The Complete Upper Body Kettlebell Workout: 7 Awesome KB Exercises

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While there are lots of benefits of training multiple muscle groups at once, it can also be helpful to focus on just an upper body kettlebell workout.

Much like when training with dumbbells or barbells, if you structure your kettlebell workouts to mimic body-part split training rather than total-body strength training, you can potentially develop more strength and muscle mass. 

This is because you can do more volume per session and train more days per week while still giving your muscles enough recovery between workouts.

But, what are the best upper body kettlebell exercises for an upper body kettlebell workout?

In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions for the following upper body kettlebell exercises for an effective upper body kettlebell workout for mass, strength, and power:

Let’s dive in! 

A push up with kettlebells.

The Complete Upper Body Kettlebell Workout

Here are some of the best upper body kettlebell exercises to add to your kettlebell training workouts:

#1: Kettlebell Halos

The kettlebell halo is a great warmup move for your upper body kettlebell workouts.

It helps activate the muscles in your arms, upper back, and shoulder girdle.

Use a relatively light kettlebell, as it is more of a kettlebell mobility exercise rather than strictly a strengthening movement.

Here are the steps for this upper body kettlebell mobility exercise:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, core tight, head and gaze straight forward.
  2. Place the core of the kettlebell in your right hand and support the bottom of the bell in your left hand.
  3. Pass the kettlebell in front of your face, keeping it as close to your face as possible as you move toward your left ear.
  4. Transition so that you then grip the kettlebell with your left hand and support the base with your right hand as you move around the backside of your head.
  5. When you can no longer easily continue moving the kettlebell towards the right ear with the left hand, switch hands again. Keep the kettlebell as close to your head as possible.
  6. Essentially, you are tracing a halo around your head with the kettlebell, passing it between your two hands.
  7. Move clockwise around your head 10 times and then switch directions and make 10 counterclockwise kettlebell halos.

#2: Kettlebell Upright Rows

One of the best exercises to add to an upper body kettlebell workout is the kettlebell upright row. It’s a unique upper body kettlebell exercise that isn’t easily replicated with dumbbells.

The horn of the kettlebell lends itself to a more comfortable neutral grip, and the narrow hand placement helps target the rhomboids, traps, lats, and core.

You’ll also get a larger range of motion because of the hand placement, which can help develop strength in the end range of motion.

Here are the steps to perform this upper body kettlebell exercise:

  1. Stand upright as if setting up to do a deadlift.
  2. Place the kettlebell between your feet, with the handle going lengthwise from one foot to the other.
  3. Hinge from your hips and reach down and grip the kettlebell on either side of the horn with a neutral grip, pulling it straight up towards your chest. Your elbows should flare out and up towards the ceiling.
  4. Pull up as high as you can until you have no more range.
  5. Slowly lower the kettlebell back down until it’s hanging down with your arms straight.
  6. Repeat for 6-12 reps.

#3: Kettlebell Skull Crushers

You can add this classic triceps exercise to your upper body kettlebell workouts.

Using a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell or barbell allows you to maintain a neutral hand position. 

This can be more ergonomic for the elbows.

You can hold the bell up or down. If the weight is pointing up and the handles are down, the exercise will be harder and require much more grip strength.

Here are the steps for this kettlebell upper body exercise:

  1. Lie down on a flat bench holding a single kettlebell between your two hands, with each hand on either side of the horn. 
  2. Extend your arms straight up over your chest like the end position of the bench press.
  3. Point your elbows so that you can lower the kettlebell backward towards your forehead, only moving your lower arms. Your upper arms should remain completely fixed and perpendicular to the weight bench.
  4. The bottom of the kettlebell (or handle, depending on how you’re holding it) should nearly graze your forehead before you contract your triceps to press it back up and forward to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 6-12 reps.

#4: Kettlebell Curls

Not all exercises in your upper body kettlebell workouts need to be dynamic, metabolic moves, or compound exercises.

