Up Your Kettlebell Press Game

One question I was asked recently was how someone would be able to press a heavier kettlebell. This isn’t just asked by people looking to gain a kettlebell certification meeting a heavy press standard. With any lift, there is a pure feeling of accomplishment when you strict press a large kettlebell overhead.

Pressing a kettlebell overhead is quite humbling when you put the weight into perspective.

This joy can be found in the old-time strongman image the bell taps into as you single-handedly move an awkward ball of iron overhead.. Part of this is the way that kettlebells normally go up in increments of 4 or 8 kilograms as opposed to tiny pound based increments. To move up from say 70 pounds to 79 pounds or 88 pounds is a different game to moving up from 50 to 55 pounds and pressing is fun.

It is all too easy to hit a plateau unfortunately and get frustrated with the kettlebell press but there is a solution, there are some proven ways below to crush that kettlebell press stalemate.

For the sake of this writing, I am going to assume your shoulder mobility is all ok, if you can’t lock your arm out at the top of the press I would really advise you to work on your shoulder and thoracic mobility before moving forward, this is a long-haul game after all.

Why You Should Do Your Press With A Kettlebell

  1. Offset center of gravity builds strong, resilient shoulders.
  2. Increased range of motion over dumbbells or barbells.
  3. Bell shape promotes a safe pressing groove.
  4. Single-side loading = serious core training.
  5. Just feels badass to push a big heavy weight overweight.

Break It Down And Build It Up

When helping anyone with their press, I start by deconstructing the movement into it’s three basic component parts and then work on each one seperately, the three areas are:

  1. Safely having a heavy kettlebell overhead.
  2. The press groove.
  3. The clean to get the bell into position.

Then you can work on the best drills or movements to strengthen those press components.

Power is nothing without control so it is important to fit this in around your other workouts too.

To Strengthen The Overhead Position The Get-Up

Assuming you are going to be embarking upon a heavy pressing program to build up your press, it is crucial that you maintain or improve your overall shoulder health. Get-up’s are a great way to both improve shoulder stability and maintain mobility.

Heavy get-up’s however also happen to be the most accessible way to get used to carrying your goal bell weight overhead. Time and practice will remove any fear of having the big bell up there. On a neurological level, this allows you to take the brakes off when pressing and give it your all.

It is recommended to do heavy get-up’s once a week, try alternating 5 singles per side with your 3 to 4 rep max bell, which is usually the next size up from the goal bell you are trying to press.

It is also good to make sure you are getting the right kind of diet in the gym as well.

To Strengthen The Groove Bottoms-Up Press

Setting up the optimal press groove is crucial, bad habits in the groove will become big obstacles as progress happens. Bottoms-up presses force you to find the proper groove. Basically the bell will fall over if you don’t find the right trajectory, they also force you to squeeze the hell out of the kettlebell handle. The tension generated by crush gripping will strengthen your shoulder and feed you into your press.

Bottoms-up presses can also be used as a warm-up to other presses or as a standalone on press day. Whichever way you use them, you will need some volume to get strong at BUP’s as they can be quite humbling. Rep schemes like 3×5, 5×5 or 5×3 per side twice a week should be right.

To Strengthen The Clean Double Cleans

Cleaning double bells will have a large payoff for the single bell press and the reason is simple, your body gets used to cleaning weight heavier than what a single bell will be. It is easy to forget that the kettlebell clean is not just a way to get the bell into position to press. It is also a powerful movement on it’s own, requiring a solid backswing and plenty of tension to get the bell into position. Double cleans will literally clean your single clean like nothing else.

Correcting The Post-Clean Lean

When I see people fail a heavy single kettlebell press it usually starts to go wrong when they start to side-bend away from the bell right after the clean. Just as double cleans will help fix a sloppy clean, double presses can help your single press as well.

How you ask? Pressing two bells at once removes the ability to side bend. Using double bells will also help you to generate the full-body tension that will power your press and once you have become comfortable with double bell presses, the seesaw press is an amazing way to build strength and competence in the pushing.pulling involved in pressing. Seesaw presses will force you to find and bring your lats into the fight.

It is surprising how the kettlebell exercises can come in elsewhere as well.

For the double-bell clean and press, I would begin with 3×5 of your 8-rep max weight and build to 5×5 before switching to seesaw presses or a heavier pair of bells. It is advisable keeping seesaw presses in the range of 3-5 reps per side.

Secret Weapon, The Backward Leopard Crawl

This is one exercise that had the most benefit to my press and if you are unfamiliar with this movement then here it is.

Imagine this, when you crawl backwards, your shoulders basically become your hips and your arms become your legs. Everything must work together, in particular, each shoulder gets tied to the opposite hip in an X pattern. I found that building up time in a backward leopard crawl strengthened weak links in my shoulder girdle that I did not know existed. Even just crawling on your hands and knees in a basic baby crawl can offer a restorative effect on your shoulders that can be the game changer when chasing a big press.

Take time to build to 5 minutes of continuous backward leopard crawling and see how much of an improvement you shoulders receive.

Use Ladders To Climb Up To The Next Bell Size

Strengthening the many parts of your press is one part of the game but another is racking up volume in your single kettlebell press. This is where you begin to put all of the pieces together. Own the clean, crush the handle, press in the perfect groove, create tension throughout your body and hold that kettlebell rock solid at the lockout then pull that baby back in to the rack and repeat.

When you want to get bigger and stronger at the gym, supplements can help you immensely.

For maximum efficiency, use your 5 rep max kettlebell and perform ladders of reps like this:

  • Rung 1: 1 Rep.
  • Rung 2: 2 Reps.
  • Rung 3: 3 Reps.

When you have done the third rung, start over at 1 rep again and repeat the sequence for 5 times total resting as much or as little as needed but definitely put the bell down between each rung. That range will leave you with 30 reps per side. When the third rep feels easy at the end, add a 4-rep rung to the ladder. When the fourth rung gets easy, go up a bell.

Try some of these things or all of them in your kettlebell workouts and they will help you to press a heavier kettlebell and earn a badass new PR, learn how to build amazing strength from just your bodyweight here.

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