Training: Kettlebell Upper Body

Info Box

Manufacturer: Rogue Fitness
Price: from $54.95 (8Kg)
Level: Intermediate
Time: 45 minutes

The kettlebell is a universal piece of fitness equipment, where the mobility and diversity makes it perfect for almost anyone. It is particularly useful to take outdoors or on holiday, as there is no need for any other equipment and the rugged nature of a good kettlebell means it doesn’t matter if you throw it around or get it dirty!

It also has numerous other benefits. For example, due to the more dynamic nature of the exercises, it provides the balance of cardio and strength training all in one – not to mention the excellent flexibility benefits! Therefore this is perfect for people with busy work/social lives who do not have time to perform separate sessions.

There is no need for any other equipment and the rugged nature of a good kettlebell means it doesn’t matter if you throw it around or get it dirty!

If you’re considering buying your own kettlebell, a word of advice regarding weight. It’s tempting to go out and buy a very heavy kettlebell, but we’d recommend against this, especially for a beginner. As a starting point, we’d recommend guys consider a 12Kg kettlebell as an entry-level weight. For the ladies, we’d suggest 6Kg, maybe even 4Kg.

The eight exercises explained below are just some examples of our favourite upper body kettlebell exercises for an awesome workout; refer to our lower body article for some killer kettlebell legs movements.

Before you continue, please remember that you need to warm up.

If are are unsure about some of the terms used in this article, it’s worth having a quick read through our Glossary of Terms before you get started with your workout.

Plyo Press-Up. Click for full exercise


Plyo Press-Up

To make a press up a bit more difficult add in a kettlebell and a faster tempo and you’ve got the plyo press up! For this start in a press up position with your feet wide and one hand on the kettlebell, perform the press up and on the way up push as hard as possible and move across the kettlebell simultaneously, you then should have the opposite hand on the kettlebell. Your feet stay in the same position and the kettlebell should be under your chest in the mid line of your body. This is a tricky move however, so care is needed when performing.

Target: 5 press-ups per arm (beginner), 10 press-ups per arm (intermediate), 15 press-ups per arm (advanced)

Bent Over Row. Click for full exercise


Bent Over Row

The bent over row is considered one of the big compound lifts for increasing back width. Using kettlebells for this movement can add some variation and stop plateaus in training. To perform the movement you adopt a staggered stance with a bend in both knees and body bent over as much as possible. Whilst keeping the back flat grip the kettlebell and row it into your stomach. Once completed all repetitions swap arms and continue.

Target: 5 rows per side (beginner), 10 rows per side (intermediate), 15 rows per side (advanced)

Renegade Row. Click for full exercise


Renegade Row

The starting position for this is a press up position but with each hand on the handle of a kettlebell rather than the floor. You hold the press up position and then row each kettlebell to your body alternately. This requires the core to be strong and stabilise the body whilst the unbalanced move is performed. This is good for developing your core strength and middle back muscles (rhomboids) at the same time.

Target: 5 per arm (beginner), 10 per arm (intermediate), 15 per arm (advanced)

Overhead Press. Click for full exercise.


Overhead Press

The overhead press with a kettlebell allows a more natural plane of motion and a more efficient press. As appose to a dumbbell which might be felt as a more awkward shape to overhead press. For the kettlebell press you hold the kettlebell against the outside of your forearm in the racked position and press directly overhead. When this gets heavier the small assistance with the legs can be used.

Target: 5 overhead pres per arm (beginner), 10 overhead pres per arm (intermediate), 15 overhead pres per arm (advanced)

Tip: you can raise two kettlebells at the same time.
Tip: to make the move harder, take 4 seconds to lower your raised arm.

Front Raise/Lateral Raise. Click for full exercise.


Front Raise/Lateral Raise

We feel using these two in a superset really increases the burn felt in the shoulders, it always makes me feel like they’ve got a super workout after doing a bigger compound movement like the overhead press. For the front raises hold the kettlebell in an overhand grip slightly in front of your body and lift through the shoulder so the kettlebell is just about shoulder height. Keep the elbow fully extended throughout this movement to ensure the deltoids are being targeted adequately. The lateral raises require you to hold the kettlebells at your sides and raise up to around shoulder height again, with the same grip and principles as the front raise.

Target: 4 lateral/front raises (beginner), 8 lateral/front raises (intermediate), 12 lateral/front raises (advanced)

Tip: To make it more difficult, slow the speed you raise or lower the kettlebells.

Farmers Walk. Click for full exercise


Farmers Walk

To finish off shoulders the farmers walk is great. It also helps develop the back, core and grip strength. This relatively easy to do exercise can be made extremely difficult to execute with a few alterations. The standard farmers walk is simply, hold a kettlebell (heavy) in each hand and walk a prescribed distance as quickly as possible for example, 15 metres. There are other variations such as the inverted walk, holding the kettlebell at head height upside down, which can add an even bigger challenge to the exercise.

Target: 30 seconds farmers walk (beginner), 40 seconds farmers walk (intermediate), 60 seconds farmers walk (advanced)

Tip: do not put down kettlebells within the timed period. Rather than increasing the weight, simply try holding lighter weights for longer.

Biceps Curl. Click for full exercise


Biceps Curl

Using a kettlebell for a bicep curl adds a different shaped and weight distributed stimulus to initiate growth in the arm muscles. As with a regular bicep curl, grip the kettlebell with an underhand grip with the bell under your hand, bend the elbow bringing the kettlebell as high as possible whilst keeping the elbow pinned to your side.

Target: 5 curls (beginner), 10 curls (intermediate), 15 curls (advanced)

Tip: if you prefer, you can raise each arm separately, keeping the other kettlebell by the side of your body.

Triceps Overhead Extension. Click for full exercise


Triceps Overhead Extension

Doing the overhead extension you can either be sat down or standing, we prefer standing to engage the core more but either way works. Hold the kettlebell by the horns behind your head with your elbows bent; fully extend your elbow bringing the kettlebell above your head. Make sure you don’t rest the kettelbell on the back of your neck to ensure tension is kept throughout.

Target: 4 tricep extensions (beginner), 8 tricep extensions (intermediate), 12 tricep extensions (advanced)

Tip: the further you lower the kettlebell behind your head, the harder and more effective the exercise.

A good way to use all of the above movements could be over a two-day split by doing 12-15 repetitions of each exercise and two sets of each, with approximately 30-60 seconds rest between sets. You could perform this on one day and then the kettlebell lower body workout on another day. This gives you a two-day split kettlebell program that can have other core or cardio specific workouts integrated into, however they wouldn’t be essential.

Before you finish, remember that you should spend time cooling down.


About Author

Olly is the Short Motivation fitness and training advisor. He is a level-3 PT instructor, specialising in TRX and kettlebell instruction, and manages his own gym in the United Kingdom.