Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises for Better Sport-Specific Performance

STACK Expert Patrick Mendez serves up six kettlebell exercises to strengthen your shoulders and improve your sport-specific performance.

Kettlebell shoulder exercises are great for improving your sport-specific performance. Kettlebell (KB) training originated in Russia many years ago, gaining popularity in the United States only in the last decade.

Unlike dumbbells, kettlebells are designed with the majority of the weight at the bottom and a unique handle on top, which allows you to use two hands simultaneously in various positions. Since the KB mass is centered away from the handle, you can position the bulk of the weight farther away from your hands and body, altering your center of gravity. This adds up to more calories burned, greater strength gains and more functional movement improvements.

Most sports require some form of shoulder strength, but most average people have shoulder weakness. They don't make enough use of their deltoid muscles, rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers, which lift the arm above the head.

Although shoulder size may be genetic, shoulder strength is not. Just because your shoulders look big does not mean they are strong. If you improve shoulder strength and power, you will notice gains in performance.

Below are six kettlebell exercises that will help increase strength and movement.

Elite Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises

1. KB Arm Swing

  • Start in a squat position with a slight forward bend.
  • Grab the KB between your legs.
  • Perform a powerful upward movement, backward hip extension and back extension thrust.
  • Use your arms as a "swing" to pull the KB to chin height.
  • Keep your arms relatively straight while maintaining the swinging movement through all repetitions.
  • Focuses: legs, core, anterior deltoids.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 15

2. Single-Arm KB Snatch

  • In a deep squat, with the KB between your legs, explode upward (almost trying to jump).
  • Perform a pulling movement with your arm—like pulling the cord of a lawnmower from between your legs.
  • Follow by trying to "punch" the ceiling.
  • The KB should point straight up with your body positioned upright underneath the weight.
  • Reset. Repeat.
  • Focuses: legs, core, rotator cuff, scapula stabilizers, posterior deltoids.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 8-10

3. KB One-Arm High Pull

  • Swing the KB between your legs.
  • Quickly reverse the action with a rapid hip and knee extension.
  • Simultaneously pull the KB in, ensuring it doesn't go anywhere near your head.
  • As you pull the KB toward you, make a right angle with your arm.
  • Keep your elbow as high as the KB and avoid hyperextending your shoulder (i.e., do not pull it back too far).
  • Crush grip the handle at all times.
  • Exhale during the upward phase, inhale as you lower the KB back between your legs.
  • Focuses: legs, core, middle deltoid, trapezius.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 8-10

4. Lawnmower Pulls

  • Start in a squat position with one KB in front of or beside your opposite foot.
  • Move upward, rotate your core and lift the KB across and up like starting a lawnmower. The KB should be pointed out, straight in hand.
  • Reset. Repeat.
  • Focuses: legs, core, obliques, rotator cuff, posterior deltoids.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 10

5. Shoulder Press

  • Perform this movement either while standing or seated.
  • Perform like a regular Shoulder Press, except do not let the KB rotate and rest against your wrist. It should be pointing up throughout all repetitions.
  • Focuses: anterior and middle deltoids.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 6-8

6. Bent Rows/Bent Reverse Flys

  • Start in the Bent Row Position—knees slightly bent, forward bend at hips and back just above parallel to floor.
  • Alternate performing Rows and Reverse Flys.
  • Focuses: posterior deltoids, external rotators, mid and lower traps.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 6-8
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