May 31, 2021
The chest is often a little neglected for people who are new to kettlebell training. This is simply because it can be hard to come up with effective kettlebell chest exercises, especially when there's not a bench involved! Moreover, chest exercises are definitely not the most talked about of all kettlebell movements.
Be that as it may, there are, indeed, plenty of effective kettlebell chest exercises that you can do, and we are here to show you how. The 12 chest exercises in this post, all of which can be done anywhere as they don't require a bench, are guaranteed to help you develop your pecs. What's more, most of these exercise can be done with either one or two kettlebells, so if you only have a single kettlebell, no worries.
Note: We also have important training tips and techniques for building muscle and strength with kettlebells.
After reading this, you'll never have to wonder how to get a good chest workout in with kettlebells again!
Yes, kettlebells can be just as effective as other free weight equipment like dumbbells and barbells for building muscle and strength in your chest. You just need to do the right exercises, apply the right load, and maximize time under tension. This is what we are going to teach you in this post. We have 12 chest specific kettlebell exercises and a few workout examples that will help you build pecs of steel.
Before we begin, it is advantageous to understand how your chest functions, as that will help you to better see the purpose of each exercise.
Your chest has two muscles on both sides, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, collectively known as your pecs.
Your pectoralis major is the bigger of the two pec muscles. Considerably bigger, in fact, as the pec major makes up most of your chest.
The two large fan-shaped slabs of muscle span each side of your chest, attaching at the sternum (breastbone), ribs, clavicle (collarbone) and humerus (upper arm bone).
You will often hear people mention the “upper” and “lower” chest. This is because your pectarolis major has two heads, which jointly attach to your humerus.
In terms of actions, both heads share much of the same responsibility. However, they activate more or less depending on the angle of the upper arm.
Sternocostal head: The sternocostal head originates at your sternum. It’s your “lower chest”, but it actually makes up 80% of your pec major’s total size. It powers most of the muscles actions, such as bringing your arms towards the midline of your body (adduction) and internal rotation of your humerus. So, any time you press straight forward or angled downward, your sternocostal head is powering most of the action.
Exercises that target the sternocostal head - dips, push ups (or flat presses), flys, decline push ups (or decline presses).
Clavicular head: The clavicular head originates at the clavicle (collar bone). It is your “upper chest”. It helps with the above actions, but it also takes control when lifting the arm forward or pressing at an upward angle.
Exercises that target the clavicular head - incline press, decline push ups, low cable fly.
Your pec minor, which you have one on each side of your chest, is a small triangular muscle that lies under the pec major.
The pec minor attaches to your ribs and coracoid (a small hook-like profusion at the top of your scapular).
Although the pec minor sits on the front side of your body, due to its attachment points, much of its actions control structures on the backside. For example, the pectoralis minor helps pull down and spread apart the shoulder blades. This means your pec minor is working during all pectoralis major movements. However, it is working as a stabilizer of your shoulders and shoulder blades, not as a primary mover like your pec majors.
That said, with certain exercises, your pec minor becomes more active, which helps to strengthen them to a greater degree. Exercises that involve leaning your body forward and drawing your shoulder blades down, such as dips, decline presses, and pull downs and pull ups, will give you greater pec minor activation.
All in all, this should give you a good idea of how chest exercises work your pecs and why changing angles and doing a variety of exercises is important for developing your chest in its entirety.
Kettlebells are known for their full body explosive movements, like kettlebell swings, snatches, and cleans. These movements are called ballistics. And while some ballistics activate your chest, if you want to really hone in on your chest and build your pectoral muscles, you need to do grinds. Grinds are slow and controlled movements that promote maximum tension and time under tension. They are similar to conventional barbell or dumbbell exercises.
If you simply want to stay in good shape and become more explosive and powerful, ballistics are great, but if you want to build serious muscle, grinds are a must...
