3 best kettlebell exercises for chiseling back and biceps muscles, according to a master trainer

Man outdoors training holding a kettlebell in right hand
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We turned to a master kettlebell trainer for advice on which back and biceps exercises to prioritize if you’re exercising with kettlebells. The answers weren’t what we were expecting. 

If you're bored of hitting the gym or your workout studio armed with a kettlebell and a stale strength program, put aside the traditional bent-over rows and bicep curls for a moment. Certified personal trainer and Living.Fit master kettlebell coach Mike Silverman shares three of his favorite kettlebell upper body exercises for building muscle and strength in your back and biceps.

We recommend using one of our tried and tested best kettlebells for weightlifting, or a set if you prefer dual loading, and checking out each exercise below. We’ve also included a short back and biceps kettlebell workout you can try from home. Let’s crack on with it. 

3 kettlebell exercises for building your back and biceps 

The best kettlebell back and biceps exercises work multiple muscle groups together, which saves you time and maximizes efficiency. The three exercises below focus on the biceps and upper, mid and lower back muscles, recruiting stabilizers like the erector spinae (muscles that hug your spine) and various core muscles that wrap your torso to help keep you safe while you move. 

We love exercising with kettlebells at Tom's Guide. Bells provide a free movement pattern and help you get to know muscles you didn't even know you had. They lend well to functional training methods and you can build some pretty spicy kettlebell complexes with them by combining exercises into a flow routine. 

Mike Silverman

Mike is a certified personal trainer and also contributes to Living.Fit as a master kettlebell coach. 

Kettlebell crush curl: Biceps

Silverman tells us that the bicep isolation exercise is one of his favorites, so here’s how to crush it. 

Hold a single bell (competition size preferred) around the middle with both hands,” Silverman says. “Starting with your arms extended near your belt buckle, crush that thing like it's a skull and you're Conan. I'm talking white knuckles. Next, curl upward for four seconds, hold for two seconds to let your soul re-enter your body, then lower it back down for another 4 seconds.” 

Silverman adds that the key to the move is to get your chest muscles and front delts in the game alongside your biceps. 

Repeat 4 sets of 10 reps.

2. Kettlebell drop row: Mid to upper back

The drop row hits the mid to upper back muscles. “I'm a big fan of dynamic loading, and for my upper back, one of my go-to's is a drop row,” Silverman says.

“Hold a moderate-weight kettlebell and set it just in front of your feet with the handle pointed forward. Hinge until your chest is parallel to the floor and grip the bell with one hand, thumb forward.” 

Once set up, Silverman advises a single explosive movement to bring the bell toward your chest without any hip extension. Before the handle touches your sternum, switch hands, then control the weight descending with your other hand.

“The drop is the challenge here, so the focus is on controlling that dynamic load. Keep your glutes and core engaged to protect your lower back,” he adds. 

Repeat 4 sets of 10 reps.

Braced kettlebell RDL: Lower back

Silverman tells us you can’t go wrong with a braced RDL to strengthen your lower back muscles. Using both hands, clean one kettlebell toward your belly. Make sure the handle points forward and the bottom of the bell is on your belly, then engage your lats and push the bell into your abs, “bracing your abs against the bell,” Silverman instructs. 

Hinge forward under tension until you feel the hamstrings engage — everyone has a different range of motion, so only work to yours. Give your glutes a healthy squeeze as you slowly return to the top position. “This move is generally static for your lower back muscles, which helps build towards swings, heavier deadlifts and snatches,” Silverman explains. 

Repeat 4 sets of 10.

3-move kettlebell EMOM to try

Perform each kettlebell exercise for 4 sets of 10 reps, resting between 30-60 seconds between sets. Alternatively, try this kettlebell EMOM — meaning every minute on the minute. 

Minute 1: Crush curl x 10 reps

Minute 2: Drop row x 10 reps

Minute 3: Braced RDL x 10 reps 

Repeat for 4-6 rounds.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.