If you are looking for kettlebell exercises for upper body conditioning then this is the article for you.
Many people are involved in sports and activities that focus purely on the lower body, like biking for example.
Adding a collection of balanced upper body exercises can create a synergy between the upper and lower body.
Below I have broken down everything you need to know to get started as a complete beginner.
First I introduce you to upper body kettlebell warm ups and then progress to stabilisation exercises, upper body pulling and pushing and finally combination movements.
Here are the 16 kettlebell exercises for upper body conditioning:
Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body Warm Ups
Before you begin challenging yourself with kettlebell exercises for the upper body it is sensible to warm up the muscles first.
I have listed two general kettlebell exercises for you to use below but you should also replicate the movements that you will be performing in your workout with a lighter load.
So if you are pressing a kettlebell overhead, warm up with a set of lighter overhead presses beforehand.
Below are 2 kettlebell exercises for upper body warm ups:
1 Kettlebell Slingshot
The kettlebell slingshot is an excellent exercise for warming up the shoulders, forearms and upper body.
I begin most of my kettlebell classes with the kettlebell slingshot.
This kettlebell exercise helps acclimatises you to the kettlebell weight while at the same time offering a safe introduction to kettlebell training.
Keep the chest up and hips stationary as you rotate the kettlebell around the body.
The arms should also be kept straight in order to avoid overloading the biceps.
Practice: changing direction every 10 repetitions. Progress to a total of 100 reps.
Want more? Why I Love the Kettlebell Slingshot
Watch the Kettlebell Slingshot exercise below:
The kettlebell halo will help to warm up the shoulder girdle, arms and upper back.
The secret to this exercise is to keep the kettlebell as close to the neckline as possible while at the same time keeping the head up and looking forwards.
Do not overload this exercise with a heavy kettlebell, the benefits come from the mobility generated by the movement rather than the weight used.
Practice: 10 repetitions in one direction and then 10 in the other.
Want more? How to Use Kettlebell Warm Up Exercises
Watch the Kettlebell Halo exercise below:
Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body Stabilisation
When you lift a heavy load your body has to stabilise your body in order to create a stable platform for the movement.
So just as a car needs a strong chassis to support a powerful engine, the body needs strong stabilising muscles to support the skeleton.
Building a solid foundation with the ability to stabilise in all positions means your larger muscles can work more effectively without you getting injured.
True stabilisation is developed from birth but due to inactively often stabilisation in many positions is lost so redeveloping this strength is important.
Below are 3 kettlebell exercises for upper body stabilisation:
3 Kettlebell Overhead Stabilisation
This overhead kettlebell exercise will develop stabilisation in the shoulders and upper body.
Hold the kettlebell overhead with a locked out arm and straight wrist.
Keep your shoulder down and in its socket.
Lunge backwards and carefully place your knee on the floor followed by the other knee. Keep your buttocks tight and kneel tall.
Next place the one foot forwards into the half kneeling position and then stand up.
Practice: start by holding the kettlebell overhead, when you can comfortably hold the kettlebell overhead for 30 seconds progress to 10 repetitions on each side.
Watch the Kettlebell Overhead Stabilisation exercise below:
4 Kettlebell Windmill
The kettlebell windmill will challenge your shoulder stability further while at the same time working into your core muscles.
Keep your top arm locked out and wrist straight throughout the exercise.
The rear leg should be straight and take most of the weight as you reach down towards the front foot.
Only reach down as far as your hamstrings and hips will allow.
Practice: start without a kettlebell until you have mastered the movement before adding a kettlebell into the top hand. Work up to 3 sets of 5 reps each side.
Watch the Kettlebell Windmill exercise below:
5 Kettlebell Turkish Get Up
The kettlebell Turkish get up is the ultimate full body stabilisation and mobility developing exercise.
Move slowly through all phases of the kettlebell exercise paying particular attention to the areas that challenge you the most.
The kettlebell Turkish get up can be thought of as an assessment tool so if you do find a certain section difficult be sure to practice that phase repeatedly.
Weak parts of the Turkish get up will be further highlighted in other parts of your training and daily life so DO NOT ignore areas that affect you.
Practice: start by practicing the movement without a kettlebell to get the hang of things before adding a kettlebell to the top hand. Progress to 10 total repetitions changing hands each rep.
Watch the Kettlebell Turkish Get Up exercise below:
Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body Pulling
All upper body kettlebell training can be divided into upper body pulling and upper body pushing exercises.
Creating balance between pushing and pulling will help you to build a balanced body that is less prone to injury.
