Kettlebells are a single piece of equipment that can provide a great back workout that works almost the whole body at the same time. There are some great kettlebell exercises that will make your back bigger and stronger as well as being great for your posture. What are the best kettlebell exercises you can do for your back? Here’s what you want to know.
Here are the five best kettlebell exercises to train your back. Most of the exercises are almost full body exercises that involve the lower body, back, core and some of the arms as well. This is what kettlebells are great for and means that your workouts can be very efficient.
- 1 1. Kettlebell Swing
- 2 2. Kettlebell Deadlift
- 3 3. Kettlebell Row
- 4 4. Kettlebell Pullover
- 5 5. Kettlebell Push-up With Row
- 6 Is a Kettlebell Enough For Bigger/Stronger Back?
- 7 How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
1. Kettlebell Swing
The undisputed best kettlebell exercise for your back and frankly in general is the kettlebell swing. It is a great combination of a lower body and back exercise. Because so many different bigger and smaller muscles are used for the movement (up to 600 different muscles), it’s also a great cardiovascular movement since so many muscles will get the heart pumping for sure.
It’s called the swing because you basically swing the kettlebell from under you body between your legs to about shoulder height.
It’s a pretty easy movement but you do have to know how to hip hinge properly. This is a movement you should learn anyways because it’s very important to many other movements and lifting things safely in daily life. Once you know how to do it (if you can squat or deadlift properly, you know how to do it), you won’t forget anytime soon. If you don’t know how to do the hip hinge, starting with the squat or deadlift will be a bit easier.
- Place a kettlebell of appropriate weight (should be quite heavy for you)
- Stand up straight with feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core and pull your shoulders back.
- Bend at the knees and hips until you can grab the top of the kettlebell handle with both hands, palms facing towards you.
- Stand up straight by pushing your heels into the floor. (You can move straight into the upswing from here or pause if you feel the need to)
- Make sure to not round your back while lifting. Keep your core and shoulders tight now but also throughout the swing.
- Keep your arms straight through the movement.
- While standing up, use the upward momentum to swing the kettlebell up. The goal is to have the kettlebell at shoulder height with straight arms at the same time the knees and hips are extended
- The kettlebell will be coming back down pretty quickly. Just let it come down but try to control it.
- While the bell is swinging down, start hinging at the hip (point your butt back) and slightly bend the knees.
- Let the kettle swing between your legs. Don’t let the kettlebell hit the floor. Slightly pull it up and back.
- In the lowest position your back should almost be parallel to the floor and the weighted end of kettlebell is slightly behind your butt.
- Now explode up by driving your feet into the floor and driving through your hips. Drive through your hips by tightening the core and squeezing your glutes hard.
The vast majority of the power for the swing comes from your hips. The arms stay straight throughout the movement. The shoulders will do a little bit but it’s not an arm exercise.
2. Kettlebell Deadlift
One of the most famous exercises is the deadlift. It’s relatively simple although it can be a bit difficult to get the technique exactly right. The deadlift is a great exercise for the whole back (lower and upper), and the lower body, especially the glutes and hamstrings.
- Put a relatively heavy kettlebell on the floor between your feet. The handle of the kettlebell should be between the middle part of your feet.
- Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core and keep your shoulders back.
- Hinge at the hip and bring your hands (perpendicular to the floor), towards the handle.
- Bend at the knees a little but as little as possible.
- Grab the kettlebell with both hands.
- Tighten all your muscles against the kettlebell without lifting it. That means bracing the core and back, keeping the neck in a neutral position. Also slightly contract your glutes and hamstrings.
- Now explode up by pushing your heels into the floor, and driving the hips forward.
- Make sure not to swing the kettlebell, keep it close to your body. You might have to have to pull your arms towards your body a little, especially on heavy weights.
- At the top, drive through the hips by squeezing the glutes and core hard.
- Slowly return to the starting position. Just bend at the hips until your hands are just below the knees and then bend the knees.
Good form is especially important on the deadlift. Getting the hip hinge right while keeping the back and neck in a neutral position is a must. Don’t worry about starting with a lighter weight first until you feel comfortable. The deadlift is on the the exercises that people are able to lift the heaviest weights, kettlebells or not so once you get it right, it’s a great strength builder.
3. Kettlebell Row
The first two exercises are full body exercises. The row is more focussed towards the back even though you still have to use the lower body. The row is a dynamic movement for the upper back while the lower back and lower body are in a static position throughout the set.
