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Drop those dumbbells (but do it gently; you don’t want to upset a gym owner…trust me), snag a pair of the best kettlebells, and get to work! Why? Kettlebells may offer some advantages over dumbbells and barbells that allow creativity in your training.

An upper body kettlebell workout can help elevate your training by enhancing strength, power, muscle size, and conditioning. They also boost coordination and stability. Plus, gripping a kettlebell is one of the best grip strength exercises.

As a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and weightlifting coach, I’ll be focusing on the best kettlebell exercises for your upper body, providing you with a few workout options to help get you started, and diving into the benefits of using kettlebells to train your upper body.

RELATED: Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells

Best Upper Body Kettlebell Exercises

Are you ready to maximize your gym time and take your workouts to the next level? These CSCS-vetted upper body kettlebell exercises are a surefire way to increase strength, size, and stability. 

Kettlebell Single-Arm Overhead Press

Why we like it: The single-arm kettlebell overhead press is effective for building shoulder strength and size while enhancing stability. It targets the deltoids and triceps. Vary the base positions—stand, sit, or half-kneel—for an even more versatile workout.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, core tight, and back flat.
  2. Lift or clean the kettlebell to the shoulder.
  3. Grip the handle as the kettlebell rests on the pressing arm.
  4. Press the kettlebell straight overhead, keeping your thumb pointed behind you.
  5. Return to the starting position with control.

RELATED: How to Do the Kettlebell Clean

A gif of a kettlebell press

Kettlebell Floor Press

Why we like it: The kettlebell floor press offers a secure way to work the chest, bypassing shoulder risks. It bolsters shoulder stability while engaging the pecs and triceps. Squeezing the glutes and hamstrings on the floor also strengthens the hips. For added pec engagement at lockout, I suggest incorporating a light resistance band.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the floor face up with your back flat.
  2. Grasp a kettlebell with both hands and slightly bend your knees.
  3. Press the kettlebells straight up to lockout.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebells until the elbow gently taps the floor
  5. Repeat for the desired sets and reps.

RELATED: Floor Press Exercise

kettlebell-floor-press

Kettlebell Halo

Why we like it: The kettlebell halo is an excellent exercise for warming up your shoulders, shoulder blades, lats, triceps, and the thoracic spine. It’s ideal for improving shoulder mobility during warm-ups, active cool-downs, or daily movement routines.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest.
  2. Slowly rotate the kettlebell in a circular motion around your head clockwise.
  3. Once back in front, rotate the kettlebell in a circular motion counterclockwise.
  4. Repeat for the desired sets and reps.

Pro Tip: Keep the rotations close to your head to improve mobility.

kettlebell halo

Kettlebell Skullcrusher

Why we like it: The kettlebell skull crusher allows you to isolate the triceps and build muscle. Plus, the added support from one of the best weight benches allows you to push the weight as you squeeze out high volume sets.

How to do it:

  1. Lay flat on a weight bench and hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands above your chest.
  2. Bend your elbows and slowly lower the kettlebell behind your head.
  3. Pause behind your head, then squeeze your triceps to straighten the arms, bringing the kettlebell back above your chest.

RELATED: How to Perfect The Skull Crusher Workout

kettlebell-skullcrusher

Kettlebell Bent-Over Row

Why we like it: Kettlebell rows are chief among the lower back exercises because they target your lats, traps, rhomboids, and biceps while improving core strength. These are a staple in any program for building strength and size in your upper back. 

Bonus: You can improve your grip strength by rowing heavy kettlebells—with good form, of course.

How to do it:

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart and hinge forward slightly, keeping a flat back until your upper body is almost parallel with the floor.
  2. Hold a kettlebell in each hand, or grasp a single kettlebell with both hands in front and let your arms straighten.
  3. Pull your elbows up through the side of your body, performing a rowing motion.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebells back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for desired sets and reps.
kettlbell bent over row

Kettlebell Single-Arm Biceps Curl 

Why we like it: This underhand-grip curl activates your inner bicep, giving your arms some POP when flexing. It sprinkles in a little forearm work, too.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand using an underhand grip.
  3. Curl the handle of the kettlebell until it nearly touches your shoulder.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for desired reps then switch to your left side. 

