It only takes one kettlebell and 10 moves to sculpt your arms, back, and shoulder muscles

Man on a beach at sunset performing a forearm plank with a kettlebell next to him with his hands on his head
(Image credit: Getty images)

Grab a kettlebell and try these 10 moves to build arm muscle and strengthen your shoulders and back. You could substitute the kettlebell used in this 10-minute beginner-friendly workout and use dumbbells instead, but either way, get ready to work your upper body. Hard (ouch). 

This arms and shoulders kettlebell workout puts the kettlebell front and center (I love to see it). This one piece of equipment can work with a much greater range of motion than barbells, which should help you target more muscles with better efficiency. But when exercising from home, I also like to mix in the best adjustable dumbbells. It allows me to scale weight up and down depending on the area I’m paying close attention to. 

You’ll spend 10 minutes exercising with Workout with Roxanne, who adopts 45 seconds on and 15 seconds rest for each exercise, working through 10 kettlebell exercises for 10 minutes. 

“You can do these exercises without any equipment,” she says, but recommends a Y-Bell or a 2L water bottle if you fancy shaking things up. Whatever you have to hand should work.  

Woman holding a kettlebell in a racked position against her shoulder, smiling, against a white back drop

(Image credit: Getty images)

If you’re a beginner, try this arm and shoulder workout as a standalone session, then combine it with other upper-body or lower-body regimes if you prefer a lengthier exercise session. I recommend beginning with this 7-move kettlebell leg workout which torched my leg muscles. And if you’re unfamiliar with using kettlebells, you can learn how to hold a kettlebell properly and the 5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners here. 

As mentioned, working out with kettlebells gives you a free movement pattern compared with barbells. Free weights allow you to wield your weights in different planes and through various ranges of motion — think single-sided clean and presses or developing single-arm snatch technique — but you can load more weight during barbell exercises. 

If your goal is to pack on lean muscle mass or build maximal strength, consider adding barbell exercises to your training program alongside functional training principles and progressive overload (manipulating variables like weight to build muscle over time). I cover why any of this even matters in the barbells vs dumbbells debate. 

Watch Workout with Roxanne’s 10-minute arm and shoulder kettlebell workout 

First and foremost, if your fitness goal is to lose weight and build muscle definition, you’ll need to factor in hormones, sleep quality, diet, exercise consistency, and stress management. And while we’d all love nothing more than to fix everything with a workout, the above play a pivotal role in how the body functions and your overall ability to burn calories. 

What I love about this workout is the exercises are accessible for all fitness levels. However, Roxanne doesn’t include tips on form, so if you’re unsure about a move, check the video below or ask a personal trainer in the gym. I also provide some recommendations below if you want to tighten up your technique. 

If you can, attack this spicy kettlebell workout with two kettlebells — one heavy and one light — or adjustable kettlebells that allow you to change weights using a dial. During the curl and press, keep your core tight and spine long, and try to avoid overextending your lower back, which happens when you push your hips forward under a heavy load. 

You can improve your grip and forearm strength by holding your kettlebell upside down during the overhead press. When gripping the handles, your arms must contract to stabilize your kettlebell in a top-heavy position. Again, you might be tempted to lean back and make space for the weight to pass overhead, but try not to. 

Instead, engage your core and pull your shoulders back and down. Create a shelf by reaching the weight overhead and slightly back — as if placing the kettlebell onto a shelf behind your back. Slightly push your head through your arms at the top. 

The dumbbell wide row is one of my favorite exercises to target the upper and midback and also works your lats — muscles that run down the sides of your back. Give them a good squeeze as you row and keep your hips square (this will help you avoid twisting to one side or throwing the weight). Try to push your bum behind you, maintaining a hip-hinge position with a flat back.

Tricep extension

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The most common mistake I spot during kettlebell halos is the movement coming from the torso; this is prime time to keep your upper body tight and stable, allowing your shoulders and arms to do the work as they rotate the weight above your head. 

Another tricky exercise is the kettlebell tricep extensions. Elbows should point forward with biceps close to your ears. If you notice your arms traveling wide or any niggling or pinching in your joints, learn how to do skull crushers instead. 

As a fitness trainer, I avoid making blanket recommendations on workout regimes or using a calorie deficit to reach body composition goals, as this differs from person to person. But we cover how to calculate body fat percentage and why it matters here if you want to discover more.  

“You cannot spot-reduce fat,” Roxanne says. “For best weight loss results, I recommend a slight calorie deficit, as slow and steady weight loss is best for overall health. Increase your exercise duration and intensity so your heart rate is elevated.” Roxanne adds that HIIT, cardio, or LIIT could work alongside workouts that will develop and strengthen specific muscles for your desired goals. “For example, Pilates, weight training, or bodyweight exercises.”

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified 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.