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Did you know that all you really need to build strong shoulders is a single kettlebell?

It’s true; while free weights and machines are all useful, having a kettlebell on hand is all it takes for a full-body workout. From tried-and-true kettlebell swings to more technical movements like the kettlebell snatch, many kettlebell exercises are available to help you get results.

We’re covering 10 kettlebell movements that can help you build muscle and strength in your shoulder muscles while improving stability, mobility, and flexibility in the shoulder joint.

Kate Meier, NASM-CPT, USAW-L1, CF-L1, and GGR Head of Content, provides step-by-step instructions, as well as actual kettlebell shoulder workouts to help you reach your boulder-shoulder goals.

RELATED: The 11 Best Kettlebells For Your Home Workout

Best Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises

We need the right tools for the job, and our tools for this job include at least one kettlebell, although having two is helpful, and the following movements.

Here are the ten best kettlebell exercises for shoulders!

Kettlebell Shoulder Press

Why we like it: “The kettlebell shoulder press is the cornerstone of any shoulder strength workout,” says Kate Meier, NASM-CPT, USAW-L1, CF-L1. “You’ll target many muscle groups including the deltoids, trapezius, rotator cuff muscles, and triceps, as well as muscles in your upper chest and back.”

How to do it:

  1. Select one kettlebell if performing the exercise unilaterally (one side at a time) or two kettlebells if performing the exercise bilaterally (both sides together). 
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest up, core tight, and back flat.
  3. Clean or curl the kettlebells to shoulder height.
  4. Press the kettlebell overhead keeping your palms facing out.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
kettlebell press

Kettlebell Push Press

Why we like it: The kettlebell push press targets the same muscles as the regular shoulder press, but adding a dip and drive from the lower body enables us to move more weight.

How to do it:

  1. Set up just as you would for the kettlebell shoulder press.
  2. Dip by slightly bending the knees and hinging forward from the hips.
  3. Drive your feet into the floor, coming up onto your toes, as you push the kettlebells overhead. Squeeze your glutes in the end position.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.

RELATED: Kettlebell Thruster

Kettlebell push press

Kettlebell Windmill 

Why we like it: “The massive range of motion for the kettlebell windmill makes it a must for full body kettlebell workouts,” says Kate. “You’ll need a strong core, good hip mobility, and excellent shoulder stability to perform the movement.”

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend your right arm overhead while twisting your left foot outward 45-degrees.
  3. Shift your weight onto the left foot as you slide your left hand down your left leg.
  4. Continue until you feel a stretch or touch the floor, then slowly return to a standing position and bring the kettlebell back down.
  5. Repeat as needed, then switch sides and repeat the set.
Woman doing kettlebell windmill

Kettlebell Halo

Why we like it: Channel your inner Beyoncé and let everyone see your halo. It’s a kettlebell halo, and it’s an easy-to-learn exercise that builds shoulder strength, mobility, and flexibility.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a kettlebell by the handle and hold it in front of your chest with two hands.
  2. Lift one elbow above your head as you bring the kettlebell up and around the back of your head. Bring the other elbow up as you complete the circle.
  3. From there, you may reset and perform the exercise the same way or you may “send it back” by reversing the movement completely.
kettlebell halo

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

Why we like it: “Shoulder presses are a staple in any upper body workout,” says Kate, “but the bottoms-up kettlebell press helps work stabilizing muscles in the upper body, making it a great overhead press variation to include.”

How to do it:

  1. Curl or clean one or two kettlebells into the front rack position. Keep a firm grip on the handle and position their bottoms so they are facing the ceiling.
  2. Once stabilized in this position, press the kettlebells overhead.
  3. Slowly bring them back down and repeat as needed.
bottoms up KB press

Kettlebell High Pull

Why we like it: The kettlebell high pull is not only great for building shoulder muscle, but the explosiveness of the movement provides activation to other muscle groups throughout the body.

How to do it:

  1. Place a single kettlebell on the floor in front of you and grip it with both hands.
  2. Drive from your heels and extend your hips to propel the kettlebell upward.
  3. As the kettlebell reaches mid-thigh, start pulling it towards your chin.
  4. Allow the kettlebell to reach its peak, then guide it back to the floor safely.
kettlebell high pull

Single-Arm Kettlebell High Pull 

Why we like it: “The high pull hits many muscle groups, including the traps, hip adductors, hamstrings, quads, and glutes,” says Kate. “Doing one arm at a time allows you to work both sides equally and correct imbalances.”

