Are you ready to up your kettlebell game? By now you've probably learned how to deadlift or even swing this Russian forged iron, we call a kettlebell - maybe you've even squatted with it or pressed it over head. All great exercises and ones that should never be forgotten, but let's add to your quiver of kettlebell feats of strength and turn up the volume.

The following eight exercises focus on just using one arm to perform the lift and then switching to the other arm. When working with one arm kettlebell exercises, remind yourself you have a strong side and a stronger side. No weak side - OK people. It is best to start with your strong side and then finish with your stronger side. Why? You'll already be a little gassed when you switch arms in your given set and it's best to give the strong side the best chance to perform well by letting it go first. It's like letting your little brother throw the first punch. It's just common courtesy.

If you have limited experience with kettlebells or haven't ever touched one, I highly suggest getting dialed in on the kettlebell swing first (two hand version). Hire a coach who has kettlebell training (Look for coaches with the StrongFirst certification, they are the gold standard) or ask a knowledgeable friend. No, I said a knowledgeable friend, not the self-proclaimed expert pal who says a good workout is doing 100 burpees for time.

Seriously, there is a logical progression to take with kettlebells and jumping right into this would be a disservice. Learn the traditional swing first and the goblet squat, then you can work on new lifts. You'll thank me later. I know it's expensive, but hiring a coach will save you the heartache of learning bad habits and trying to undo them later. Even better, it might even save you a trip to the chiropractor.

Why one arm variations? When a weight is on one side of your body, you have to compensate for the extra weight on the loaded side. This means firing your muscles with more intensity and fighting the urge to collapse like a house of cards. You also need to keep from rotating as the weight pulls you to one side or the other. It is imperative you keep your hips and shoulders square. The result - a great core strength exercise.

Before we get into the eight one-arm kettlebell exercises, let's first talk about what we are going to do with the non-working arm. This will vary depending on if you are doing a ballistic, such as a swing or a grind, like a press.

One Arm Ballistics

Let's take the one arm kettlebell swing for example. You should always start a one arm swing with both hands on the kettlebell. Why? This will square your shoulders and you won't start off in bad form before you even start the swing. Right before you hike the kettlebell between your legs, you'll let your non-working arm drift off to the side. Make a fist and clench. Think of your arm being in line with your torso. As you swing, think of the non-working arm mirroring the working arm. It goes up, it goes down. All in one fluid motion.

By mirroring the other arm you'll keep your shoulders square throughout the arc of the swing. By keeping your shoulders square, you'll avoid rotation of your neck, back, and spine. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that rotating your torso with a heavy load, moving at high speeds, in varying planes, may be bit of a problem. Don't be a wet noodle.

At the top of the swing there are two common finishes. The first way is to have your non-working arm finish the same way your working arm does at the top of the swing. Both arms out in front. Think vertical palm plank. The other way, the more badass way, is to finish your non-working arm in the “fighter" pose. As your non-working arm comes up past your hips, instead of letting it float out in front of you, you'll tuck your arm in close to your chest and make a fist. Think of how a boxer looks in the ring.

Both are allowed, but personally I prefer the fighter pose. Do some experimenting and see what works best for you. I like to think people who aren't familiar with kettlebells, look at me and think, “Wow, that dude looks like a kettlebell ninja."

However, with the kettlebell snatch you only want to mirror your working arm so much. You don't want to end up with both arms overhead. With the kettlebell snatch you'll do all the same steps as before at the bottom of the swing, but you'll stop your non-working hand somewhere just past your hip. Don't think about this too much. Let that arm float out there and it will stop where it needs to naturally. As you begin your next rep and the kettlebell is somewhere around your waist, get right back to mirroring the working arm as you hinge. Again, by mirroring your working arm your shoulders will stay square, the hips will load big and you'll snap that kettlebell up overhead with ease. Have you ever seen someone jump high with only swinging one arm back? I rest my case.

One Arm Grinds

Now for the grinds and the eagle talon you develop in your free hand when you're pressing a heavy kettlebell up overhead. Don't worry you aren't the only one.

Just promise me one thing. Don't ever have a gun in hand while pressing a kettlebell overhead. What do I mean by that? While digging around the depths of the internet, I found numerous articles about involuntary hand clenching causing accidental shootings, even by seasoned gun handlers. In a short and concise article, Greg Ellifritz, explains this eagle talon phenomenon. To be clear and fair to Greg, that's what I'm calling it. I don't think anyone calls it this, but if you hear it at your gym, know it came from me.

Here's what I gathered. There are all sorts of ways one can involuntarily clench their hand. You could lose your balance or trip, you can be startled, or one hand can be closed or clinching (I.e. holding the handle of a kettlebell) and the other will spontaneously mimic the other hand. Unless you are doing your workouts on a tightrope, while watching the Blair Witch Project, we are really only dealing with a clenched hand causing the other to do the same.

