Best Kettlebell Chest Exercises For Bigger Chest

Barbell Medicine
December 21, 2023
Reading Time: 13 minutes
Table of Contents

    Kettlebells are excellent for dynamic exercises that flow continuously from one movement to another, but they can also be used for strength training or bodybuilding. In fact, kettlebells can mimic the standard pressing exercises that you’d do with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells and produce similar results! This is why they’re great if you prefer working out with free weights and happen to be partial to kettlebells.

    In this article, we’ll share five of our favorite kettlebell exercises that can help you both strengthen and add size to your chest through muscle hypertrophy. We will also cover some benefits of working out with kettlebells, and share some tips on how to reap the most benefits of using them.

    Here’s a rundown of the best kettlebell chest exercises that we will cover today:

    • The kettlebell floor press
    • Bench press with kettlebells
    • Incline bench press with kettlebells
    • Flyes with kettlebells
    • Deficit push-up with kettlebells

    Best Kettlebell Chest Exercises

    Surprised you didn’t see a kettlebell swing on the list? While conventional kettlebell exercises like the kettlebell swing are great for building strength, power, and endurance, traditional resistance training exercises that directly train the chest are just a bit more effective for chest strength and size. [1]

    Nonetheless, kettlebells can still be used to perform resistance. Let’s take a look at our favorites.

    1.    Kettlebell Floor Press

    Media type: GIF

    Media Content: Someone doing a kettlebell floor press.

    Movement Category: Secondary

    Programming: 3 to 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 reps short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    The kettlebell floor press could be a great alternative to the dumbbell floor press. It mainly targets the pectorals, anterior deltoids and triceps brachii. It’s an easy exercise to learn, making it great for beginners, and could be a great dumbbell or bench press replacement to add to your program if you’re recovering from an injury.

    To do kettlebell floor presses:

    • Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you, with a kettlebell in each hand at either side of your hips.
    • Lie down halfway, so that your lower back is supporting your torso and your shoulders are lifted off the ground. Your elbows should be bent slightly and placed firmly on the ground.
    • Bend your legs at the knee at a 45-degree angle. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground.
    • Use a supinated grip to grab the kettlebells. Lift your forearms off the floor.
    • Roll your body back to lie flat on the ground, and use the momentum of the roll to twist your wrists so that the kettlebells lift off the floor and are stacked right above your elbows. This is your starting position.
    • Press the kettlebells straight up until your arms are locked out, squeezing your pecs at the top of the movement. Twist your wrists throughout the movement so that your palms are facing one another at the top.
    • Lower your weights down to the starting position slowly and with as much control as possible.

    Pro tip: While pressing up, try to push your upper body into the ground, away from the kettlebells as much as possible. This ensures an effective activation of the pectorals.

    2.    Bench Press With Kettlebells

    Bench press with kettlebells

    Media type: GIF

    Media Content: Someone doing a bench press with kettlebells.

    Movement Category: Secondary

    Programming: 3 to 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 reps short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    This exercise may seem identical to the dumbbell bench press, but trust us when we say that it packs an additional punch. For some trainees, it is actually much more difficult to do, because it requires a lot of upper limb stability to keep the kettlebells balanced during the range of motion. The kettlebell bench press can be done in a few different ways, but the two most popular variations are the standard kettlebell bench press and the one-arm kettlebell bench press.