How to do it:

  1. Place a kettlebell on the floor and grip it with one hand.
  2. Drive from your heels to initiate the upward motion.
  3. Start pulling with your arm as the kettlebell ascends past mid-thigh level.
  4. Allow the kettlebell to reach its peak, then guide it back to the floor safely.
  5. Repeat as needed, then switch sides and repeat the set.
single-arm-kettlebell-high-pull

Kettlebell Farmer’s Carry/Farmer’s Walk

Why we like it: The farmer’s walk promotes shoulder health, builds core stability, targets various muscle groups, enhances grip strength, improves posture, and more. It’s all-around one of the best full-body exercises available.

How to do it:

  1. Hold one kettlebell at your side or two on either side of your body.
  2. Brace your core, pinch your shoulder blades, and slowly start walking a straight path.
  3. Continue for desired distance or duration.
kettlebell-farmers-carry-farmers-walk

Overhead Kettlebell Hold/Walk

Why we like it: “Regular isotonic exercises are crucial for building shoulder strength,” says Kate, “but isometric exercises, like the overhead kettlebell hold, engage your back and shoulder muscles in an entirely different way, making them great to include as well.”

How to do it:

  1. Press one or two kettlebells into the overhead position and hold.
  2. If performing the overhead kettlebell hold, maintain this position for the desired duration.
  3. If performing the overhead kettlebell walk, slowly start walking a straight path for the desired distance or duration.
overhead-kettlebell-hold-walk

Kettlebell Clean and Press

Why we like it: The press portion of this exercise is excellent for building upper body strength and promoting scapular stabilization, but the kettlebell clean portion promotes overall fitness from head to toe.

How to do it:

  1. Set a kettlebell on the floor and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend to grab the kettlebell handle with one hand, then push through your heels, drive your hips forward, and stand, pulling the kettlebell upward with your arm simultaneously.
  3. As the kettlebell reaches chest height, quickly tuck your elbow and let the kettlebell “roll” around your wrist, catching it next to your arm at shoulder level.
  4. Once stabilized, press the kettlebell overhead using a strict press or push press.
  5. Reverse the movements to return the kettlebell to the floor safely.
  6. Repeat as needed, then switch sides and repeat the set.
kettlebell clean and press

Create Your Kettlebell Shoulder Workout 

You’ve got all the puzzle pieces; now you just have to put them all together to make a cohesive kettlebell workout that supports your shoulder-growth goals.

RELATED: How Many Reps To Build Muscle

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout for Hypertrophy

According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research1, you can expect similar increases in muscle size using the following rep schemes:

  • 7 sets of 4 reps
  • 4 sets of 8 reps
  • 3 sets of 12 reps

You could feasibly adopt any of these rep schemes for hypertrophy, provided you use a weight that feels challenging by the end of each sight. That means using light weights for 12-rep sets and going much heavier on 4-rep sets.

kettlebell competition

“I tend to prescribe the 8 to 12 reps per set for hypertrophy, using a weight that falls between 60% and 75% of your one-rep max. Combined with a high-protein diet, this structure helps promote muscle gains within a few weeks,” says Kate Meier, NASM-CPT, USAW-L1, CF-L1, and GGR Head of Content.

RELATED: High-Protein Foods for Muscle Building

If your primary goal is hypertrophy, try this during your next session.

ExerciseSetsReps
Shoulder Press3 to 68 to 12
High Pull3 to 68 to 12
Clean and Press3 to 68 to 12
Farmer’s Walk3 to 660 to 90 seconds

We recommend resting 60 to 90 seconds between exercises, but beginners should feel free to take as much time as needed.

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout for Strength

Strength training is all about going heavy, so that’s exactly what our strength workout is about.