Instead of letting your hand do whatever it feels like, you should close the “strength loop" by making a fist and send more functional strength to the loaded arm. This is called muscle irradiation. If you create more tension in other muscle groups that energy will spill over and make you stronger and more stable. Robert Ruxandrescu has a great article that explains this and the tension techniques you can use.

In short, there are a few key muscle groups that you want to fire when pressing weight overhead or for any big lifts (squats, deadlift, turkish get-up, etc). He mentions forearms, abs, and glutes. I'll add one more, the quads. By tensing all these muscle groups, it makes the Central Nervous System (CNS) feel safe and you'll generate more power. Have you ever tried to jump and kick as high as you can, with crocs on your feet, on a wet linoleum floor? The CNS does not feel safe and will shut it down before you do your best Bruce Lee impersonation. Sometimes, 18 year old males can trick their CNS into trying it anyway. “Hold my beer CNS, and watch this!"

Being able to tense these major muscle groups while performing your lift, is something you need to practice. Just like practicing free throws. It will take some time to feel like you're firing everything at once. At first it will feel like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time. However, if you practice it enough, it will become second nature and you'll feel the strength in your lifts. A quick tip: it can be hard to clench your bare hand. Try squeezing a hand towel or water bottle. It may feel better and stronger at first when you're learning.

One Arm Exercises

1. Swing

The one arm swing can be programmed just like the traditional two arm swing. You can really pack on the volume here. You can swing all on one side and then switch to the other or really “resist the twist" and alternate each swing and hand switch after every swing. Keep those hips and shoulders square.

Kettlebell Exercise  | One Arm Swings|Kettlebell Exercise  | One Arm Swings

Example One Arm Swing Programming: 5x10+10

2. Front Squat

Load up the one arm front squat and really fight the urge to collapse to the loaded side. We already know the front squat is a great core exercise and this puts a whole new spin on it.

Kettlebell Exercises | Front Squat|Kettlebell Exercises | Front Squat

Example Front Squat Programming: 3x5+5 or 5x2+2

3. Press

As I was once told, “The secret to happiness, is putting heavy weight overhead." Do this and see for yourself. Keep your quads, glutes, and abs tight. Squeeze your first and press the kettlebell overhead. Don't wiggle your body to get the weight overhead, stay stiff as a board. Think vertical plank. If you have to do some weird body movement to get the weight overhead go lighter.

Kettlebell Exercises | Press|Kettlebell Exercises | Press

Example Press Programming: 5x3+3 or 2+2, 3+3, 5+5, 3+3, 2+2

4. Snatch

The snatch is just a swing that ends up overhead. All the same principles apply. If you're looking to up your conditioning, the kettlebell snatch is a great option. This ballistic really gets the heart pumping. Keep that body square and make sure to finish at the top with the complete lock out. Once you've paused for a second at the top, you can start with a new rep.

Kettlebell Exercise | Snatch|Kettlebell Exercise | Snatch

Example Snatch Programming: 5x5+5 or 5x5+5 (On the Minute - working up to more reps 6+6, 7+7, etc)

Bottom-Up Series

You can intensify just about any kettlebell lift by going bottom-up. By crushing the handle of the kettlebell to keep it from flopping over, you really have to engage your core. This also lights up the shoulder so you can stabilize the weight. You can really make front squats, cleans, presses, and even turkish get-ups a lot more intense when doing them bottom-up style.

5. Bottom-Up Press

Kettlebell Training | Press|Kettlebell Training | Press

6. Bottom-Up Front Squat

Kettlebell Training  | Front Squat|Kettlebell Training  | Front Squat|

7. Bottom-Up Turkish Get-up

Kettlebell Training | Turkish Get up|Kettlebell Training | Turkish Get up|

Example Bottom-Up Programming: Depends on the lift, but keep it heavy and low volume.

8. Suitcase Carry

The suitcase carry, it's just like carrying your overly stuff carry-on because you don't want to pay the checked baggage fee. Walk down to one end of your gym with the weight on one side and then walk back with it on the other. Stand nice and tall with a proud chest and keep from slouching to the loaded side. Of course there will be a little leaning involved, but stand up as straight as possible. Go as heavy as you can while maintain good form.

Kettlbell Training | Suitcase Carry|Kettlbell Training | Suitcase Carry|

Example Suitcase Carry Programming: 3 Rounds - Walk 75-100 feet with one arm then switch to the other arm on the way back.

Put any of these workouts in your normal gym flow and you'll be glad you did. Remember, squeeze your whole body and clench your first. Go as heavy as you can while keeping perfect form and never going to failure. It's always better to start light and then gradually go up, especially if you are new to the lift. Strength is a skill and must be practiced. Give yourself plenty of time to learn these lifts. Don't chase numbers, chase perfection.

About the Author: Charlie is a strength coach at Elemental Performance + Fitness in the small mountain town of Lander, WY. Charlie believes strength training is foundational and can be applied to any fitness goal. Charlie works with a wide variety of clients, but focuses on climbers and coaching a local youth climbing team. Charlie spends most of his time at the gym training his athletes (programs he already put himself through), at the crag climbing, or backcountry skiing.

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