The Kettlebell Workout That Will Seriously Build Your Shoulders

Kettlebell Press
 Photograph by Jose Mandojana

The shoulder press is a staple of traditional strength-training routines. But heavy loads and form mistakes can cause this exercise to place unnecessary strain on your shoulder joints. To combat injuries and build real-deal arm and shoulder strength, trade the dumbbells for a kettlebell and try the bottoms-up single-arm kettlebell press.

Given the skill required to execute this move correctly, start with much lower weight than you’d use for a basic shoulder press. “I bench 435 pounds, but I only use 16-kilogram kettlebells when doing this,” says CJ McFarland, a strength and conditioning coach in Austin, TX.

Besides, you don’t need heavy weight to build muscle with this move. That’s because using only one arm to balance the unstable kettlebell upside down forces you to activate the stabilizers of your arm and shoulder girdle, resulting in a serious burn with minimal strain. Over time, the move will enhance your total strength and make your shoulders less prone to injury.

As you do the move, grip the kettlebell as tightly as possible to improve stability. Also, focus on keeping your core engaged and controlling your breathing. “This allows your ribs to stay down and your spine to remain in a safe and neutral position,” McFarland says.

How It’s Done
1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping a kettlebell in one hand at your shoulder. Grasp the kettlebell’s handle, positioning the kettlebell upside down, so the bell is pointing toward the ceiling.
2. Keeping your wrist perfectly straight and the kettlebell steady, press your arm straight up, extending your elbow.
3. Carefully bend your elbow and lower the kettlebell back to shoulder height.

Weighty Matters
Start with a kettlebell from 
4 to 12 kilograms. “Pick a weight you can do 6 to 10 reps with each arm, for 3 to 4 total sets,” McFarland says.