- Stand up straight with shoulder width apart
- Brace the core and hinge at the hip
- Grab a kettlebell with one hand (if you’ve got two kettlebells of the same weight, use one per hand)
- Stay in the bent over position while keeping your back straight. Bend the knees as little as possible while the back stays parallel to the floor. If you can’t keep your back parallel to the floor, try to get at least somewhere between parallel and a 45 degree angle.
- While staying in the bent over position (brace your core, keep your back straight), pull the kettlebell straight up.
- Pull until the kettlebell is next to the body and the elbow is behind the body.
- Slowly let the kettlebell down to the starting position.
4. Kettlebell Pullover
- Grab a kettlebell by the ‘horns’ (sides of the handle) with both hands, palms facing each other.
- Lay down on a flat bench if you have one, on the floor otherwise. Put your feet on the floor
- Lay down in a way where your head just doesn’t fall off the bench.
- Hold the kettlebell on the chest until you get in the right position.
- Brace your core, glutes and keep your shoulders back. It’s OK if your butt comes off the bench a little.
- Push the kettlebell from the chest until your arms are straight and perpendicular to the floor.
- While keeping your arms straight, let the kettlebell go back (behind your head.
- Keep going back until your upper arms are straight with your body (biceps next to your ear).
- Then bring the kettlebell back up by contracting the lats (side of the back) and chest muscles.
5. Kettlebell Push-up With Row
And to finish off, one more exercise that targets biceps, triceps, back and core at the same time. It combines a push up and a row. The push up part targets the chest, triceps and front of the shoulder. The row targets the biceps, back and rear of the shoulder. And at the same time your core has to work hard to stabilize everything.
It does require you to balance your body on the kettlebells. If you’re not completely certain you have the balance and strength to do this, you can either use a single kettlebell under one hand or don’t rest on the kettlebells at all for the push up part and just do the row with the kettlebell.
- Set up two of the same kettlebells shoulder width apart with the handles parallel to the body.
- Get into the push-up starting position with your hands wrapped around the kettlebell handles.
- Make sure you can keep the kettlebells upright while resting and exercising. If you feel the kettlebells might topple over, just doing a normal push up might be better.
- Bend at the elbows in order to lower the chest to between the kettlebell handles. Keep the rest of the body rigid by flexing the glutes, legs and core.
- Push up to the starting position.
- Once back at starting position, pull one of the kettlebells up besides the chest.
- The elbows should move behind the body and the kettlebell should end up besides the chest.
- Lower the kettlebell down to the original spot.
As said above, not everyone can/feels comfortable balancing on the kettlebells. Just do the push up part the traditional way. Then grab a kettlebell for the row part.
Is a Kettlebell Enough For Bigger/Stronger Back?
A kettlebell can be plenty to grow bigger, stronger back. To get muscles to grow, you need to provide enough training volume at a proper resistance level. The training volume is quite easy to do with kettlebells. They are small so you can have one at home and quickly bang out a 15 minute arm workout that will produce quite a burn.
The resistance level depends on the weight of the kettlebell. It’s a good idea to have a few different weights of kettlebells available. How heavy exactly obviously depends on you. For some movements like squats, swings and deadlifts, a heavy kettlebell is more appropriate. For things like curls and lateral raises, lighter weights are better. Or another way to look at it; for exercises with two hands; use a heavy kettlebell, for exercises with one hand, use a lighter one.
What heavy and light means really depends on the person. For women 6-8 kg is a good starting point for two handed exercises. For men a starting point of 12-14 kg is good. The lighter kettlebell should be about 60% of the heavier weight. Of course when training, you will get stronger after a while. Be prepared to upgrade to a heavier weight kettlebell after a while.
How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
Everyone has different reasons to work out. Some people want to look better, others want to become stronger to become better at a certain sport or just for everyday activities. Kettlebells are great tool to reach those different goals with a single piece of equipment. We all like to use our time as efficiently as possible though. So how can you get the most out of a kettlebell workout?
There are a few things you can do to make your kettlebell workouts more efficient;
- Rest periods
- Full body
1. Rest periods
Do you sit around for long periods of time between sets and exercises? Keeping your rest periods short is one of the best things you can do to make your kettlebell workouts more efficient. Short rest periods do a few things;
- Make your workouts shorter: This is a pretty obvious benefit. By cutting the time between sets short your whole workout will take less time.
