Top bicep kettlebell exercises
Kettlebells can be a great tool to use in place of more traditional bicep exercises. Here’s what you should know. Some common bicep exercises fall short in maintaining tension throughout a curl movement, where kettlebells can help ‘fill-in’ that lost tension.
Kettlebells also help to emphasise an elongated eccentric contraction. This causes lots of micro-trauma that’s essential for muscle growth. As a result of the high tension, kettlebells also produce an occlusion-type effect. The metabolic stress this creates is another potent hypertrophy stimulus.
It’s no secret that kettlebells can help you get a great workout. The way the weights are shaped makes them ideal for dynamic movements—you can grab onto the handle of a kettlebell and easily twist and swing it without having to readjust your grip—and they come in so many different sizes that you can find one that works for any type of exercise. Kettlebells are useful for building strength and muscle and training power and depending on how you use them, they can also give you a great cardio workout.
If you aren’t already using kettlebells in your workouts, it’s worth giving them a chance. To get started, try adding the upper-body kettlebell exercises below to your routine. Most of them are great kettlebell moves for beginners and pros alike that can help you build core and overhead stability and strength so that you can safely do more advanced moves down the road.
Many of these upper-body kettlebell exercises work in other areas of the body simultaneously. “The great part about kettlebells is that sometimes performing just one exercise gives you a total-body workout. Most kettlebell exercises are multijoint movements, meaning multiple joints are moving at one time to complete the exercise.” For example, the kettlebell halo below is an arms exercise, but it’s also great for your core. So are the single-arm versions of moves like a push-press and bent-over row.
Here are 5 excellent kettlebell exercises that you could use to build your biceps
- STANDING KETTLEBELL BICEP CURL
Standing bicep curls are a potent mass-builder simply because standing mechanics represents the strongest position for allowing maximal overload and ultimately heightened levels of growth. However, standing kettlebell curls may represent an even more effective variation than traditional barbells and dumbbells.
Due to the nature of the kettlebells, there is a significantly more constant tension throughout the movement including the top contracted position. As a result of you’ll have greater muscle fibre innervation and motor unit recruitment. Besides the bell hanging below the writs which creates a constant pulling sensation on the biceps, it’s almost impossible to alleviate tension at the top of the movement by cheating and curling the weights too high.
Over-curling at the top of a bicep curl is a surefire way to take the stress off the biceps and overtax the anterior deltoids. With this variation, the kettlebells pressing against the forearms will inhibit this common cheating technique as it feels very unnatural and uncomfortable to bring your hands beyond chest height.
Although execution is similar to other bicep curl variations, one notable difference is hand positioning. For all kettlebell curls, it’s best to have the handles resting in the mid-upper palms of your hand rather than the lower palms and finger as this locks the kettlebells in and keeps them from rotating and slipping. Finally, you’ll want to resist having your arms fully straighten at the bottom of the movement as this will release tension from the biceps as well as cause the handles to slip out of your palms.
Due to the high levels of continuous tension and bicep innervation, try to do slightly lower reps which not only allows greater taxing of fast-twitch muscle fibres but also ensures form and technique don’t degrade. Several sets of 5-8 reps will more than suffice for this growth-inducing bicep movement.
- Incline Kettlebell Curl
Incline curls are a bodybuilding staple. The simultaneous stretch and overload they provide have been scientifically shown to maximize micro-trauma and muscle damage, causing significant levels of hypertrophy.
Unfortunately, when doing this exercise with dumbbells, there’s very little tension above the bottom half of the movement. The biceps relax at the top of the curl.
Due to their unique loading mechanism created from the hanging weight, kettlebells provide adequate tension and stimulation not only in the bottom and mid-range positions but also in the top contracted position. This incline kettlebell curl variation exploits all three major mechanisms of muscle growth:
They emphasize the elongated eccentric and stretched position, which produces muscle damage and micro-trauma that’s critical for growth.
