kettlebell exercises for arms
Fitness

16 Kettlebell Exercises For Arms That Are Total Game Changers

Kettlebells are amazing, and they have grown in popularity as the demand for at-home workouts increases. While kettlebell training is well known for its ability to work the core, the shoulders, the back, and the legs, it is less well known for working the arms. That’s about to change, here are 16 kettlebell exercises for the arms.

1. Kettlebell Bicep Curl

This is performed exactly as you would perform a dumbbell bicep curl. This is a great exercise for the bicep muscles and the forearms as secondary muscles. 

How to do it

  • Stand upright with your arms tucked in by your sides and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold a kettlebell in an underhand grip, push your chest out, and then curl the kettlebell up towards your shoulder.
  • Pause when your hand is almost touching your shoulder and then slowly lower the kettlebell back down to the starting position.

2. Double Arm Kettlebell Bicep Curl

This exercise is slightly different to exercise #1 as you are holding a single kettlebell with both hands, changing the angle, and working the biceps differently.

How to do it

  • Use a heavier kettlebell for this.
  • Grab hold of the kettlebell in both hands, push your chest out, and then curl the kettlebell up towards your chest.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the kettlebell back down.

3. Kettlebell Overhead Extension

The kettlebell overhead extension is one of the best kettlebell arms exercises out there. 

How to do it

  • Stand upright with a kettlebell held between both hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold it behind your head and bring your elbows upright so that they are close to your head.
  • Keeping your elbows fixed in position, raise the kettlebell up above your head so that your arms are fully extended.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the kettlebell back down so that it rests behind your back.

4. Kettlebell Single Arm Overhead Extension

This version of the overhead extension can be a little bit more effective for your triceps as it creates a better angle than exercise #3. However, you need two kettlebells, and you need them to avoid each other while lowering them behind your back.

How to do it

  • Stand upright with hips level and a small kettlebell in each hand, the kettlebells should be behind your back with your elbows pointing straight up in the air.
  • Raise the kettlebells above your head until your arms are fully extended.
  • Pause, and then lower them back down behind your back to finish the movement.

5. Kettlebell Skull Crusher

This exercise can be performed lying on the floor (as in the video) or while lying on a bench, whichever suits you best.

How to do it

  • Grab a kettlebell with both hands and lie on your back.
  • Hold the kettlebell directly above your chest.
  • Now slowly bend your arms and lower the kettlebell towards the ground above your head.
  • Pause when the kettlebell has touched the ground (or the end of the bench) and then pull it back over to the starting position.

6. Kettlebell Single Arm Skull Crusher

This variation is a little bit more effective as it creates a better angle than the double-handed variation we just looked at (exercise #5). You will need a small kettlebell in each hand.

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How to do it

  • Lie on the ground (or bench) with the kettlebells directly over your chest.
  • Keep your arms fixed in place, bend your elbows, and bring the kettlebell down to the ground just above your head.
  • Pause when it touches, and then bring it back over your chest by straightening your arms.

7. Kettlebell Close Grip Push Up

This is perhaps the most difficult kettlebell arm exercise on this list!

How to do it

  • Place a large kettlebell on the ground on its side.
  • Grab hold of it with both hands so that your hands are in a diamond shape.
  • Then perform a push-up where you lower your chest down to the kettlebell.
  • Pause, and then drive back upwards. It can be very difficult to stay in the correct position while you do this.
  • What makes this exercise so difficult is the challenging positions required while you rise up and down.
  • Getting into your push-up position with both hands on a kettlebell requires a lot of coordination and balance. 

8. Seated Incline Kettlebell Bicep Curl

What is great about this exercise is that it increases the range of motion for the biceps, allowing you to make even better gains.

How to do it

  • Set an exercise bench to a 45-degree angle, hold a kettlebell in each hand and lie back on the bench.
  • Make sure you are in a comfortable position.
  • Let your arms hang down towards the floor.
  • Keeping your back against the bench, curl the kettlebells up towards your shoulders.
  • Pause, and then slowly return them to the starting position.

