kettlebell shoulder workouts

5 Kettlebell Shoulder Workouts With 15 Exercises For Your Delts and Rotator Cuff

October 01, 2021

When training your shoulders, you need to look at things from all angles. By that we mean aesthetics, strength, mobility and durability. This is exactly how we approach kettlebell shoulder workouts. We choose kettlebell exercises that hit all aspects of shoulder development.

In this article, you are going to learn about the anatomy and function of the shoulder and what makes kettlebell training special. Then, we are going to demonstrate 15 kettlebell shoulder exercises for strength, size, stability and mobility, all of which we will use to create 5 unique, challenging and effective kettlebell shoulder workouts.

kettlebells for shoulders

ANATOMY & FUNCTION OF THE SHOULDER 

In this article, we are going to be working on both strength and stability (and of course hypertrophy) of the shoulders. So, that means we need to look at the deltoids and the rotator cuff complex.

DELTOID MUSCLE:

kettlebell delts

Your deltoid is a large muscle that lies over the shoulder joint. It’s what gives your shoulders a rounded contour. 

The deltoid, while one muscle, has 3 distinct sets of muscle fibers called heads.

The three muscle heads of the deltoids are referred to as the anterior (front), lateral (middle) and posterior (rear) delts. 

Each head of the deltoid produces different movement of the shoulder joint.

The anterior head’s main responsibility is shoulder flexion (lifting your arm up), horizontal flexion, and medial rotation.

The lateral head’s main responsibility is performing shoulder abduction (lifting your arm to the side).

The posterior head’s main responsibility is shoulder extension, horizontal extension and lateral rotation. 

And all three heads work together to produce abduction of the shoulder joint and overall stability.

In terms of exercises... 

Your anterior delt is going to work the most during movements that bring your arm up or forward, such as front raises and presses.

Your lateral delt is going to work the most during movements that bring your arm up to the side, such as lateral raises and presses with your elbows out to the side. 

Your posterior delt is going to work the most during movements where you move your arm down through resistance or back with your elbows out to the side, such as pulldowns, pullovers, and flys/rows (horizontal extension). 

Our goal is to incorporate all of these movements into our kettlebell shoulder workouts so that you can have the best possible development of your deltoids. 

ROTATOR CUFF MUSCLES:

kettlebell rotator cuff

Your rotator cuff (RTC) consists of 4 muscles called the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor muscle and the subscapularis.

These muscles work together to stabilize your shoulder joint and keep your humerus (upper arm bone) in your shoulder socket. They also assist in raising and rotating your arm. 

While these muscles are small and deep unlike the deltoid which is a superficial muscle with a lot of growth potential, your rotator cuff should not be overlooked. Strengthening these muscles is very important for overall shoulder health, mobility and durability.

The beautiful thing about training with kettlebells is due to the nature of its design, they do a fantastic job of strengthening the rotator cuff muscles because they require more shoulder stability. 

So, with kettlebell shoulder workouts and exercises, we are going to be filling two needs with one deed, strength and hypertrophy of the deltoids AND strength and mobility of the rotator cuff complex. This is true and complete development of the shoulders.

ARE KETTLEBELLS GOOD FOR SHOULDERS? 

Kettlebells are fantastic for the shoulders on multiple fronts. With kettlebell shoulder workouts, and kettlebell exercises in general, you can gain strength and size in your deltoids, as well as optimal range of motion, AND you can strengthen and improve mobility of your rotator cuff complex.

Kettlebells do a fantastic job of targeting the delts - i.e. overhead presses, bottoms up presses, snatches - and due to how they are designed, the load positioning, and simply how they are used, they require greater stability demands which automatically digs deep into your shoulders to strengthen your rotator cuff complex.

Moreover, kettlebell training often involves exercises that move you through multiple planes of motion and through large ranges of motion, which enables you to optimize your shoulder mobility and its strength through all movement functions. 

All in all, kettlebells are great for both strengthening and developing your deltoids as well as strengthening and mobilizing your rotator cuff complex.

Are kettlebells hard on your shoulders? 

On the whole, kettlebells are great for shoulder health as they provide strength, mobility and stability, which leads to overall shoulder durability. However, if used improperly, meaning with poor form and/or too heavy of weight, you can hurt your shoulder. That said, this is true for any equipment or even bodyweight and calisthenics training.

If you are coming off an injury, be sure to start light or consult your doctor or physical therapist. 

Remember, the shoulder is a complex and complicated joint. It’s a joints that is very susceptible to injury. So, be sure to learn the movements correctly and then increase weight load. If you do this, you will not only avoid injury, but you will make your shoulders incredibly resilient to it.

kettlebell shoulder stability

WHAT MAKES KETTLEBELLS SPECIAL FOR SHOULDER WORKOUTS? 