- Better conditioning and burn more fat: Shorter rest periods means your heart rate will recover less between sets. A higher heart rate generally means your conditioning will improve and it also burns more calories. Since kettlebell workout are usually already quite heavy on the cardiovascular system, this is a nice way to boost those benefits even further.
- Increases muscle growth and endurance: Shorter rest periods can improve the muscle growth (30-90 seconds rest) and endurance (30 seconds rest) benefits of your workout even if you don’t change anything else.
If you want to train purely for strength, longer rest periods are better. That’s only if the weights are so heavy you can’t otherwise lift them though.
Another way to optimize your kettlebell workout is with supersets. As said before, kettlebell workouts are great because they target many muscles at the same time while also being great cardiovascular exercise.
Keeping your rest periods short is one way to make the workout more efficient but supersets are another similar way to do this.
A superset means you do two exercises immediately after each other without rest in between and rest after you finished both the sets. Then repeat the superset after resting. For example;
1 set KB swings ->No rest ->1 set high pulls ->Rest ->Repeat
If you want to focus more on muscle growth, picking two exercises that use the same muscle group is a good way. If you want to focus more on fat burning, pick two exercises that use different muscle groups.
3. Full body
With kettlebells, one of the big benefits is that you can do a full body workout quite easily with a limited amount of exercises and just one piece of equipment. Doing a full body kettlebell workout 5 times a week is going to be more conducive to most peoples goals than training arms one day, legs the next day and so forth.
Splitting up your workouts in body parts makes sense if you’re bodybuilding or are building strength specifically in certain body parts or for specific movements. However, for general fitness, daily strength and conditioning, full body workouts are the way to go in my opinion. By training your whole body many times a week, you stimulate the muscles multiple times a week while by doing a split, you might only target them once a week.
And while you might not be able to target all your muscles as hard with a full body workout as with a split, the increased frequency more than makes up for it. For people that don’t live in the gym and don’t want to keep track of a very complicated workout routine with a different workout every day, full body is the way to go.
Also, full body workouts are tougher on the cardiovascular system and burn more calories which plays into the strengths of kettlebell workouts and the fitness goals most people have.
The most important for anything fitness related is consistency. In the grand scheme of things, one good or bad workout doesn’t move the needle towards your goals a whole lot. Doing the right thing (working out) consistently x amount of times a week is what will get you there. Improving fitness, body composition and growing muscle is a slow process.
Doing a single super good workout is great and makes you feel good but working out consistently is more important in the long run. That also means you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much if you have a bad day. It happens to everyone and there isn’t much you can do about it. Just feel good about the fact that you still did your workout even though you didn’t feel like it because that is the mindset you need to reach your fitness goals.
Set a challenging but realistic workout schedule and stick to it. It should be challenging (for you) because that’s what will push your body to improve. However, it should at the same time be realistic to actually stick to it to the end. If you set unrealistic goals you are more likely to get demotivated when you notice you can’t reach them or keep up with the workout schedule.
Training is just one part of improving yourself. However, recovery is a very important part of the puzzle as well. Training breaks down your muscles and puts wear on your tendons. There is nothing wrong with that since your body fixes that damage quickly and repairs it in a way that is stronger. This is what creates bigger, stronger muscles.
However, it’s necessary to give your body the time and recourses to recover properly. That means getting enough sleep and eating well (the right amount of calories with a lot of nutrients) but also things like massages, foam rolling, sauna. Sleeping and eating right is by far the most important but the latter things can give you a little boost if necessary.
Of course the harder you train, the longer it takes to recover. If you’ve ever been sore for many days after intense exercise, that means your body isn’t fully recovered yet. Improving recovery plays a big role in this but also creating a proper workout schedule that doesn’t push you too far too often. Getting the balance right between training and recovery is what allows you to work out consistently for a long time.
It’s already mentioned above but diet is very important. It’s important both for short term recovery and to reach your long term goals.
The right amount of calories is the most important basic thing to get right. Calculate how many calories you roughly need in a day. Next, get a myfitnesspal account and put in what you eat. If you want to gain weight, eat up to 500 calories more than you need, and if you want to lose weight, eat up to 500 calories less than you need.
Try to get enough protein while working out since proteins are the building blocks of muscle. You need protein not only to grow muscle but also to maintain it while working out. About 0.6-0.8 gram per pound of body weight is a good target.
Other than that, make sure to get mostly healthy food with enough micronutrients. Heavily processed foods are generally better to avoid.