kettlebell arm workout. We’ve got step-by-step instructions for each movement, tips for nailing the form, and three arm-building kettlebell workouts you can bring with you to your next strength training sesh!

RELATED: The Best Kettlebells For Your Home Workout

10 Best Kettlebell Arm Exercises

First things first; here are the 10 best kettlebell exercises for arms:

  • Kettlebell Shoulder Press
  • Kettlebell Bicep Curl
  • Kettlebell Tricep Kickback
  • Kettlebell Halo
  • Kettlebell Skullcrusher
  • Kettlebell Bent-Over Row
  • Kettlebell Incline Curl
  • Kettlebell Upright Row
  • Kettlebell Reverse Curl
  • Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension

RELATED: Guide to Arm Workouts with Weights

Kettlebell Shoulder Press

Why we like it: Overhead presses work various muscle groups in the upper body, including the shoulders, chest, and back. They’re also excellent for building arm muscles, specifically the triceps, with some activation in the biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a single kettlebell (unilateral) or one kettlebell in each hand (bilateral) at shoulder level with your palms facing out.
  2. Press the kettlebells overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Squeeze your traps, then slowly bring the kettlebells back down.
A gif of a kettlebell press

Kettlebell Bicep Curl 

Why we like it: “Bicep curls are a must for the best bicep workout or general arm strength,” says Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, “because no other movement isolates the biceps brachii as effectively.”

How to do it:

  1. Hold one (if performing unilaterally) or two kettlebells using an underhand grip.
  2. Curl the kettlebells toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows stationary.
  3. Squeeze the biceps at the top, then slowly return to the starting position.
kettlebell-bicep-curl

Kettlebell Tricep Kickback

Why we like it: “Kickbacks feel challenging because the working arm is far from the body,” says Amanda, “but that’s what makes it a great triceps exercise for isolating the triceps. Try using lighter weights and gradually increase to heavier weights over time.”

How to do it:

  1. Hold one (if performing unilaterally) or two kettlebells at your sides with your elbows forming 90-degree angles.
  2. Hinge forward from the hips, bringing your chest towards the floor. Stop when your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Maintain a flat back through the range of motion.
  3. Extend your arms fully by unbending the elbows. 
  4. Squeezing the triceps at the end, then slowly return to the starting position.

RELATED: Dumbbell Triceps Workout

kettlebell-tricep-kickback

Kettlebell Halo

Why we like it: The kettlebell halo is a great exercise for improving shoulder mobility due to the movement pattern and targets various muscles in the upper body, including the forearms, biceps, and triceps.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Start with it in front of your chest.
  2. Raise one elbow over your head, guiding the kettlebell behind your head along a circular path. As it comes to the other side, lift your other elbow to accommodate its path.
  3. Bring the kettlebell back to the starting position, then repeat the movement pattern or “send it back” the other way. Continue for the desired number of repetitions.
kettlebell halo

Kettlebell Skullcrusher

Why we like it: “Skullcrushers seem dangerous,” says Amanda, “but the lying position provides support to your shoulders, which lets you go heavy without placing strain on the shoulder joint.”

How to do it:

  1. Hold a single kettlebell by the handle above your chest while lying on a flat weight bench.
  2. Keeping your upper arms still, bend your elbows to bring the kettlebell to your face.
  3. Pause at the bottom, then use the triceps to push the kettlebell back up.

RELATED: Skullcrusher Workout

kettlebell-skullcrusher

Kettlebell Bent-Over Row

Why we like it: Bent-over rows are a fantastic barbell exercise, but the kettlebell row is no slouch either. This compound movement hits the lats, traps, rhomboids, delts, and lower back.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in each hand or place both hands on a single kettlebell and stand with your feet approximately hip-width apart.
  2. Bend forward, keeping a straight back, until your chest is almost parallel with the floor. Let your arms fully extend towards the floor and brace your core.
  3. Tilt your chest until it is nearly parallel with the floor, holding your core tight. 
  4. Pull the kettlebells upward toward your sternum, squeezing your lats at the top.
  5. Control their descent back to the starting position.