Like dumbbells, kettlebells can build up the shoulders both in terms of strength and size, as well as fix muscle imbalances that often develop with equipment like barbells. 

But what makes kettlebell training special, particularly for the shoulders, is its unstable nature. 

Although dumbbells are good for shoulder stability too, as you will be using your arms independently of each other, they are perfectly balanced with a load that is placed directly over the palm of your hand. A kettlebell is not. Kettlebells make your often under-utilized stabilizer muscles fire off at a much high degree.

Not only does this help you maximize the strength of your shoulders, but more importantly it helps you to build injury resilience. And while you’d think this would make kettlebells more dangerous for the shoulder joint, it is actually the opposite. Because you must balance the kettlebell and really focus on stability, you will find the path of least resistance when moving a kettlebells, which is safest. So, you get all the gains without the strain. 

Related: Benefits of Kettlebell Training

HOW DO YOU TRAIN YOUR SHOULDERS WITH KETTLEBELLS? 

To train your shoulders with kettlebells, you must focus on a few things...

Strength, Stability, and Range of Motion (mobility).

This means full concentric and eccentric contraction, isometric contraction, unilateral exercises, explosive movement, and so on.

Moreover, you must work your shoulders through all movement patterns and functions. That way, you can hit all of the muscles that surround your shoulder joint (deltoids and RTC). 

Shoulder Flexion, Extension, and Abduction.

So, when doing a shoulder workout, you want to have a variety of exercises that hit the muscles from different “angles” and that focus on strength as well as stability.

The 15 kettlebell shoulder exercises below achieve just that. We have kettlebell press variations, stability based exercises, flys, rotational movements and more. Our goal is to build your shoulders to be strong, aesthetic, mobile and durable.

15 BEST KETTLEBELL SHOULDER EXERCISES 

Here are 15 of the best kettlebell shoulder exercises for strength, hypertrophy and rotator cuff stability. After we run through all of the exercises, we will incorporate them into various kettlebell shoulder workouts. 

Exercise 1: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press (0:15)
Exercise 2: Kneeling Windmill (0:51)
Exercise 3: Halo (1:40)
Exercise 4: Sushi Roll (2:07)
Exercise 5: Rotational Press (2:47)
Exercise 6: Kettlebell Shoulder C.A.R (3:19)
Exercise 7: Kettlebell Rear Delt Fly (4:05)
Exercise 8: Single Arm High Pull (4:37)
Exercise 9: Hang Snatch (4:57)
Exercise 10: Hang Snatch with Rotation (5:22)
Exercise 11: Bottoms Up Press (5:57)
Exercise 12: Crossbody Lateral Clean (6:21)
Exercise 13: Seated Press (6:48)
Exercise 14: Kettlebell Dead-Bug (7:21)
Exercise 15: Tactical Snatch (7:50)

Exercise 1: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press

kettlebell shoulder press

The half-kneeling overhead kettlebell press is a fantastic exercise for shoulder strength and hypertrophy. It completely eliminates the possibility of using your legs to help lift the kettlebell overhead, which is great for deltoid isolation.

Of course, your triceps and upper chest will be activated as well when pressing overhead.

Another great thing about this exercise is the half-kneeling position and the fact that you only use one arm at a time. This position is stable for single arm presses, yet at the same time, it quickly highlights any errors and imbalances. And this doesn’t just apply to your shoulders, but also your core and glutes as they must be activated to maintain spine and hip stability. 

All in all, it’s a very well rounded exercise for a shoulder workout. It will help you build shoulder, core and hip strength and stability while also honing in on asymmetries. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: This is an all around deltoid exercise, but it is especially targeting the front and side delts. It is also good for rotator cuff stability.

How to do a half-kneeling overhead kettlebell press:

  1. Get into the half-kneeling stance. Your front and back leg should be at a 90˚ angle with your back straight. Dig the ball of your back foot into the ground for stability. Note: If you are pressing on your left side, your right foot is forward, and vice versa. For this how to, we are pressing on the left side.
  2. Bring the kettlebell into a front rack position. So, your palm will be facing in and the bell will rest on the outside of your forearm.
  3. Be sure to maintain a nice, tall position and squeeze your glutes and abs at all time to keep upright and squared forward.
  4. Press the kettlebell up overhead. As the kettlebell is pressing up, you are bringing your shoulder out laterally and rotating your hand forward, so when your arm is extended up overhead, your palm is forward and the kettlebell is directly above your shoulder.
  5. Slowly lower your arm back down to the racked position through the same path of motion and repeat. 

Note: If you feel like you are sinking or folding during the lift, even when really focusing on having good form, it’s likely that you are using too heavy of a kettlebell or you are fatigued. Stop when your form breaks down. i.e. If you aim for 10 reps but your form starts to fault at 8 reps, then stop the set there and rest, then see how many you can do with good form on your next set if you plan to have another. 

