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Eric Leija performs the banded gorilla row

Kettlebell and Band Upper-Body Workout

Written by
August 16, 2023
Updated October 24, 2023

Any respectable garage gym ought to have some kettlebells or bands—two types of equipment that, on their own, can cover pretty much any training goal and any kind of workout you choose to try. But combine bells and bands into one routine? You must be mad…

The following workout is brought to you by one of our favorite mad scientists—the Onnit-certified Eric Leija (@primal.swoledier)—who came up with it while experimenting in his own garage gym. The routine requires only a pair of moderate-weight kettlebells (16kg are good for most guys; 8kg for ladies), and a light resistance band (we like the mini available at elitefts.com), and trains your chest, shoulders, arms, and upper back muscles in under 30 minutes.

How To Do The Kettlebell and Band Upper-Body Workout

The workout is organized into supersets, meaning you’ll do a set for two different exercises in sequence with little to no rest in between. That makes the workout go faster while challenging your conditioning (it’s also a shortcut to a big, juicy pump).

On its own, the resistance band allows you to target your stabilizer muscles in a way you couldn’t with iron alone, so don’t underestimate the sword pull and pull-apart exercises. But when added to the kettlebell, the band brings a new dimension to your strength training. Because the elasticity of the band pulls back at you when you stretch it out, you have to do your reps harder and faster to overcome the resistance than you would using kettlebells alone. This is great for building power, and for making lighter weights (if that’s what you have) feel a whole lot heavier.

DIRECTIONS

Perform the exercise pairs (marked A and B) as a superset. So you’ll do one set of A, then a set of B, and then rest 2–3 minutes. Repeat until all sets are done for the pair, and go on to the next pair. Finish with the bent-over band pull apart, which is done on its own for straight sets (do a set, rest as needed, and repeat).

1A. Kettlebell Band Floor Press

Sets:Reps: 9–12

Step 1. Grasp the band in one hand by its loop end and wrap it around your back. Grasp the other loop with the other hand. Lie back on the floor and bend your knees 90 degrees, planting your feet flat. Take a kettlebell in each hand (it will be easier if you have a partner to hand the weights off to you), holding them along with the band loops. Your arms should be at 45 degrees to your sides with your triceps resting on the floor.

Step 2. Press the weights and band straight over your chest. Lower the weights back until your triceps touch the floor—don’t let your elbows crash down.

The kettlebell floor press works the chest, shoulders, and triceps just as any bench press variation does, but the shortened range of motion emphasizes triceps gains. It’s also a good substitute for full-range benching if your shoulders hurt.

1B. Banded Sword Pull

Sets:Reps: 10 (each side)

Step 1. Hold the band with your left hand down at your side, just outside your waist. Brace your arm against your side.

Step 2. Grasp the other end of the band with your right hand, thumb facing forward, and raise your arm diagonally up and outward until it’s overhead. The movement should look like you’re pulling a sword from a scabbard and holding it aloft.

Similar to Y raises (which are done two-handed, and often with a band or dumbbells), the sword pull works the lower traps, which help to stabilize the shoulder and balance the effect of lots of chest and shoulder pressing. In other words, the sword pull is a good rehab/prehab movement that pairs well with the floor press.

2A. Banded Gorilla Row

Sets:Reps: 8–12

Step 1. Twist the band into an X shape, and place your foot on one loop to anchor it down. Run the band through the handles of two kettlebells on the floor. Place your other foot on the open loop of the band. Your feet should be outside shoulder width. Bend your hips back, keeping a long, straight line from your head to your tailbone, and grasp the kettlebells and the band.

Step 2. Row the kettlebells to your sides, retracting your shoulder blades completely. Keep your lower back flat and your core braced, and avoid shrugging or hunching your shoulders as you pull.

If you have a strong back already, you may find that the kettlebells you have aren’t heavy enough to provide much of a challenge on bent-over rowing motions. The addition of a band fixes that, and allows you to train your rowing more explosively—a sight rarely seen, compared with how much explosive pressing athletes, powerlifters, and CrossFitters do.

2B. Banded Push Press

Sets:Reps: 8 (each side)

Step 1. Stand on one loop of the band with your left foot, and hold the other loop in your left hand. Grasp a kettlebell in your left hand along with the band, and hold the weight at shoulder level.

Step 2. Bend your knees quickly, dipping your torso to gather momentum, and explode upward, pressing the weight overhead to lockout.

The push press by itself trains power, and allows you to lift heavier than when doing a strict press, which is great for strength. Adding a band will force you to keep your speed and explosiveness up as you fatigue.

3. Bent-Over Band Pull-Apart

Sets: Reps: 15

Step 1. Grasp the band with hands at shoulder width and palms facing each other, or turned upward. Hold the band at arm’s length in front of you and bend your hips back until you’re in a bent-over position with your back straight.

Step 2. Raise your arms straight out to your sides, as if pulling the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Another rehab/prehab exercise, the pull-apart really isolates the scapular muscles, which are responsible for good posture and protecting the shoulder joints.

See another kettlebell workout for a specific body part—aesthetic abs—with our Best Kettlebell Ab Exercises & Workout To Get Lean.

Onnit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible. The online database includes articles, videos, tutorials, and workouts featuring alternative implements like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, battle ropes, and more.
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