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The 8 Best Kettlebell Exercises to Shape Your Arms

Matt Skeffington

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Aug 20 9 minutes read

What if I told you everything we’ve been taught about gaining better looking arms is false?

What if I told you there was a better, more efficient way to have the arms of your dreams?

Luckily, we have the solution.

Great looking arms are a combination of both leanness and strength. In other words, your training should focus on losing body-fat (not just at your arms) with high-intensity conditioning and building some serious STRENGTH with the right exercises we will cover below.

Today we're taking you step-by-step through how to build the strength and shape of your arms. 

We are going to focus on strengthening and toning your most important arm shaping muscles: your shoulders, biceps (the muscle in the front of your upper arm, and triceps (the muscle in the back of your upper arm).

When it comes to improving the look of your arms, the exercises you choose are crucial. 

Too often, people focus their time on isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep kick-backs and press-downs. These exercises certainly have their place, but they should be done toward the end of your training sessions and only make up about 10-20% of your upper-body training. Too much of this style of training will result in underdeveloped arms, a lack of and increase in strength. This is because these type of exercises do not stress your arms enough to cause the muscles of your arms to strengthen, tone, and grow. They can also increase the risk of an overuse injury at your wrist, elbow or shoulder.

Instead, focus your arm training on compound, multi-joint movements that will give you the most bang-for-your-buck. These exercises will place the largest amount of demand on your arms during the exercises and in-turn will produce the best results.

Your arms are not just biceps and triceps. You want to select exercises that will challenge your forearms, triceps, biceps and shoulders. Finally, the exercises you choose should also allow you to use a good amount of weight, placing a large amount of stress and tension on your muscle, forcing them to strengthen and tone. 

Enter the kettlebell: the perfect tool for shaping those arms.

New to the kettlebell? Start with a 10-20lb kettlebell. 

Let's get into our top 8 kettlebell exercises for better arms!

Check out the video and exercise descriptions below. 

Note: One thing I want you to notice is that the reps on each exercise aren't very high. One mistake we see people make is sticking to light weights, high reps. That is a recipe for no changes in the shape of your arms. If you want changes, we need to increase the resistance of our arm exercises. Keeping the repetitions between 8-15 reps allows you to increase the weight of your kettlebell to make it challenging. Choose a weight where you really feel the last few reps on each exercise. This is the challenge you need to see the changes in your arms you're looking for.

1| Kettlebell Tall-Kneeling Double Curl to Press

Focus: Biceps and shoulders

The kettlebell double curl to press is a favorite at DSC. We love the tall-kneeling position (2 knees down) as it drastically reduces your ability to lean back or use your legs to press the kettlebell. This position forces you to use your arms. The double curl really works your biceps and the press is fantastic for shaping your shoulders and triceps.

Key points:

  • Start tall with knees under hips and abs braced
  • Hold kettlebell by the horns and start it under your chin
  • Keeping body still, complete two curls to your chin by straightening arms and then bending at the elbow
  • Then exhale and press kettlebell overhead
  • Have your biceps finish next to your ears on press
  • Complete 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps

2| Kettlebell Skull Crusher 

Focus: Triceps

The skull crusher crusher is one of our favorite exercises for strengthening and shaping your triceps. Start light with these as they are tough!

Key Points:

  • Start on back with knees bent
  • Grab kettlebell by the horns and have the ball of kettlebell closest to your head
  • Start arms straight with kettlebell over your shoulders
  • Bend your elbows and slowly lower kettlebell to the floor just above your head
  • Exhale and straighten elbows to bring kettlebell back to starting position 
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

3| Split-Stance 1-Arm Kettlebell Row

Focus: Shoulders and biceps

One of the most beneficial upper-body exercises is the row. It's crucial first for the strength and health of your shoulders. Life happens out in front of us - think about typing on a computer, cooking, etc. This pulls our shoulders forward and makes our posture worse. Rows strengthen the muscles that pull your shoulders back. It's crucial we strengthen these muscles with exercises like the row. The split-stance row is one of our favorites and is great for shaping those shoulders.

Key Points:

  • Start with right foot back and kettlebell in right hand
  • Keep your weight forward in your left foot and be up on the back toe 
  • Keeping chest tall, tip forward and make a straight line from your head to back heel
  • Initiate movement by pulling right shoulder blade back towards spine and then pull the elbow back
  • Stop right hand at the bottom of your rib cage
  • Keep body still throughout
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per side

4| Kettlebell Crusher Push-Up

Focus: Shoulders and triceps

When it comes to shaping your arms, there are few exercises more important than the push-up. They really work your shoulders and triceps and are crucial for improving upper-body and core strength. The narrow grip of the crusher push-up really works your triceps. 

Key Points:

  • Start in push-up position with kettlebell under your chest
  • Have handle lying closest to you
  • Grab handle and set-up in push-up position
  • Keeping glutes tight and abs braced lower into push-up
  • To decrease the challenge, complete these from your knees
  • Lower until chest touches the ball of the kettlebell, exhale and press up
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

5| Tall-Kneeling 1-Arm Kettlebell Press

Focus: Shoulders

The tall kneeling press is a shoulder builder! Again, the tall-kneeling position will keep you from assisting or cheating the movement by using your legs or leaning back which really makes you focus on using your shoulders. 

Key Points:

  • Start with knees right under your hips
  • Start kettlebell in racked position on one side
  • Racked position = kettlebell resting on your shoulder and back of forearm with your forearm straight up and down
  • Keeping abs braced and glutes tight, exhale and press kettlebell overhead
  • Finish with your palm facing forward and bicep next to ear
  • Slowly lower kettlebell to starting racked position 
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps per side

6| Kettlebell Halo

Focus:  Shoulders, triceps, and biceps

If you're looking for a go-to shoulder shaper, look no further than the kettlebell halo. This exercise is great for improving the strength of your shoulders as well as their mobility. Take your time with this one if you're new to shoulder exercises or have a previous shoulder injury. 

Key Points:

  • Start tall with feet under your hips
  • Start kettlebell under your chin with ball of kettlebell facing up towards your head
  • Bracing abs, wrap kettlebell around your head as you exhale
  • You want the kettlebell to stay as close to your head as possible 
  • Fight to keep posture tall and head still throughout
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 5-10 reps per direction

7| Kettlebell Floor Press

Focus: Triceps and shoulders

We love the floor press here at DSC. The press is one of our favorite arm building and toning exercises as you can load these up nice and heavy. Aim to increase the weight you use on this exercise each week and you are going to LOVE the changes you make to your arms.

Key Points:

  • Start on back with knees bent
  • Start kettlebells on the back of your wrists and maintain a straight wrist
  • Keeping chest tall, lower kettlebells so your triceps touch the floor
  • Keep the kettlebells stacked over your elbows in bottom position
  • Exhale and press kettlebells to starting position 
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

8| Kettlebell Sit-Up and Press

Focus: Shoulders 

We figured you would like us to throw in an ab exercise! This one really challenges your core on the sit-up portion and shoulders on the kettlebell press. Start light, these are tough. 

Key Points:

  • Start on back with knees bent and kettlebell at chest level
  • Keeping kettlebell under your chin, exhale and perform a sit-up
  • Pause in the top of your sit-up, exhale and press the kettlebell overhead
  • Finish your press with your biceps next to your ears
  • Lower kettlebell to chest and slowly lower to start position 
  • Start with 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps

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