Kettlebell Jerk vs Push Press – Which is Best for Endurance, Strength, and Power?

In this article we will compare and contrast two overhead movement patterns that have been used across strength, power, and fitness sports in a variety of competition and training settings. Specifically, we will compare the kettlebell jerk vs the push press (which includes the kettlebell, dumbbell, and barbell versions). To best attack this article head on, we must first discuss some important information before diving into the comprehensive breakdown discussed below. Therefore, in this article we will address:

  • The differences (briefly) between the kettlebell vs. the barbell
  • The differences between the jerk vs. the push press
  • Provide examples of both the kettlebell jerk and the push press (kettlebell, dumbbell, and barbell versions).
  • Determine which movement (and modality) is best for certain goals, needs, or sports performance considerations that you may have.

Kettlebells vs. Barbells

Below is a brief outline of what lifters and coaches can expect when training with kettlebells or barbells. Note, the below considerations provided do not include or exclude any other potential differences and/or unique benefits of one modality over another. Please feel free to comment below with any feedback.

  • With kettlebell training, you can increase stamina, address unilateral and asymmetrical movement imbalances, increase postural strength, and pattern even build greater stability through resisting and harnessing instability of a movement.
  • Kettlebells teach an athlete to be dynamic, move in a coordinated fashion, and transfer force repeatedly, mimicking many needed components of most human locomotion tasks.
  • Barbells can be done often with far greater loads as the movement is more stable, offering lifters a greater neurological and metabolic stimulus for maximal strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy.

Jerk vs. Push Press

Below is a brief outline of what lifters and coaches can expect when training the jerk vs the push press. Note, the below considerations provided do not include or exclude any other potential differences and/or unique benefits of one movement over another. (Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the article with any feedback!)

  • The press (strict press or push press) is a strength based movement that can also incorporate some leg drive and power when done using the push press variation. Both movements require a great deal of upper body strength (more than in the jerk) as the lifter must finish the barbell to a higher terminal height to get in the supported position overhead.
  • The jerk has recorded some of the highest power outputs at the hips (when compared to the snatch and clean and jerk). The jerk teaches total body synchronization, leg and hip drive, and is a very efficient way to get an object from the shoulder to the overhead position.

The Kettlebell Jerk

The kettlebell jerk is a overhead movement done to powerfully drive the kettlebells overhead using leg and hip drive. Following that explosive upward movement, the lifter forcefully extends their upper body while simultaneously bending at the knees, hips, and ankles to receiving the load at a lower, stable overhead position. By repositioning at a lower height, the load does not need to be lifter as vertical as in the push press.

The Push Press

In this movement (can be done with barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, or any other object) the lifter uses their leg and hip strength to accelerate the load from the racked position into a vertical trajectory. The upper body then extends and pushes the load up overhead to finish the lift. Note that during the push press the knees, ankles, and hips are not rebent following the initial leg drive phases (as opposed to the kettlebell jerk).

The Best Exercise for ….

While there may be some debate depending on who you ask, the below conclusions are based up my experiences as a student of science, movement, and sport. Would love to hear your feedback below!

Strength Development (Push Press)

For strength development, muscle hypertrophy and high force outputs over prolonged periods of time must be trained. In my opinion, the push press is a better exercise to build serious total body and upper arm and shoulder strength. While kettlebell jerks may offer lifters a unique stimulus, the movement is more power based and relies on speed and both active and passive tissue in the body. The push press forces lifters to remain tense and produce maximal levels of force throughout the entire phases of the lift.

Maximal Power (Push Press)

Jerk movements are the clear winner for increased power output, however push presses are a very very close, if not similar exercise that has been shown to produce similar power output readings as jump squats. Due to increased loading abilities in the push press, coupled with hip and leg drive explosiveness, one could argue it is just as effective for developing power. That said, kettlebell jerks do offer powerful benefits to a lifter, however the movement itself is complex and instable (when compared to a barbell), and therefore may limit the actual amount of loading used which is half the equation when calculating power.

Joint Stabilization (Kettlebell Jerks)

For all the reasons that I felt the push press was best overall for strength and power, when discussing joint stabilization and injury resilience the kettlebell jerk is the clear winner. The kettlebell is an odd shaped object whose weight is not distributed equally (more within the bell), forcing a lifter to constantly fight against imbalances and movement. The odd movement and loading of the kettlebell can work to increase stabilization, coordination, and challenge the movement patterning and structural supportive systems of a lifter. The push press should be used to help develop proper movement mechanics, strength, and power before going into heavy kettlebell jerk training. This will not only increase a lifter’s raw potential, but also help to be able to resist heavier loads and support them overhead.

Conditioning Purposes (Both)

Both movements take a load from the shoulder to the overhead position, which increases the demand on the heart to pump blood against gravity into the working muscles of the upper body. When looking to increase aerobic/anaerobic capacities, both movements can be done in a cyclical repetition fashion with light to moderate loads to challenges the conditioning of an athlete. Both movements have their advantages. The push press can be done in complexes with cleans, squats, deadlifts, etc, and is a very easy way to add quality muscular endurance to the upper body. The kettlebell jerk is an efficient movement to cycle weights from the shoulder to the overhead position using the total body, which should be done in kettlebell complexes including swings, squats, cleans, snatches, windmills, etc. Preference is key, however I recommend varying some aspects of you training on a regular basis for best results.

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