RELATED: Bent-Over Row Alternatives

kettlbell bent over row

Kettlebell Incline Curl 

Why we like it: The incline curl increases the exercise’s range of motion, forcing the biceps to perform even more work during each rep. For this reason, it’s great to use rotationally or in combination with the standard curl.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust an incline bench at approximately 45 degrees and sit down, holding a kettlebell in one (if performing unilaterally) or each hand with an underhand grip and your arms outstretched to the sides.
  2. Keeping your elbows tucked into your torso, curl the kettlebells to your shoulders.
  3. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly lower them back to the start.
kettlebell-incline-curl

Kettlebell Upright Row

Why we like it: “Upright rows are an upper body staple,” says Amanda. “I love using a kettlebell for this exercise because the handle really lends itself to the movement pattern. It’s more ergonomic, making it easier to move heavier weights.”

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a single kettlebell in front of you.
  2. Pull the kettlebell to your chin, raising your elbows as you move.
  3. Squeeze your traps and delts at the peak, then slowly bring the kettlebell back down to the starting position.
kettlebell-upright-row

Kettlebell Reverse Curl

Why we like it: “Concentration curls, hammer curls, and other curl variations primarily activate the biceps brachii,” says Amanda. “The reverse curl, on the other hand, emphasizes the often-overlooked brachioradialis and brachialis muscles.”

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in each hand using an overhand grip.
  2. Slowly curl the kettlebells towards your shoulders, keeping your elbows still.
  3. Squeeze your biceps at the peak, then slowly bring the kettlebells back down.
kettlebell-reverse-curl

Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension

Why we like it: The kettlebell overhead triceps extension is excellent for isolating the triceps and minimizing stress on the wrist joint, making it a great exercise for improving triceps strength.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grab a single kettlebell by the handle using two hands and hoist it overhead.
  3. Slowly bend your elbows, lowering the kettlebell behind your head. Keep your upper arms vertical and stationary, and maintain strong posture throughout the movement.
  4. Pause at the bottom, then use the triceps to push the kettlebell back overhead.
kettlebell-overhead-triceps-extension

Create Your Kettlebell Arm Workout 

How many reps to build muscle? How heavy should you lift for strength gains? What if your main goal is to improve explosiveness in the weight room and on the playing field?

Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, and GGR Senior Staff Writer, has a workout plan whether you’re looking for hypertrophy, strength, or power.

Kettlebell Arm Workout for Hypertrophy

According to a 2022 review published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living1, volume is the most important parameter to consider when structuring a workout that’s meant to improve muscle mass. Researchers found the best format to be “2–3 sets per exercise, covering at least 10 weekly sets.”

Regarding intensity, aim to lift somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of your one-rep max (1RM), although scaling up to 75% is appropriate as you move through your working sets.

ExerciseSetsReps
Kettlebell Halo2 to 38 to 12
Shoulder Press2 to 38 to 12
Bicep Curl2 to 38 to 12
Tricep Kickback2 to 38 to 12
Bent-Over Row2 to 38 to 12
Skullcrushers2 to 38 to 12
Reverse Curls2 to 38 to 12

If using a moderate weight, you shouldn’t need more than a minute between sets or exercises, but beginners should take as much time as they need to ensure they can do every rep with proper form.

“It’s always better to do less reps with perfect form than it is to do every rep of the workout but let your form fall apart as you get tired,” says Amanda. “Focus on performing the full range of motion, squeezing the contraction, and slowly moving through the eccentric phase to get the best results from each rep.”

RELATED: Eccentric Training

Kettlebell Arm Workout for Strength

According to a 2021 review published in Sports (Basel)2, optimal strength increases come when using “a low repetition scheme with heavy loads” generally “from 1 to 5 repetitions per set with 80% to 100% of 1-repetition maximum.”

ExerciseSetsReps
Bent-Over Row2 to 61 to 5
Skullcrushers2 to 61 to 5
Upright Row2 to 61 to 5
Shoulder Press2 to 61 to 5
Incline Curl2 to 61 to 5
Overhead Tricep Extension2 to 61 to 5

“The goal is to give it your all on each rep,” says Amanda, “even if you can only eke out one rep per set. This workout alternates between using pulling muscles and pushing muscles, so you should get some recovery time as you move through it.”

Speaking of recovering, vary your rest periods from one to three minutes. Do not exceed three minutes unless it is absolutely necessary.

RELATED: Best Recovery Tools

Kettlebell Arm Workout for Power

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research3 measured peak power output during a high-repetition set and found “significant declines in power output occurred from the sixth repetition onwards.”

kettlebell bent over row

For that reason, your power workout will keep the reps low and the weight moderate, enabling you to execute each movement with intensity on every rep.