Best Rep Range: The kettlebell half-kneeling overhead press is most effective in a range of 5-12 reps. Use a kettlebell weight that challenges you in this rep range (of course, a heavier kettlebell for the lower end of the range if possible). Also, start with your weaker side and match the reps on your stronger side so you can fix any imbalances in size and strength. 

Exercise 2: Kneeling Windmill with Press 

kettlebell shoulder strength

The kettlebell windmill is one of the best shoulder stability exercises there is. It’s a go to among kettlebell trainees and athletes alike.

With the half-kneeling position, you'll place more emphasis on the shoulder than the hips and lower body, as a standing kettlebell windmill demands much more from the lower body. 

As such, we like to do kneeling windmills for overall shoulder health. This exercise, along with Turkish Get Ups, is the ultimate durability movement. Having good shoulder durability is just as important as having powerful shoulders that can move heavy loads explosively.

The kettlebell windmill digs really deep into the shoulder in an isometric manner, working all of the small muscle fibers around your shoulder capsule as well as your deltoids. Moreover, it does so through rotation of the shoulder joint as you will be leaving your arm straight up as your torso moves toward the ground. 

But that’s not all...

With this particular exercise, we also added a press into the movement. So, first you press and as the kettlebell comes overhead, you perform the windmill. With that, you also get deltoid activation through isotonic contraction (lengthening and shortening - stretching and contracting). This turns the windmill into a durability and strength and hypertrophy exercise. It’s basically an all-in-one movement for the shoulders. PLUS, like any windmill it works your obliques and core for spinal stability and boosts your hip mobility! 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, Rear Delts, Rotator Cuff Complex. 

How to do a kettlebell windmill with shoulder press:

  1. The instructions are for the left side. Place your right knee down on the floor with your leg shooting straight backward. Place your left leg straight out to your side with your knee fully extended. Keep your left foot flat to the ground.
  2. Bring the kettlebell into the front racked position on your left side.
  3. With your torso upright and tall, keep your abs and glutes tight and press the kettlebell up overhead while rotating your torso to the left and lowering your side body toward the ground.
  4. When the kettlebell is up overhead, your right hand should be able to touch the floor and your left and right arm should make a straight line up and down.
  5. From here, continuing lowering your torso toward the ground until your elbow touches the floor (if you can). The movement is at the hips, so you are shooting your hips back, not laterally flexing your torso. Keep your eye on the kettlebell at all times and keep your arm fully extended overhead.
  6. Return back to the upright position slowly while simultaneously lowering the kettlebell back to the racked position.
  7. Repeat for the desired reps then perform the same number of reps on the opposite side (you can rest between sides). 

Best Rep Range: Aim for 5 very well controlled windmill presses on each side. Usually 3-6 reps is the best range for this exercise.

Exercise 3: Halo

kettlebell shoulder exercises

The kettlebell halo is a great shoulder and upper back mobility exercise. We usually like to start our workouts with this exercise as it ensures the shoulders are primed and fluid for what’s to come. 

Note: While it’s mainly a mobility exercise for the shoulders and scapula. It is also an effective exercise for strengthening your deltoids, rotator cuff muscles AND even your core.

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, Rear Delts

How to do kettlebell halos:

  1. We are demonstrating the halo from a tall kneeling position. Get into a tall kneeling position. Your torso should be upright and tall with your glutes and core tight.
  2. Hold the kettlebell bottoms up with your hands on the horns of the handle (on the sides right under the top of the bell).
  3. From about chest height, bring the kettlebell up and over your right shoulder, behind your back and then back down over your left shoulder back to the starting position at chest level.
  4. For each rep, you bring the kettlebell around your head the opposite way. Be sure to keep your ribs tucked at all times and your head looking straight forward. The movement is completely at your shoulder joint and scapula.

Best rep range: Aim for 10-20 reps each way. This exercise is meant to be light weight. Focus on good form and improving range of motion. 

Exercise 4: Sushi Roll

kettlebell shoulders exercise

This is an exercise we like to call the Sushi Roll, courtesy of Jarrod Cardona of The Training Spot in Orlando. 

It’s very similar to an arm bar, but both legs will be straight out. 

Like the arm bar, this exercise is great for strengthening your shoulder stabilizer muscles (rotator cuff) as well as opening up your chest.

Also, because your legs are straight out, it places a higher demand on your stability (and with that shoulder stability). 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Rotator Cuff Complex - subscapularis, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus)

How to do a kettlebell sushi roll:

  1. From a side lying position on the floor, grab the kettlebell with your left hand and then roll back to a supine position (lying with back on floor). This just ensures your safely get the kettlebell into place.
  2. Bring your right foot to the floor with your knee bent and keep your left leg straight out. As you press the kettlebell up with your left arm, extended your right leg straight out to bring it together with your left leg. Your right arm should be out and up to the side.
  3. Now, your left arm will be pressed straight up with the kettlebell in line with your shoulder. So, from here, you are going to roll to your right side (keeping your right arm in place and your left arm extended up). Roll all the way to your side while keeping your left arm directly up perpendicular with the floor.
  4. Pause for moment, then roll back down to the supine position and repeat.
  5. Do the same number of reps to the opposite side.