RELATED: Best Bicep Workout

kettlebell-bicep-curl

Kettlebell Upright Row

Why we like it: Kettlebells and upright rows are a match made in heaven for any kettlebell arm workout. The design of a kettlebell handle helps the flow of this movement and allows you to lift more weight. Upright rows are also excellent for training the deltoids and traps.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grip the kettlebell handle with both hands.
  3. Bend your elbows and pull the kettlebell up to chest height. You should feel a strong squeeze of the shoulders.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell and allow your arms to straighten.
  5. Repeat for desired sets and reps.
kettlebell-upright-row

Kettlebell Push-Up

Why we like it: The kettlebell push-up extends your range of motion, intensifying your chest muscle engagement for more growth potential. Stabilizing your wrists on the handles also helps enhance wrist strength.

How to do it:

  1. Place your hands on the round part of the kettlebell or the handles.
  2. Get in a pushup position, arms straight, with the kettlebells directly under your shoulders.
  3. With control, lower your body until the shoulders/chest tap the kettlebells.
  4. Drive your body back up with your arms, keeping your body flat and core tight.
  5. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

RELATED: What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?

kettlebell-push-up

Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension

Why we like it: Training with movements like the kettlebell overhead tricep extension spares your wrists and isolates your triceps. 

Pro tip: Try training drop sets of the kettlebell overhead tricep extensions after you wrap up your kettlebell skull crushers. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grip the side of the kettlebell handle with both hands.
  3. Lift the kettlebell directly over your head and straighten your arms.
  4. Allow your elbows to bend, and lower the kettlebell behind your head with control.
  5. Squeeze your triceps and bring the kettlebell back overhead to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

RELATED: Best Tricep Workouts

kettlebell-overhead-triceps-extension

Create Your Upper Body Kettlebell Workout 

These upper body kettlebell workouts are no joke. Make sure to prepare yourself using some of the best warm-up exercises to prevent noodle-arms the next day,

Upper Body Kettlebell Workout for Hypertrophy

This workout emphasizes higher rep ranges to target muscle size. You’ll want to prioritize full range of motion, continuous tension throughout, and use moderate weights to complete the repetitions.

Circuit 13 Rounds
Kettlebell Floor Press12-15 reps
Kettlebell Bent-Over Row12-15 reps
Kettlebell Single-arm Overhead Press12-15 reps per side

Rest 45 seconds between rounds.

Circuit 22-3 Rounds
Kettlebell Push-Up10-12 reps
Kettlebell Halo10-12 reps

Rest 30 seconds between rounds.

Circuit 35-Minute AMRAP
Kettlebell Upright Row8 reps
Kettlebell Skull Crusher8 reps
Kettlebell Single-arm Curl8 reps per side
kettlebell overhead press woman doing demo

Upper Body Kettlebell Workout for Strength

Ready to boost upper-body strength with kettlebells? This challenging and enjoyable upper body kettlebell workout requires moderate and heavy kettlebells. Use a moderate weight for 8+ reps. Use heavy kettlebells for sets of 5 reps.

Strength Pyramid: 5 Rounds

  • Exercise 1: Kettlebell Push-Up
  • Exercise 2: Kettlebell Bent-Over Row
  • Exercise 3: Kettlebell Single-Arm Overhead Press
  • Exercise 4: Kettlebell Overhead Tricep Extensions
  • Round 1: 5 reps
  • Round 2: 8 reps
  • Round 3: 12 reps
  • Round 4: 8 reps
  • Round 5: 5 reps

Rest 2 minutes between rounds.

Upper-Body Kettlebell Workout for Power

For this kettlebell upper-body power workout, prioritize moving a lightweight quickly and allow sufficient rest periods. Speed is the essential element in this workout for power.

Superset 13-5 Rounds
1A. Kettlebell Push-Up3-5 reps
1B. Kettlebell Bent-Over Row3-5 reps

Rest 3 minutes between sets.

