The kettlebell press, overhead press or military press can transform your upper body making it look, feel and perform like a total superhero.

However, the kettlebell shoulder press is not as simple as just pressing a kettlebell over your head a few times.

You can choose between the single arm kettlebell press or the double arm press. You can use various pressing stances and also use momentum for a kb push press or jerk press.

Let’s delve deeper into this important kettlebell overhead press exercise and understand why and how it should be used for maximum results.

Benefits of the Kettlebell Press


The KB overhead press takes the kettlebell from the racked position at the chest to overhead and into a straight arm position.

When performed correctly the kettlebell press lights up almost all the muscles in your body.

Creating overhead strength is important not only to strengthen the upper body but also so that daily overhead tasks become a lot easier like lifting a cabin bag into the overhead locker on a plane.

Your heart and lungs will also have to work hard when overhead pressing correctly because the heart has to push blood all the way up to the top hand during every repetition.

Good overhead pressing also demands perfect alignment throughout the body from head to toe in order to produce a strong and stable base of support.

There are a great many kettlebell shoulder press variations for you to practice to add to your workouts in order for you to keep things interesting.


So just to recap the kettlebell press benefits are:

  1. Activates most of the muscles in the body when performed correctly
  2. Improves overhead strength for daily tasks
  3. Develops better alignment throughout the body
  4. Increases cardio due to the heart having to work harder to pump blood to the top hand
  5. Conditions the shoulders and upper body
  6. Adds variety and spice to existing workouts and combinations


Overhead Presses Variations


Overhead presses come in a few shapes and sizes, military and strict presses, double and single pressing and push presses.  All of these types of presses will help you to get strong, very quickly but must be done correctly to ensure you stay injury free.


Watch this video demonstrating all the press variations and teaching points on how to achieve them:

Kettlebell Press Muscles Worked


As mentioned there are not many muscles that the kettlebell press does not activate if performed correctly.

However, the main muscles that do most of the heavy lifting are the shoulders (deltoids) and the back (latissimus dorsi & trapezius) and the arms (triceps).


Here are the main KB overhead press muscles used:

  • Deltoid Muscles
  • Tricep Muscles
  • Latissimus Dorsi Muscles
  • Trapezius Muscles

The core muscles works hard along with the buttocks in order to maintain a strong and stable base for the other muscles to work from.

The legs and even the toes can be activated when pressing challenging and heavy loads.

Mobility Required for the Kettlebell Shoulder Press


Shoulder and upper back mobility is very important when pressing overhead.

If you lack the movement necessary in the upper back or shoulders to extend the arm directly overhead then compensations must be made further down the body in order to maintain correct alignment.

The human body is strongest when all the joints are stacked in good alignment one on top of the next.

When you can’t naturally extend your arm vertically overhead the lower back must arch in order to maintain that vertical top arm.


If you look for it you will see this issue across all gyms all around the world

You can see people pressing overhead with arched lower backs – what is called hyper extension- because they lack the ability to extend their arm vertically overhead.

You can test your own shoulder mobility by standing with your back to a wall and extending your arm overhead and touching the back of your hand to the wall.

Does your lower back excessively arch away from the wall?

If you lack overhead shoulder mobility then working on your shoulder and upper back are important to save the health of your lower back.


Watch my warm up and mobility video below including the full shoulder complex:


Watch this mobility warm up series:


How to Brace your Muscles to Military Press Heavier


When you press a kettlebell overhead you can increase your overall strength by activating as many muscles as possible.

Rather than relaxing as you kettlebell strict press get as tight as possible.

Squeezing the handle of the kettlebell, clenching your other hand into a fist, clamping your buttocks together, brace your abs like you are about to get punches in the stomach and locking your legs straight.

The act of ‘getting tight‘ will cause as many muscles as possible to activate and through the process of irradiation transfer the strength throughout your body.

Basically the body conserves valuable energy by only using the muscles it needs to in order to perform a movement.

By getting tight – or bracing yourself for the move- you can ‘up regulate‘ your muscle activation and become much stronger in your movements.


3 Exercises You Should Practice Before the Kettlebell Strict Press


The kettlebell overhead press is a very important kettlebell strength building exercise but it should not be rushed into.

Just like with lots of the other kettlebell exercises there is a natural progressive pattern of exercises that needs to be followed to avoid injury.

Holding strength is more important than pressing strength when you begin your kettlebell training journey.

When you hold a kettlebell overhead it challenges your smaller endurance based stabilising muscles.

Your stabilising muscles keep your joints in their correct alignment, your shoulders rotator cuff muscles are the perfect example.

When you press overhead without developing your stabilising muscles first you allow your larger prime mover based muscles to overpower your stabilising muscles.


Shoulder injuries are so common because everyone tries to develop their larger shoulder muscles before their smaller stabilising muscles.


Use the following 4 overhead kettlebell stabilising exercises in order to strengthen your muscles in preparation for your heavy lifting later.


