Kettlebells are great. A single piece of equipment can provide you with enough exercise options for a full body and cardio workout. You still have to know how to use them to reach your goals though. How can you use kettlebells to train your biceps?
Here are the five best kettlebell exercises to train your biceps;
- 1 1. Kettlebell Standing Bicep Curl
- 2 2. Kettlebell Hammer Curl
- 3 3. Kettlebell Incline Curl
- 4 4. Kettlebell Squat Curl
- 5 5. Reverse Kettlebell Curl
- 6 Do You Have To Do All 5 Exercises Every Time?
- 7 How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
1. Kettlebell Standing Bicep Curl
2. Kettlebell Hammer Curl
The hammer curl is very similar to the standing curl outlined above. The only difference is the way you DON’T twist your lower arms throughout the movement. Instead of ending the repetition with the palms of the hands facing towards the front of the shoulders, keep the lower arms and orientation of the hands the same throughout the repetition.
The front of your arms consists of more than one muscle. The word BI in biceps is a clear giveaway of that. There are two heads of the biceps; the long head and the short head. On top of that you also have the Brachialis or rather, under it since it lays under the biceps.
By not twisting the lower arm, you target the long head of the biceps and Brachialis more. The short head is targeted more by the normal curl. The short head is what gives your biceps it’s height. However, the long head and Brachialis give your arms more size under that peak.
So doing both is important for getting the most size and strength increases possible. Both exercises target most of the muscles in the front upper arm, they just lay the focus on different parts of the muscles.
3. Kettlebell Incline Curl
If you’ve got an adjustable weightlifting bench, this is a great exercise. Without a bench, you might have to give this one a pass.
Instead of standing up, you perform this exercise seated on a bench that has the backrest set to a 45 – 60 degree angle from the floor. This allows you to let your arms extend behind the body. This puts a stretch on the biceps which means you can exercise the biceps throughout a larger range of motion which leads to more size and strength growth. Also, weighted stretching helps build more strength and muscle.
- Set the backrest of a weightlifting bench to a 45-60 degree angle from the floor.
- Lay down on the bench and put your feet flat on the floor for stability.
- Grab one kettlebell with one hand. Keep the handle perpendicular to the body.
- Let your arm(s) hang down so they’re perpendicular to the floor. You’ll feel a bit of a stretch in your biceps.
- Contract your biceps and bring the kettlebell(s) towards your shoulder.
- Keep the elbow in the same location behind the body.
- Reverse the motion in a controlled motion.
You can either use the normal curl movement where you twist the lower arms throughout the motion or do a hammer curl where the lower arms stay in the same orientation throughout the movement.
4. Kettlebell Squat Curl
This is an interesting partly isometric (static) exercise with a dynamic movement for the biceps. This is a good way to turn a biceps exercise into a full body exercise. It combines an isometric hold at the bottom of a squat and a curl.
- Grab one kettlebell with both hands.
- Stand up straight with the feet wider than shoulder width apart.
- Squat down until your elbows touches the top side of your leg.
- While staying in the squat position and keeping your elbow planted on the leg, contract the biceps and bring the kettlebell towards the face.
- Slowly reverse the movement until the elbow is fully extended.
Because the elbow is stabilized on the leg, you can really focus on the contraction in the biceps. At the same time you get a great workout for the legs.
5. Reverse Kettlebell Curl
Finally one exercise that targets your upper arm muscles a little differently. Instead of holding the weight with the palms of the hands facing you, you grab the weights with the palms facing the floor so the opposite of the usual. Hence the ‘reverse’ in the name.
The benefit of this is that it is great for a few things; grip strength, lower arm development, Brachialis development. This means it targets muscles in the arms that other exercises target less and therefore is low hanging fruit for arm growth.
The movement is the same as the normal standing curl except you should keep the elbows a little closer to the body and aim to bring the kettlebell towards the inside of the shoulder and not outside.
You can do one arm at a time, use two kettlebells for two arms or one heavier kettlebell with both hands.
Do You Have To Do All 5 Exercises Every Time?
The exercises above are the best five in my opinion. They target the biceps and many surrounding muscles the best way that is beneficial for growth and athleticism. That doesn’t say anything about if you should do them and if you should do them all.
The exercises in the list above are just options you can use in your workouts. Kettlebells are great for full body workouts and most people don’t use kettlebells to just train one muscle. If you want to focus on training your biceps specifically, adding one or two exercises from the list above to your routine will increase their strength, size and endurance over time.
It’s not necessary to do all of these 5 exercises every workout to get stronger and/or bigger biceps. Adding one or two on top of your normal routine will be fine. If you want to do a dedicated biceps workout, 3 of the exercises above is probably enough, especially if you combine it with some bodyweight exercises like push-ups.
Also, it’s good to keep some variety in reserve. Varying exercises every few months gives your muscles a stronger training impulse. That means by switching exercises in and out you can optimize your muscle and strength increases. So if you pick one bicep exercise to do every workout, in three months you can change it out for another one on the list. This way the muscles get trained in slightly different ways every time and which leads to your body getting stronger in different ways.
Also, exercise variety is good to keep workouts interesting. Doing exactly the same workout every time gets boring after a while and if working out gets boring, you’re less likely to adhere to a schedule.
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
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.
4. 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.
6. 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.