Important Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises to Bulletproof your Body

Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises are a great way to improve the movement, strength and mobility of your body. 

Understanding the Shoulders

These complex ball-and-socket contraptions allow for incredibly diverse movement and function. But this versatile setup can also be a common area of pain when mistreated.

Using a kettlebell is one of the best ways to promote the proper functioning of the shoulder, while also building size and strength.

kettlebell shoulder exercisesSource: Photos courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Note: If you have zero or limited experience with kettlebells, I suggest you find an RKC- or SFG-certified instructor to take you through the movements and correct any individual movement patterns.

Shoulder Muscles

The muscles of the shoulder support and produce the movements of the shoulder girdle. They attach the appendicular skeleton of the upper limb to the axial skeleton of the trunk. Four of them are found on the anterior aspect of the shoulder, whereas the rest are located on the shoulder’s posterior aspect and in the back.

The shoulder has about eight muscles that attach to the scapula, humerus, and clavicle. These muscles form the outer shape of the shoulder and underarm. The muscles in the shoulder aid in a wide range of movement and help protect and maintain the main shoulder joint, known as the glenohumeral joint.

Based on their location, the shoulder muscles are grouped into:

Anterior axio-appendicular muscles (thoraco-appendicular muscles)
Posterior axio-appendicular muscles (scapulo-humeral muscles)

Other muscles that aid in shoulder movement include:

  • Infraspinatus: This rotator cuff muscle helps with the raising and lowering of the upper arm.
  • Triceps brachii: This large muscle in the back of the upper arm helps straighten the arm.
  • Pectoralis major: This large fan-shaped muscle stretches from the armpit up to the collarbone and down across the lower chest region. It connects to the sternum (breastbone).
  • Pectoralis minor: The smaller of the pectoralis muscles, this muscle fans out from the upper ribs up to the shoulder area.
  • Teres major: This muscle helps rotate the upper arm.
  • Biceps brachii: Commonly known as the bicep muscle, this muscle rests on top of the humerus bone. It rotates the forearm and also flexes the elbow.
  • Latissimus dorsi: This flat rectangular muscle of the back helps the arms rotate as well as move away and closer to the body.
  • Subscapularis: This is a large triangular muscle near the humerus and collarbone. It helps rotate the humerus.
  • Supraspinatus: This small muscle is located at the top of the shoulder and helps raise the arm away from the body.

Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises

Add these into your training.

1. Straight Arm Overhead Kettlebell Hold

Probably not the first exercise you expect when you think of kettlebell exercises for the shoulders but a very important one.

The kettlebell is helped up into the straight arm overhead position and then held there for up to 60 seconds.

During the overhead hold the wrist and arm should be kept dead straight, the shoulder, back and down, in its socket and the ear kept away from the shoulder.

There are 3 progressions to this exercise:

Half Kneeling Position (as shown above, back knee is on the floor)
Standing Position (keep abs and glutes tight)
Walking (take a walk with the kettlebell held overhead)
Overhead Kneeling to Standing (see video below)
The goal is to strengthen the stabilising muscles around the shoulder joint.

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