With kettlebells, you can train your chest in a very similar way that you can with dumbbells. Pretty much all dumbbell chest exercises can be replicated with kettlebells, with or without a bench. They’ll just have their own little differences. After all, the kettlebell is a different shape and is not perfectly balanced along a straight handle. So, depending on the exercise, you will have to grip the kettlebell in different ways.
Overall, if you do the right kettlebell exercises, you can hone in on your chest just as well as you can with dumbbells.
Below, we are going to show you 12 of our favorite kettlebell chest exercises. We say “favorite” because we find these to be the most effective for producing tension on the chest. We will also be giving you some tips so you can get the most out of each exercise.
Before we get into the exercises, let's go over some important training techniques...
When it comes to kettlebell training, leg, glute, core, shoulder, and back exercises are pretty straight forward, but chest exercises can be a little troublesome. This is because most chest exercises at the gym involve a bench press, and most kettlebell trainees don't use a bench. If you had a bench press, you could use kettlebells in the same exact way you use dumbbells - flat bench, incline bench, flys, pullovers, etc.
The good news is, you can most certainly target your chest with kettlebells without a bench, and because most people who do kettlebell training at home don’t have a bench, the exercises we have for you below don’t require a bench. They can be done anywhere and everywhere. Moreover, they can be done with just a single kettlebell if that's all you have!
Now, to the nitty gritty...Here are some important factors for building muscle and strength with kettlebells (which also apply to virtually any free weight equipment). You should apply the following training practices into all of your kettlebell workouts moving forward if you want to see improvements in strength and muscle mass.
Altering the weight load and rep range will stress the body in new ways and help you achieve different goals. We recommend that you work across the whole spectrum of reps so that you can become more well-rounded in strength and endurance, while also putting on muscle.
Generally speaking, here are the rep ranges you’ll want to work in. You should choose a weight that is considerably challenging in these rep ranges, but allows you to maintain good form.
Note: Remember, form is of the utmost importance. For hypertrophy, that means you want to choose a weight load that allows you to do a minimum of 8 reps with good form. Once your form breaks down, you’ve gone past failure.
If you want to build muscle, time under tension is vital. You want to maximize the time under tension and have a high volume of it within a workout.
We used 8-20 reps because this should give you the time under tension required for hypertrophy. Typically that’s 30-60 seconds per set with a considerable weight load relative to your strength level.
So, if you want to build muscle, do a high volume of work (meaning more sets with significant time under tension) during your chest workouts.
For strength training, it's more like 4-20 seconds. But this requires heavy loads to be effective.
If you want to build muscle and strength, you need to place more stress on your muscles than they are used to. This is what we mean by "overload".
Your muscles will quickly adapt to the new stress you are placing on them, which is how you improve (i.e. get stronger and grow muscle).
However, if you don’t progressively overload your muscles (continue to place more stress on them than they are used to), your training will stagnate.
Now, there are various ways to go about this. You can increase the load, increase the reps/time under tension, increase the volume of your workout (more sets and exercises), increase the intensity, and you can decrease the rest time. You can also do more difficult exercise (progression exercises).
With these various techniques of progressive overload, even if you are limited by how many kettlebells you have, you can still apply progressive overload to your training. It’s just something you need to make a point of as you move forward in your training plan.
Other good training variables to overload your muscles are body positioning, load positioning (and grip), and progression exercises. By altering your training variables, you will stress your muscles in different ways.
And remember, you need to be consistent with your workouts week to week if you want to progress. It's also ok to mix things up here and there. As long as you are stressing your muscles enough, you will continue to improve. But if you do completely different workouts every week, it will be hard to make and track any real progress. If your goal is to just have fun and workout, then it doesn’t matter. But if you want to build muscle, you need consistency in your training.
THAT SAID, every 8-12 weeks, you should take a rest from training to recover. You can't train with crazy intensity day in and day out all year round. So, take a recovery period or a deload period, for around a week or so. Then change up your routine. Once you start a new routine, you make new progressive overload goals and you do it all again - continually stressing your muscles an adequate amount each week until the program is over. By doing this, you can get stronger and build muscle without overtraining and injuring yourself.