This is a good isolation exercise for the biceps, and the narrow hand placement targets the forearms. Squeezing the handle will help improve your grip strength as well.

Here are the steps to perform this kettlebell exercise:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, keeping your chest up, glutes tight, and abs engaged.
  2. Grip either side of the kettlebell horn so that your palms are facing one another. The bell should be pointed down towards the floor.
  3. Curl the kettlebell all the way up.
  4. Pause and squeeze your biceps at the top position.
  5. Slowly lower the kettlebell back down until your elbows are fully extended.
  6. Repeat for 6-12 reps.

#5: Kettlebell Renegade Rows With a Push-Up

Kettlebell renegade rows with a push-up involve rowing and pressing, so you get a push-pull exercise in one.

In this way, this is a highly effective and efficient exercise to add to your kettlebell upper body workouts.

With this row variation, you will perform alternating single-arm rows to work your posterior deltoid and upper back muscles, and with a push-up, you will work your pecs, anterior deltoids, triceps, and core muscles. 

Here are the steps for how to perform this kettlebell upper body exercise:

  1. Grab onto the horn of a kettlebell in each hand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing one another. The horns of the kettlebells should be parallel and pointing away from your body.
  2. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to just above the ground so that you’re sinking lower than you would if your hands were flat on the ground.
  3. Press through your hands to lift your body back up until your elbows are extended but not fully locked out.
  4. Then, shift your weight into one hand while you lift the other arm off the ground, bending your elbow to row the kettlebell up alongside your torso. Make sure to keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor by engaging your glutes and abs.
  5. Slowly lower the weight back down and then perform another push-up.
  6. Alternate arms for the row after each push-up.
  7. Repeat for 8-10 reps per side.

#6: Kettlebell Suitcase Rows

The kettlebell suitcase row is a great upper body kettlebell exercise that is slightly more challenging than a regular bent-over kettlebell row because of the positioning of your arms.

You can perform this movement as a unilateral or bilateral exercise, but it will be more challenging in terms of stabilizing your core if you perform the movement with a single kettlebell. 

Unilateral kettlebell training requires you to raise your core to keep your hips square to the floor while one side of your body is moving with a heavy load.

Here are the steps to perform this upper body exercise with kettlebells:

  1. Stand with your feet close together (nearly touching), holding the kettlebell in your right hand.
  2. Hinge at your hips and lean your torso forward so that it is roughly 45° relative to the floor.
  3. Keeping your weight back on your heels, engage your core and glutes to row the kettlebell up and backward along the side of your body. The path of the kettlebell should be behind your hips.
  4. After completing 6-12 reps, switch sides.

#7: Kettlebell Half Kneeling Presses

This is a great upper body kettlebell exercise for your shoulders, triceps, upper back, and core muscles.

Because you are kneeling, you really have to use just your upper body muscles rather than rely on assistance from your legs, such as when performing a kettlebell push press.

Here are the steps to perform this upper body exercise with a kettlebell:

  1. Kneel down with your body upright, your core tight, chest up, and glutes engaged.
  2. Swing your right leg forward so that it’s in front of your body like a forward lunge with your thigh parallel to the floor, knee bent 90 degrees, shin vertical, and foot flat on the floor.
  3. With the kettlebell in your left hand, bring the weight up to shoulder level, holding the handle with your palm forward and allowing the bell to sit backward behind your wrist. In other words, your hand should go through the hole created by the handle and the bell, palming a handle, which should be forward, and the bell should be resting on the backside of your wrist. This is your starting position.
  4. Keeping your glutes tight, your spine completely upright, and your abs engaged, press the kettlebell straight up overhead without tilting or leaning your body in any direction. Your hips should stay parallel to the floor.
  5. Slowly lower the kettlebell back to shoulder height. 
  6. Complete 6-12 reps on one side, and then switch leg positions and bring the kettlebell to your right side.

There you have it! Our complete kettlebell upper body workout for your next session!

You can learn more about the benefits of kettlebells vs. dumbbells here.

Upper body kettlebell row.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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