The Only 5 Kettlebell Exercises You Need for a Strong Upper Body

You may think of kettlebells primarily for lower-body workouts, but they work your arms, chest and back just as effectively.
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Exercises don't need to be complicated to be effective. And kettlebells are about as uncomplicated as exercise equipment gets. And while many people rely on them mainly for lower-body exercises, adding them to upper-body movements balances out your upper and lower half.

If you're used to working out with dumbbells and barbells, though, there are a few differences to keep in mind. The main one is their cannonball shape, which means they disperse weight differently than other free weights. This also means kettlebells require more core engagement in order to move the load efficiently while training your upper body.

The exercises below target your arms, shoulders and back and alternate between anterior (front of your body) and posterior (back of your body) muscles. This gives each muscle group a chance to rest before working hard again.

These exercises also alternate between training muscular strength and power (using quick explosive movements). Both are important to aid everyday movements, especially as you age. Picking things off the ground, shopping for groceries or lifting your grandkids requires stabilize upper-body strength.

Tip

Wondering how much weight you should use? Try switching between 10-, 12- or 14-kilogram kettlebells, depending on the difficulty of the exercise.

1. Kettlebell Upright Row

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Sets 3
Reps 15
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell at the handle with both hands.
  2. Push your shoulders down away from your ears.
  3. Leading with the elbows, raise the kettlebell along the front of your body until the hands are just under your chin.
  4. Lower in a controlled manner until the you return to starting position.
  5. Repeat.

2. Single-Arm Glute Bridge Chest Press

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Sets 3
Reps 15
  1. Sit on the floor, then lie back so that your feet (shoulder-width apart), hips, shoulders, and head are in contact with the ground, knees pointing up.
  2. Hold a kettlebell by the handle in one hand. Your upper arm should be positioned so that the kettlebell is even with the lower half of the chest with the triceps is resting on the ground.
  3. From this position, press the kettlebell up and slightly in toward the midline of the body.
  4. As you press the kettlebell toward the ceiling, your hips should follow in the glute bridge position. Press through your feet to lift your hips and back off the floor.
  5. Lower until the triceps and hips touch the ground.
  6. Repeat.

Tip

Keep your wrist neutral and don't allow the weight of the kettlebell to pull your shoulders back.

3. Kettlebell Renegade Row

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Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Begin in a high plank, supporting yourself on palms and toes, body in a straight line from head to hips to heels.
  2. Hold onto the handle of a kettlebell with one hand.
  3. Brace your core, then lift the kettlebell up toward your chest by bending your elbow up and back.
  4. Draw your shoulder away from your ear as you row the weight until your upper arm is slightly higher than your torso.
  5. Slowly lower it back down to the ground.
  6. Repeat.

Tip

Since this is a more advanced variation (you can perform on your knees if needed), use a lighter weight when doing this exercise. You'll really feel it your upper back.

4. Kettlebell Hip Extension Shoulder Press

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Starting on your knees, keep your back straight with the kettlebell resting in a racked position on your shoulder.
  2. Begin to push your hips back toward your heels. Don't touch your glutes to your heels, but leave a slight space to create resistance in the movement.
  3. Once you feel the resistance, push your hips forward.
  4. As you hip drive forward, press the kettlebell over your head.
  5. Lower the weight back down to your shoulder as you hind your hips back again.
  6. Repeat.

5. Kettlebell Overhead Snatch

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Skill Level Advanced
Sets 2
Time 30 Sec
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart and a kettlebell in between your feet.
  2. Squat down and grab the handle with one hand.
  3. Pull the bell up and extend through the hips, using the momentum to raise the bell all the way overhead.
  4. Insert your palm deep into the handle with your thumb facing back and lock out your elbow with the kettlebell overhead.
  5. Reverse the movement to lower the weight back to the ground, changing grip into the backswing.