ExerciseSetsReps
Kettlebell Halo2 to 38 to 12
Push Press2 to 61 to 5
Single-Arm High Pull2 to 61 to 5
Kettlebell Windmill2 to 38 to 12
Bottoms-Up Press2 to 61 to 5
Overhead KB Walk2 to 61 to 5

“You want to get in a good warm-up before your working sets,” says Kate Meier, NASM-CPT, USAW-L1, CF-L1. “You could do some bodyweight movements and calisthenics, like push-ups, mountain climbers, and jumping jacks, but I like working in the kettlebell halo to warm up the shoulders specifically, as well as the windmill halfway through to serve as active recovery between full effort strength movements.”

So, aim to lift heavy on the presses, pulls, and overhead walk. We’re talking around 80% of your one-rep max kinda heavy. For the halo and windmill, drop down to a 50% level in preparation for the next all-out exercises.

For rest, the standard 60 seconds works, but up to three minutes is also acceptable if you’re really hitting your threshold.

RELATED: Kettlebell Strength Workout

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout for Power

According to a 2017 study published in PLoS One2, maximizing power output requires minimizing velocity loss. That means you want a rep scheme with rest intervals designed to let you move the kettlebell explosively on every rep.

Try this one on for size.

ExerciseSetsReps
Push Press3 to 68 to 12
High Pull3 to 68 to 12
Clean and Press3 to 62 to 5
Kettlebell Windmill3 to 68 to 12
Kettlebell Snatch3 to 62 to 5

The weight should be moderate, approximately 60% to 75% at its heaviest, while rest periods should range between one and three minutes. If you don’t feel you can really explode through each movement and drive hard, increase the rest period, or slightly decrease the weight.

Benefits of Kettlebell Training for Shoulders

kb clean with amazon basics kettlebell

There are many kettlebell benefits.

The most obvious benefit—it’s convenient! A single kettlebell provides the same exercise diversity as you’d get from a massive rack, clunky barbell, and stacks of weight plates. This one’s a nonissue if you’re regularly working out in a commercial gym, but it’s invaluable for budget-conscious home gym users or those who want to save themselves a schlep.

RELATED: Best Budget Home Gym Equipment

Kettlebell training is also considered “an effective alternative tool to improve performance in weightlifting and powerlifting,” according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research3. Researchers found a substantial transference of power and strength following 10 weeks of kettlebell training.

Kettlebell training also is useful for promoting shoulder stability and overall shoulder health.

“Movements such as the kettlebell windmill and Turkish get-up, for example, encourage efficient biomechanics while working out the often-overlooked rotator cuff muscles,” says Kate Meier, NASM-CPT, USAW-L1, CF-L1. “So, kettlebells make a great addition to HIIT workouts, but they’re also excellent for building stability through slow, controlled movements, too.”

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout: Final Thoughts 

All it takes is a single kettlebell, and you have access to a wide variety of shoulder exercises that will help you build strength, power, muscle, and endurance.

Work some of Kate’s top kettlebell exercise picks into your next shoulder workout and see how you fare!

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout: FAQs

Are kettlebells enough to build muscle? 

Yes and no.

Kettlebells are great for building muscle, as far as what you do in the gym goes. However, you’ll want to supplement your workouts with a diet that encourages muscle growth and an appropriate supplement stack.

RELATED: Best Supplements For Muscle Growth

For a personalized muscle-building plan, consider working with a certified personal trainer and/or nutritionist.

Can you build shoulders with kettlebells?

Absolutely. 

There are many exercises that build bigger, stronger shoulders using kettlebells, including the kettlebell shoulder press, kettlebell clean, kettlebell windmill, and kettlebell high pull.

RELATED: Best Shoulder Exercises

How do you strengthen your rotator cuff with a kettlebell?

The rotator cuff muscles don’t always get top priority in a workout, but they’re very important for both good movement mechanics in sports as well as in everyday life.

Some of the best exercises for your rotator cuffs include the kettlebell halo, kettlebell windmill, Turkish get-up, and the standard kettlebell shoulder press.

RELATED: Kettlebell Core Workout

References

1. Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Yata H. Effects of 4, 8, and 12 Repetition Maximum Resistance Training Protocols on Muscle Volume and Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2021;35(4):879-885. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003575

2. Sarabia JM, Moya-Ramón M, Hernández-Davó JL, Fernandez-Fernandez J, Sabido R. The effects of training with loads that maximise power output and individualised repetitions vs. traditional power training. PLoS One. 2017;12(10):e0186601. Published 2017 Oct 20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0186601

3. 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

Further reading

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