Holding a kettlebell bottoms-up is simple, but not easy. Rather than holding a kettlebell with the bell hanging below the hand, flip it upside down so the heavy portion sits above the handle and the horn sits on the meat of your palm.
The instability this causes forces you to recruit additional muscle fibers and motor units to control the unstable load. This will take some getting used to when first starting, so use a lighter weight than usual until you build up more strength.
Benefits of Bottoms Up Kettlebell Exercises
6 Reasons to Try Them Out
- Less load to get a training effect because of the additional muscular tension needed to hold the KB.
- Builds strength in the rotator cuff, which is hugely important for shoulder health.
- Gives you instant feedback on whether you’re doing the lift correctly. When using substantial loads, anything short of ideal technique and KB positioning will result in a missed rep.
- Strengthens all facets of your grip (fingers, wrists and forearms) which will help improve all exercises that require grip strength.
- Teaches you full body tension with lighter loads due to the muscle irradiation. This is when other muscles are contracting and assisting (like your forearms, shoulder and core) when gripping a bottoms up kettlebell.(1)
- They’re joint friendly. Bottoms-up KB movements reinforce proper lifting mechanics into the CNS and because of this it can sometimes help athletes return to movements they’ve been avoiding with reduced pain and better form.
Bottoms up training makes for great accessory movement for your bench/overhead presses, deadlifts, and squats because of the reasons above. Or they can be substituted in for many press or squatting movements that are causing you pain.
Because of the degree of difficulty, I’ll be highlighting the unilateral versions of the press, squat and carry. During unilateral versions, all neural drive is focused on one side of the body, making it easier for you to balance the kettlebell.
When you feel confident with one, go with two for double the fun.
1. Unilateral bottoms up pressing
These will help clean up your pressing technique and help create new muscle growth due to the increase in muscular tension and improved mechanics. And because of the instability and grip demands, your rotator cuffs are working hard to provide shoulder stability.
I’d recommend using this in a superset after your main pressing movement for the day, For example:
1A. Bottoms up floor press: 6-12 reps per side
1B. Push up plank: 1 minute
[Learn more: 3 shoulder prehab exercises to injury proof your shoulders.]
2. Bottoms up squats
Bottoms-up squats will help clean up the squat pattern, similar to a goblet squat. The amount of muscular tension necessary to stabilize the kettlebell transfers to full body tightness, which works wonders for your squatting form.
Any deviation like the chest falling forward, knees buckling, back rounding or leaning to one side will cause the kettlebell crashing down on your wrist. Think of this as feedback or punishment.
These movements can replace barbell movements or used has an accessory exercise to improve your squat technique. For example,
1A. Unilateral Kettlebell bottoms up squat: 6-8 reps on both sides
1B. Hamstring curl: 6-8 reps
3. Bottoms up carries
Bottoms-up loaded carries are either performed with the arms overhead or in the bottom, semi-racked position. The overhead version is far more challenging as the load is farther from your center of gravity, making it a lot harder to balance. Every step is a single leg balance.
Both will improve your posture, lateral stability, grip strength and strengthen the shoulder girdle, particularly the rotator cuff for the reasons discussed earlier.
I recommend programming these at the end of your training in a superset with an upper back or shoulder exercise. For example,
1A. Semi racked carry 40 steps on both sides
1B. TRX row 12-15 reps
By simply changing the way you hold the kettlebell will help you clean up your lifting technique, work around sore spots and provide a new stimulus for your muscles. If you want to get better, bottoms up.
- Nunes, Monara & Silva¹, Diandra. (2016). Motor Irradiation According to the Concept of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: Measurement Tools and Future Prospects. International Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 04. 10.4172/2329-9096.1000330.