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7 Different Kettlebell Grips You Should Try

There is more to kettlebells than swings.

You managed to buy a kettlebell before they all vanished off the face of the earth. You’re happy you have it, but this far into quarantine, you’re looking for different ways to use kettlebells — you know, things that aren’t swings (so. many. swings).

Even if you’ve got a wide variety of lifts down but you’re looking to up your at-home exercise game, it’s probably time to get familiar with different kettlebell grips.

Kettlebells For Grip Strength

If you know even a little bit about your favorite piece of workout equipment, you probably know that kettlebells are incredible for grip strength. Swings — both double and single-handed — challenge you to keep a delicate grip that’s simultaneously strong enough to keep the darn thing from slipping out of your hands. (No one wants that.)

[Related: 13 single kettlebell exercises to improve your deadlift]

Explosive kettlebell moves can improve your wrist stability, finger strength, and forearm strength, and that’s before you even get extra fancy with your grip. Challenging yourself to learn new kettlebell grips can elevate your lifts and improve stability even further — not to mention add some much-needed variety to your at-home training routine.

Kettlebell Grip Options

Playing around with your grip can zhush up a lot of your kettlebell lifts. Make sure you’re comfortable with the grip before diving into reps. If the only kettlebell you’ve got lying around is on the heavier side, always make sure you can successfully hold the grip’s position steadily. Some options (particularly the semi-conventional bottom-up grip with you holding the handle) work much better with a lighter bell, so make sure you’re lifting smart.

Bottom-Up (Bell)

Place the bell on the ground in front of you and reach for it with your fingers facing down. Your fingertips might sweep the ground as you grasp the weight securely with your hands on either side of the bell. It might be most comfortable for you to do so along the sides that have a company logo and weight on them.

As you lift the weight, flip it securely so that your fingertips are facing the ceiling. The handle should be facing the ground, and the bottom of the bell should be looking up. Especially if you’re working with a heavier weight, feel free to carefully shimmy your palms toward each other to form something of a cup for the bell to rest in.

For an added bonus, really squeeze your palms together like you’re trying to crush the bell — it’ll activate more muscle fibers (which is pretty much always something you want while you’re lifting).

Exercise Options

Bottom-Down (Bell)

Go through the same procedure as you did above, but this time you’ll need to start the bell off on its side (especially if it’s on the heavier end of the spectrum). Lie it down so that the handle is facing away from you and place your hands on either side of the bell, with your fingertips facing away from you (near the bell’s handle).

To enhance safety, really make sure your grip is secure before you peel the weight off the ground, like you’re curling it. If your bell is heavier, you may find that your fingers will naturally want to secure themselves around the edges of the handle — definitely let your body do that for safety reasons! (That’s more of a hybrid grip, though, described below.)

If you can pull it off safely, try to cradle the underside of the bell with your palms, placing a stronger emphasis on squeezing the bell to keep it in place — as opposed to locking your fingers around the handle to keep it in place. This will also really fire up your stabilizers, and for many people is actually a more difficult position to get into than the bottoms-up version with a heavy bell — so proceed with caution!

Exercise Options

  • Goblet squats
  • Lateral lunges
  • Double-handed overhead press
  • Floor press

Goblet (Hybrid)

Here, the handles will be facing up and the bottom will be facing down, but instead of trying to squeeze the crap out of it, you’ll grasp the bell by the handles and hike it straight up your body — kind of like a speedy upright row. Finish the pick-up motion around your chest, with your thumbs and index fingers curling around the handle for stability, and your palms cradling the bell itself.

Squeeze your forearms together underneath the bell for even more support — and a challenge to your lats if you’re going to use this for longer sets! This option tends to be a bit more stable than some others (hence why it’s more well-known), so go ham and use it pretty widely. Just make sure your grip is solid and your bell has no slippery sweat on it.

Exercise Options

  • Goblet squats
  • Lateral lunges
  • Double-handed overhead press
  • Floor press
  • Weighted carry
  • Kneeling double-handed overhead press

Bottom-Up (Handle)

This is another bottom-up variation, but this time, you’re going to grasp the handle instead of the bell itself. This is definitely one where you want to start with a light weight. You need to be able to establish balance while essentially flipping the bell over from the handle and stabilizing the already oddly-shaped contraption with the heavy part on top. 

