4 steps to a stronger Kettlebell Press

Single-arm Kettlebell press FTW!

The kettlebell Press is arguably one of the most shoulder friendly pressing variations there is.

For fitness professionals / movement geeks : “It involves the coordinated action of the serratus anterior and the middle trapezius muscles, which together lead to the proper rotational action of the shoulder blades.”

For regular folks : “it lets your shoulder do its thing.”

This is one of my favourite pressing variations and I’ve used it in almost every training program of mine over the past 2 years. I relied on it heavily during a period when I was nursing a knee injury and couldn’t do anything except upper body work. I used this time to work on improving my pressing strength, and figured out some useful hacks along the way.

I hope these are as useful to you as they were to me!

Fix your rack technique

First things first. Here’s what good (left) vs. bad (right) rack technique looks like,

A good rack position sets you up to transfer maximum force to the weight, and keeps you efficient as a system.

Good rack = wrist neutral + vertical forearm | Bad rack = broken wrist + diagonal forearm

Spend time holding a weight overhead

It’s as simple as it sounds. Hold a heavy weight over your head and learn to keep it steady.

There are different exercises that will do the trick – Turkish Get Ups, Windmills, etc. – but the Overhead Carry is the simplest of these to master; which means you can load it up sooner.

Start with a weight that you are confident of pressing overhead and keep practising with it until the move starts to feel easy.

Build up to doing overhead carries not with your comfortable pressing weight but the weight you WANT to be able to press (use two hands to get the weight up, or Push Press it up, or both!). 

Abs braced, elbow straight, and look ahead of you. Watch out for your elbow – keeping it locked out and not letting it bend is a big struggle with the overhead carry. 

Show your shoulder stabilisers some love

All the joints in our body have a particular range of motion, or groove, along which they travel. Our ankles and wrists have a rotational range of motion, while our knees and elbows move in a more to-and-fro manner. And all our joints have supportive muscles around them that stabilise this range of motion.

Think of these stabiliser muscles as railroad tracks. Just like how railroad tracks ensure trains move in the particular direction and path they are supposed to, stabiliser muscles keep your joints moving along the path they are built to move along.  

And trying to press a heavy weight when your stabiliser muscles are weak is like trying to drive a train along railroad tracks that are broken – they don’t let the train (your shoulder) move along the path it’s meant to. And just like how broken tracks cause train accidents, weak stabilisers cause shoulder injuries! 

Check out these Inverted kettlebell walks – these are simple exercises you can add in to your training at any point.

Remember to crush the handle of the kettlebell as hard you can on both moves, and keep your wrist neutral!

Fun fact : Because inverted bell exercises can only be done at lighter loads, they don’t let your bigger muscles (prime movers) step in to do the work that smaller muscles (stabilisers) should be doing.

It’s all about generating tension!

What does it mean to generate total body tension?

Imagine you have a factory of 100 workers. But this factory is inefficient and only 40 out of these 100 workers actually work.  The rest just come to work and bum around. Let’s call them managers 🙂

Going back to the press – say you have 100 workers (muscles) in your factory (body). But you are only engaging 40 of them.  That leaves more than half of your muscles without a function. So your ‘factory’ is performing at less than half its capacity.

Here’s what an efficient factory looks like – I’m getting as stiff as I can even though I’m lifting a weight that is relatively light for me.

Deadlift face for life.

How do you get to looking like this? (because if you don’t look ten different kinds of creepy while lifting heavy, you’re doing strength training wrong).

Take your time to set up before you start pressing, and think of engaging all the muscles right from your feet all the way to your shoulders.

  • Grip the floor with your feet
  • Tighten your quadriceps (thigh muscles)
  • Squeeze your butt hard
  • “Brace” your abs (clench like you would if someone were going to punch you in the stomach)
  • Tuck your rib cage down
  • Ensure your shoulders are in line with your ears
  • Grip the kettlebell hard, inhale and press!

This may seem like a long list of things to keep in mind but with practice, it’ll become second nature.

So there you have it; my top 4 hacks to pressing heavier kettlebells.

BRB, got some bells to lift.

Questions? Concerns? Feedback? Let me know in the Comments section!

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