Superset 23-4 Rounds
2A. Kettlebell Push Press3-5 reps
2B. Kettlebell Floor Press3-5 reps

Rest 3 minutes between sets.

Benefits of Upper-Body Kettlebell Workouts

Training Versatility

Kettlebells offer versatile training options for size, strength, power, and cardio endurance. They can also improve mobility. If space is limited at home, snag one of the best adjustable kettlebells for your workouts.

Full-Body Training

Kettlebell exercises promote injury resilience by training in various directions, unlike traditional gym movements, often limited to up, down, forward, and backward motions. Incorporating side-to-side and rotational movements complements your workout, targeting multiple muscle groups. A 2021 study in the Journal of International Medical Research1 found that multiplanar exercises enhance trunk and body movement in different directions. To diversify your routine, consider kettlebell cross-body rows and rotational presses.

Power Development

According to the American College of Sports Medicine2, the optimal approach for upper body power development involves performing 3 to 5 sets of an exercise at 30 to 60% of your one-rep max (1RM) with fast contractions and 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets.

How does this translate to your upper body k=kettlebell workout? Kettlebells enable powerful training through fast, explosive movements in your lower body, such as snatches, cleans, jerks, swings, and weighted jumps. You can also feel these power benefits in your upper body with thrusters and overhead presses. Kettlebells allow you to move lighter weights at the necessary speeds for effective power training. 

Improved Stability

Kettlebells provide a unique advantage over dumbbells—stability with a dash of balance. Their uneven center of mass requires increased stability to control and move the weight. This is crucial because it enhances balance, coordination, and joint strength.

RELATED: Balance Exercises

Grip Strength

When you work with kettlebells, it places a high demand for grip strength. Having the ability to hold the kettlebell as you perform exercises can ultimately affect how much weight you can move in your kettlebell training routine. 

Upper Body Kettlebell Workout: Final Thoughts 

Here’s the gist: kettlebells are awesome for your workouts. They’re undeniably versatile and offer a list of benefits:

  • Kettlebell training can be adapted to fit your goals
  • Kettlebells are great for upper-body workouts
  • Kettlebells help develop power, strength, muscle size (hypertrophy), and conditioning
  • Kettlebells may help improve muscle-joint stability in your shoulders3 when you train

Upper Body Kettlebell Workout: FAQs

How do you build your upper body with kettlebells?

To effectively build muscle with an upper body kettlebell workout, ensure you cover all the essentials by following a well-structured workout program, maintaining a balanced diet, and prioritizing recovery (including mobility work and adequate sleep). You can also optimize your results by diversifying your exercise choices, adjusting your movement tempos, and managing your rest periods. Above all, remember that patience and consistency in the gym are your best allies.

RELATED: Mobility Exercises

Can you get a big chest with kettlebells?

Kettlebells can provide a fantastic means of sculpting your chest. Try this chest day strategy: change up your upper body push exercises to engage chest muscles from different angles. 

Kettlebell bench presses, floor presses, and push-ups focus on the central pecs, while incline chest presses isolate the upper pecs. Kettlebell chest flyes work the side pecs. Train your chest twice a week with proper recovery. Additionally, using kettlebells adds a stability training element.

Do kettlebells tone arms?

Kettlebells may assist in toning your arms. Toning really means building lean muscle and reducing fat to enhance muscle definition. Incorporate higher volume sets and shorter rest periods into your workouts. Combine this with a well-rounded diet and proper recovery, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals.

References

  1. Ahmed U, Karimi H, Amir S, Ahmed A. Effects of intensive multiplanar trunk training coupled with dual-task exercises on balance, mobility, and fall risk in patients with stroke: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Med Res. 2021;49(11):3000605211059413. doi:10.1177/03000605211059413
  1. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670
  1. Hedt C, Lambert BS, Holland ML, et al. Electromyographic Profile of the Shoulder During Stability Exercises With Kettlebells. J Sport Rehabil. 2020;30(4):653-659. Published 2020 Dec 17. doi:10.1123/jsr.2019-0541

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