Kettlebell pulling exercises are often neglected but this is a big mistake because they contain postural exercises and movements that are important for sports.
Pulling exercises are also excellent for fat loss as their is a lot of muscle mass on the back of the body that when stimulated will help to raise your metabolic rate.
I also suggest that you add a few vertical pulling movements like the Pull Up or Chin Up exercises.
Here are 4 kettlebell exercises for upper body pulling movements:
6 Kettlebell Regular Row
The kettlebell regular row is a real muscle and strength builder of the back and core muscles.
Of all the pulling based exercises the row is one that you should learn to master first.
The key to a successful rowing movement is focusing the muscle activation into the mid-back muscles rather than the upper trapezius and neck.
If you fail to learn over far enough forwards then you will find you will be rowing upwards rather than backwards.
Lean over too far and you will find it strains your lower back.
Keep your weight back on your heels so you feel the tension in your hamstrings and glutes.
Pull your arm back and up as if your elbow is being pulled towards the ceiling.
Make sure your shoulders stay away from your ears and are down towards your hips.
Practice: work up to 3 sets of 5 – 12 reps on each side.
Watch the Kettlebell Regular Row exercise below:
7 Kettlebell Suitcase Row
The kettlebell suitcase row is a variation of the regular row but is slightly more challenging due to the arm position.
As with the regular kettlebell row the challenge is to keep the muscle activation away from the upper trapezius and neck.
Be sure to lean over to at least 45 degrees with your weight back on your heels.
Keeping your feet close together will help create space for the kettlebell to move up the side of the body.
The abdominal muscles should be braced as the kettlebell is rowed backwards and then lowered slowly.
Practice: work up to 3 sets of 5 – 12 reps on each side.
Want more? 10 kettlebell exercises for the back
Watch the Kettlebell Suitcase Row exercise below:
8 Kettlebell Renegade Row
The kettlebell renegade row or plank row offers a more intense core based exercise for the back.
Beginners should master the plank and push up exercises before even attempting this movement because the demands on shoulder stability and core control are high.
If you do sometimes struggle with getting the correct lean over angle while rowing then this exercise takes away that problem.
Row the kettlebell back as you would with the other rowing based exercises being cautious not to shrug your shoulders.
Be careful with the types of kettlebells that you use, you do not want the kettlebell to fall over sideways and crush your fingers.
Another variation is to use just one kettlebell and place the other hand on a bench or, my favourite, a parallette.
Practice: work up to 3 sets of 5 – 12 reps on each side.
Learn more: Master the renegade row with 5 progressions
Watch the Kettlebell Renegade Row exercise below:
9 Kettlebell High Pulls
The kettlebell high pull exercise is the most dynamic and thus cardiovascular of all the pulling exercises.
You will need to master the kettlebell swing before progressing on to this advanced exercise.
At the top of the swing the kettlebell is pulled backwards with a horizontal forearm position and a strong wrist.
You will experience a nice opening up of the chest at the top position.
As with all deadlift based kettlebell exercises squeeze the buttocks tight at the top of the movement and brace the abs.
Practice: work up to 20 controlled reps on each side.
Want more? How to Master the Kettlebell High Pull
Watch the Kettlebell High Pulls exercise below:
Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body Pushing
To compliment upper body pulling exercises you should also balance the body with some upper body pushing exercises.
Pushing exercises will work into the chest, shoulders, triceps and core muscles.
As the following exercises are vertical overhead pushing exercises I suggest that you add in the ultimate horizontal pushing exercise, the push up, to your routine.
Here are 4 kettlebell exercises for upper body pushing movements:
10 Kettlebell Half Kneeling Press
The kettlebell half kneeing press exercise will develop the shoulders, triceps, lats and core muscles.
From the half kneeling position keep the buttocks tight and the upper body upright.
Brace your abs as you push the kettlebell overhead.
Be sure to lower the kettlebell with control from the top position so as to active the Lats on the way down.
Pay particular attention to discrepancies you may have between the right side and left side.
Practice: body alignment is very important with this exercise so be sure to stay upright as you press. Work up to 3 sets of 5 – 12 reps.
Watch the Kettlebell Half Kneeling Press exercise below:
11 Kettlebell Push Press
The kettlebell push press will add size and strength to your upper body like no other.
The kettlebell push press is similar to the regular overhead press except you use your legs slightly to add a little momentum to the movement.
When the kettlebell is held against the chest in the racked position, starting the press from here puts you in a slight mechanical disadvantage.