ExerciseSetsReps
Shoulder Press3 to 63 to 6
Upright Row3 to 63 to 6
Bicep Curl3 to 63 to 6
Tricep Kickback3 to 63 to 6
Kettlebell Halo2 to 38 to 12
Bent-Over Row3 to 63 to 6

“Using a moderate weight, approximately 60% to 75% of your one-rep max, should suffice,” says Amanda. “The goal is to perform each rep with intensity and velocity. Aim to rest sixty seconds between sets, but take more if you find yourself losing intensity as you fatigue.”

RELATED: Kettlebell Shoulder Workout

Benefits of Kettlebell for Arms

Kettlebell training offers a lot of upside. 

RELATED: Kettlebell Benefits, According To An Olympian

“Kettlebells are endlessly versatile,” says Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1. “Having this one piece of fitness equipment allows you to work out the entire body. You could be doing sets of kettlebell shoulder presses and bicep curls, and then switch it up and start doing kettlebell swings for your cardio.”

amazon basics kettlebell press

The kettlebell’s versatility really lends itself to HIIT workouts and full body exercises, but it’s certainly not inferior as far as the gains go, either. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research4, kettlebells are “an effective alternative tool to improve performance in weightlifting and powerlifting.”

RELATED: Kettlebell Cardio Workout

Kettlebells (especially the best adjustable kettlebells) take up significantly less space than a comparable combination of a barbell, power rack, and set of weight plates. They tend to be more space-efficient than even a regular set of the best dumbbells, making them the undisputed king of low profile exercise equipment and a must for any home gym setup.

Kettlebell Arm Workout: Final Thoughts 

Regardless of your fitness level, having a single kettlebell on hand unlocks a world of gains for your arm muscles. Try out one of certified personal trainer and CrossFit coach Amanda Capritto’s kettlebell arm workouts during your next biceps and triceps sesh!

Kettlebell Arm Workout: FAQs

Can you get big arms with kettlebells?

Absolutely.

“Kettlebells are fantastic for building muscle, so long as you’re supplementing your success with a great diet and some key supplements for muscle growth,” says Amanda. “With the right combination, you will see increases in muscle mass.

If you’re looking for a more customized arm-building plan, you might consider working with a certified personal trainer, coach, or other qualified fitness professional.

Are kettlebells better than dumbbells?

The key difference between dumbbells and kettlebells is the shape. Often, the two are interchangeable, but there are some exercises that favor one over the other.

For example, kettlebell swings are virtually impossible with a dumbbell without specialized equipment or a lot of improvising. Likewise, movements like the snatch might favor a dumbbell since there’s less of a learning curve.

They’re both excellent choices, so it may just come down to your personal preference.

RELATED: Dumbbells Vs. Kettlebells

Do kettlebells tone arms?

Kettlebells can tone your arms in the sense that they strengthen and develop the musculature that creates a toned appearance if your body fat percentage is low enough to reveal it.

Arm exercises are important for achieving that toned look, but everything else you do, both in the gym and the kitchen, will ultimately determine how successful you are in pursuit of this physique goal.

Consider working with a personal trainer and/or a certified nutritionist for advice on how you can best accomplish this goal.

What are the disadvantages of using kettlebells for arm workouts?

Using a kettlebell may have disadvantages during arm workouts because the weight sits below the handle versus equally distributed in your hand like a dumbbell. You can also try gripping the horns or the bell instead of the handle for better control of the kettlebell.

References

1. Bernárdez-Vázquez R, Raya-González J, Castillo D, Beato M. Resistance Training Variables for Optimization of Muscle Hypertrophy: An Umbrella Review. Front Sports Act Living. 2022;4:949021. Published 2022 Jul 4. doi:10.3389/fspor.2022.949021

2. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021;9(2):32. Published 2021 Feb 22. doi:10.3390/sports9020032

3. Baker DG, Newton RU. Change in power output across a high-repetition set of bench throws and jump squats in highly trained athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(4):1007-1011. doi:10.1519/R-22376.1
4. Manocchia P, Spierer DK, Lufkin AK, Minichiello J, Castro J. Transference of kettlebell training to strength, power, and endurance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(2):477-484. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825770fe

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