Upper body kettlebell workout for added strength and stability

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When you think of kettlebell training, your mind may go straight to the swing. And that’s understandable, considering it’s such a functional exercise for runners, especially those looking to build lower-body power. But kettlebells offer so much variety and not just for your legs. Take this upper body kettlebell workout for example.

“Kettlebells, on the whole, are great for runners because of their shape,” Noam Tamir, CSCS, CEO and Owner of TS-Fitness in New York tells Runner’s world. Weight form can meet the challenge of stability in many exercises, including those in this workout, designed by Tamir. The core benefits you get from this additional stability test, along with the upper body strength you build with these exercises, promotes more efficient running and solid form.

The Benefits of an Upper Body Kettlebell Workout for Runners

The exercises included in this upper body kettlebell workout will strengthen your arms, shoulders, chest, back, and core.

Anti-rotation moves like the one-arm supported row and glute bridge floor press can help runners build a stronger midsection, which results in better running form, a more efficient stride, and good posture. Meanwhile, practicing moves like the bicep curl, skull crusher, and half-kneeling overhead press will help you build strong arm muscles for a better ride.

A well-balanced upper body workout that works your muscles from many angles and targets the front and rear of the body, like this one, can also help runners not only improve strength, but also maintain good racing mechanics, which improves overall performance.

How to use this list: Perform the exercises in the order indicated below, for the number of repetitions described. Rest 30 seconds between each exercise. Perform 3 sets, resting for 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Each move is demonstrated by Tamir in the video above so you can mimic the proper form. You will need a kettlebell and an exercise mat for this workout.


1. Bicep curls

Noam Tamer

Why it works: Using a kettlebell in place of a barbell or set of dumbbells is a great way to spice up this traditional exercise. Tamir says building strong biceps will also help runners improve their arm swing for stronger runs.

How to do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell around the horn in both hands with palms facing each other, bell facing down in front of the body. Bend both elbows to lift the kettlebell toward the chest, keeping the elbows close to the torso. In a slow, controlled motion, lower the kettlebell down, extending your elbows. Repeat. Do 10 to 12 reps.


2. One-arm floor press with glute bridge hold

upper body kettlebell workout, one arm floor press with glute bridge

Noam Tamer

Why it works: This move forces runners to engage their entire body while resisting rotation, Tamir says. This helps build a stronger top half equipped to handle forward motion when running, while eliminating side-to-side swings that can rob you of speed.

How to do: Lie face up with the kettlebell in your left hand, knees bent, and feet planted on the floor. Drive through the feet, engaging the glutes and lifting the hips toward the ceiling. With palms facing each other, send arms up. This is your starting position. Bend the left elbow about 45 degrees from the torso, lowering the kettlebell toward the chest and the elbow toward the floor. Pause, then press back up. Repeat. Do 8 to 10 reps. Then repeat on the right side.


3. Single arm row

upper body kettlebell workout, one arm supported row

Noam Tamer

Why it works: Focus on resisting too much bending (or rounding) in your back muscles while doing this exercise. This will help strengthen your back muscles to improve your running form and forward propulsion, says Tamir, while helping you maintain a tall posture.

How to do: Start in a lunge position with the left foot back and the kettlebell in the left hand. Bend over at the hips, keeping the left leg straight and place the right forearm on the right thigh for support. Make sure your shoulders, chest, and hips are parallel to the floor. This is your starting position. Starting with the straight arm, pull the left elbow towards the left hip, lifting the kettlebell towards the rib cage. Hold, then slowly lower back down, straighten your arm, and return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 8 to 10 reps. Then repeat on the right side.


4. Half-kneeling overhead press

upper body kettlebell workout, half kneeling overhead press

Noam Tamer

Why it works: Use this move to strengthen your back and core muscles. “A strong upper body helps optimize form and absorb the impact of running,” says Tamir.

How to do: Begin kneeling with the left foot forward, both knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold the racked kettlebell over the left shoulder, left elbow bent, left palm facing ear, and right arm down to side. Push the left arm up with the biceps close to the ears, then bring the left arm back towards the shoulder. Repeat. Do 8 to 10 reps. Then repeat on the right side.


5. Skull Crusher

upper body kettlebell workout, skull crusher

Noam Tamer

Why it works: This move will counteract the curl in the biceps to help you develop stronger arms for more efficient arm swings.

How to do: Lie face up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold the kettlebell with both hands around the horn and extend the arms above the chest. Slowly bend your elbows to lower the kettlebell overhead, keeping your elbows on your shoulders. Press the bell upwards, extending the elbows. Repeat. Do 10 to 12 reps.

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