When it comes to building your upper body, dumbbells, barbells and weight machines aren’t the only pieces of equipment that can build strength and endurance. Kettlebells are ideally shaped for dynamic movements, allowing you to grab hold of the handle and twist and swing it around freely and with ease without needing to re-adjust. You also get the added benefit of less impact on your shoulders and wrists as the weight is below the handle and resting on your forearm.
If you’re looking to build your upper body but don’t have access to a gym, or have limited space and equipment at home and fancy something different, then this upper body workout with kettlebells could be just what you need to hammer that upper body and ignite some serious growth.
A bonus of this routine is that many of the exercises also work other areas of the body at the same time as most kettlebell moves involve multi-joint movements at once.
A Few Things Before You Begin
Ensure good, proper form
Make sure when performing each of the exercises that you keep your wrists straight to prevent the kettlebell from bending backwards and putting strain on your hands and wrists.
Use your palms
Ensure you grip the kettlebell by the handle and hold it deep in your palm and not by your fingers for good grip.
Before you begin make sure you warm-up and get the blood flowing around your body and to the muscles that will be worked. Start by running or walking on the spot for a couple of minutes and then grab a light kettlebell (if you have more than one weight) and perform about a minute of Kettlebell Around the Body slingshots – passing the kettlebell around your waist from one hand to the other to warm up the core, shoulder and forearms – followed by a minute of Kettlebell Halos – essentially the same move but around your neckline – to warm-up the upper back and arms. I’ve added some video tutorials on these below:
If you’re new to kettlebell training and you have a light kettlebell to hand then try performing these exercises with the lighter weight first to really get the form right. This way you’ll be more comfortable increasing the weight.
All of these exercises need no more than one kettlebell and the routine contains stabilisation, upper body pushing, upper body pulling and upper/lower body combined exercises. Perform them in a circuit doing between six to 12 reps of each exercise before moving straight onto the next. When you get to the end, rest for a couple of minutes and then repeat the circuit twice more for three rounds in total. The whole workout should take you around 15 to 20 minutes, so nice and quick, but challenging all the same!
1. Kettlebell Windmill
Muscles worked: Challenges your shoulder stability as well as working your core (abs and lower back)
How to perform it: Standing with feet shoulder width apart, hold the kettlebell in your right hand and straighten your arm to raise it upwards – make sure it’s not directly above your head but slightly out to the side – roughly in line with your hip. Keeping this arm straight and locked into position, reach your left hand down towards your left foot as far as your body will let you, and keep your head up, looking towards the kettlebell. Return back to the start position and repeat for a further 6 to 12 reps before switching hands and performing on the other side.
2. Kettlebell Bent Over Row
Muscles worked: Targets the back and core
How to perform it: With feet shoulder-width apart, take the kettlebell in one hand and lean forward but making sure you keep your weight back on your heels so the tension is felt in your glutes and hamstrings. Now pull your arm back and up, raising your elbow towards the ceiling and focusing on activating the muscles in your mid-back, rather than your neck and upper trapezius (upper back). Ensure your shoulders remain neutral and down rather than up around your ears. Perform between 6 to 12 reps on one side before switching to the opposite side and repeating the movement.
3. Kettlebell Push Press
Muscles worked: Shoulders, arms (triceps) and back (latissimus dorsi and trapezius)
How to perform it: Standing with feet at a little wider than shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly, take the kettlebell in one hand, bend at the elbow and bring it up to shoulder height. Next squat down ever so slightly before pushing up, locking the legs out, squeezing the glutes and pushing the kettlebell up until your arm is straight. You may want to hold your other arm out to the side as you do the move for balance. Bring the kettlebell back down to the start position and perform between 6 to 12 reps before switching sides and repeating with the other arm.
4. Half-Kneeling One Arm Kettlebell Clean
Muscles used: Shoulders, upper back, arms (biceps and forearms) and core
How to perform it: Get into a half-kneeling position with your left knee on the floor and the kettlebell in front of your left leg with the handle pointing to face in between your legs. Hinging slightly, explosively pull the kettlebell up towards your chest almost as if performing a bicep curl, wrapping it around your forearm whilst pulling your back straight and tightening your core. Lower your arm and the kettlebell back toward the floor and repeat for between 6 to 12 reps before switching sides.
5. One Arm Kettlebell Swing
Muscles used: Shoulders, arms (biceps/triceps), and posterior chain muscles including the back, hips, and glutes
How to perform it: Stand with feet shoulder width apart with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet. Bending slightly at the knees and hinging at the hips, grab the kettlebell in one hand and pull it back between your legs for momentum. Now drive your hips forward and straighten your back to move the kettlebell upwards towards shoulder height before letting it return back between your legs. Repeat the move for between 12-15 reps before switching to the other hand and repeating.
Cool down and rest!
Once you’ve completed all three rounds it’s important to stretch out in order to prevent muscle soreness, keep your muscles supple and prevent injury. Stretches regularly tagged on to the end of your workouts will also help to improve flexibility, increase range of motion and promote greater recovery helping you to lift harder and longer next time around and keep progressing. If you’d like some ideas for a post-workout cool-down, I’ve included some of my favourite total body stretches here.
And if you’re looking for some decent kettlebells but you’re not sure which to go for, I’ve included my top eight recommended kettlebells in this review, so feel free to take a look.
Try this workout and see how you get on. The key for strength and progression is to start lighter and then work up to heavier kettlebells when you can complete all reps in an exercise with good form. If you do try it, let me know how you get on, I’d love to know.