Kettlebell Press – How To Kettlebell Press

by Caleb Lee on May 28, 2009

kettlebell-pressThe one armed Kettebell press is a staple of the kettlebell program … and this article will tell you everything you need to know about how to do it with proper form!

The first of the “grind” movements (that is in comparison to the ballistic/explosive movements), the one armed press is altogether different from a press with a dumbbell or barbell, but the basics remain the same.

Let’s start from the beginning …

Why You Should Kettlebell Press

  • Total Body Exercise — Your whole body gets used like the squat and deadlift. Your shoulders, chest and arm presses the weight while your core muscles and legs stabilize your body…
  • Fix Imbalances - If you’ve got one weaker limb, the kettlebell overhead press allows you to work on that one side & get it stronger …
  • Builds Muscle — Because it works so many muscle groups, you build more lean muscle mass along with strength…
  • Builds Strength W/ Lighter Weights— This is one of the best strength training movements to build raw pressing strength … and… you don’t need a whole set of olympic barbells with weights — you just need one kettlebell.
  • Good For Your Shoulders – Most guys have muscle imbalances from too much bench pressing. The bench works the front of the shoulders more… while the overhead press works all the shoulder heads equally. Muscle imbalances lead to injuries, so you should start overhead pressing now…
  • You Feel Cool – when you start pressing heavy kettlebells overhead you’ll feel like a badass :)

Why You Need A Good Rack


The rack is where it all starts. Without a good starting rack position, its like operating a crane on a oil tanker made out of Jello–zero stability=zero force output.

How To Set Up The Kettlebell Press

kettlebell-rack-1Holding the kettlebell in the rack position:

  • Wrist position. There are a few different ways of doing this, but for starters, in ANY lifting movement where your hand is gripping and supporting the weight, you want the barbell to be as close to the bone as possible. This allows more stable and efficient transfer of power from the muscle to the bar. If you have the bar/dumbbell/kettlebell sitting high up in your palm, the stress will be on the wrist instead of on the bone.
  • For some people, they like keeping the top of their wrist flat and in line with the top of their forearm, like throwing a punch. This is exaggerated, but better than tweaking your wrist back. Somewhere in between is going to be the best position for most.
  • Shoulder position. Your shoulders should be down and locked in their socket.
  • LATS! This goes in with shoulder position. This is what your optimal starting press position should be: imagine yourself dead hanging from a pull up bar (or, hell, do it!). You are completely loose–shoulders/arms almost touching your head. Now, you are going to pull your body up by thinking “chest up, shoulders back”. Your body should rise, you will feel your shoulders and back get tight, but your arms do NOT bend whatsoever. This is purely from your back gaining tension–with everything tight, your body has a platform to press from. Going further with this, you want your lats to be tight and flexed. Hold your right fist up like you’re going to give someone the finger, and place your left palm under the elbow. Now, focus on driving your elbow through your left hand–you should feel your lat flare. THAT is the feeling you want!
  • As always, keep everything TIGHT! Legs locked out, squeeze your abs and your ass, and squeeze the bell. The more wiggling you do, the more power you LOSE!

There are two ways you can handle the rack position:

Dead Rack

This is just you, picking up the kettlebell and getting it to your shoulder in any way you see fit. Once it is up there, you keep your arm close to your midline–your hand thats holding the bell should be centered on your body, with the bell resting on your forearm.

Clean Rack

This is the preferred way to do it. Many say that your press is only as good as the clean before it, and I’m tempted to agree. A well done clean with be quick, smooth, and efficient, and provide the base for a great press. This is the recommended method. So don’t be dead: be clean.

How To Press The Kettlebell …


And now, the press! Keep everything TIGHT–SQUEEZE the bell to activate the muscles involved. Keep your abs and ass TIGHT to prevent unnecessary arching and protect your back. And even though it is physically impossible, GRAB the ground with your toes to keep your legs tight and grounded. If you are pressing from a wobbly base, think about all that energy that is being lost wobbling and not pressing.

In the rack, your hand is near the midline. You are going to move your hand in front of your shoulder. Once your hand is directly in front of your shoulder, your forearm will be vertical–exactly where you want it. You want your forearm to stay as vertical as possible.

From the “front shoulder” position, press UP! Rotate your hand so your palm is facing forward. If you stay tight, it will feel sort of like a screwdriver movement. Again, think about a punch! From a “guard” position of your hands near your face, you rotate your hand so that your palm is facing the ground as the strike connects. Its the same movement, only vertically and not horizontally! In fact, it is a GREAT mental cue, to think about punching the bell UP!

Then you just continue the movement until the bell is above your head with your arm fully extended, elbow locked out. Congratulations, you’ve just done your first kettlebell press!

Your Kettlebell Pressing Checklist

kettlebell-press-2When the bell has reached the top, make a mental checklist:

  • Is my GRIP, ASS, ABS, and LEGS tight?
  • Is my forearm vertical?
  • Is my wrist not kinked backwards?
  • Is my shoulder still in its socket, and not shrugged up to my ear?

If you answered YES to those, then ask:

  • Am I a kettlebell pressing BADASS?

No, you’re not. But you’re on your way.

How To Lower Finish The Kettlebell Press.

To end the press, simply lower the bell in the exact same manner, to the rack. Congrats! That’s the press.

Be sure, like all strength training exercises, not to let out ALL you air in the top — fully extended position of the press. You want to get a lot of air (“big air” in powerlifting lingo) in your belly before you press … and then let a little of it out if necessary as you strain to press the bell … (but no more than a 1/4 or 1/3rd of the air) — and keep the rest in your lungs so your intra-absominal pressure stays high.

Whenever you’re putting any type of appreciable weight up over your head, you want to stay TIGHT … and… one of the biggest keys to staying tight is keeping your intra-abdominal pressure high.

This protects your back, your spine, and actually makes you stronger — so don’t forget it!

A Video Of How To Kettlebell Press

Watch this video below of Yoana Snideman, RKC, shows you how she presses both a 16kg and 20kg bell. Notice that her pressing technique stays constant, the only thing that changes is her body position (when you’re pressing a kettlebell that’s REALLY heavy — for your bodyweight — it tends to shift you off to one side).

For example, I weigh about 140lbs and when pressing the 70lb kettlebell (half my “heavy day” bodyweight) — I look very much like Yoana in the video below.

Also, please note, what she is SAYING about how strength training makes women sexy because that is TRUE :)

So there you go, you should start doing the kettlebell press today (and don’t let the idea of being a girl and not wanting to lift heavy weights make you scared!)

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