9. Single Arm Close Grip Kettlebell Floor Press

This is a great exercise for the chest and triceps.

How to do it

  • Lie on your back with a kettlebell in one hand, the bell should be situated on the outside of your hand.
  • You want your elbow on the floor at a 45-degree angle from your side.
  • This is your starting position. Take a deep breath and then raise the kettlebell straight up in the air in an explosive movement.
  • Pause, and then slowly return it back down to the starting position.
  • This really helps develop good movement patterns for the bench press. 
  • If you have two kettlebells then you can perform an alternate kettlebell floor press.
  • Have the ball of kettlebell facing outside of each hand and you could even try to perform a double-handed version. 

10. Kettlebell Hammer Curls

The hammer curl is a superb exercise, targeting the bicep muscles as well as the forearms. Kettlebells really lend themselves to this movement, and this is one of the few kettlebell arm exercises that actually work better than the dumbbell version!

How to do it

  • Hold a kettlebell in each hand using a neutral grip.
  • Keeping your arms tucked into your sides, curl the kettlebell up towards your shoulder muscles.
  • Pause at the top, and then slowly lower it back down to the starting position.

11. Kettlebell Bent Over Rows

The bent-over row is more of an upper back exercise, but it also works the biceps pretty well. For this exercise, you will want a kettlebell in each hand.

How to do it

  • Bend your knees and then bow forward until your chest is as close to parallel with the ground as you can make it.
  • Hold your kettlebells with straight arms so that they are hanging down towards the ground.
  • Push your chest out, pull your shoulder blades backward, and then pull the kettlebells up towards your armpits.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower them back down again.
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12. Kettlebell Single Arm Bent Over Rows

This exercise is almost identical to exercise #11, but instead of holding a kettlebell in each hand, you are just going to hold one kettlebell in one hand. This will give you slightly greater control while you perform it but is also practical for anyone who only has access to one kettlebell.

How to do it

  • Bend your knees and then bow forward until your chest is as close to parallel with the ground as you can make it.
  • Hold your kettlebell with a straight arm so that it is hanging down towards the ground.
  • Push your chest out, pull your shoulder blades backward, and then pull the kettlebell up towards your armpit.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower it back down again.

If you can perform 10 single-arm kettlebell rows with one hand, then switch to the next. If not, then you may need to find a lighter kettlebell. 

13. Kettlebell Plank Rows

The kettlebell plank row is mostly an abdominal and core exercise, but thanks to the row it will also work your biceps.

How to do it

  • Grab two large kettlebells and place them shoulder-width apart on the ground.
  • Then get into a plank position (some people think of it as more of a push-up position) with a hand on each kettlebell handle.
  • Keeping your back flat, pull one kettlebell up towards your armpit, pause, and then lower it back down.
  • Repeat with the other arm.
  • Squeeze your abs throughout this movement.

14. Kettlebell Tricep Kickbacks

This is a great tricep exercise and works best with a small kettlebell.

How to do it

  • Hold a kettlebell in one hand, then bend your knees and bow forward at the waist.
  • You want to be in a similar position to that of a bent-over row.
  • Push your chest out, tuck your elbow into your side with arms bent and kettlebell parallel to the floor.
  • Pull the kettlebell backward by straightening your arm out behind you.
  • Pause, and then return the kettlebell to the starting position.

15. Kettlebell Goblet Squat Curls

This is a nice combination exercise that will work as a decent isometric squat while also giving you a superb bicep workout.

How to do it

  • Start off with a kettlebell held in a goblet stance at chest height with elbows close to your sides.
  • Bring your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and then squat down to at least parallel.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in between your knees, keep your chest pushed out and back flat, then lower the kettlebell towards the floor by straightening your arms, then curl it back towards your chest.
  • Perform two to three reps and then rise back upwards to the starting position.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the squat.
  • If you are finding this easier than expected, try using heavier weights.