Adding a very shallow squat and then locking the legs out and squeezing the buttocks will help pop the kettlebell up.
Squeeze the kettlebell handle nice and tight as you press and lower back down with control.
With practice you will be able to lift heavier weights than you ever imagined using this technique and thus add more size and strength.
Practice: 3 sets of 5 – 12 repetitions on each side.
Watch the Kettlebell Push Press exercise below:
12 Kettlebell Clean and Press
The kettlebell clean and press is a big full body exercise for the entire upper body.
You can choose to use a push press at the top of this movement as shown above or a strict press without using the legs.
Make sure you separate the two movements, the clean and then the overhead press.
As this exercise is based off the deadlift movement pattern be sure to use your hips and buttocks to lift the weight into the racked position rather than the shoulders.
With practice the kettlebell clean and press exercise can be performed with two kettlebells simultaneously.
Practice: work up to 3 sets of 5 – 8 repetitions on each side.
Watch the Kettlebell Clean and Press exercise below:
13 Kettlebell Sit and Press
The kettlebell sit and press is an excellent exercise for the shoulders and chest as well as the core muscles.
The legs are kept straight throughout this entire exercise which helps to improve hip and hamstring mobility.
Press the kettlebell overhead as you sit up and at the same time lift up the chest.
Return back down to the floor slowly resisting gravity and feeling the activation in your core muscles.
The tempo should be 2 seconds up and 5 seconds down.
Practice: work up to 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
Want more? Top 7 floor based kettlebell core exercises
Watch the Kettlebell Sit and Press exercise below:
Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body and Lower Body
The true beauty of kettlebell training is that many of the exercises combine movements that activate hundreds of muscles at a time.
So if your goals are fat loss or you just want to get more done in less time then these are the exercises for you.
Here are 3 kettlebell exercises for upper body and lower body conditioning:
14 Kettlebell Thruster
The kettlebell thruster combines the kettlebell squat with the overhead press.
There are so many muscles involved in this one exercise that it becomes very cardiovascular, very quickly.
Not only will the thruster develop explosive power in the legs but also teach you to connect the lower body with the upper body effectively.
So for sports, fat loss or just improving your cardio this is a great exercise to choose.
Be sure to squat down so your thighs reach at least parallel with the floor to engage your buttocks properly.
Beginners can hold the kettlebell with two hands, real pros can hold one kettlebell in each hand.
Practice: work up to 10 reps on each side and complete 3 sets.
Want more? How to Master the Kettlebell Thruster
Watch the Kettlebell Thruster exercise below:
15 Kettlebell Lunge and Press
The kettlebell lunge and press with strengthen the whole body while at the same time challenging your cardio.
The reverse lunge will strengthen the legs, buttocks and core muscles, while the overhead press challenges the upper body.
As with the kettlebell thruster the lunge and press teaches you to connect the lower body with the upper body so is excellent for sports.
To fully activate the glutes be sure to drop the back knee down to the floor as deep as possible.
Practice: work up to 10 repetitions on each side and 3 sets.
Want more? See 16 Kettlebell Lunge Variations
Watch the Kettlebell Lunge and Press exercise below:
16 Kettlebell Snatch
Our final exercise is the kettlebell snatch. A full body movement that is explosive from the floor to the top position.
The kettlebell snatch is predominantly a pulling exercise that works both the upper and lower body.
Due to the hundreds of muscles used for this exercises it is very cardiovascular.
Keep the kettlebell as close to the body as possible.
The hips and buttocks should be used to generate most of the power for the movement.
Practice: the ultimate test is the 10 minute snatch challenge which involves performing as many snatches as possible in 10 minutes without putting the kettlebell down. You can change hands as many times as you want. Your goal is 200 reps.
Learn more: Ultimate Guide to the Kettlebell Snatch
Watch the Kettlebell Snatch exercise below:
Conclusion to Kettlebell Exercises for Upper Body Conditioning
Above I have listed 16 kettlebell exercises for upper body conditioning, broken down into Warm Ups, Stabilisation, Pulling, Pushing and Full Body Combinations.
All beginners should develop a strong level of stabilisation before moving onto more strength based exercises.
Pulling and pushing exercises should be split equally in order to avoid injuries and create a balanced body.
The above list is missing 2 vital movement patterns, horizontal pushing and vertical pulling, both of these are difficult to achieve with kettlebells.
I therefore recommend that a series of Push Ups and Chin Ups or Pull Ups are also added to the above exercises.
Take care and enjoy your workouts.
Have you tried any of these kettlebell exercises for upper body conditioning? Let me know below….