1. Lying Chest Press

Push ups or the bench press are not a great idea with a bad shoulder however you can still work on your chest by performing chest presses from the floor.

Performing this exercise from the floor prevents your arms going too far backwards and damaging the shoulder capsule. Great for stabilising the joint and working on the chest.

Practice: Starting very light, you can practice up to 15 reps x3, once or twice a week.


2. Kettlebell Halo


My favourite shoulder girdle mobility exercise.

Depending on the condition of your shoulders this exercise may require only a very light kettlebell but working through the entire range will help open up the shoulders and pump nutrients into the joints.


Practice: 5 repetitions on each side is enough as the exercise is performed slowly and deliberately.


3. Kettlebell Windmill


The kettlebell windmill takes the kettlebell overhead hold to the next level adding in more shoulder and hip mobility.

You will feel your shoulder joint rotate as you perform the kettlebell windmill challenging the joint from different angles.

Keep good focus on the kettlebell throughout the exercise.


Practice: 5 repetitions on each side is enough as the exercise is performed slowly and deliberately.

4. Kettlebell Turkish Get Ups


The ultimate overhead stabilising and mobilising kettlebell exercise is the kettlebell turkish get up.

The shoulder will be challenged from all angles as you stand up and then lay back down again all while keeping the arm locked.

Beginners should practice without a kettlebell before slowly adding load to the exercise.


Practice: progress towards 10 alternating kettlebell turkish get ups.


Want more? Ultimate guide to the kettlebell turkish get up

Here are 4 prime mover exercises for AFTER you have developed your shoulder stabilisers:


  1. Overhead Static/Military Press
  2. Push Press
  3. Clean and Press
  4. See Saw Press

1. Overhead, Standing or Military Static Press

The classic standing kettlebell press or military press takes the kettlebell from the racked position and overhead.

Here are a few teaching points that you can apply to your overhead pressing:

  • Engage the Lats by tensing the armpit as you press
  • Make sure the forearm is vertical as you press
  • Keep the shoulder down away from your ear and back in its socket
  • Squeeze the whole body to create tension
  • Push away from the floor
  • Use your breath by inhaling first, then forcing air out through tight lips as if letting air out of a balloon
  • Lock the arm at the top with the shoulder away from the ear
  • Ensure that the kettlebell is vertically overhead and not in front or behind the head
  • Actively pull the weight down slowly and with control


Practice: slowly work up to 10 repetitions on each side

2. Push Press


The kettlebell push press is similar to the kettlebell overhead press except that you use your legs a little to help with the press.

The hardest part of the kb strict press is taking the kettlebell from the racked position and moving it the first 12 inches.

You have a distinct mechanical disadvantage with the kettlebell in the racked position so in order to overcome this you can use your legs to pop the kettlebell up.

The kettlebell push press does not involve much work from the legs just a slight knee bend and then a sharp snap of the hips.

Once the kettlebell is moving upwards you can then use the momentum to help with the rest of the overhead press.

The kettlebell push press is not an excuse to not press correctly, but when you can press well it’s a great option to help crank out a few last reps or work into a heavier kettlebell.


Practice: progress up to 12 repetitions on each side


3. Clean & Press


One of the simplest and most common ways to incorporate the overhead press is to add it to the kettlebell clean.

The kettlebell clean is a full body exercise that takes the kettlebell from the ground and into the racked position.

From the racked position you can then press the kettlebell overhead either with the standard shoulder press, push press or jerk press.

Make sure to complete the clean correctly and rack the kettlebell securely before moving into the shoulder press.

Using two kettlebells at the same time is a very demanding full body exercise.


Practice: work up to 10 reps on each side before changing.


4. See Saw Press


The kettlebell see saw is similar to the kettlebell overhead press except that you move one bell up as the other descends.

The hardest part of the kb strict press is using your core and the see saw press has greater demands on your core strength, lats and obliques

You have another disadvantage when there are two kettlebells in the racked position so this can be a way to progress to working with double kettlebells without having to hyperextend.


Practice: progress up to 12 repetitions alternating between sides.


What is a good kettlebell starting weight for women?

Men will usually start with a 4kg or 6kg if they are total beginners to kettlebells or strength training or have any shoulder related injury, then easily progress to an 8kg (17lbs).  Once you have mastered the basics then these weights can increase easily to 10kg or 12kg.


The kettlebell overhead press, when performed correctly, is a full body exercise with extra emphasis on the upper body.

You will need good shoulder and upper back mobility in order to prevent your lower back from over arching.

You should first develop your shoulder stabilising muscles using overhead holding exercises before moving onto the larger pressing exercises.


Happy pressing!


Do you use the kettlebell press? Let me know more below…

And download our FREE kettlebell workout with presses and let us know how it worked for you.


Lisa Barwise

Author Lisa Barwise

Hi, I'm Lisa. I consider myself a Wellness Alchemist, the catalyst in the transformation of Strong Women around the world. Strong of mind, body and character.

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