Think of it like doing a hammer curl — grip the handle in the center, hammer curl it up, and just leave it in that position. Imagine there’s a light on the bottom of the bell, and you’re aiming to shine that light on the ceiling. 

Exercise Options

  • Unilateral overhead press
  • Unilateral floor press
  • Unilateral overhead carry
  • Half-kneeling unilateral overhead press
  • Turkish get-up

Center (Handle)

If you’ve been spending your quarantine doing a load of swings, you’re familiar with this one — but it’s so effective that it’s always worth spending time training. Depending on the move you’re going for, use either one hand or both (next to each other) to grasp the handle with your palms facing down and toward your body.

If you’re doing a double-handed swing, your left pinky will wind up near or just over the left side of the handle, and your right pinky, near the right. But if you’re only using one hand (as with a single-handed swing), center the hand you’re using right in the middle of the bell. 

One thing a lot of folks do with this “basic” grip is grabbing it too hard. Of course, the opposite can be true — there is such a thing as holding a kettlebell too loosely. But in general, try to find that middle ground. While maintaining a stable grip, you should still be relaxed enough to be able to flutter your fingertips at the top of a swing.

Exercise Options

  • Double-handed swing
  • Single-handed swing
  • Kettlebell deadlift variations
  • Sumo squats

Hook (Handle)

If you’ve been deadlifting with a kettlebell in lieu of a bar, you might find your barbell instincts kicking in and trying to slide in with a hook grip. The set up  is similar to a double-handed center grip, but you’ll curl your index and middle fingers around to grasp your thumb on the underside of the handle. 

This is a toughie, especially if you’ve got a bell with a thicker handle. But it can also help isolate the same types of grip strength you need to use a hook grip with a barbell — plus it’s got that familiar feel that you might be longing for — so it’s worth playing around with and potentially adding to your repertoire.

Exercise Options 

Offset (Handle)

Neglecting this grip is one of the main culprits of the dreaded kettlebell forearm flop — so if kettlebells tend to beat the crap out of your arms, this one may well be for you.

Visualize a comfortable front rack position to get the hang of this one. If you grip the handle directly in the center and then try to rack it, you’re almost guaranteed to slap the kettlebell onto your wrist or forearm. No one’s trying to deal with those bruises for days, so offset your grip next time. That way, the bell will rest comfortably on your front delts instead of weighing down directly onto the fleshy parts of your forearm — plus, you’ll be a lot less likely to flop it.

To get this grip going, shift your hand to the appropriate edge of the handle. If you’re doing a clean, for example, with your left hand, shift your grip so that the fleshy part of your hand between your index finger and your thumb is against the right side of the handle.

For your right hand, scoot to the left side of the handle. Regardless of whatever hand you’re using, rotate the bell so that your thumb is pointing behind you — that way, when you clean the bell up toward you, you’ll be able to smoothly transition from your arm being on top of the bell to underneath it.

Exercise Options

Get Gripping

Variety is the spice of life. Your kettlebell game doesn’t have to get stale, even as quarantine continues on. Experiment with a variety of unexpected kettlebell grips to jazz up your swings and make for much cleaner cleans.

Feature image from Mark Wildman’s YouTube channel.

Jay Polish

Jay Polish

Dr. Jay Polish is an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer, and holds an additional certification in Kettlebell Athletics. A competitive powerlifter, their personal training practice focuses on empowering both new and experienced lifters with body positive training methods of strength and circuit training.

They teach Theater and English in the CUNY system, where they received their PhD in English. They live in California with their wife and their fantasies of having multiple puppies. Their website is here. You can train with them through Trainerize.

When they're not in the gym, they moonlight as the author of two young adult books, LUNAV and LOST BOY, FOUND BOY (March 2018, NineStar Press).

Their debut novel, LUNAV, a lesbian enemies-to-lovers faerie tale, features dragons that grow on trees and friendship amongst rebellion. Their debut novella, LOST BOY, FOUND BOY, is a scifi re-telling of Peter Pan in which Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a bisexual cyborg, and Tink is an asexual lesbian computer interface.

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