If you are training for strength, then you can focus on just chest presses and try to increase the weight and reps little by little. The chest press is a compound movement and it is really all you need when combined with other big grind exercises like rows and strict presses.
However, if want to build muscle, then having a good variety of exercises is ideal, so you can hit your chest from all angles and stress your pecs in other ways besides just increasing the weight load and reps.
For building your pec muscles with kettlebells, we recommend that you focus on increasing time under tension, decreasing rest time, increasing volume, increasing intensity, AND, when needed, upping the weight load.
All in all, if you want to see consistent improvements in strength and/or hypertrophy, then it’s important that you aim to adequately stress your muscles each week with some form (or forms) of progressive overload.
What about training for both strength and hypertrophy?
You most certainly can train for both strength and size. You just need to have a mix of rep ranges and weight loads. For example, each workout you may do a couple exercises with a lower strength-focused rep range and a couple exercises with a higher rep range for hypertrophy...OR...you can do a pyramid with your sets, starting with high reps and working down to low reps for strength...OR...maybe you are doing a split like an upper/lower split where you hit your chest muscles twice a week, in which case one workout can be strength focused and the other hypertrophy.
Another way to go about it is strictly focusing on strength for 4-8 weeks and then hypertrophy for 4-8 weeks, and continuing like this throughout the year.
When it comes to strength and hypertrophy, these two types of training complement each other. It’s easier for a bigger muscle to become a stronger muscle, and it's easier for a stronger muscle to become a bigger muscle.
Moreover, you will have a considerable crossover with both hypertrophy and strength training, meaning you will gain muscle when you work on strength and vice versa.
Now, let’s get into the 12 kettlebell exercises for your pecs. After, we will show you some examples of kettlebell chest workouts for muscle mass and strength.
Each exercise is designed to hit your chest differently. Together, you can work your chest from all angles, allowing for good development of the upper and lower heads of your pectoralis major and your pectoralis minor. The exercises will also help you to develop your deltoids, triceps, and lats.
Let’s go over each exercise, discussing how to do them, the area of the chest they work most, and some important tips for getting the best activation out of your pecs when performing them.
The kb floor press can be done with one or two kettlebells. We’ve demonstrated it with a single kettlebell.
How to do a kettlebell floor press:
Note: You can have your feet planted to the ground or extended to the ground. You will have more stability with your feet planted to the ground.
Muscles Worked: The floor press is going to work your pec major, with the upper head getting the most activation. It is also going to hit your triceps. Your shoulders will also be activated, but not as much as your triceps.
Since this exercise doesn’t involve a deep range of motion, like a chest press on a bench would, you won’t get a good stretch in your chest. To make up for that disadvantage, be sure to really squeeze the heck out of your chest at the top and be very slow and controlled on the eccentric phase (downward motion).
Also, try to keep your shoulder blades retracted and use as little shoulder movement as possible.
How to do a kettlebell seesaw floor press:
Note: You can have your feet planted to the ground or extended to the ground. You will have more stability with your feet planted to the ground.
Muscles Worked: The seesaw floor press is going to work your pec major, triceps and front delts. Your core will also be working to ensure there is no rotation of your spine, similar to how single arm presses work.
Be sure to get a good rhythm of the seesaw movement. One kb should be coming up as the other is coming down. This isn’t an alternating press.
While the version of the seesaw floor press that we did kept the shoulder blades retracted, you can also try a variation where you bring the shoulder off the ground as the kettlebell reaches the top. It will create a slight rotation of your thoracic spine and it can activate the pec minor and core in a more isotonic fashion. Feel free to give it a try once you get used to the seesaw movement, but start light as it is a slightly riskier option.
This exercise can be done with one or two kettlebells. We’ve demonstrated it with doubles.
How to do a decline floor press:
Muscles Worked: The decline floor press uses a glute bridge to get you body into a decline position, similar to a decline bench. Thus, it is going to work the lower head of your pec major the most.
