Build a Powerful Chest with Kettlebells
A common complaint with most kettlebell programs is the absence of horizontal pressing. Sure you’ll get some push-ups, but who doesn’t love that feel of pushing weight away from you multiple times?
From a programming standpoint the lack of horizontal pressing is made up for in overhead pressing, but this can lead to imbalances. Chest presses aren’t just for the beach and mirror. It aids in your overall strength while building shoulder and triceps strength as well and putting more stress on bigger muscles like your chest.
There are myriad tools you can use for chest exercises. At the end of the day a weight is a weight so anything that challenges you has the potential to build strength and size. With that said here are three movements specific to the kettlebell that offer unique benefits. At the end of this article there will be a chest workout you can incorporate into your training to supplement or replace what you currently do for a while.
- Neutral grip Presses - the bells pull you away forcing to to engage more of your chest
- Crush Grip position - forces you to adduct your arms engaging more chest
- Bottom’s up - creates more tension and neural connection
- Push-ups - multiple variations for grip and handles
Neutral Grip Press
With the anatomy of the kettlebell having the center of mass sitting on one side of your forearm means the tension is always on your chest. Let’s take a dumbbell that sits symmetrically with the weight on both sides of the handle. At the top of the movement with joints stacked the tension on your chest is significantly less. Now take a kettlebell and get into a neutral position. Even at the top of the movement the bell is pulling your arm arms away from each other adding another component. Now you have to keep your arms together to avoid the bell flopping down to your side creating slightly more tension. I find with the neutral grip pressing I’m able to contract my chest more effectively.
Crush Grip Position
The bell position of the kettlebell offers a unique advantage for intensifying lighter weights and pre-fatiguing the chest if you only have access to bodyweight training and a light bell. Take the bell, turn it on its side or upside down and squeeze the ever-loving-hell out of it. Side note, if you squeeze too hard and break it Kettlebell Kings will send you a new one. This forces you to create and maintain tension on your chest, shoulders, and core throughout the movement or position as it’s creating an isometric chest fly hold. A crush grip hold and walk is phenomenal for building strength and stability. Lighter bells can be used to hold and press at different heights and lengths adding lots of time under tension to help build.
Bottoms Up Floor Press
I’m a fan of the bottoms up position in just about every direction and you should be too. The benefit of increasing your grip and forearm strength is reason enough to love the position. In the bottoms up chest press you’ll use that added tension of gripping the heck out of the bell through irradiation as it will stimulate tension throughout your entire arm, shoulder and chest. This helps create even more stability and will allow you to get a good dose of controlled, methodical movement with relatively lightweight. I strongly recommend to keep the weight light, only perform one side at a time, and do this in a place where you can drop the bell easily in either direction. I’ve done it with double kettlebells successfully, but it’s not worth the risk unless you’re going excessively light as a primer. With a single bell you can focus all of your attention on the one side at a time, manipulate the tempo, and exert even more tension.
I know, I know. Pushups? The kettlebell does give you an easy way to vary your grip, wrist position, and range of motion.
- Close Grip Pushups - Using both hands on the bell will engage more triceps and shoulders. If you want to challenge yourself more you can hold the side of the kettlebells essentially holding an isometric chest fly while pressing.
- Pushup on the handles - Pretty self-explanatory. Hands on the handles and go. This will elevate your upper body making it slightly easier on your chest and shoulders as well as on your wrists. The added height allows you to go slightly deeper, but don’t go nuts.
- Pushups on the horns - Turn that bell to the side and now you’ve got a neutral grip press with some added stability needs. Lots of stabilization needed here so go slow.
- Pushups on the bell portion - Thread your hand in the window of the kettlebell so your palm is on the bell. This will alleviate some wrist tension and give you a little depth to work with putting more stress on your chest and shoulders.
- Inverted Crush Grip (if you’re nuts like I am) - Turn that bell upside down and perform some highly unstable pushups. Is this worth it? If you have the required strength and stability go for it. I find it incredibly challenging and fun from a proprioceptive, neurological standpoint as well. Do you need to? Of course, not. Just like you don’t need to deadlift 500lbs, but it’s still a challenging goal to have.
- Alternating or Single Sided Pushups - You can make these ballistic or just perform one side at a time to add some athleticism and explosiveness to your training.
Do you need to run out and throw away your dumbbells and barbell now that you’ve got everything you need from kettlebells? Yup.
Seriously though, if all this does is give you a few ideas to add into your chest training to add some variety where needed that will help you continue with your training and see progress then mission accomplished.
If you’re down for a challenge give this chest workout a try. My apologies in advance when you can’t hug anyone for a few days.
Kettlebell Chest Workout:
- Bottoms Up Floor Press
3x5 per arm with 3120 tempo (3 second eccentric, 1 second pause on the bottom, 2 second concentric, no pause on the top) - rest 30 seconds between arms
- Isometric + Ballistic Superset
- Crush Grip Hold - 4x15 seconds
- Plyo Pushup - 4x5
No rest between movements
60 second rest between sets
- Neutral Grip Floor or Bench Press - 4x5-8
Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
- Tall Kneeling Crush Grip or Incline Press if you have access to a bench - 3x15-20
- Push up Medley (pick your poison from the list) 3xMAX
15 seconds between exercises
45-60 seconds between sets
(Wait for chest to deflate)
Alright, now you can go about your day. Get some decompression in and you’re good to go. Give it a try and let me know what you think! Until next time!
Master Kettlebell Coach