What’s Missing From Your Kettlebell Workout / Program?

What’s Missing From Your Kettlebell Workout / Program?

I routinely get emails asking me about exercises to include and exclude inside kettlebell workouts / programs.

And I think that’s a great thing.

We should all be informed and take responsibility for our strength and health.

At least that’s my belief and how I live my life.

That way, I’m not dependent on someone else.

The past couple of days we’ve been focused on the legs and kettlebell work.

Today, let’s discuss whether “direct back work” is missing from kettlebell training.

I’ve received multiple emails this week that go something like this:

“Do I need to direct back work like rows or face pulls with [NAME OF KETTLEBELL PROGRAM] or am I getting enough work from doing [NAME OF KETTLEBELL EXERCISE(S)]?”

This is a really great question.

Before I answer it, let’s dig into a little backstory, shall we?

Somewhere around 1997/8 when I was still a strength & conditioning coach at Rutgers, I read an article from some expert somewhere about how all “pushing” movements should be “balanced” with “pulling” movements.


And they should be “balanced” by movements in the same plane.

So we have:

Horizontal Pushing: Bench Press, Push Ups, etc

Horizontal Pulling: Rows

Vertical Pushing: Shoulder/Military Press, Dips, etc.

Vertical Pulling: Pull Ups, Chins, Upright Rows, etc.

And each of those should, in most cases, be balanced rep for rep.

Unless of course there’s been too much loading in one area, like Horizontal Pushing, because no one ever does “too much bench” or “too many push ups.” (He said, sarcastically.)

And then in those cases, the over-dominant movement can either be dropped for a period of time, or put on a retaining load, while its opposing movement is worked/programmed aggressively.

For example:

Push Ups x 10

Rows x 4 sets of 10

Now, with that as a background, let’s look at the two dominant upper body kettlebell exercises:

The Turkish Get Up (TGU)

The Military Press (MP)

Both have one similarity in common:

They are “Vertical Pushing.”

Or said another way, “shoulder flexion” exercises – where the arm straightens over the head.

The TGU holds the shoulder in flexion, and the MP moves the shoulder into and out of flexion.

Both train the muscles that contribute to shoulder health as well:

The rhomboids (connect the shoulder blades to the spine, aid in retraction and depression)

The middle and lower traps (aid in shoulder blade retraction, upward rotation, depression)  

Here’s what I rarely hear anyone discussing:

Shoulder flexion is the one shoulder movement that we tend to lose as we age, and the one shoulder movement that retains [almost always] all others.

And that’s because of the 4 main movements of the shoulder blade: 

Elevation (shrugging up)

Depression (shrugging down)

Retraction (moving toward the spine)

Protraction (moving away from the spine)

Full and healthy shoulder flexion moves the shoulder blade through all those ranges of motion.

(I can go “deep into the weeds” here, but I won’t for now in order to save time.)

TGUs help restore those movements through isometric holding.

And Presses restore, strengthen, and maintain those shoulder blade mechanics.

Incidentally, so do Snatches. 

This is why some people see their shoulder “issues” disappear when they restore lost shoulder flexion.

And others even see increases in performance metrics, like increased Bench Press and the number of Push Ups they can do.

So do you NEED to add exercises like Rows to your kettlebell program?

It depends. But if you have healthy shoulders?

Then generally speaking, no. 

SHOULD you have them in your program?

Again, no, not necessarily.

If you can’t put your arm(s) over head, in line with your ears, and perpendicular to the ground, then Rows will help you strengthen the retraction and depression function of your shoulder blades…

Which in turn can help you restore proper shoulder flexion.

Especially when combined with the TGU and eventually some MPs. 

But generally, over the last 20 years or so, I’ve found focusing on shoulder flexion – TGUs and MPs – 

Keeps the shoulders healthy and strong.

And even though there’s no “direct pulling” in Pressing-dominant programs, if you learn how to use the “active negative” during the MP, you can “get your pulling in.”

Will it “hurt” to add in Horizontal Pulling exercises like Rows or Face Pulls to your current plan?

Probably not. 

Just be mindful it doesn’t tap into your recovery ability.

Remember, at the end of the day, one of the reasons we use kettlebells, and in particular, a limited battery of KB exercises, is because doing so ELIMINATES most of the need to do all the other “traditional fitness” exercises.

If you need / want a program that incorporates not only Rows, but a larger variety of other KB exercises, in order to get stronger AND leaner, this one has you covered.

👉 https://go.chasingstrength.com/burn-sa1/

And if you’re not sure about your kettlebell exercise technique?

I’ll leave a link to a video course that teaches you proper TGU and Press mechanics, including how to perform the “active negative” on the MP.

👉 https://salutis.kartra.com/page/BIG6-2

And I’ll also leave a link for the restoration protocol works like gangbusters for the shoulders. I use it to keep my shoulders and all my other joints healthy and strong. 

👉 https://go.chasingstrength.com/sore-joint-solution-e/

Stay Strong,


Copyright 2024 ChasingStrength.com, all rights reserved.