How To Perform The Kettlebell Press

By: Brandon Richey, B.S.,CSCS

Owner Brandon Richey Fitness LLC

When it comes to selecting a lift to complete an intelligently designed strength program I’m a firm believer in looking at the kettlebell press. This lift is unique in it’s own way simply because of the awkward nature of it. Today I want to take a moment to dive a little deeper into the details of the very unique and challenging kettlebell press.

The Challenge

Overhead pressing of any kind can be a challenge for many people, but when it comes to pressing the kettlebell this is absolutely the case because this is a different animal to tame altogether. Pressing the kettlebell involves a great deal more technique than meets the eye!

First of all, when it comes to pressing the kettlebell it’s an awkward experience. The reason for this has to do with its design. This is because the kettlebell is shaped like a sphere at the base instead of being a designed weight (like a dumbbell) that fits securely balanced into the center of the hand. Because of this design it creates a unique challenge in terms of forcing a lifter to work harder in order to stabilize the weight for the given movement.

Because we have to fight harder to stabilize the kettlebell this device exerts and challenges us in ways that other free weighted implements don’t. This is exactly what makes pressing the kettlebell so challenging, but even so there is still a technical side to kettlebell pressing that many may not be aware of… and it all starts with the grip.


The Benefits

One of the more unique factors associated with the kettlebell press is the fact that in order to perform the press we must do so from the racked position in order to begin. By doing this it gives us a fist below the chin starting position which automatically starts us out in performing the movement in a bigger ROM. At the end of the day a bigger ROM means stronger shoulders.

In addition to this the press must also be performed in a manner that encourages a more fluid type of movement. When pressing the kettlebell the shoulder must move throughout the pressing ROM much like a snake in a circular pattern. The movement of the arm must be smooth and seamless.

Once again you can see that in both videos I’m stressing the importance of the handle position of the bell. It must be placed diagonally in the hand to ensure an optimal lifting pattern for the press rather than horizontally. This is a very important detail concerning the lift which allows for better control and feel where the bell should be positioned during the pressing movement.

The fluid movement involved in a well executed kettlebell press is great for teaching us a lesson in human movement. In short our muscles and bones basically integrate and make up a bunch of levers and pulleys, but we’re one of the most complex systems of levers and pulleys in nature.

In other words, there should be a seamless and natural flow to moving our bodies. This should especially be the case when moving external loads for the purpose of effective lifting.

Additionally when executing the military kettlebell press the technique of the lift also demands that we build significant tension throughout the torso and midsection. When starting I always cue trainees to crush the grip handle and begin the press by creating intrathoracic pressure throughout the torso as they ascend the bell into the overhead position.

Even though we should emphasize creating tension we still want move our bodies into the press to make the lift smooth and seamless as shown in the video. There is a certain “feel” involved when doing this in order to perform the lift with a smooth motion while at the same time being able to anchor the body in a stable manner.

Being able to produce the necessary tension in order to pull this off means that we must implement a sound breathing technique that is referred to as breathing behind the shield. This basically means we have to produce a low level of breathing while maintaining significant tension throughout the torso during the peak exertion point of the lift.

We should have the sensation of bracing our bodies in the same sort of way that we would brace for some sort of impact. I cue my trainees to do this by telling them to imagine that they’re about to take a hit to the stomach. This will ensure that they produce sufficient tension during a higher level of physical exertion.

The distinction here is that we are producing significant tension, but NOT to the point that we are holding our breath. We’re breathing, but doing so in a more restrictive manner while creating tension throughout the torso as a protective mechanism. This is breathing behind the shield and pressing the kettlebell is a great way to learn to emphasize this breathing for performance.

In Closing

Kettlebells in general are great implements to include in our strength and conditioning toolbox because of the unique skills that this particular device demands from us. The process of learning to press and lift the kettlebell demands that we develop a high level of kinesthetic awareness.

This in turn makes us better functioning individuals and helps to get us on the fast track to being fitter and stronger. This type of movement heightens  our physical intelligence and helps to minimize the incidence of injury. I hope you enjoyed today’s article and if so then please don’t be shy about posting up in the comments below.

To learn more about Brandon Richey and his online coaching programs check him out at

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