Best Rep Range: 5-8 reps on each side. However, as little as 3 reps can still be effective depending on the weight. 

Exercise 5: Rotational Press 

kettlebell shoulder presses

Here we have the single arm kettlebell rotational press. It takes the standard overhead press and turns it multiplanar as you will be rotating while you press overhead. 

The standard single arm kettlebell shoulder press is great for core strength as you are pressing with just one side requiring your core to activate for spinal stability (to avoid lateral flexion - aka bending to the side). With the rotation, you take the demand for core strength up several notches.

Overall, this is a very dynamic exercise that is going to force control through your entire kinetic chain, from the ground up. As you press the kettlebell, you are rotating your hips and torso to the opposite side of the pressing arm. Because you are not just rotating at the torso, but also the hips, your working side’s leg must rotate in the same direction by coming up onto the ball of your foot. This makes it a very athletic movement. So, for our athletes out there who want to build pressing power and core, hip and glute strength through rotation, this is an excellent kettlebell exercise to incorporate into your shoulder workouts.

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front and Side Delt (Rear Delt secondary) 

How to do a kettlebell rotational press:

  1. Get into a standing position with your feet hip width apart and hip neutral.
  2. Position the kettlebell in the front rack position on your left side. Bring your right arm up laterally to your side (even with your shoulder) for balance. At this point, your body is perfectly squared forward.
  3. From here, press up with your left arm while simultaneously rotating to your right side. As you rotate, your left leg, hips and core should follow the same path of motion. Your right foot will shift slightly in that direction as well so your right thigh is shooting in the same direction as your left.
  4. When your left arm up extended up overhead, slowly lower it back down to the racked position while simultaneously rotating back to the squared forward position.
  5. Repeat for a number of reps and then perform another set on the opposite side when ready. 

Best Rep Range: 6-15 reps 

Exercise 6: Kettlebell Shoulder C.A.R. 

kettlebell rotator cuff exercises

C.A.R. stands for Controlled Articular Rotations. So, this kettlebell exercise strengthens your shoulder through a perfect expression of what the joint is capable of. 

On the whole, this is a superb exercise to achieve and maintain greater control over your shoulder mobility, as well as to improve your shoulder stability and durability, and thus overall shoulder health. It’s also a great way to self-assess your movement capacity and build kinesthetic awareness at the shoulder level. 

We like to use this as a warm up exercise to prime the shoulders via tension and force through a wide range of motion. This range of motion is not one that is often focused on by beginners, so this will prep and teach your mind and body of its importance.

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Rotator Cuff Complex, Front Delt, Side Delt 

How to do kettlebell shoulder CARs:

  1. Get into a standing position with your feet hip width apart and hip neutral.
  2. Starting on your right side. Bring the kettlebell to the front rack position.
  3. Keeping the bell resting on your forearm, bring your elbow up and out so it is directly out to your side and just above shoulder height and then continue through this path of motion moving your elbow slightly back behind you and then down and back to the starting position, all the while keeping your head, torso and hips squared forward. Think about it like you are drawing a circle with your elbow as the kettlebell rests on the back of your forearm.
  4. Repeat for a number of reps and then do the same on the opposite side.

Best Rep Range: Aim for 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps each side. 

Exercise 7: Kettlebell Rear Delt Fly

kettlebell rear delt exercises

You are probably used to seeing people do rear delt flys from a bent over position when using free weights. However, this one is done from a tall standing position. 

It’s a simple exercise, but it’s definitely not easy if appropriately loaded.

The reason this works so well for the rear delts is due to the kettlebell positioning. Unlike a dumbbell where the load is evenly distributed at the center of your hand, the majority of the kettlebells weight is positioned behind your hand, so when performing the fly motion, it does really well to activate your rear delts like this.

Another thing to note is that your middle delts will be significantly more activated than with a bent over rear delt fly from the standing position simply due to gravity. Your side delts will be working to keep your elbow up laterally. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Rear and Side Delts.

How to do a kettlebell rear delt fly:

  1. Get into a standing position with your feet hip width apart and hip neutral.
  2. Position the kettlebell in the front rack position on your right side. Bring your left arm up laterally to your side (even with your shoulder) for balance.
  3. While keeping squared forward, bring your elbow up and to the side so it is in line with your shoulder and move it back as far as you can comfortably go. Really squeeze your posterior delt as you move your elbow up and back. You’ll need to keep your core tight as well (which also makes this exercise good for core strength, like any single arm kettlebell exercise).
  4. Slowly return it back to the starting position through the same path of motion in reverse.
  5. Repeat for a number of reps and then perform the same amount of reps on your left side. 