16. Kettlebell Preacher Curls

For this exercise, you will need a preacher bench, though it could be performed single-armed using an exercise bench at a 45-degree angle.

How to do it

  • Grab a kettlebell in each hand and sit at the preacher bench so that the top of the bench is nestled into your armpits.
  • Fully extend both arms with a kettlebell in each hand.
  • Then alternatively curl one kettlebell at a time all the way to your shoulder and then lower it back down.

Some people do what is known as a cannonball preacher curl, where they hold the kettlebell by the ball rather than the handle (upside down). If you’ve got the right sized kettlebell then this can work really well. But too big and it is going to be a disaster!

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Final Thoughts

Kettlebell training is not seen as a great way to build bigger arms. But as you can see, with a bit of creativity and know-how you can get a really decent workout from them. If you have the option of using a dumbbell, then you will probably find them better, but this isn’t always possible. Particularly if you are working out from home or setting up an outdoor circuit session.

Finding the right kettlebell is very important. Most of these exercises require a relatively light kettlebell, but some of them (double-handed bicep curl for example) benefit from a medium-sized kettlebell. Really heavy kettlebells are pretty unnecessary as the biceps and triceps are not big enough to require them.

Kettlebell training is usually aimed at improving your fitness level, burning calories, and increasing your metabolic rate. It is less focused on building strength. A kettlebell clean, or a kettlebell clean & press is not going to build your arms, but it is going to massively improve your fitness and conditioning.

A full-body kettlebell workout can burn more calories than a typical weights program but it is less suited to building arms. It tends to focus on major muscle groups and developing good movement patterns. It is great for core muscles due to the many dynamic movements. Adding in the type of exercises that target your arms can help to create a complete workout for your entire body. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do kettlebells work your arms?

They can, depending on what exercise you are performing. But few of the most popular kettlebell exercises target the arms specifically. Kettlebell training traditionally targets the core, the legs, the shoulders, and the upper/lower back. With very little focus on upper-body kettlebell exercises. However, the 16 exercises we’ve looked at in this article all work your arms. Create your own 31-day kettlebell workout using these exercises and you can expect bigger arms.

Will kettlebell swings build arms?

Kettlebell swings will not build arms, they are more targeted at your lower back, hamstrings, and core muscles. The shoulders are worked a little bit, but the biceps, triceps, and forearms are barely touched at all. There are many other kettlebell exercises that you can perform instead if you want to build arms. Kettlebell swings are usually included in the 300-rep kettlebell challenge as they are such good fat burners.

How heavy should my kettlebell be?

Everyone is different, so this is quite a tough question to answer. The best way to answer it is to divide kettlebells into three categories: light, medium, and heavy. A heavy kettlebell is the really large one and this is ideal for very strong and experienced men (and women) who want to perform Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and heavy swings. Medium kettlebells are ideal for most men and some women who are a few months into training. Light kettlebells (10-20lb kettlebells) are ideal for beginners, or for people who want to perform certain exercises that target smaller muscle groups. Purchase a small or medium kettlebell to start with, and save up for a heavy kettlebell as you build strength. Ideally, you want a pair of kettlebells rather than just a single kettlebell. 

Do kettlebells build muscle?

While kettlebells can build muscle in untrained people, kettlebell training is not as effective as dumbbells and barbells when it comes to hypertrophy. If you are a complete beginner, then a kettlebell could be a great way to build some muscle, but at some point in the future, you will need to switch to dumbbells and barbells if you want to continue growing.

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith is a Level 3 Personal Trainer with the Register of Exercise Professionals. He gained a BTEC National Diploma in Sports Science from London Metropolitan University. He has trained people both online and in-person for over 7 years and has written over 1,000 articles on fitness and nutrition subjects.

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