    The one-arm variation allows for a longer range of motion and some core activation. However, our focus today is on the chest, so we will cover the bilateral variation, which is effective for targeting the whole pectoralis major along with the triceps brachiiand anterior deltoid. Using kettlebells in your bench presses also expands your range of motion and improves strength within its specific scope. The increased range of motion probably doesn’t build more strength in the chest unless strength is tested using kettlebells specifically. Similarly, the hypertrophy differences probably aren’t significant if present at all when compared to barbell or dumbbell bench presses. Yes, the range of motion is longer when using kettlebells, but not by a lot. [2, 3]

    To do a bench press with kettlebells:

    • Sit on the bench, gripping both kettlebells in your hands on each side of your hips with an offset grip on the handle and your palms facing the ceiling.
    • Roll back to lie on the bench flat on your back, turning your arms so that your elbows end up bent at 45-degree angles and your kettlebells stacked right over them, held with a supinated grip. This is your starting position.
    • Inhale and on the exhale, slowly press your arms straight up, trying to keep your elbows as stable as possible.
    • Squeeze your pecs at the top of the movement to connect the kettlebells. Hold for a second.
    • Slowly lower back to the starting position.

    3.    Incline Bench Press With Kettlebells

    Media type: GIF

    Media Content: Someone doing an incline bench press with kettlebells.

    Movement Category:Secondary

    Programming: 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 reps short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    The incline press with dumbbells is a great incline bench or dumbbell press alternative. The incline allows the movement to target the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, making it an efficient isolation exercise for defining the upper chest. It also engages the anterior deltoid and triceps brachii as synergists, much like a standard incline dumbbell press.

    To do incline bench presses with kettlebells:

    • Lie flat on the bench with kettlebells in each hand, stacked right over your elbows. Your thumbs should be facing one another.
    • Press your shoulders into the bench and plant your feet firmly into the ground. This is your starting position.
    • Inhale and on the exhale, press the kettlebells up towards the ceiling. Try to keep your elbows stable throughout the movement. Squeeze your upper pecs at the top of the movement to keep the kettlebells close to one another at the center.
    • Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position, with as much control as possible.

    4.    Flyes With Kettlebells

    Flyes With Kettlebells

    Media type: GIF

    Media Content: Someone doing flyes with kettlebells

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 reps short of failure, e.g. RPE 8 to 9.

    Kettlebell flyes are a great alternative to dumbbell chest flyes, and they may actually be a bit more challenging for the pecs, too! During dumbbell flyes, the primary load is placed on our hands, resulting in a more manageable range of motion with reduced demand for arm stability. Using kettlebells, however, can make the exercise more challenging as their center of mass is not directly supported by the hand, and so these exercises load the pecs for a longer part of the range of motion.

    Keep in mind that doing flyes with kettlebells may not necessarily produce better results than doing them with dumbbells in terms of hypertrophy. Still, kettlebell flyes are great for improving strength along with stability in the shoulder joints. [4]

    To do flyes with kettlebells:

    • Sit on the bench, gripping both kettlebells in your hands at hip-level with an offset grip on the handle and your palms facing the ceiling.
    • Roll back to lie on the bench with a flat back, turning your arms so that your elbows bend at a 45-degree angle and your kettlebells are stacked right over the elbows, held with a supinated grip.
    • Raise the kettlebells straight up to the ceiling until your arms are locked out. Try to ensure that your shoulder blades are not lifted from the bench. This is your starting position.
    • Keeping your wrists straight, lower the kettlebells laterally, slightly bending your elbows as you go through the range of motion. This will allow you to divert the force to your chest.
    • Pull your shoulder blades together towards your spine at the lowest part of the movement. Try not to lower the kettlebells too much, as it could be dangerous.
    • Press the kettlebells back up to the starting position with as much control as possible.
    • Try to make sure that your shoulders are stable throughout the movement.

    5.    Deficit Push-Up With Kettlebells

    Deficit Push-Up With Kettlebells

    Media type: GIF

    Media Content: Someone doing flyes with kettlebells

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 3 sets of as many reps as it takes to get within 2 to 3 reps short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    Weight: Bodyweight

    The deficit push-up requires a broader range of motion than a regular push-up, making it an excellent exercise for achieving strength and hypertrophy in the lower pecs. As we’ve mentioned previously, the range of motion is directly related to the muscles activated in a certain movement pattern, and the bigger the area of activated muscles is, the more benefits you can gain in terms of strength and hypertrophy. [11,12] While they mainly tend to activate the pectorals, deficit push-ups are also great for engaging the core and the triceps brachii. They are also much more difficult to do than regular push-ups, due to an increased range of motion demanding more muscular activity. Deficit push-ups are often preferred by trainees who would like to add more challenging push-up variations to their routine.

