Strengthen your back, biceps and shoulders using a kettlebell and these 15 moves

Man with top off on a balcony outside performing a squat with a kettlebell in one hand
(Image credit: Shutterstock images/ MihailoI02)

If your upper-body workouts are chest and tricep heavy, this 15-minute kettlebell workout targets your back, biceps, and rear shoulders in 15 moves. You only need one kettlebell and some pulling power to sculpt a strong back, so what’s not to love? 

The upper body pull workout by DanielPT Fitness quite literally pulls focus from chest-dominant exercises and gives love back to your posterior chain (that means the muscles located at the back of your body). That includes the rear deltoids (backs of the shoulders), lats, rhomboids, traps, and more. And, of course, the exercises also target the arm muscles responsible for pulling — your biceps. 

You’ll work for 15 minutes straight, focusing solely on 15 exercises that activate and strengthen muscles responsible for posture, balance, and stability. The workout follows 45 seconds on and 15 seconds rest. Not a kettlebell fan? You could use one of the best adjustable dumbbells instead. We love using them for home workouts because you can quickly change weight on the spot.

Woman holding a kettlebell in both hands during kettlebell workout performing an upright row close up

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

The workout follows a traditional resistance strength training program without sets and reps. 

Slow, controlled movements like bent-over rows, bicep curls, back pulls, and pullovers all focus on building muscle and strengthening the back, shoulders, and biceps. Try hitting between 8-12 reps consistently per exercise and side, and scale to your strength ability at all times. 

Use a weight that you can maintain unbroken sets with. I recommend an adjustable kettlebell or dumbbell because you can easily switch the weight without needing a gym full of heavy equipment. I trained with Bowflex’s adjustable dumbbells — here’s the pros and cons of using one if this sounds familiar.  

Watch the DanielPT Fitness 15-minute upper-body pull kettlebell workout 

You can forget push-ups or bench presses for the next 15 minutes. The upper-body workout focuses on some of the most underused and strained muscles in the body — your back. These days, tech has many people hunched over laptops in sedentary desk jobs for hours at a time (me included, ironically). Prolonged hunching causes internally rotated shoulders (slouching) and develops poor posture. 

Sitting also puts your hip flexor muscles in flexion and could weaken the hamstrings and glutes, contributing to lower back pain. If that sounds familiar, try this one move every day to reduce hip flexor pain

Over time, slouched shoulders cause tight and short pectoral muscles in your chest, leaving back muscles weak and strained, like the rhomboids responsible for retracting and rotating the scapula. It can lead to a reduced range of motion, and I’ve learned most clients require back-strengthening exercises to some degree to fix postural issues. 

Unresolved, these issues could lead to injury, but the good news? This compact bundle of back and shoulder exercises target the major muscle groups and stabilizing muscles, including the rotator cuff muscles that support your shoulder joints. 

These exercises only take 15 minutes to complete, and performed regularly alongside back stretches (here’s how to do the cat-cow), could build muscle and strength, improve posture, and develop balance and stability. 

Kettlebells are a brilliant way to train, and using them as part of a well-formed training program improves coordination and builds power and maximal strength. A study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that six weeks of biweekly kettlebell training could increase maximal and explosive strength, which is why so many coaches use them with athletes.

Kettlebells are a brilliant way to train, and using them as part of a well-formed training program improves coordination and builds power and maximal strength.

One small bite of advice before you get started. During kettlebell rows, give your lats (those large muscles that run down the sides of your body) a healthy squeeze as you pull your elbow back. 

This phase of the move is when the target muscles contract, so don’t rush it. We discuss how to do a single-arm dumbbell row here if you want to learn more. And during bicep curl variations, control the exercise and avoid swinging the weight — the move should isolate the biceps without aggravating your elbows.

Verdict

Woman facing away from camera with left elbow bent and right hand on left elbow performing back stretch

(Image credit: Getty images)

The workout delivers a fatiguing upper-body burn fit for even the strongest backs, biceps, and shoulders. But remember that progressive overload — adapting variables like sets and weights over time — is a tried and tested method for building strength and muscle mass. 

Here’s 5 clever ways to build muscle without lifting heavier weights for more ideas, and remember to warm up before you begin. 

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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.