Dumbbells tend to get most of the focus in the gym, but kettlebells can be just as valuable. When you hold a kettlebell, your muscles have to adapt to the swinging instability at the ends of your arms, providing a different challenge compared to the static weight of a dumbbell. This makes an upper body kettlebell workout a great choice for arm, back, and chest day.
Advantages of using kettlebells for upper body workouts
According to Kelvin Gary, the founder of NYC’s BodySpaceFitness, there is added leverage with a kettlebell due to the space between your hand and the actual load. This challenges your muscles in a different way compared to dumbbells, which remain statically on either side of your hand. The changing position of the weight throughout a move offers additional stimulus for your body to adapt to, increasing the need for coordination and stability.
Kettlebells are typically used for swings, cleans, and snatches, as the changing position of the mass provides an extra challenge and feels more natural. However, they can also be used for more traditional arm, chest, and back exercises like rows and bicep curls.
Components of an upper body kettlebell workout
An upper body workout should engage the chest, back, and arms, activating both large muscles groups like the pecs and lats, and smaller, more isolated muscles like the biceps and triceps.
When planning a strength-based workout, it’s important to work your major muscle groups evenly. One way to achieve this is by organizing the workout to target all major muscle groups and allow for an appropriate amount of rest between training days for the same muscle groups.
Kettlebells are effective for push/pull workouts and mimic real-life movements, making them particularly advantageous for functional exercises.
An upper body kettlebell workout you can do in under 20 minutes
The format and added challenge of using a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell add a fun, muscle-boosting twist to the workout. The exercises include single-arm rows, tricep extensions, and bicep curls, as well as powerful cleans and close grip chest presses.
The workout not only targets the arms and back, but also engages the legs and core, providing a full-body workout in under 20 minutes.
The five upper body kettlebell exercises included
1. Single-arm rows
Stand in a narrow lunge, bend over until your torso is parallel to the floor, and drive the elbow up and out to bring the kettlebell toward your hip.
2. Tricep extensions
Hold the kettlebell with both hands and raise it directly overhead, then lower it down behind your head by bending at the elbows.
3. Bicep curls
Fully extend the arms down, then bend at the elbows to bring the kettlebell up toward the chin and hold for a second at the top.
4. Row to clean
Perform a row and then a powerful clean, engaging the legs to drive your body up.
5. Close grip press
Lie on your back, hold the kettlebell with both hands straight up above your chest, then slowly bring it down and press up again.