Do you press your kettlebell with your arms or legs?
by Boris Bojanovic
The press is the basic pushing exercise in kettlebell lifting. The kettlebell press can be thought of as the strict bodybuilders press where the kettlebell starts in the rack position & is pushed up to lockout then lowered slowly with the strength of the deltoids & triceps (in the upper half of the lift).You can refer to our article titled “Kettlebell grips – Tricks for making kettlebell lifting easier” for details of the rack & lockout positions.
The kettlebell press is an upper body lift. In fact only the arm works in pressing while the rest of the body tightens up to make a stable base for the arm to work from.
Inevitably, if you see the average client pressing a weight overhead you notice it’s not a strict arm movement. They usually use a bit of a bounce with the legs to help the weight up out of the bottom. This can be seen as cheating, if the goal is to do the exercise as a strict arm-only movement. Or you could call this a Push Press & have a few perfectly valid reasons to use the exercise with your clients.
The first being as a way of overloading the pushing movement. You can always push press more than you press because the initial leg drive helps in the hardest part of the lift – the bottom half. This lets the triceps & deltoids handle a heavier weight in the top half of the lift which is great for muscle growth, strength & even power development.
Alternatively, the push press is great for beginner clients who don’t have the strength yet to strictly press a kettlebell overhead. They can use the legs to assist the press while it strengthens the deltoids & triceps until they can handle it with the arms only.
As you can see we have been moving from pressing overhead with arms only to a mix of arms & legs. The next logical step is to press a kettlebell overhead without using your arms to push at all. It is possible. It’s called the Jerk. Our level 2 Kettlebell course covers the 5 phases of the jerk in great detail so we’ll only skim it here.
The jerk starts with a dip of the knees leading to a powerful explosion upwards, lifting the feet off the floor as if jumping. This powerful movement propels the kettlebell upwards high enough so that you can quickly drop down into a squat to catch the kettlebell with your arm straight overhead. That way all the arms do is hold the kettlebell overhead rather than pushing it up.
Apart from being one of the competition events in Girevoy Sport the jerk is an athletic, complex coordinated lift which is fun to perform & will help develop leg power, agility in change of direction & coordination of the whole body. It makes it ideal for your athlete clients & more advanced kettlebell lifters.