The Perfect 20-Minute Kettlebell Workout to Sculpt Stronger Arms

The shape of the kettlebell means you have to recruit more of your core and other stabilizer muscles.
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com

Workouts don't have to be an hour long in order to be effective for building strong, defined arms. In fact, you can squeeze in an intense workout in just 20 minutes by using a kettlebell to burn out your biceps, triceps and shoulders — and even a bit of your upper back.

"What I love about kettlebells as a coach and instructor is that you truly get more bang for your buck," says Justice Williams, personal trainer and kettlebell coach. "Kettlebells are so diverse they can be used to build muscle, conditioning or for cardio."

The unique shape of the kettlebell creates instability that challenges your core and forces you to move in all planes of motion — front to back, side to side, up and down and diagonally — which also improves balance and coordination, he says. It also strengthens the smaller stabilizer muscles and tendons in the arm, so you're doing more work with each move.

Plus, many kettlebell exercises involve repeated flipping of your wrist that places loads on the forearm tendon from slightly different angles, which helps build stronger forearms and grip strength, he says. And that comes in handy regardless of what kind of weight you're lifting.

Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

Try This 20-Minute Kettlebell Arm Workout

Get your kettlebell ready and give yourself 20 minutes to work those arms with this workout from Williams.

Do: exercises 1 to 3, resting 20 seconds in between. Then repeat a second time. Rest for 60 seconds, then do exercises 4 to 9 in the same way, resting 20 seconds in between exercises and repeating the circuit twice. Then end with exercise 10 for 2 sets (20-second rest in between).

Move 1: Lying Overhead Triceps Extension

Move 1: Lying Overhead Triceps Extension
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 40 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Lie on the floor with knees up and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Start with the bell behind your head, grabbing it by the horns (sides of the handle). This is the starting position.
  3. Without moving your elbows, slowly straighten your arms until they're fully extended and the bell is above your chest.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell without moving your elbows to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Tip

This is an excellent move to begin your routine or to warm up with. "I like to do this before other triceps work like the triceps kickback or standing triceps extensions," Williams says. "It works the triceps from elbow to lats."

Move 2: Half-Kneeling Concentration Curl

Move 2: Half-Kneeling Concentration Curl
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Get into a half-kneeling position with your left knee on the ground and your right foot planted about a foot in front of you. Place a kettlebell on the inside of your right foot.
  2. Rest your right elbow on your right knee and grab the handle of the kettlebell.
  3. Slowly curl the kettlebell toward your shoulder and squeeze your biceps at the top.
  4. Slowly extend your arm back down.
  5. Repeat this for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Tip

Half-kneeling concentration curls are a great way to strengthen your biceps. "This exercise builds your biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis, the three main elbow flexors," Williams says.

Using your knee provides feedback so that you're not swinging as you curl the weight. "This gives you the ability to control the movement keeping your arm in a set position," he says.

Move 3: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press

Move 3: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Get into a half-kneeling position with your left knee on the ground and your right foot planted about a foot in front of you.
  2. Rack the kettlebell at your right shoulder, elbow tight to the body.
  3. Slowly push the kettlebell above your head, keeping your biceps in line with your ear.
  4. Slowly return the kettlebell back to the rack position at shoulder height.
  5. Repeat for 20 seconds, then do the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Tip

"This is a great way to build your shoulder and your triceps," Williams says. "It’s also great for core stability and hip mobility, which makes your whole body work."

Move 4: Flexed Hold Farmers Carry

Move 4: Flexed Hold Farmers Carry
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. While standing tall, hold the kettlebell at one shoulder with your elbow bent to 90 degrees, upper arm parallel to the floor.
  2. Squeeze the biceps muscle and walk back and forth for 20 seconds.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

Tip

"This activity targets your biceps while challenging your whole body," Williams says. "If you want to build mass, get stronger in you biceps curl or even your pull up, this is the exercise for you."

Move 5: Triceps Kickback

Move 5: Triceps Kickback
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Stand with a staggered stance — right foot a few feet in front of the left.
  2. Lean forward while maintaining a flat back. Place your right hand on the right thigh for support.
  3. Make sure your left arm is tight to your body and bend your left arm at the elbow to 90 degrees. This is the starting position.
  4. Keeping the left triceps in line with your back, fully extend the left arm, kicking the kettlebell behind you.
  5. Lower the weight back down to the start. Your upper arm remains still while extending and flexing the arm.
  6. Repeat for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Tip

Here, you can isolate the triceps muscle in order to get stronger. "The best way to train the triceps is to hit it from multiple angles," Williams says. "Making this activity a great addition to your triceps workout."