Best Rep Range: We like to use a higher rep range for this one. Aim for 10-15 reps. 

Exercise 8: Single Arm High Pull

kettlebell middle delt exercises

The kettlebell single arm high pull is total body exercise, but it does emphasize the shoulders due to the pulling motion. 

This exercise is going to work your hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, and quads thanks to the swinging motion. The first half of the movement is a kettlebell swing (the high pull is a progression to a single arm kettlebell swing, so be sure to master the swing first). 

As you swing the kettlebell up past your hips, you are going to start pulling the kettlebell up in line with your shoulder, bringing your elbow to shoulder level and then back behind you. With that, you are going to work your abs, rhomboids, lats, traps, arms, and shoulders.

In terms of the shoulder movement. It’s sort of like a hybrid front raise, lateral raise, and fly/row. As such, you are going to hit all three heads of your deltoids effectively. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, and Rear Delts

How to do single arm kettlebell high pulls:

  1. Stand about a foot and half behind the kettlebell. Feet shoulder-width apart, or even a little wider is fine, with toes facing forward, or slightly pronated outward (whatever feels more natural for you).
  2. Put a little bend in your knee, shoot your hips back, chest down, and back flat. This is a hinge pattern. So, with that, our hamstrings and glutes should be active immediately, before even touching the bell.
  3. Bring your hands forward and grab the handle of the kettlebell with your right hand. Put the kettlebell at a slight angle towards you. Set your shoulder blades back so your lats are tight, core is braced, quads are tight, and glutes are engaged.
  4. Hike the bell back like its a football, so it goes   between the leg. As soon as your hands go past your quads, drive your hips forward and propel the bell up and forward.
  5. As the kettlebell comes up, pull the kettlebell toward your right shoulder. Keep your wrist straight and horizontal with your elbow high at about shoulder level.
  6. When the kettlebell is above your shoulder and your elbow back behind you (body still squared forward), push the kettlebell back out along the same path of motion and let it drop back down into the lower portion of the kettlebell swing.
  7. Allow the kettlebell to swinging through your legs and repeat.
  8. After a set number of reps, perform the same number of reps with your left arm.

Best Rep Range: 8-16 reps (but as many as 20 can be effective as long as form stays on point) 

Exercise 9: Hang Snatch

kettlebell front delt exercises

The hang snatch is another full body ballistic exercises that emphasizes shoulder strength and stability. 

It should be noted that you are not pressing the kettlebell overhead, you are pulling it overhead from a swinging motion between your legs.

So, it’s an explosive exercise for your shoulders on the way up. You are whipping it up overhead by driving your elbow up. This is great for the front delts and even your upper chest (it’s a forward flexion motion of the shoulder joint), and the side and rear delt play an important role for stabilization, as does your scapula and back muscles.  

However, you'll want to slowly lower the kettlebell down to a front rack position like you would with a shoulder press. As such, your deltoids will be working in the same way they would with an overhead press on the eccentric phase.

Furthermore, as with any swing and single arm swing, your hamstrings and glutes will also be activated through hip extension and your core for stability. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, and Rear Delts 

How to do a hang snatch:

  1. The set up for this exercise is just like a kettlebell swing. You start with the kettlebell on the floor and hike it back between your legs and then whip it forward by extending at the hips.
  2. As the kettlebell comes back through your legs, you are going to pull your elbow up explosively to bring the kettlebell overhead. It is one smooth, dynamic motion using both lower and upper body force.
  3. Pause for a moment when the kettlebell is overhead, then slowly lower it down to a front rack position like you would a kettlebell shoulder press.
  4. From here, let the kettlebell drop down and between your legs and repeat.

Note: A “hang” snatch means you are not bringing the kettlebell to the floor like a standard snatch. Moreover, this variation involves a slight swing (it’s not as exaggerated as a normal kettlebell swing, but the motion is there so you can produce more power from your lower body and thus load with a heavier bell).

Best Rep Range: 5-12 reps

Exercise 10: Hang Snatch with Rotation 

kettlebell side delt exercises

This is the same base movement as the previous exercise but with rotation added into the movement. 

So, as you snatch the kettlebell overhead, you are going to rotate at your torso in the direction of the working side. Your hips will remain squared forward.

Note: The rotation should begin when the kettlebell is moving past your shoulder height. 

When your arm is up overhead, your core will be twisted so your shoulders are almost at 90˚ from center in the direction of the kettlebell’s side.

From here, you rotate back to forward position with the kettlebell still overhead, and then lower the kettlebell to the racked position and repeat. 