    To do deficit push-ups with kettlebells:

    • Place the kettlebells on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with their handles pointing towards the ceiling.
    • Stand in front of the kettlebells and fold forward, grabbing onto the handles with both hands.
    • Step back into a plank position and try to keep your upper body balanced. Take a moment to stabilize your arms and back. Make sure that your spine is straight. This is your starting position.
    • Slowly lower your torso towards the ground while pulling your elbows into your body. Try to get your chest as close to the ground as possible. Keep your core tight throughout the movement. At the lowest part of the motion, squeeze your glutes.
    • Slowly press back up to the starting position.

    So, there you have it. These are our five favorite chest exercises to do with kettlebells. Most of these exercises can also be done with dumbbells or barbells. In some cases, what equipment you use will change the specific benefits the exercise offers.

    Benefits of Working Out With Kettlebells

    When it comes to hypertrophy, kettlebells don’t really provide any advantages that other free weights don’t. Technically, you could switch out your kettlebells for dumbbells and achieve similar results. If you’re looking to build strength, in certain situations training with kettlebells may make a difference, such as strength tests that require kettlebells.

    However, this doesn’t mean that there are no perks to training with kettlebells. There are a number of ways in which trainees could benefit from using kettlebells, including some of the standard benefits of weightlifting, such as increased strength and endurance, as well as some additional advantages.

    Enhanced Endurance, Stability, and Strength

    As previously mentioned, exercises involving kettlebells can sometimes provide a longer range of motion than ones done with other free weights. The longer the range of motion, the greater the length our muscles move through, which can be useful for improving strength in the scope of the specific movement and produce good hypertrophy results. [4] Kettlebell training has also been proven to be very effective in building core strength and dynamic balance. [5]

    Kettlebells are also the only type of free weights where the center of mass is not directly supported by the hand hanging below the wrist. This makes it much harder to keep the kettlebells from falling and trainees should practice keeping their shoulder joints stable throughout the movements. [6] This may improve joint strength and stability in the upper limb.

    Moreover, kettlebells can be a useful addition to your equipment if you’re doing other exercises for power or strength endurance. For example, you can do full-body dynamic exercises like kettlebell swings or snatches at a variety of rep ranges with kettlebells. When doing flows or high-repetition exercises, they also allow you to keep moving for a longer period of time, particularly while doing swings, cleans, and snatches. While they may produce similar results as barbells and dumbbells while training for strength and muscle hypertrophy, if you’re training for strength endurance, kettlebells may be superior for this application.

    Versatility

    Kettlebells are mainly used for doing dynamic exercises and flows, but if you’ve gone over the exercises we’ve previously mentioned, you’ll find that they’re great for traditional resistance training exercises as well. In other words, this equipment can help you build strength, grow muscles, and at the same time experiment with other dynamic exercises, such as kettlebell flows.

    Another great thing about kettlebells is that they are a good option for people with limited equipment and space. Barbells, weights, and bench setups take up more space and are costlier. Moreover – let’s face it – sometimes we just don’t want to hit the gym after a long day at work. Exercising with free weights like kettlebells and dumbbells at home could be the perfect remedy to these situations. While kettlebells are often a bit more expensive than standard dumbbells, their versatility makes kettlebells a worthwhile investment – though that ultimately depends on your training goals.

    Improved Grip Strength

    This is one area of benefit where kettlebells really stand out. They might not outshine barbells and dumbbells in building overall strength, but if you’re looking to improve your grip strength and control, it may be time to pick up a pair of kettlebells.

