Kettlebell Supplementary Exercises For Calisthenics

MAY, 2021

Kettlebell Training vs Calisthenics Training – how do they compare? Kettlebells provide a great workout with a versatile weight, while calisthenics uses a series of bodyweight exercises to achieve phenomenal strength.

Likely the question should not be which is better, but how can you incorporate both to improve optimise your training!

Calisthenics focuses on bodyweight exercises to improve strength. Despite how well rounded it is, some parts of the body are difficult to work using calisthenics alone. That’s why kettlebells can be an excellent training tool to work these harder to train muscles.

The two hardest major muscle groups to work using bodyweight exercises are the back and shoulders. Bodyweight exercises for the upper body typically focus on pull ups and push ups and variations thereof.

Push ups work the chest and triceps, while pull ups work the biceps and lats – and although you may get some shoulder engagement in push ups and the back might get a little love from pull ups – these muscle groups are not targeted sufficiently in these exercises.

In fact there are some great bodyweight exercises such as inverted rows and handstand push ups that can target the back and shoulders, however these exercises are too difficult for most people. Kettlebells on the other hand provide an easy and accessible way to train the back and shoulders.

kettlebells animal heads

Kettlebell Back Exercises For Calisthenics

Unbalanced ratios of back exercises as compared to chest and lat exercises can result in forward facing posture in calisthenics athletes if kept unchecked. Muscles become tighter when they are worked, and the muscle fibres start to shorten. This inevitably affects posture (1).

When we work the chest, we start to develop rounded shoulders and possibly kyphosis due to the tightening of the chest. When doing pull ups, we engage our lats which insert anteriorly onto our upper arms’. Tightening the lats will also cause forward leaning posture (2). To bring us back into a neutral postural we need to stretch our chest and lats, but also strengthen our upper back muscles.

Kettlebell exercises great for this are all variations of the bent over row. This exercise can be done with one or two arms at the same time, and involves keeping the back parallel to the ground or at least at a small angle and pulling the kettlebell vertically up. This exercise is perfect for targeting the middle and low traps as well as the rhomboids – muscle groups difficult to target with bodyweight exercises (3).

kettlebell swing outside (1)

Kettlebell Shoulder Exercises To Supplement Bodyweight Training

Shoulders are particularly difficult to target using bodyweight exercises. This is because shoulder exercises require lifting the body upside down – and whether you are lifting the entire body or doing an assisted variant of pike push ups or handstand push ups, there is a tremendous amount of weight through the shoulders. Furthermore, bodyweight shoulder bodyweight exercises accessible to most people (who aren’t superhuman freaks!), are limited to the vertical push similar to shoulder press.

Kettlebells, on the other hand, allow us to not only use a much smaller and more targeted weight, but give us a much greater variety of exercises to work with. Notably the deltoids are made of 3 heads, the anterior head, the medial head and the posterior head (4). Kettlebells can target these 3 heads individually.

For instance the anterior head can be targeted by front raise, an exercise similar to bicep curls but where the arms are locked straight and lifted to chest height. The medial head can be targeted with flies. And the posterior head can be worked through kettlebell skies, where the kettlebells are lifted behind you while the arms remain straight and the back is parallel to the ground.

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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