Perfecting the Kettlebell Press

There are a multitude of ways to build upper body strength but I’d be remiss to not place extra emphasis on the kettlebell press being almost a one-stop-shop for creating a hella-good-looking upper body and Herculean strength!The kettlebell is our weapon of choice at First Guess Fitness in our team training sessions and although there is no one “best tool”, the bells come close.  The offset center of mass creates a challenging environment for your shoulders and core and also promotes the need for stellar technique and safety.  

There is also a challenge in the increase in bell size going up 4kg which is almost 9lbs per jump.  This makes it more important to nail your technique and get in quality reps before going up which will prevent you from “cheating” the bell up.  The need to nail your technique will also force you to learn other strength skills such as stabilizing your core, creating tension, “using your hips”, and good shoulder mechanics which will all help improve your overall fitness and body composition.

Here is a tutorial:

How much should I be able to press?

Our standards at First Guess Fitness for a solid press are:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.16.44 AM

  • Men: 10 perfect reps with a 16kg
  • Women: 10 perfect reps with the 12kg

We also encourage having these strength goals:

  • Men: 5 perfect reps with the 24kg
  • Women: 3 perfect reps with the 16kg

For ultimate strength, Strong First has these challenges:

  • Men: press the 48kg (Beast Tamer)
  • Women: press the 24kg (Iron Maiden)

Depending on where you stand, you should have some work to do.  If you haven’t nailed the standard I would highly recommend getting in the reps, lots of reps.  As Pavel says, “To press a lot, you must press a lot.”.

Should I be overhead pressing?

I would be a complete douche if I said everyone SHOULD press heavy objects overhead because the truth is for some people it may do more harm than good.  Not all shoulders are created equal and if you have structural limitations or dysfunction strict overhead pressing may not be your bag.

A quick test we use to assess overhead function and ability to get into the overhead position is a simple back to wall shoulder flexion test.

Stand with your feet about 6″  from the wall, keeping your upper back, head and butt in contact with the wall and your tail tucked (posterior tilt) and your chin tucked.  Keep your elbows locked and palms facing each other as you bring your arms in front of your body to the overhead position.  The test is over when you can’t move into flexion anymore without losing any part of the starting posture.

If you can’t get into the overhead position without major compensations of your back or neck then we wouldn’t recommend putting kettelbells overhead either.  This doesn’t mean you will NEVER press but right now it may do more damage than good.  This would be beyond the scope of this article but if you want to know where you stand, please message us or find a qualified strength coach to assess!

Trainer Note: You can also use this as a drill to help improve shoulder flexion and the overhead position.  Use in between sets or as a warmup and perform 6-10 reps.  Make sure to aim for fluid motion, maintain posture, reach, and don’t crank into position.

Bonus: 2 Exercises to Improve Your Press

Whether you’re just getting started on your press, you’re stuck getting to the next level, or you have some restrictions… more kettlebell halos!

At AMP, we love simplicity and halos are a simple exercise that address both shoulder mobility AND stability.  Basically, they will help you build strength, mobility, and healthy rotator cuffs without accumulating as much fatigue as frequent pressing will cause.  And they’re safe!

Pretend like your head is the sun and the bell is Earth and you want to create a perfect orbit or Earth will cease to exist.  Morbid.  But seriously.  Focus on squeezing the bell and bracing your core continuously as the bell orbits around your dome.

The second exercise is also a press….bottoms up style. *devilish grin*

If you thought controlling a regular press was hard, this variation will force you to lighten the load, slow down, and REALLY nail technique.  This drill amplifies all the skills you need for a solid press: full body tension, grip, straight wrist, vertical forearm, and a smooth pattern.

Keep everything in alignment and groove that pattern!

Strength be with you!

Now you have more tools for your toolbox to go out and NAIL your kettlebell press and build an upper body physique to rival that of a Greek god or goddess.  If you’re in Boston and want to join us for one of our monthly kettlebell workshops where we go over Strong First training principles for the swing, press, clean, snatch and Turkish Get-Up, send us a message at [email protected] or click the banner below!

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.45.18 PM