    Two studies, one with college-aged subjects and the other with older adults have both revealed that kettlebell training can significantly improve grip strength in trainees. [7,8] But what’s the secret? How would training with kettlebells be any different than training with dumbbells?

    The secret lies in their functionality. Kettlebells are often used for flows, meaning that the trainee keeps holding onto the kettlebell while progressing from movement to movement. This often requires the trainee to twist their wrists to turn the kettlebells or balance them after a swing. Without adequate grip strength, it’s very possible that the kettlebell slips right out of a trainee’s grip.

    Does this apply to the pressing exercises we went over in this article? Not to the same degree as some other exercises or circuits, but yep – there’s still likely some benefit! For example, keeping the kettlebells stable at the very top of a lift will require a good amount of grip strength. You may have noticed from our exercise descriptions that in some cases, trainees may need to twist their wrists or arms to execute the movements with proper form. This is all the more challenging to do since the weight of the kettlebell hangs below the handle. Trainees must develop the ability to hold on firmly to the handles while swinging and turning the kettlebells, as well as the ability to soften their grip when necessary. This is why kettlebells are great for improving grip strength and control.

    Tips For Working Out With Kettlebells

    We love kettlebells (and you might too) but they may not exactly be the easiest equipment to use. It takes a while to get used to them and get the specific movement patterns down. However, there are two key tips we can offer to help you get used to kettlebells faster and shorten the learning curve.

    Get Your Hand Insertion and Grips Right

    Holding onto the implement is a crucial component of any resistance training exercise. Unfortunately, you can’t just grab the handle of a kettlebell any way you like – there’s a proper technique that will make doing the exercises more efficient and help you get the most benefits. It will also prevent the kettlebell from slipping out of your hands as you progress through the movements.

    While the hand insertion techniques will vary from exercise to exercise, there are a few key things that you should pay attention to:

    • The weight of the kettlebell should not be concentrated along the palm, but rather along the web space between the thumb and the index finger. Concentrating it along the palm will cause you to extend and bend your wrist backwards once you swing up the kettlebell, which is an incorrect form we refer to as the “broken wrist grip.” Keeping the pressure on the web space, however, will allow you to keep your wrists straight once you swing up the kettlebell.
    • Keep a lighter grip with relaxed fingers when the kettlebells are in motion. The aim here is not to grip the kettlebells so hard that you force them into a certain motion but rather to allow the kettlebells to carve their own path of movement, while still maintaining your hold of them.

    Practice Safe Progression

    Progressive loading is an essential component of any weightlifting program. Unfortunately, much like dumbbells, kettlebells suffer from the same gaps in loading. This means that, once you start plateauing with your kettlebells, moving up a weight class may actually be too heavy to keep the same repetitions and RPE scheme, which would make progressive loading difficult.

    So, how can you overcome this? By implementing double progression. Increasing the load used or the number of repetitions are both traditional ways of enhancing strength and muscle size through progressive loading. Double progression entails combining the two together as a programming technique. It can also be a great method for those looking to add a little bit of variety to their training, as it gives trainees more freedom to choose their parameters based on how well they’re responding to the program.

    Train With Barbell Medicine

    Our very last tip is to train with professionals. When training with kettlebells, you could benefit from instructions regarding hand insertion and grip may, creating an effective chest workout involving pressing exercises, and the best ways to achieve your particular goals – regardless of whether they’re hypertrophy, strength increase, or better mobility.

    At Barbell Medicine, we provide personal training and custom templates, guiding our trainees at every step of their fitness journey. Our team of licensed physicians, dietitians, and trainers are experienced in creating personalized workout programs based on individual needs and goals and backed by the latest findings in sports medicine and research.

    We also offer a wide variety of training templates with different areas of focus, geared at trainees of different fitness levels. Check them out and see if you can find one that suits your needs!

