There are simple ways to make a push-up more challenging, like using one of the best kettlebells to create a deficit and work your upper body muscles harder. So that’s what I did every day for one week, and here’s what happened when I did.
Like a regular push-up, single-arm kettlebell push-ups target your pecs, triceps and anterior deltoids. Your core muscles will also work hard to keep you stable and protect your lower back throughout the push-up. Adding a kettlebell simply increases your range of motion, working muscles harder, for longer.
I settled on 70 reps a day for seven days, and here are my results.
How to do single-arm kettlebell push-ups
Although we say single-arm, you’ll still perform a push-up using both sides of your body. For this variation, simply grip the kettlebell handle in one hand while you do the exercise, elevating one side of your body.
- Start in a push-up position and place a kettlebell on the right side of your body
- Give your glutes and stomach a healthy squeeze to engage them, then check your shoulders align with your wrists and hips align with your shoulders
- If you have full-range push-ups in your locker, start on your toes or move to your knees to scale down the move
- Grip the kettlebell handle with your right hand directly below your shoulder. Your left hand should be on the floor below your left shoulder
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor. Keep your neck relaxed
- Pause, then explosively push the ground away back to your starting position. Complete reps on one side, then switch.
I did 70 single-arm kettlebell push-ups every day for one week — here’s what happened
Here’s what one week of kettlebell push-ups did for my body.
I got a much better pump
You might be wondering — what’s the point? Elevating one side of your body (or both if you try dual kettlebell push-ups) creates a deficit. That means your chest has further to travel to reach the ground beneath you, working upper body muscles harder through an increased range of motion.
And that’s not all. The increased range of motion means you’re working active muscles like your pecs, triceps, core and shoulders for longer; this taps into a popular hypertrophy (muscle-building) method called time under tension (TUT). Using TUT, you can fatigue muscles by increasing the amount of time they work for.
While using a kettlebell, I got an isolated pump through one side of my body and could feel a massive difference between both sides. Man, this was tough. Not only did the kettlebell deficit supercharge my push-ups, but 70 reps — which wouldn’t typically feel challenging for me — felt very demanding.
I had to keep an eye on my hips
Elevating your upper body can cause the hips to drop during the push-up. I had to put more focus into engaging my core and keeping my hips aligned with my shoulders at all times. At no point should you be pushing through your chest and leaving your hips behind — think of your body as one solid pillar and move your torso as a single unit.
I experimented with grip
When learning how to hold a kettlebell properly, grips suit different exercises. There are several ways to approach the single-arm kettlebell push-up. I started with the bell sitting upright and holding the handle using an overhand grip, but you could also lay the kettlebell down and rest your hand on the bell, or if you have strong wrists, keep the bell upright and rest your hand through the window onto the bell.
Whichever option you choose, don’t collapse into your wrists. If you’re new to the upper body exercise, start with the lowest deficit possible, then build up.
My left side struggled
While not strictly categorized as unilateral training, the single-arm kettlebell push-up does emphasize one side of the body at a time. The research suggests that unilateral exercises can help increase balance, coordination and muscular stability, ironing out potential imbalances between both sides of the body.
Throughout the week, my left side felt noticeably weaker, and I found I had to break up the reps more often, whereas I could complete the 10 reps unbroken when holding the kettlebell in my right hand. It’s helpful to hone in on one side like this sometimes, testing pressing strength, core ability and overall mobility.
The push-up variation demanded more strength than a regular push-up and helped me focus on what was happening on each side of my body. I used a mirror during my reps to help me look at depth and movement quality.
The DOMS hit hard
A little extra emphasis on the muscles goes a long way. I had serious DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) doing this for one week. That could be partly down to the extra experimentation I tried on several days. Hand positioning can help you switch how you target the muscles under load. For example, a narrow hand position emphasizes the triceps more (so does a diamond push-up), a wider stance hits the pecs and shoulders harder, and a staggered stance push-up can do both.
If you fancy an extra challenge, try taking one arm away. I’m nowhere near that variation just yet, but overloading one side of the body at a time could help build functional strength and muscle and help you prepare for more advanced push-up variations.
I did 70 single-sided kettlebell push-ups every day for one week — here's my verdict
Seven days later, how am I feeling? My upper body hurts, sure, but aside from that, I haven't suddenly sculpted the body of a Goddess. As we know, building muscle takes time, consistency and progression — the building blocks to progressive overload. So as much fun as I had pumping my pecs, triceps and shoulders through high-rep push-ups, I haven't changed aesthetically. Sadly.
However, my form is noticeably stronger and regular push-ups feel less of a slog. I've always been the strange person who enjoys push-ups, but anything above 20 without rest and I start to get that familiar upper body shake. Scaling up for a week helped me focus on form, and coming back to regular push-ups again feels like a joy.
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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.