Forget the gym — chisel your upper body with just a kettlebell and 5 exercises

Woman holding a kettlebell on her right shoulder against a grey backdrop wearing white crop top
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Sometimes when it comes to working out the less equipment, the better. This especially runs true for anyone short on time, or those who don't like waiting around in the gym for their turn on a specific machine in the gym. This is when the trusty kettlebell comes in handy, and we've found five muscle busting moves for your next upper body workout.

The great thing about training your upper body muscles with one of the best kettlebells is the functional nature of kettlebell exercises. They often mimic real life movements while improving overall strength which can be applied to both sport performance and everyday tasks. 

The following upper body workout was designed by Matt Fox and is designed with convenience in mind. Just grab a kettlebell and get ready to work up a sweat. 

What is the workout?

The aim is to complete four sets of this five move upper body routine. With that in mind, pick a weight size that you know you will manage to work with for the full duration of the workout. Since there are a mix of single arm and double arm moves included, the reps vary from move to move. You will see this outlined in the videos below.

The videos also show Fox demonstrating each exercise. Good form is important to strive for when weight training in order to avoid any unwanted injuries and to ensure that the targeted muscles are effectively recruited, leading to more efficient muscle growth and strength gains. You'll also want to make sure you know how to hold a kettlebell properly.

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This kettlebell workout is an excellent routine for building upper body muscle and toning the arms, shoulders, and back. But want to know where exactly each move targets? Let's take a look.

Starting with the horn curl and press out, this exercise primarily targets the biceps, shoulders, and upper chest muscles. Next you have the overhead press, this exercise hones in on the shoulders and triceps. By lifting the kettlebell overhead in a controlled movement, you effectively work the deltoid muscles while also engaging the triceps to stabilize the movement. 

The bent-over row is an excellent exercise for targeting the back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and traps. By pulling the kettlebell up towards the chest while maintaining a bent-over position, you engage the muscles of the upper back, boosting strength and definition. 

The clue is in the name with the tri extension as this kettlebell exercise focuses on the triceps. By extending the kettlebell overhead and lowering it behind the head, you isolate and strengthen the triceps, helping to sculpt toned arms. Finally, the single-arm upright row targets the shoulders, traps, and upper back. By pulling the kettlebell up towards the chest while keeping the elbow high, you engage the deltoid muscles and traps, promoting shoulder stability and strength. 

Combining all these exercises into one workout will help to improve overall strength and endurance, enhance functional fitness for everyday activities, and even aid weight loss by increasing calorie expenditure during and after the workout. 

Using just one kettlebell makes this workout very convenient. But if you want to work on continuous strength gains then you might want to look into investing in an adjustable kettlebell or a wider selection of standard kettlebells to include progressive overload in your training.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.