6 Best Kettlebell Exercises to Strengthen Your Back
A strong back is more than just aesthetics. The back is the foundation of almost all movements and postures. The spine and the attached muscle groups hold the body upright and connect most of our body together. So, although a strong back can be nice to look at, back strength is even more essential for daily life, performance, and injury prevention.
The kettlebell is a fantastic workout tool that engages several muscle groups in the body with one exercise. Because the back muscles are such an intricate part of stabilization and movement, many different kettlebell exercises activate them. The following are few of our favorites.
6 Kettlebell Exercises for a Strong Back
A kettlebell workout is effective, functional, portable, and can blast calories. However, like many pieces of equipment, if used incorrectly, they can cause injury. Proper form and control are essential with each of the following strength training exercises.
1. Two-Hand Kettlebell Swings
Many people mistake the kettlebell swing for an arm workout. However, clients shouldn’t use their arms to swing the kettlebell. If they do it right, the movement is controlled by their hips and glutes but will use portions of the back as well.
How to do it: The client will begin by gripping the kettlebell with both hands hanging between their legs. Feet should be shoulder width, shoulders rolled back, and the core muscles engaged. The client will slightly bend their knees and hinge at their hips, pressing their lumbar spine and gluteus maximus backwards. The shift in weight should bring the hanging kettlebell slightly behind the legs. They will drive through the heels, up through the legs and snap the hips forward. This should create enough momentum to bring the kettlebell forward and up without using the arms. As the momentum brings the kettlebell back towards the body, the client should flow with the kettlebell movement to reverse back into a partial squat, hip-hinged position, and immediately explode into the next repetition.
Check out ISSA's article on perfecting the hip hinge to ensure you're practicing perfect form!
2. One-Arm Kettlebell Row
The kettlebell row is very similar to a dumbbell row. The motion is the same as the dumbbell row, however, the distribution of the weight is a little different using the kettlebell.
How to do it: Starting with the left leg, clients will rest their left knee onto a bench and lean forward enough to rest the left hand on the bench in alignment with the left shoulder. The right leg will stand firmly on the floor with the right arm hanging below the right shoulder while gripping the kettlebell. The spine should be straight and the lower back and hips square. With the focus on using the back muscles to lift the kettlebell, the client will slowly drive the right elbow up to the ceiling. They should squeeze at the top and slowly lower the weight back down. The client should complete repetitions on both sides of the body.
3. Kettlebell High-Pull
This kettlebell exercise is another effective full body movement that is great for strengthening the back and shoulders.
How do to it: The client will begin with the kettlebell resting on the ground between their legs. Legs should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed out. They will squat down and grip the kettlebell with both hands. With a straight spine, they will lift the kettlebell off the floor. As they press their body up out of the squat position, they will begin to pull the elbows up toward the ceiling. This will bring the kettlebell up to just below chin height and create a “V” shape with the elbows and forearms. Keeping control of the weight, the kettlebell will naturally come back down. The client should move with the momentum of the kettlebell and reverse their body into the starting position ending with the weight on the ground. Once the weight lightly touches the ground, they should immediately move into the next rep.
4. Kettlebell Halo
The halo action with the kettlebell is just like the name. The client will make a halo around their head. Keep in mind, however, this exercise swings the kettlebell around the head, so, the client needs to be able to safely maintain control so they don’t hit themselves in the face with the kettlebell.
How to do it: The client should begin in a standing position and make sure the pelvis is tucked under to remove any anterior pelvic tilt. There should be a very slight bend in the knees and the core muscles engaged. They will grip the kettlebell with both hands on the sides of the handle with the ball of the kettlebell above the handle (kettlebell turned upside down). They will slowly circle the kettlebell all the way around their head, just above shoulder height. They should circle in one direction and come back to the starting position. Once they have completed reps going one direction, they will reverse the motion and go the other direction.
5. Kettlebell Renegade Row
This exercise is a great move to target the back muscles and help build core strength. The client will need two kettlebells for this move.
How to do it: The client will begin in a plank position. However, instead of their hands or forearms stabilizing them on the ground, they will grip a kettlebell in each hand, directly under each shoulder. With tight glutes, straight spine, and core muscles engaged, the client will pull one kettlebell off the ground. They should focus on pulling with the back muscles and driving the elbow up to the sky. Hips and core should remain square throughout the movement. The client will slowly lower the weight back to the ground and repeat repetitions on both sides of the body.
6. One-Handed Kettlebell Clean
Like the kettlebell swing, the momentum comes from the legs and hips (not the arms).
How to do it: In a squat position, the client will use one hand to grip the kettlebell as it rests on the ground between the legs. They will press up through the heels and snap the hips forward which should create the momentum to move the kettlebell up. The kettlebell should move up (not out), staying close to the body and into to the rack position. To successfully move into the rack position, the client will need to have a soft grip and rotate the wrist so the thumb is pointed towards the back. They will come out of the rack position, in the reverse way they got in and allow the weight to drop back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
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