With all that, you are working all of the same muscles as a regular hang snatch in addition to your oblique sling system, giving you more power and explosion through rotation. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, and Rear Delts

How to do a kettlebell hang snatch with rotation:

  1. The set up for this exercise is just like a kettlebell swing. You start with the kettlebell on the floor and hike it back between your legs and then whip it forward by extending at the hips.
  2. As the kettlebell comes back through your legs, you are going to pull your elbow up explosively to bring the kettlebell overhead.
  3. As the kettlebell comes up past your shoulder, start to rotate at your core while keeping your hips squared forward.
  4. When the kettlebell is completely overhead, your shoulders should be almost at 90˚ to the working side. Note: The overhead snatch with rotation is one smooth, dynamic motion using both lower and upper body force.
  5. Pause for a moment at the top in rotation and then rotate back to squared forward (with the kettlebell still overhead).
  6. Once you are squared forward, slowly lower the kettlebell to the front rack position and repeat with the swing.

Best rep range: 5-10 reps (Note: you'll be using a lower weight than you do with a standard hang snatch).

Exercise 11: Bottoms Up Press

kettlebell overhead press

The bottoms up press is an excellent kettlebell shoulder exercise created by famed kettlebell coach Pavel Tsatsouline. 

Holding the kettlebell in this position offers various benefits.

First, it places more demand on your rotator cuff muscles (and core) as to stabilize the kettlebell in the bottoms up position. 

Second, because the kettlebell is in this position, you will automatically be working on greasing the groove of your pressing motions, finding the path of least resistance and most stability. 

Lastly, the bottoms up press is actually easier on your elbow and shoulders as the pressure is directly in the palm of your hand (similar to a dumbbell), forcing you to keep your wrists straight and your elbows in a good position (as you’ll be pressing from a neutral grip with your elbows forward).

Note: It’s also a great alternative and rehab movement for those who have shoulder pain when pressing with their arms in a lateral position. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front & Side Delts

How to do bottoms up presses:

  1. From a standing position, hold the kettlebell bottom up, with the hand directly in the palm of your hand. Hold your opposite arm out to your side to help with balance.
  2. With your wrist in a neutral position and your elbow out in front of you (like a hammer grip), press the kettlebell up overhead.
  3. Lower it back down slowly while maintaining its balance and repeat.
  4. Perform the same number of reps on the opposite side.

Best Rep Range: 8-15 reps 

Exercise 12: Crossbody Lateral Clean 

shoulder exercises with kettlebells

The crossbody lateral clean is a ballistic rotational exercise.

Before trying this exercise, make sure you have mastered the clean first. It is a very technical total body movement that emphasizes the core and shoulders. 

Rotation will occur at both the hips and torso, making this a very effective exercise for athletes who do rotational sports. Nevertheless, it is effective for any trainee as this will help you build power, strength, mobility and stability through all three planes of motion, and most importantly the transverse plane. 

In regards to the shoulders, the crossbody rotational clean motion does a great job of enhancing mobility while also building dynamic strength and stability. Not only will it make your shoulders more powerful, but it will make them more fluid as well.

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Deltoids & RTC

How to do the crossbody lateral clean:

  1. Bring the kettlebell into the front racked position (we will explain this using the left arm).
  2. From a squared forward stance, shift your right foot slightly to the right then bring your left heel off the ground and rotate your hips and torso to the right side as you push the kettlebell forward out of the racked position, swinging it down and back around.
  3. As the kettlebell comes down and back to the left, rotate your hips and torso all the way to the left side (almost 180˚) and clean the kettlebell back to the racked position.
  4. Continuing pushing the kettlebell out of the racked position, swinging it across your body and rotating in both directions for a number of reps and then repeat to the opposite side (using your right arm). 

Note: Be sure to watch the video as this exercise is best learned through watching it. We also have a Kettlebell Training e-Guide with a step-by-step instructional video for this exercise and many others (including workouts).

Best Rep Range: 6-12 reps (start light until you get the form down pat).

Exercise 13: Seated Press

shoulder workout with kettlebells

This seated press doesn’t require any bench or seat. You will be doing this from the floor.

By sitting on the floor, you are taking your legs completely out of the equation, allowing for the best possible deltoid isolation. 

The movement itself involves shoulder flexion and abduction so it’s going to emphasize your anterior (front) and lateral (side) delts. 

With that, the kettlebell you are using will feel harder than when doing a standing press, simply because your body is at a biomechanical disadvantage.

Shoulder muscles worked: Front & Side Delts

How to do a single arm kettlebell seated press:

  1. Sit on the floor with your torso upright. You legs can be extended out and to the sides as seen in the pic for best stability.
  2. Bring the kettlebell to the racked position with your right arm.
  3. From here, while keeping your core tight (this is also a great exercise for core strength), press the kettlebell overhead. The motion of the press will be up and out (shoulder flexion and abduction).
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell back down to the racked position through the same path of motion and repeat.
  5. After you finish the set on your right side, perform the same number of reps on your left side. 

