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. Bigger and/or stronger arms are a goal of many people working out
Here are the five best kettlebell exercises to train your arms. There is a combination of exercises that target the biceps, triceps and shoulders at the same time but also some isolation exercises.
- 1 1. Kettlebell Clean Into Press
- 2 2. Kettlebell Curl
- 3 3. Kettlebell Press Into Skull Crusher
- 4 4. Kettlebell Lateral Raise
- 5 5. Kettlebell Push-up With Row
- 6 Is a Kettlebell Enough For Bigger/Stronger Arms?
- 7 How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
1. Kettlebell Clean Into Press
An awesome full body exercise that does require some technique is the clean into press. Uses a lot of muscles in the lower and upper body but most importantly for arms, it uses biceps, triceps and shoulders in one movement. That means it’s a very efficient exercise.
The full body aspect is why kettlebells are amazing pieces of equipment. If you’re in a hurry, exercises like these can make your workout very quick and intensive.
However, as said, it is a complicated exercise. To make it a little less complicated, you can split it up in two parts; the clean and the press. To get the technique right, you can practice the parts separately. Once you know both parts, simply connect them.
- Place one kettlebell on the floor
- Stand up straight with the feet shoulder width apart
- Bend over, hinging at the hip and keeping your back straight
- Grab the kettlebell with an overhand grip
- In one motion, pull the kettlebell from the floor towards your shoulder
- The speed and force doesn’t come from your arms but mainly from the lower body. Push the floor away and stand up straight.
- The resulting speed will propel the kettlebell most of the way up.
- Let the kettlebell flip around your hand so it ends up on the outside of your wrist next to your shoulder.
- To return to the starting position, flip your wrist so the kettlebell swings back to the front.
- Lower the kettlebell back down in a controlled manner.
- When your elbow is almost extended, start bending at the knees and hips.
- The repetition is complete when the kettlebell touches the floor.
The press is the easier part of this exercise. It is great for the triceps and shoulder. So if you don’t think the clean is for you, just do the press and do a separate bicep exercise like the number two on this list.
- Grab a kettlebell with one hand.
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Bring your hand with kettlebell next to the shoulder. The weight of the kettlebell should be on the outside of the wrist.
- Keep the elbows at a roughly 45 degree angle to the body.
- Contract the triceps and shoulder to push the kettlebell up.
- Keep pushing until the elbow is extended and your arm is pointing straight up.
- Return the kettlebell to the starting position.
2. Kettlebell Curl
The main biceps exercise that you can do with kettlebells but also dumbbells or a barbell is the standing curl. It’s a pretty easy exercise that is easy to learn. Just don’t start to heavy to make sure you get the form right. Curls are biceps isolation
You can do this exercise with one arm/kettlebell at a time and switch arms. However, if you’ve got two kettlebells of the same, appropriate weight, using both at the same time is perfectly fine too.
- Stand up straight with the feet shoulder feet apart.
- Grab two kettlebells of the same weight on top of the handle. (If you only have one, use that one and switch arms)
- Let the kettlebells hang down next to your body with the hands in neutral position. (Thumbs facing forward)
- Flex your glutes and brace your core while keeping your shoulders back.
- Squeeze the handle of the kettlebell with your hands while contracting the biceps.
- Bring the kettlebell up towards the shoulder while keeping the elbows in the same location next to your body.
- Twist your lower arms slightly throughout the movement so the palms of your hands are facing towards your legs at the bottom and towards the front of the shoulders at the top.
- Reverse the movement in a controlled manner.
You can also do this as a 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 its 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 Press Into Skull Crusher
This sounds like a complicated and maybe dangerous exercise but it’s really not that difficult. It combines two movements and alternates them. This can be done since the end position of the first movement is the starting position of the second movement and vice versa. That means they’re easy to combine.
This is a good triceps exercise that hits the triceps from two different angles because of the combination of movement as well as targeting the chest and front of the shoulder.
- Lay down on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat.
- Grab one kettlebell with two hands, palms facing each other.
- Put the kettlebell on your body, just below the chest.
- Push the kettlebell up by contracting the triceps and chest muscles.
- Push up until your elbows are extended and the kettlebell is over the chest.
- Now keep the upper arm in the same position but bend the elbows so the kettlebell is lowered behind the head.
- Contract the triceps and bring the kettlebell back over the chest.
- Lower the kettlebell back to the body just below the chest.
4. Kettlebell Lateral Raise
It’s debatable if the shoulders are part of the arms but for both strength and ecstatic reasons, you should aim to grow the shoulders just as much as the biceps and triceps. Otherwise it just looks weird and would limit your strength quite a bit. So having an isolation exercise for your shoulders is a necessary part of bigger, stronger arms.
The lateral raise is one of the few movement you can do to really isolate the shoulder muscles without the involvement of too many other muscles.
- Grab one kettlebell with one hand. (If you’ve got two kettlebells of the same appropriate weight, use them at the same time, otherwise switch arms)
- Stand up with your back straight.
- Let your arms relax next to your body.
- Raise the kettlebell to the side until your arm is parallel to the floor.
- Keep the elbow and wrist in line and extended.
- Slowly return the kettlebell to next to the body.
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 Arms?
A kettlebell can be plenty to grow bigger, stronger arms. 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
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.