Kettlebell purists scoff at the idea of doing arm curls with kettlebells. (It’s actually more of an angry curse.)
I get it. The design of a kettlebell makes it the best tool for certain exercises: the swing, Turkish getup, and goblet squat, and the single-arm clean, snatches, and
Those are all exercises that work multiple muscle groups. A few of them—swing, clean, snatch—are also ballistic exercises that require explosive movement, and train deceleration, key components of almost any sport, and really, any real-life activity.
The genius of the kettlebell’s structure—which is essentially a handle attached to small “cannonball”—allows you to do all of those exercises more effectively than you can with a dumbbell.
(The position where the weight rests makes the kettlebell more ideal than a dumbbell for some exercises; the fact that the weight itself can move in relation to your hand works better for other exercises. And yes, that’s a simplified explanation.)
However, the classic arm curl doesn’t generally fall into the category of “more effective with a kettlebell.”
What’s more, for some kettlebell experts, the idea of doing biceps curls is simply a waste of time. (They might call it stupid.) The mindset is that your time would be better spent performing an exercise such as the clean, which involves your biceps, but works a lot of other muscle as well.
I certainly don’t mind that argument, but I’ll admit: I like to do direct arm work, too. And as it turns out, the kettlebell can actually be better for some versions of the biceps curl than the dumbbell.
So I have a slightly different take: Never do curls with a kettlebell—unless it’s one of the five movements that follow.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat Curls
This exercise is great for warming up: Use a light load and a slow tempo for two or three sets of 10 to 20 reps.
But use a heavy load and faster speeds for 30 to 60 second work periods, and it can create a massive metabolic disturbance—for sort of a holy grail of simultaneous fat loss and arm training.
Besides working your biceps, use it to improve your hip and ankle mobility, core stability, and to strengthen your upper back, forearms and shoulders. In the down position of the squat, it also provides a valuable counter-balance, which allows you to get your trunk more upright and take pressure off your lower back and knees.
Cannonbell Preacher Curls
Credit for this one goes top trainer John Paul Catanzaro. It’s great for improving grip strength and of course, building your biceps and forearms.
A lighter weight goes long way with this variation. So start with a 12-kilogram kettlebell. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side to finish off your next arms workout. And be ready to have trouble lifting your fork at your next meal!
Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Cleans (Power Curls)
The clean trains total body explosion and works your posterior chain—or “backside” muscles—which helps to you make you leaner and more athletic.
And doing this version of the clean—catching the weight with the bottom-up—really challenges your gripping and biceps muscles. Plus, your abs need to work overtime to stabilize the weight.
For an intense total-body finisher, try doing as many rounds of 5 to 10 reps per side in 5 to 10 minutes.
Flexed-Hold Kettlebell Carries
Holding the kettlebells with your elbows bent at 90 degrees challenges your biceps strength at its sticking point.
The longer you can hold moderate to heavy weights in this position, the greater the load and rep total you’ll get with regular biceps curls.
Adding movement with a farmer’s walk makes it more of a whole-body challenge (and also helps the time pass a lot faster!).
Try doing 3 to 5 sets where you hold for 30 to 60 second, followed by 30 to 60 seconds of rest. You can thank us later for the free tickets to the gun show.
Towel-Grip Kettlebell Curls
Trying to curl a kettlebell while gripping the handles is a hot mess because the weights flap around and can injure your arms and shoulders. (Another reason kettlebell experts don’t recommend curling!)
This is instantly fixed by wrapping towels around the handles and gripping the two ends.
Do 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 reps. You’ll annihilate your forearms and biceps, and improve your grip strength and endurance for big muscle-builders like the deadlift and pullups.