Because of the constant tension throughout the movement with little relaxation of the biceps, this exercise creates an occlusion-effect to the surrounding musculature. There’s an incredible amount of blood flow, muscular pump, intramuscular volumization, cellular swelling, and metabolic stress, all of which are linked to muscle growth.
Do incline kettlebell curls at a 45-degree bench angle using a variety of loads and rep ranges including heavyweights (4-6 reps), moderate loads (8-10 reps), and lighter loads (12-15 reps). One to two sets in each rep range will lead to incredible gains in biceps size.
- The Halo
The kettlebell halo truly targets the deltoids and improves shoulder stability. It’s a perfect warm-up for those who are looking to gain muscle mass in the area, as it prepares the shoulders for heavy lifting and improves their mobility.
With this exercise, you strengthen your core as well as your upper body. Having core solidity will help you to have good balance and stability in other kettlebell arms exercises, especially the plank and mountain climbers, etc. If you’re into callisthenics, you should check it out!
Other benefits include improved upper body flexibility and mobility; if you suffer from stiffness in your shoulders or back, this is a great exercise to help. It creates a healthier spine, shoulders, and back.
Engage your core and glutes, and ensure that your chest is up and your back is straight
Begin to circle your head with the kettlebell in a controlled motion, letting it brush past your ear (without making contact) and then drop slightly lower behind your neck
Continue the loop until the kettlebell reaches the starting position
After completing your desired amount of rotations, try the exercise with the kettlebell circling in the opposite direction!
- Flexed-Hold Kettlebell Carries
Holding the kettlebells with your elbows bent at 90 degrees challenges your biceps strength at its sticking point.
The longer you can hold moderate to heavyweights in this position, the greater the load and rep total you’ll get with regular biceps curls.
Adding movement with a farmer’s walk makes it more of a whole-body challenge (and also helps the time pass a lot faster!).
Try doing 3 to 5 sets where you hold for 30 to 60 second, followed by 30 to 60 seconds of rest. You can thank us later for the free tickets to the gun show.
- Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Cleans (Power Curls)
The clean trains total body explosion and work your posterior chain—or “backside” muscles—which helps to you make you leaner and more athletic.
And doing this version of the clean—catching the weight with the bottom-up—really challenges your gripping and biceps muscles. Plus, your abs need to work overtime to stabilize the weight.
For an intense total-body finisher, try doing as many rounds of 5 to 10 reps per side in 5 to 10 minutes.
- REVERSE BOTTOMS-UP BICEPS CURLS WITH KETTLEBELLS
The reverse bottoms-up kettlebell curl provides several unique features all of which promote increased activation and hypertrophy in the biceps. First, to ensure the lifter doesn’t dump the load this variation prohibits the individual from fully straightening the arms at the bottom or curling excessively high at the top. This creates enormous tension on the biceps as you’re locked into the sweet spot of the movement where there are maximal activation and no relaxation.
Second, this curling variation promotes optimal shoulder positioning and postural alignment, which is something most lifters struggle with when training biceps. Because the load is unstable and vulnerable to falling, this forces the lifter to keep the shoulders retracted and depressed throughout. Besides improving spinal mechanics this does wonder for crushing the biceps as it eliminates the possibility of the shoulders becoming overly involved in the movement.
Do this either as a technique enhancer at the beginning of your arm workouts (2 sets of 5-8 reps) to help groove proper curling mechanics or as a finisher (1-2 sets of 10-12 reps) to annihilate the arms with continuous levels of growth-inducing tension.
Kettlebell training is different from bodybuilding style training. Kettlebell exercises are based on movement patterns and so target the whole body rather than a select few muscles including the triceps and biceps. Even though kettlebell training does target 600+ muscles per exercise certain exercises do target the arms more than others.
To develop tone and muscle it is recommended working on a repetition range of between 8 and 15. The challenge is to find the correct sized kettlebell for each exercise so that you fatigue during this repetition range.