Best Rep Range: 8-15 reps is best but as low as 6 reps and as much as 20 reps can be effective as well, so actually 6-20 reps. 

Exercise 14: Kettlebell Dead-Bug 

shoulder kettlebell

This might look like a core exercise, and that’s because it is, but it is also good for your shoulders, chest, and lats. 

We like to do this exercise at the end of a kettlebell shoulder or upper body workout to really burn out the shoulders and get the core working through flexion which is great for the abs (as all the other exercises have focused on core rotation or anti-rotation, which is great for the entire core, but especially the obliques). 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Side & Front Delts.

How to do the kettlebell dead bug:

  1. Lie down flat on the floor holding the kettlebell at the sides of the handle with your palms facing in and touching the top of the bell (bottom of the bell to the ground). Keep a little bend in your elbow and knees.
  2. Perform a cruch while simultaneously pulling the kettlebell overhead to above your chest and bringing your knees to your upper ab level. Your knees should almost meet your wrists.
  3. Squeeze your abs and then slowly lower your legs and your shoulder blades to the ground as you bring the kettlebell back overhead to the ground.
  4. Repeat for a number of reps. 

Best Rep Range: 10-20 reps

Exercise 15: Tactical Snatch 

best kettlebell exercises for shoulders

The tactical snatch is just like the hang snatch but more dynamic as you will be switching hands as the kettlebell comes up. This forces you to really focus on shoulder stability and is great for coordination as you shift the weight contralaterally each rep to your other hand. 

Don’t attempt the tactical snatch until you’ve first mastered the hang snatch. 

Shoulder Muscles Worked: Front, Side, and Rear Delts

How to do a tactical snatch:

  1. The set up for this exercise is just like a kettlebell swing. Start with the kettlebell on the floor, and with your left arm, hike it back between your legs and then whip it forward by extending at the hips.
  2. As the kettlebell comes back through your legs, swing it up to about shoulder level then switch it to your right hand and bring it up overhead.
  3. Pause for a moment when the kettlebell is overhead, then slowly lower it down to a front rack position.
  4. Push the kettlebell out of the racked position and let it swing down between your legs, then explode at the hips bringing it back through your legs and up, and just like you did with the left hand, switch it from the right hand to the left hand and bring it up overhead. This is all one, smooth, dynamic motion.
  5. Continuing alternating sides each rep. 

Best Rep Range: 16-24 reps (so, 8-12 each side). 

Do kettlebell swings workout shoulders?

The kettlebell swing is not actually a shoulder exercise, but it does work the shoulders. Just not like beginners may think. Although you are bringing the kettlebell up to shoulder level with your arms, the force is created by your hips (glutes and hamstrings) through explosive hip extension. That said, your shoulder will be working to stabilize the kettlebell and keep your shoulder joint in place. Furthermore, they will be moving through a large range of motion, which is great for mobility. On top of that, you still do get some good deltoid activation even though you shouldn’t be using your shoulders much to swing the kettlebell up. The heavier you go, the more this becomes apparent.

Related: What Muscles do Kettlebell Swings Work? 

5 BEST KETTLEBELL SHOULDER WORKOUTS

Using the kettlebell exercises above, let’s create 5 effective workouts that you can do. Each workout will use a different protocol (workout structure). Moreover, each workout will have a selection of exercises that provide the best variety for the shoulders as to eliminate redundancy and hit all angles. 

Be sure to warm up before any workout.

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout #1:

This workout is based on sets and reps, which we’d call a traditional protocol.

  1. Halo: 2 sets x 20 reps (10 each way)
  2. Hang Snatch: 3 sets x 8-10 reps each side
  3. Seated Press: 3 sets x 10-15 reps each side
  4. Crossbody Lateral Clean: 3 sets x 8-10 reps each side
  5. Dead Bug: 3 sets x 10-12 reps

Rest 30-90 seconds between sets.

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout #2: 

For this one we are going to use a circuit protocol. There will be 3 circuits, each with 3 exercises and done for 3 rounds. Once one circuit is done for 3 rounds, you move on to the next until all three circuits are completed.

20 seconds rest between exercises in the circuit, 30-60 seconds between rounds and 60-90 seconds between circuits. 

Circuit 1:

  1. Kettlebell C.A.R. x 6 reps each side
  2. Halo x 16 reps (8 each direction)
  3. Sushi Roll x 5 reps

Circuit 2:

  1. Tactical Snatch x 16 reps total
  2. Crossbody Lateral Clean x 8 reps each way
  3. Rotation Press x 8 reps each side

Circuit 3:

  1. Bottoms Up Press x 8 reps each side
  2. Single Arm High Pull x 6 reps each side
  3. Half-Kneeling Overhead Press x 6 reps each side

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout #3:

This is a HIIT workout. It is total body with emphasis on the shoulders.