Move 6: Seated Overhead Press

Move 6: Seated Overhead Press
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Sit on the floor with your legs spread open in a V shape. Keep a tall spine and look ahead. Draw your belly button to your spine.
  2. Hold the kettlebell in the racked position at your shoulder, keeping your elbow tight to your body.
  3. Drive the bell above your head, fully extending your arm while keeping your biceps in line with your ear.
  4. Slowly return the kettlebell to the racked position at your shoulder.
  5. Repeat for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Tip

"I love this version of the overhead press," Williams says. "It targets the shoulder muscles, the triceps and in addition, it hits your core, obliques, lower back and hips."

Move 7: Cross-Body Cup Hold Biceps Curl

Move 7: Cross-Body Cup Hold Biceps Curl
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Stand tall with your feet under your shoulders and your arm extended at your side.
  2. Holding the bell of the kettlebell in the palm of your hand, with your palm facing forward, slowly curl the kettlebell across your body toward your opposite shoulder.
  3. Squeeze the biceps at top of the curl.
  4. Slowly return the kettlebell back to the start position.
  5. Repeat for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Tip

This move targets the biceps, brachialis and the forearms. "I love this exercise because it really strengthens the forearms as well as your grip strength," Williams says.

Move 8: Standing Triceps Extensions

Move 8: Standing Triceps Extensions
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 40 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Look forward while holding the kettlebell by the horns behind your head.
  2. Make sure your shoulders are packed (secured back and down), your elbows are up toward the sky and you have a tight grip on the kettlebell. This is the starting position.
  3. Without moving your elbows, extend your arm, moving the kettlebell above the head. Pause and squeeze the triceps at the top of the extension.
  4. Slowly return the kettlebell to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 40 seconds.

Tip

This power move targets the triceps, and because you're standing, it really works your core as well, Williams says.

Move 9: Deadlift Clean and Press

Move 9: Deadlift Clean and Press
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 20 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Start in a deadlift position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, bring your chest to a 45-degree angle to the ground. Keep a tall or neutral spine with your eyes looking out ahead of you. Make sure the kettlebell is in between the arches of your feet.
  2. Firmly grip the kettlebell with one hand while punching the other arm out to create tension and generate power.
  3. Push through your heels, exploding up to standing, while keeping your shoulders packed and square with a proud chest.
  4. At the same time, pull the kettlebell up your body from the elbow. Squeeze your armpits, bringing your triceps tight to your rib cage and allow the kettlebell to roll over and settle on the crease between your forearm and your biceps.
  5. Pause for a moment in the racked position, then push the kettlebell overhead until your arm is fully extended and in line with your ear.
  6. Pause on top of the press, then slowly return the kettlebell with control to the racked position at your shoulder.
  7. Pause, then return the kettlebell to the floor in between the arches of your feet.
  8. Repeat for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each side.
  9. Take a 60-second rest.

Tip

"I love this because you hit both the triceps and the biceps along with the core, lats, rhomboids and lower back in this activity," Williams says.

Move 10: Bonus Finisher: Kettlebell Swings

Move 10: Bonus Finisher: Kettlebell Swings
Image Credit: Justice Williams/LIVESTRONG.com
Time (In Seconds) 40 Sec
Activity Kettlebell Workout
  1. Start in a deadlift position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, bring your chest to a 45-degree angle to the ground. Keep a tall or neutral spine with your eyes looking out ahead of you. Make sure the kettlebell is in between the arches of your feet.
  2. The kettlebell should be placed one foot away from you. Reach out for the kettlebell and grab it with a tight grip in both hands and tilt it toward you. Hike the kettlebell by pulling your arms to your body and allowing the bell to swing through your legs as you hinge your hips slightly back.
  3. Push through your heels and press your hips forward to stand tall quickly. Make the kettlebell light as it floats up to shoulder height.
  4. Shift back into your hinge and repeat for 40 seconds.
  5. Park your kettlebell ahead of you and rest for 20 seconds.

Tip

Kettlebell swings get your heart rate up quickly, building strength and endurance. "It targets the core, gluteus, hamstrings, quads, back and arms," Williams says. "This is a great way to build your forearm and grip strength. I also like to use swings to open my arm muscles after a heavy workout."