    To Recap…

    Kettlebells are extremely versatile pieces of equipment that can be used in traditional lifts, as well as give trainees the opportunity to try out other types of exercises. Training with them also does wonders for improving grip strength, which can improve the quality of some other lifts, such as bench presses. They are traditionally used for ballistic exercises and flows, however, using them for exercises that traditionally require barbells or dumbbells won’t leave anything to be desired in terms of results.

    Here’s a recap of our favorite chest exercises to do with kettlebells:

    • The kettlebell floor press
    • Bench press with kettlebells
    • Incline bench press with kettlebells
    • Flyes with kettlebells
    • Deficit push-up with kettlebells

    It’s important to remember that learning to use kettlebells may take some time and attention to details such as joint stability, hand insertion, and grip strength. But with a little guidance and practice, you’ll start seeing results in no time.

    References:

    1. Otto, William & Coburn, Jared & Brown, Lee & Spiering, Barry. (2012). Effects of Weightlifting vs. Kettlebell Training on Vertical Jump, Strength, and Body Composition. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 26. 1199-202. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f233e.
    2. Schoenfeld, B. J., & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE open medicine, 8, 2050312120901559. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312120901559
    3. Brumitt, J., En Gilpin, H., Brunette, M., & Meira, E. P. (2010). Incorporating kettlebells into a lower extremity sports rehabilitation program. North American journal of sports physical therapy : NAJSPT, 5(4), 257–265.
    4. Hedt, Corbin & Lambert, Bradley & Holland, Matthew & Daum, Joshua & Randall, Jeremiah & Lintner, David & McCulloch, Patrick. (2020). Electromyographic Profile of the Shoulder During Stability Exercises With Kettlebells. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. EPUB Ahead of Print. 10.1123/jsr.2019-0541.
    5. Schoenfeld, B. J., & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE open medicine, 8, 2050312120901559. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312120901559
    6. Hedt, C., Lambert, B. S., Holland, M. L., Daum, J., Randall, J., Lintner, D. M., & McCulloch, P. C. (2020). Electromyographic Profile of the Shoulder During Stability Exercises With Kettlebells. Journal of sport rehabilitation, 30(4), 653–659. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsr.2019-0541
    7. Erbes, D. A. (2012). The effect of kettlebell training on body composition, flexibility, balance, and core strength. (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Wisconsin.
    8. Beltz, Nicholas & Erbes, Dustin & Porcari, John & Martinez, Ray & Doberstein, Scott & Foster, Carl. (2013). EFFECTS OF KETTLEBELL TRAINING ON AEROBIC CAPACITY, MUSCULAR STRENGTH, BALANCE, FLEXIBILITY, AND BODY COMPOSITION. Journal of Fitness Research. 2. 4-13.
    9. Meigh, Neil & Keogh, Justin & Schram, Ben & Hing, Wayne & Rathbone, Evelyne. (2022). Effects of supervised high-intensity hardstyle kettlebell training on grip strength and health-related physical fitness in insufficiently active older adults: the BELL pragmatic controlled trial. BMC Geriatrics. 22. 10.1186/s12877-022-02958-z.
    10. Brumitt, J., En Gilpin, H., Brunette, M., & Meira, E. P. (2010). Incorporating kettlebells into a lower extremity sports rehabilitation program. North American journal of sports physical therapy : NAJSPT, 5(4), 257–265.
    11. Schoenfeld, B. J., & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE open medicine, 8, 2050312120901559. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312120901559
    12. Brumitt, J., En Gilpin, H., Brunette, M., & Meira, E. P. (2010). Incorporating kettlebells into a lower extremity sports rehabilitation program. North American journal of sports physical therapy : NAJSPT, 5(4), 257–265.
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    Barbell Medicine
    The Barbell Medicine Website Editorial Team consists of Fitness, Health, Nutrition, and Strength Training experts. Our Team is led by Jordan Feigenbaum, MD, an elite competitive powerlifter, health educator, and fitness & strength coach.
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