Because you are in a glute bridge position, you can get a little more of a stretch in your pecs, which is great for hypertrophy. It is also going to work your core, glutes and hamstrings (isometrically), as you need to maintain the glute bridge the entire time. So, while the decline floor press emphasize the pecs, it is actually a full body exercise.
You can do this with two kettlebells, but we demonstrated it with a single kettlebell. You are likely going to be using a significantly lighter kettlebell than you use for presses.
How to do a kettlebell floor fly:
Muscles Worked: Pec major and minor, with emphasis on your inner chest.
Make sure your shoulder blades are down and back so your chest is up. This will allow you to get more of a stretch in your fly and it will also allow you to create maximum tension on your chest.
Your focus should always be on your chest, not your shoulders. Keep your elbow bent to ensure the tension is on your pecs and really use your chest to bring the kettlebell back up to midline.
Be very slow on the eccentric phase (as you lower the kettlebell down with the fly). And let your chest do the work as you raise the kettlebell up.
You can do this with two kettlebells, but we demonstrated it with a single kettlebell. You are going to be using a significantly lighter kettlebell than you do with presses.
How to do a kettlebell decline floor fly:
Muscle worked: Pec major and minor, with emphasis on the lower inner head.
The same tips apply here as the flat floor fly. The only thing that changes is that you will be in a glute bridge. So, maintain that glute bridge firmly. And thanks to the glute bridge, you are going to be getting a little more of a stretch in your chest.
Be very slow on the eccentric phase (as you lower the kettlebell down with the fly).
This exercise obviously involves just a single kettlebell. Ideally, it should be a heavy kettlebell, relative to your strength level.
Note: Crush grip involves holding the kettlebell on the bell with both hands. Thus, it is like a close grip press.
How to do a crush grip floor press:
Muscles Worked: Pec major and triceps, as well as your front delts. The emphasis is on your inner and upper chest.
Make sure you have a good grip on the bell. Your hand should be under the bell more than to the side, to ensure it is secure.
Focus on your chest, really squeeze your chest and move slowly and controlled to allow for maximum time under tension.
The pullover should be done with a single kettlebell.
How to do a kettlebell pullover:
Muscles Worked: Upper head of the pec major and lats.
Really focus on your upper chest when pulling the mace over. You will get a nice stretch on the downward phase and there should be a good contraction in your chest as you pull the kettlebell up and over.
You’ll need to kettlebells for this one. That don’t have to be the same weight, but the kettlebell should be about the same total height.
How to do a kettlebell push up:
Muscles Worked: Pec Major, Pec Minor, Triceps, Delts
What’s special about kettlebell push ups is that you can go very deep into your push up, which you can’t with regular push ups. This means you have a much greater range of motion. With that, you can get a fantastic stretch in your chest. As research shows, stretching tension is considerably more effective for building muscle than contraction tension. So, this is a great muscle building kettlebell chest exercise.
If you are lacking mobility in your shoulder, just go as deep as you can comfortably go. Work on improving your mobility over time, getting deeper and deeper into the push up.
How to do an offset push up:
Muscles worked: Pec major and minor, as well as your triceps and shoulders.
The uneven position is great for getting a deeper stretch on the working side and it promotes shoulder stability and core strength.
Be sure to hit both sides evenly by changing which hand is on the kettlebell every other set. Also, try to go as deep as you can on the working side.
How to do a crush grip push up:
Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major with an emphasis on your lower and inner chest. Your triceps and delts will be working as well, with your triceps being primary movers.
Try to go low enough to touch your chest to the kettlebell and press up so your arms are extended. This will allow you to get a good stretch at the bottom and a peak contraction at the top, which is great for building muscle.
How to do the incline press out:
Muscles Worked: Upper head of the Pectoralis Major and your front and side delts.
This is as much a shoulder exercise as it is a chest exercise. However, because you are pressing at an incline, you will get more chest activation, especially at the upper head of your pec major.
To make this exercise as effective as possible for your chest, make sure you are focusing on contraction of your pecs.