The interval time scheme is 30/15, meaning 30 seconds work followed by 15 seconds rest until the workout is over.

So, as soon as you complete an exercise for 30 seconds, you rest 15 seconds then move on to the next.

Each exercise will only be done once. This is one large round.

Total Workout Time: ~11 minutes

  1. Halo
  2. Kettlebell Rear Delt Fly (Right)
  3. Kettlebell Rear Delt Fly (Left)
  4. Tactical Snatch
  5. Bottoms Up Press
  6. Crossbody Lateral Clean (Right)
  7. Crossbody Lateral Clean (Left)
  8. Rotational Press (Right)
  9. Rotational Press (Left)
  10. Seated Press (Right)
  11. Seated Press (Left)
  12. Kneeling Windmill with Press (Right)
  13. Kneeling Windmill with Press (Left)
  14. Sushi Roll (Right)
  15. Sushi Roll (Left)

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout #4: 

This is an As Many Rounds As Possible workout. 

You will have two sets of AMRAPs, each done for 6 minutes. You will rest 2 minutes between the first and second AMRAP. So, the total workout time is 14 minutes. 

Only rest when truly needed during the AMRAP. The goal is to push yourself.

Record how many rounds you complete so if you do this workout again, you can attempt to do more.

AMRAP 1:

  1. Rotational Press x 5 reps each side
  2. Halo x 10 reps
  3. Single Arm High Pull x 5 reps each side 

AMRAP 2:

  1. Seated Press x 5 reps each side
  2. Dead Bug x 5 reps
  3. Crossbody Lateral Clean

Again, you can rest during your AMRAP, but try to keep it short. i.e. if you need a quick rest, take 10-20 seconds and get back to it..or simply slow down your pace. 

This is meant to be a quick workout to burn those delts, as well as calories!

Kettlebell Shoulder Workout #5:

This is a mixed protocol shoulder workout. It contains 3 blocks. Each block has a different protocol.

You will rest 2-5 minutes between blocks.

Block 1 (Stability Workout):

  1. Halo x 20 reps (1 set)
  2. Kneeling Windmill x 5 reps each side (1 set)
  3. Kettlebell CAR x 8 reps each side (1 set)
  4. Sushi Roll x 5 reps each side (1 set)
  5. Bottoms Up Press x 10 reps each side (1 set)
    - Rest 60 seconds between exercises.

Block 2 (EMOM - Every Minute On The Minute):
- Tactical Snatch x 8 Reps for 6 minutes

Block 3 (Sets x Reps):

  1. Seated Press: 5 sets x 10 reps each side
  2. Rear Delt Fly: 5 sets x 10 reps each side
    - Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises

Related: SFS FIVE Kettlebell Workout Package

kettlebell workouts for shoulders

HOW OFTEN TO TRAIN SHOULDERS?

The shoulders can handle quite a bit of volume. Ultimately, you should aim to train your shoulders for 8-20 sets each week, but this can be divided into different training sessions. 

For example... If you do two upper body and two lower body workouts each week, you could split those sets into two sessions. If you do shoulder specific workouts, you could get the total volume (sets) done in one workout. If you do full body workouts, you could split it up into 3 or 4 sessions.

All that said, for best development of your shoulders (both strength and size), there is a happy medium between volume and frequency. Ideally, you want to aim for training your shoulders twice a week, so your total weekly volume would be split into two sessions that are spread apart by a couple/few days. 

Note: Beginners can see fantastic results with higher frequency and lower volume per workout, whereas more advanced trainees need to emphasize volume more. For most intermediate lifters, the middle ground between volume and frequency is optimal (which would call for a training split like an upper lower or some hybrid form of a body part split like chest/shoulders, back/arms, legs/core). 

HOW TO USE KETTLEBELLS WITH OTHER EQUIPMENT FOR SHOULDER? 

You don’t have to do kettlebell only shoulder workouts of course. You can mix them into your routine just like you would any other equipment (i.e. barbells, dumbbells, cable machines).

If you are more of a conventional lifter, you will see some great results if you add some kettlebell exercises into your workouts. Kettlebells will hit your shoulders differently and that is always great for progression and shocking your muscles.

If you are an avid kettlebell trainee, then you can stick to kettlebell only workouts, but we’d recommend mixing in other equipment as well. As you become advanced, variety is a very important aspect of progressive overload. Plus, it’s always nice to keep things fresh. 

More Kettlebell Training Resources:

Final Note

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about kettlebell training or shoulder workouts. 

Be sure to check out our Kettlebell Training e-Guide and our SFS FIVE Kettlebell Workout Package which has 5 full length follow along workouts that we are sure you’ll love (and make for the perfect weekly routine).

Buy Kettlebells from SET FOR SET

kettlebell shoulder training



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.