Anyone watching Olympic weightlifting has likely marveled at the poundage moved about in the clean-and-jerk competition. Hossein Rezazadeh of Iran set the Olympic record of 581 pounds in 2004 by snapping a barbell from the floor to his shoulders, pausing, then pushing it skyward. While that kind of load is only for Olympians, any of us can get a small taste of the maneuver by using a kettlebell—picture a small cannonball with a handle—to perform a movement called the push-press.
What sets a kettlebell apart from a traditional dumbbell is that its center of gravity extends beyond the grip, enabling you to execute full-body, ballistic and swinging movements, blending strength training and cardio. This combination, along with greater range of motion, increases flexibility and core toning.
Similar to the venerable military press, the kettlebell push-press uses the full body to power the weight overhead. Choose a light bell to start, one you can comfortably lift above your head. Place it on the floor and stand over it with your legs hip-width apart. Squat down and use an overhand grip to grab the bell with your dominant hand and then “clean” it up to the “rack” position.
The clean motion is a dynamic full body movement that starts with a swing and ends with a quick shoulder shrug as you pull the weight back to your body. You’re not muscling the weight up; you’re bursting upwards until the kettlebell rests against your shoulder in the rack. This position means the handle is closer to you, nestled diagonally between the thumb and index finger, and your bent elbow is pressed against your torso. The bulk of the kettlebell’s weight is resting on the upper arm and forearm.
With the bell held securely in the rack position, inhale and squat down a few inches before reversing that motion to exhale and explode upwards. Drive through your heels using the legs and core to propel yourself upright as you push the bell straight overhead, locking out your arm. Next, gently dip your hips, as you begin to lower your arm, and then raise them up to help meet and catch the bell in the rack.
From there, you can choose from a few different options. The most fundamental is to continue the push-press with the same arm before switching to the other. A more dynamic version would be to bring the bell back down to the starting position—on the floor—and perform a set of full-length push-presses. A personal favorite is to bring the bell back to the floor and alternate arms, which helps create a faster, smoother rhythm.
Once you feel comfortable with such a nuanced movement, you can try doing push-presses with two kettlebells, one in each hand.
Final note: The advice presented above is not meant for anyone with contraindicated health problems. Please consult a medical or fitness professional.