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Try This Mobility Exercise: The Kettlebell Arm Bar

This is an excerpt from Kettlebell Strength Training Anatomy by Michael Hartle.

Kettlebell arm bar


  1. Lie on your left side with the kettlebell close to you. Grab the handle with your left hand and place your right hand with a thumbless grip over the top. While keeping the kettlebell close to you, roll to your back with the two-handed grip. The kettlebell will be down by your ribs with your left elbow on the ground.
  2. Let go with your right hand and floor press the kettlebell up or press the kettlebell up with both hands.
  3. Keep your thumb pointed toward your head. Bend your left knee to approximately 90 degrees and keep your right leg straight. Place your right hand on the ground above your head.
  4. With your left leg, roll your body to the right, using your right arm and leg as the axis. Place your left knee on the ground with your hip flexed to 90 degrees while resting your head on your right arm.
  5. Keep your left arm perpendicular to the floor and your thumb pointing toward your head. Antishrug both shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together, packing your shoulders during this movement.
  6. Straighten out your left leg so that your legs are approximately shoulder-width or more apart. Keep your toes pointed.
  7. Breathe in, and as you exhale, squeeze your left gluteus maximus to bring the front of your left hip toward the ground. Do this for three to five repetitions. When you are done, flex your left hip back to 90 degrees. Using the fingers of your right hand, slowly inch your right arm into further flexion. Keep your head on your right biceps. If you reach full flexion of your right arm, do not go any farther.
  8. Straighten the leg from 90 degrees of hip flexion to 0 degrees of hip flexion. Set the kettlebell on the ground by reversing the movements and positions that you used to perform the kettlebell arm bar.
  9. When switching sides, you can use both hands to drag the kettlebell on the floor around your head in an arc to the other side, or you can move your body to the other side of the kettlebell.

Muscles Involved

Primary: Erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus, spinalis), gluteus maximus, hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris), latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major and minor, deltoids (anterior, medial, and posterior), rhomboids, trapezius

Secondary: Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius), rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal oblique, external oblique, forearms (wrist flexors, finger flexors), elbow extensors (triceps brachii)

Anatomic Focus

Grip: Position the kettlebell handle in a diagonal position from the web of the thumb to the pisiform of the hand. Your wrist should be neutral.

Stance: Place your feet shoulder-width or slightly wider apart.

Trajectory: During the arm bar, the kettlebell will be essentially motionless.

Range of motion: The kettlebell arm bar is a fantastic mobility movement for your thoracic spine and shoulder. Pause at each section while moving into position. Pay attention to what your body is saying to you. If you need to move your foot or your hand before performing the next move, do so. Check that you are in the best position to succeed before performing it.
When done properly, it will help bulletproof your shoulders and stretch your pectoralis and latissimus dorsi muscles. Keep your head resting on the arm on the floor. This will help decrease tension in your loaded arm.

Technique note: This movement is a mobility movement, not a strength movement. Therefore, use a weight that is easy to moderate but not heavy. Do it as one of your warm-up exercises prior to your training session.


Kettlebell Bent-Arm Bar
This variation is set up like the arm bar, except that you stay on your side with your top hip flexed to 90 degrees and with the knee on the ground. With your elbow extended, thumb pointed toward your head, wrist neutral, and forearm perpendicular to the floor, flex and pull your elbow down and behind your thoracic spine, if possible. Keep your head on the arm on the floor. Think of this as though you are scratching your back with your elbow. Hold the position for a brief time, then press the kettlebell back up. Perform three to five repetitions, set the kettlebell on the ground safely, and switch sides.

More Excerpts From Kettlebell Strength Training Anatomy