How to do an upright front raise:
Muscles Worked: Upper chest and front delt.
Make sure as you raise the kettlebell up you are bringing it towards your midline, as this will give you more chest activation. Also, use a cop grip as it will allow you to keep your wrist straight. As for your elbow, it should not be moving. Your arm will remain extended with a slight bend in the elbow throughout the exercise.
The kettlebell swing is a full body exercise that works a lot of muscles, but it does not work the pecs in any considerable manner. This is because you are not raising the kettlebell up with your arms, it comes up through the force of your hip drive. Your shoulders should be stabilizing the kettlebell and your chest should be proud as your shoulder blades are pulled back for good posture.
Although the kettlebell swing is not a chest exercise, it can be done during chest workouts for the purpose of keeping heart rate high to burn calories (and thus fat). Swings can be done in-between sets or they can be done as a finisher.
If you don’t have pairs of kettlebells and you want to do double kettlebell chest exercises, then just use two kettlebells of similar weight. For example, if you have a 35lb and a 44lb kettlebell, use one in each hand to do a double floor press. Just be sure to switch sides each set.
This may seem strange to those who are new to kettlebell training, but this is common practice in the kettlebell training community. A lot of people prefer to buy singles in a range of weight rather than buying pairs. This is because having different weights is more effective for most people’s training than having pairs. Plus, using two kettlebells of different sizes is pretty much just as effective as pairs, especially if the weight of the kettlebell is pretty similar (within 10lbs).
Related: Single vs Double Kettlebell Training
Most kettlebell trainees like to do full body workouts, or upper body and lower body focused workouts (which still include full body exercises). So, if you do upper, lower, or full body workouts, simply throw in a couple kettlebell chest exercises to ensure your chest is getting the attention it deserves, as a lot of total body kettlebell exercises don’t sufficiently work the chest enough for it to get bigger or stronger.
Now, if you want to do a chest only workout or a push workout, which includes your shoulders and triceps, the below workouts are good examples of how to structure that.
5 Minute Dynamic Warm Up (it’s important that you warm up before every workout).
Approximately 60 seconds rest between sets. Less time between sets if your kettlebell weight is not that challenging for you (i.e. 30-45 seconds) or more rest time (max 90 seconds) if it is very challenging.
Finisher (as many rounds as possible in 5 minutes):
This finisher is a great way to fully exhaust your body and maximize metabolic stress.
For the first month, focus on increasing reps and keep the workout consistent (although you can switch up the order of the exercises). After a month, swap out some exercises for different chest exercises. You can also focus on increasing the weight load or decreasing the rest time. After another month, change up the routine.
5 Minute Dynamic Warm Up
This is a strength focused workout, but it will also help you build muscle as well.
Ideally, you will want a range of kettlebell sizes for strength training. You can work up in weight with each set, starting light just to allow your joints and muscles to warm up to heavy weight.
Rest only when needed. You’ll do kettlebell goblet press for 10 reps then right into the push up for 1 rep, then the goblet press for 9 reps and the push up for 2, until you reach 1 rep for goblet press and 10 reps for push up.
Here are some good chest and shoulder stretches for before and after the workout.
Note: For any of the above workouts, you can use a single kettlebell or doubles. If you are using a single kettlebell, then just be sure to hit both sides equally. This will make your workout a little longer, but your rest time between sets can be shorter because one side was resting, so it shouldn’t be much longer.
If you want to focus more on conditioning while still focusing on hypertrophy, then use protocols like circuits, AMRAPs, and EMOMs for the main portion of your workout. Metabolic workouts are great for burning fat and building muscle at the same time. Keep the rest time low and the volume high.
More Kettlebell Training Resources:
8 WEEK KETTLEBELL TRAINING PROGRAM
If you want to improve your kettlebell skills, check out our kettlebell training guide. It is great for all levels. It has 41 exercises, 10 complexes (complexes are essential in kettlebell training), and an 8 week program that you can follow. All of the videos are full length so you can follow along with step by step instructions to master the movements/complexes.
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