This upper body kettlebell workout has been designed to develop strength in the muscle of the back, core, chest, shoulders, and arms. Inspiration for the exercises and workout suture was taken from Pavel Tsatsoulin’s The Russian Kettlebell Challenge.
It’s for this reason that you can expect a highly engaging workout. One which will deliver a cartload of fitness benefits.
And like the Kettlebell Leg Workout, the other half of this workout, there are two training options to choose from. The first option is focused on functional strength development while the second option enhances muscle endurance and aerobic fitness.
But before we take a look at the workouts in more detail, let’s review the benefits up for grabs.
Upper body kettlebell workout fitness benefits
The kettlebell is an effective training tool for developing functional fitness. Due to their unconventional shape, kettlebell exercises pull you off balance. Though this may not sound like an attribute, it is because it requires considerably more muscle engagement to control and stabilise your position.
In addition, and as Pavel Tsatsouline tells us, ‘The kettlebell is a highly effective tool for strengthening the connective tissues, especially in the back,’ (The Russian Kettlebell Challenge). It is for the reason outlined above that kettlebell exercises forge natural, balanced strength.
k-bells build natural muscular strength
Weightlifting with barbells and machines can cause strength imbalances, where the target muscle groups grow disproportionately stronger than the connective tissue and other muscle groups. As well as looking awful this can increase injury risk: aching lower back from overly trained chest and abs; a pulled tendon that can’t take the strain of a bulging bicep.
Kettlebells, by contrast, do not isolate one muscle group. Also, the limited weight ranges of kettlebells prohibit excessive overloading of muscles, which in turn prevents the building of strength imbalances. Taken as a complete package, that is the tool and the training methodology, kettlebells are arguably the most effective exercise equipment available.
To conclude with a quote from The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Tsatsouline states that ‘Only the k-bells deliver: strength, explosiveness, flexibility, endurance, and fat loss,’ making them a complete training system.
Kettlebells forge muscle endurance
As well as increasing functional fitness and the tensile strength of connective tissues, this upper body kettlebell workout can also enhance muscle endurance. Muscle endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to sustain sub-maximal force over a period of time,’ (Strength Training | The Complete Guide To). This physical attribute is beneficial for a multitude of reasons.
The most obvious reason is that majority of the daily activities we undertake involve muscle endurance and not strength. Rare is the occasion when we’re called to execute a single maximal contraction . . . followed by a 5-minute rest and a mouthful of USN Hardcore Anabolic Muscle Fuel. Typically, daily activities are repetitious and require sustained activity – think about gardening, DIY (if you do it), grocery shopping, household chores, and most sports.
Kettlebell lifting offers a dynamic, functional alternative to improving muscle endurance. Their muscle endurance-enhancing superiority is no surprise when you consider the characteristics of the kettlebell training methodology:
High sets and reps or 10-plus-minutes continuous cycles
Low to no rest periods between exercises
Comparatively low weights – rare is it that kettlebells heavier than 32kg are used in training; in fact, 32kg is the maximum weight used in Girevoy sports competitions.
Engage a wide range of muscle groups
Kettlebell exercises are nearly all compound movements – that is, they transition through two or more joints
Upper body kettlebell workout key benefits
Increases strength in the major muscles of the upper body
Enhances muscle endurance
Activates the cardi-respiratory system
Develop functional fitness
Related: Best competition kettlebell
How to do this upper body kettlebell workout
After completing the progressive 10-minute warm-up, choose a kettlebell weight suitable for the workout option you select. Option 1 observes the strength training protocol – low sets and reps with plenty of rest – thus it favours a heavier bell. Option 2 is all about volume. So, if you want to survive the workout, ensure to use a lighter bell – perhaps one pood (16kg) less than you’re used to. Here’s how to approach each option:
Option 1 is structured similarly to your standard weightlifting session. Each of the four kettlebell exercises is accompanied by a prespecified sets and reps range. The range spans strength and muscle endurance. That is, low to high sets and reps. Rest periods have not been stipulated and you should rest as much as required to maximise your performance throughout each lift.
Option 2 is more prescriptive. Organised into CrossFit-style AMRAPs, your objective is to accrue as many reps as possible in 5-minutes. On completion of each AMRAP take a 2-minute rest before progressing to the next exercise.
Upper body kettlebell workout key points
Complete the warm-up before starting the workout
Once warm, select the workout option most reflective of your personal fitness goals. (You want to increase strength and muscle mass? Select Option 1. But if you want to improve muscle endurance and aerobic fitness while pitting yourself against a tough physical challenge, you know what to do – go Option 2!)
Ensuring that you have chosen an appropriate weight k-bell, proceed through the upper body kettlebell workout.
Kettlebell workout warm up
5-minutes rowing at a low intensity
1 up to 10 reps squat thrusts into press-ups
2-minutes rowing at a moderate intensity
1 up to 10 kettlebell swings into KB thrusters
1-minute rowing at maximum intensity
Related: Best competition kettlebell sets
Upper-body kettlebell workout
Kettlebell exercise tutorial
What follows is a brief overview of the key teaching points of all the exercises that feature in the kettlebell leg workout. If you’re more of a visual learner, each exercise includes a link to a short video tutorial.
Kettlebell under the leg pass
Stand over the kettlebell taking a one-and-half shoulder-width stance
Taking the kettlebell with one hand, thread it back and around the opposite leg.
The other hand is waiting to receive the bell.
Once the kettlebell has been passed proceed to trace out a figure of 8.
One complete figure of 8 constitutes a single rep.
Watch the video demonstration.
Hold the kettlebell between your legs, palms facing inwards, feet a little over shoulder-width apart.
Keeping the back straight pull the kettlebell between your legs and, using your glutes, propel the kettlebell forward until it’s level with your shoulders.
Ensuring to keep your core engaged throughout the movement, allow the kettlebell to return to the start position and repeat.
Watch the video demonstration.
Kettlebell snatch pull to push
The kettlebell is below your centre of mass and you are standing directly over it.
Maintaining correct postural alignment, squat down and grasp the bell with one hand.
Pull it back between your legs and execute the first part of a single-arm swing.
When the bell is in line with your chest, perform the snatch pull by pulling the kettlebell almost to your anterior deltoid.
Now, explosive push the bell back out and complete the return phase of the swing.
Watch the video demonstration.
Kettlebell single-arm jerk
To get the bell into position execute a clean.
With the bell resting in the nook of the arm, prepare to perform a single-arm jerk.
To do so first take a short dip at the knee.
Use quad strength to get the bell moving.
Assist with the shoulder as you control the trajectory of the bell.
When it passes your head take a second dip at the knee while simultaneously locking your arm out.
Complete the movement by standing up.
Recover by allowing the kettlebell to drop to the start position. To absorb the impact bend at the knees and exhale sharply.
Watch the video demonstration.
Upper body kettlebell workout hints and tips
It’s prudent to have a couple of spare bells to hand; preferably one above and below the weight you’re using. Irrespective of which option you select, having a range of weights on standby will enable you to move efficiently through the gears during the workout. Let’s say that you select Option 2 and after a minute of under-the-leg passing you can't ‘feel it’. With a heavy bell ready and waiting you’ll be able to make a quick substitution without disturbing the workout.
A great way to tap into our powerful competitive spirit is to train with a partner. Option 2, more so than Option 1, favours this tactic. Recruit a partner prior to having a bash at the AMRAPs and compete over the 5-minutes. Maybe even put a wager on who can amass the most reps. Loser receives 25 burpees.
Enjoyed this upper body kettlebell workout?
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Essential reading: 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Kettlebells