At least once per week I get asked a question about kettlebell exercises for the chest.
I think the question arises because there doesn’t seem to be any conventional chest based exercises that can be carried over from the body building world that seem appropriate for kettlebell training.
One of the main benefits of kettlebell training is that the exercises are dynamic and flow from one movement to the next.
Suddenly moving onto a bench and performing a set of chest presses as you would with dumbbells or a barbell just doesn’t seem to fit.
However, there are a few kettlebell exercises for the pecs or chest muscles that can be adopted and fit in with the functional spirt of kettlebell training.
Function of the chest muscles
The Pectoralis major and minor are two muscles of the chest which are integral to movement in daily activities. The former, a fan-shaped muscle located at the upper part of the chest wall, is responsible for horizontal flexion, adduction, and internal rotation of the arm while the latter enables medial rotation of the humerus or upper arm bone.
In other words, the larger pectoralis major allows us to bring our arms across the body while the smaller pectoralis minor helps move them in an inward circular motion.
These muscles provide stability to the shoulders when lifting objects and also aid in pushing away from our bodies. Both work together for countless tasks that require strength and accuracy, such as playing catch, pushing against walls, doing push ups, swimming, and more.
Let’s take a look at 5 kettlebell exercises for the chest:
1. Kettlebell Floor Chest Press
Probably the most obvious chest exercise choice is the kettlebell floor press which basically involves lying on the floor and pressing the kettlebell overhead.
You have two options here either keeping the elbow close to the body or letting the elbow come out at 90 degrees to the body.
Keeping the arm close to the body enables the kettlebell to be lowered to the shoulder and is the best option for beginners because it puts less strain on the shoulder joint.
Those with more experience can take the arm out to the side at 90 degrees but you will find your range of movement limited by the floor.
I use this partial variation with clients who have laxity in the shoulder joint (hyper mobile) and need to reduce sloppiness and strengthen the shoulder joint.
Here’s what the floor press looks like:
Exercise Tip: To increase the amount of pec muscle activation push the kettlebell in towards the centreline.
Variation 1: You can press through your heels into a full bridge position in order to increase the range of movement and increase the activation in the glutes, hamstrings and core muscles.
Variation 2: Try pressing two kettlebells, one in each hand
2. Half Get Up Chest Press
The Kettlebell Half Get Up Press is similar to the Half Get Up (shown in the image above) except the kettlebell starts at the shoulder rather than with the arm fully extended.
I’m a great fan of this exercise because it does so much more than just develop the chest.
You will get great core development from this exercise as well as taking the shoulder and chest muscles through varying degrees of activation and stabilisation.
I would recommend that you start with the regular half get up before adding in the press to the movement.
You can watch a demonstration of the Half Get Up below:
3. Stability Ball Kettlebell Chest Press
If you want to take the elbow deeper and increase the chest muscle activation then you can perform a kettlebell bench press but an even better option in to use a stability ball.
Using a stability ball produces an unstable base which will condition the core muscles along with the stabilising muscles of the shoulder joint too.
As you press the kettlebell overhead from the lying position there is a great deal of torque produced through the body so you will have to use your core muscles in order to counter balance the movement.
I would recommend using a burst proof stability ball when performing any kind of kettlebell exercise of this nature so as to avoid any kind of unexpected injury.
Here’s I am demonstrating the Stability Ball Press with a Dumbbell:
Exercise Tip: Keep the hips up during this exercise and the buttock muscles squeezed tight.
Variation 1: Try using two kettlebells rather than one, although this variation is slightly easier than the single arm variation because it reduces the amount of counter rotation required.
Variation 2: You can also roll up with the shoulder and push the shoulder up and off the stability ball as you press
4. Close Grip Kettlebell Push Up
The Push Up exercise is possibly one of the best chest developing exercises and require no equipment.
If you haven’t mastered the push up and cannot complete 20 – 30 good quality push ups then I suggest that you add these into your kettlebell program.
Once you are strong and comfortable with the push up then you can intensify the exercise by perform the movement with your hands on a kettlebell.
The kettlebell will be positioned below your sternum during this exercise.
You can lie your kettlebell on its side and perform the exercise as I show below:
Exercise Tip: Keep the elbows in and moving backwards during each repetition to improve shoulder health.
Variations: Try performing the kettlebell pushups with one hand on the kettlebell and the other on the floor and then switching hands after each set.
5. Push Up to Kettlebell Renegade Row
For an advanced kettlebell exercise for the chest you can use the push up to renegade row.
Here you are combining 2 very important movement patterns the horizontal push and the horizontal pull so you are ultimately balancing out your muscle development.
First you will need a good plank position, push up technique and solid core muscles in order to maintain a nice straight and tight posture throughout the exercise.
First begin by mastering the 2 different kettlebell exercises: the push up with hands on the kettlebell handles and the renegade row.
Once you can perform both kettlebell exercises separately then you can progress to the combination of push up followed by rowing one arm then push up and rowing the other arm.
Be careful during this exercise and take it slowly, it is easy for the kettlebell to tip over and trap your fingers against the floor and kettlebell handle.
Choosing the correct kettlebell for this exercise is important.
Exercise Tip: It is important to keep your core and glutes tight throughout the movement to prevent the hips from sagging below the centreline.
Variation: Try mixing up the amount of push ups you perform before each row or rowing both sides before each push up repetition.
Kettlebell Chest Workout Ideas
You can now put together these exercises to create an effective workout for the chest muscles.
Start with the more complex exercises first, like this:
- Push up to renegade row
- Half get up chest press
- Stability ball chest press
- Close grip kettlebell push up
- Floor chest press
Your chest, triceps and core muscles will obviously fatigue as you progress through the exercises so you may want to limit your workout to only 3 – 4 exercises.
You can perform the exercises either as a circuit or individually repeating each exercise 2 – 4 times before moving on to the next one.
Depending on your goals you will probably want to keep your reps down to 6 – 10 each side.
Other Kettlebell Exercises for the Chest
There are many other kettlebell exercises that indirectly affect the chest muscles:
You will not achieve huge muscle activation from the chest muscles with these kettlebell exercises but the chest does play a role in stabilising the movement.
It should also be noted that the tricep muscles work very hard during all of the kettlebell chest exercises mentioned above so combining any overhead work following these chest exercises will reduce your stabilisation capacity.
Avoid: Crush Grip Kettlebell Chest Press
One chest exercise that I do see being promoted is the crush grip kettlebell chest press but for safety reasons I do not recommend it.
The crush grip chest press involved lying on your back and pressing the kettlebell over your chest while clamping the kettlebell between two open hands.
The crush grip does create excellent chest muscle activation but as you are not holding onto the handle the kettlebell can be easily dropped and land on your chest, neck or even face.
As your hands get sweaty during each repetition the danger of you dropping the kettlebell increases.
So it is for these safely reasons that I do not recommend the crush grip chest press.
Above I have listed 5 of my favourite kettlebell chest exercises, variations and workout ideas.
You don’t need to lie on a weight bench in order to work your chest using a kettlebell you can activate more muscles by using the exercises above.
Many kettlebell exercises like the Snatch, Overhead Press and Turkish Get Ups do use the chest muscles indirectly so don’t be surprised if mixing up some of these exercises with the ones above creates additional fatigue.
To see more posts about push workouts, go here.
In order to exercise your chest you need to add a horizontal pushing movement to your workout. You can use a lying floor press or Turkish get up variation.
Kettlebells are a full body training tool that focuses primarily on the posterior chain or back of the body. You can however work the chest muscles by using various horizontal pushing movements.
The kettlebell floor press is the most intense kettlebell chest exercise but variations of the Turkish get up are more practical.
Have you tried any of these kettlebell chest exercises? Let me know your favourite below: