The Kettlebell Floor Press: How to Perform It and Why You Should

By Matt Walter
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Kettlebell Floor Press Featured Image

The double kettlebell floor press is an upper body strength exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and arms. It’s a simple movement to learn and makes a great addition to upper body pressing days, or in place of barbell pressing movements if you have a nagging injury. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to do the kettlebell floor press correctly, and we’ll also give you some reasons why you should add this movement to your routine.

Video: Kettlebell Floor Press Tutorial

How to Perform the Kettlebell Floor Press

The kettlebell floor press simply involves lying on the floor and pressing the kettlebell straight above your chest.

The Setup

Step 1: Sit on the floor with a kettlebell at either side of your hips. Lay back so that your upper back is slightly off the floor, your elbows are bent and touching the ground, your knees are bent to about 45-degrees, and your feet are flat on the floor. Grab the kettlebell horns with a supinated grip (palms up toward the ceiling).

KB Floor Press Setup

Coach’s Tip: Grab the kettlebell so that the padding between your thumb and index finger is pressed into the 90-degree angle created by the horns. This makes it easier to secure the KB than if you grab the horns in the middle.

Step 2: Rock back so that you are lying flat on the ground. As you lay back, use the momentum of your upper body, along with your biceps, to curl the kettlebells so they are off the ground and stacked directly above your elbows.

KB Floor Press Starting Position

Coach’s Tip: Keep your shoulders relaxed, down, and away from your ear lobes.

Movement Execution

Step 3: Keeping your hands neutral (plans facing each other) and your upper arms near your sides, press the kettlebells straight up. Squeeze your chest at the top.

KB Floor Press Concentric Movement

Coach’s Tip: Think of pressing your body into the ground and away from the kettlebells. Thinking too much about pressing with your hands can cause you to round your shoulders. This will shift the focus away from your pecs, and place your shoulders in a compromised position.

Step 4: Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position. If you rotated your hands at the top, reverse that action so that you end up with your palms neutral when your triceps hit the ground.

Coach’s Tip: Try to touch both elbows to the floor at the same time.

Sitting Up

Step 5: With your arms on the floor and the bells above your elbows, rotate your hands back to a supinated grip (palms facing your head). As if you are doing a biceps curl, lower the weight back to the floor. At the same time, sit up.

Kettlebell Floor Press Tips

Try these tips to get the most benefit from the kettlebell floor press.

Rotate Your Hands

Try rotating your hands as the bell rises, so that you end with your palms facing your feet. But don’t try and touch the KBs at the top of the movement. Just press straight up.

KB Floor Press Pronated Grip

Adding a small amount of rotation during the press supports proper movement mechanics of the shoulder. As you press away from the ground, rotate your hands internally into a pronated grip at the top.

Elbow Placement

There are two options for arm placement during the KB floor press. You can have your arms at your sides (described above), or rotate your elbows away from your body about 45-degrees.

KB Floor Press 45 Degree Elbows

Keeping your arms close to your body is a very safe position for your shoulders since you are not placing them in external rotation. This is definitely the best option for beginners or anyone with shoulder concerns.

If you are more experienced and stronger, try moving your arms out to 45-degrees.

You will see some people doing these with their arms at 90-degrees, their arms creating a straight line from shoulders to elbows. I don’t recommend this for several reasons:

KB Floor Press 90 Degree Elbows
  1. When do you push things with your elbows high and to the sides? Whether you’re an athlete trying to move an opponent or a dad trying to slide a fridge across the floor, we push with our elbows down between 45-degrees and tight against our bodies. Why strengthen a position that isn’t going to help you in life or athletics?
  2. The further your elbows go away from your body, the more you externally rotate your shoulders. We want to strengthen the external rotators, but this isn’t the safest movement for doing that.

Squeeze the Kettlebell

Squeeze the kettlebell handle as hard as you can to encourage “irradiation,” which promotes stronger shoulder stability.

Common Errors With the Kettlebell Floor Press

Touching the Kettlebells at the Top

The pecs pull your arms toward the midline of your body, but there is no reason to try and touch the kettlebells at the top of the movement. Just press them up until your arms are straight.

Arching Your Back

This is a common error, especially if the weight is too heavy or toward the end of a set. Make sure you maintain tension in your abs and don’t allow your lower back to arch excessively.

If arching your back is a problem for you, try bringing your feet up off the floor, knees together, and your quads closer to your hips.

KB Floor Press With Legs Elevated

Bouncing Off the Ground

At the bottom of each rep, don’t bounce the elbows off the ground. Doing so will create compressive forces between the kettlebell and the floor. This is bad news for your wrists!

Control the weight on the way down. Touch the floor, but don’t relax and take tension off the muscles.

Picking Up the Kettlebell in External Rotation of the Shoulder

This is more of an issue with a single-arm kettlebell press. Many people will start in a prone position on their backs, and set a kettlebell next to their ribs. Then externally rotate their hand to the side and try and pull the kettlebell on top of their chest. This puts a ton of stress on your rotator cuffs.

KB Floor Press Incorrect Setup

Instead, follow the directions and video above for safely getting the kettlebells into position.

Keep Your Wrists Neutral

Do not let your wrists extend out to the sides. This places stress on your wrists and decreases force production.

Keep your wrists in line with your forearm, and allow the kettlebells to “hang” from your arm so that your wrist stays in a neutral position.

Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Floor Press

The floor press is a pushing movement that is used to enhance the size, strength, and performance of the upper body, particularly the triceps and chest. The following are the primary muscles targeted in the floor press.

Pectorals (Chest)

Pectoralis Muscle

The pectoral muscles are the primary muscle group involved in the force production of the floor press. Even though this movement will not take the pecs through a full range of motion, they are still worked to a large degree.

Triceps

Triceps Muscles

The triceps are involved in both elbow stability and extension of the elbow. The closer you keep your upper arms to your side throughout the lift, the more you will engage your triceps.

Rhomboids and Scapular Stabilizers

Rhomboids

The rhomboids and scapular stabilizers are responsible for stabilizing the kettlebell during the floor press. The floor press is useful for improving scapular retraction and upper back engagement. These improvements will translate to increased pressing strength and performance.

Benefits of the Kettlebell Floor Press

There’s a reason that many renowned sports rehabilitation professionals are turning to kettlebells for movement correction and training. The form and loading that you can achieve with this tool are precisely what many athletes require in order to stabilize their joints.

Bigger Triceps

This is a great exercise to increase the strength and size of the triceps. Substitute it for dips or to add it to your regularly pressing program.

The limited range of motion also allows you to keep constant tension on the triceps, which is important for muscle growth and strength development. This will ultimately improve performance in the bench press and other pressing movements.

Improved Shoulder Health

The kettlebell floor press is a great exercise to improve shoulder health and function. The move strengthens the muscles around the shoulder joint (rotator cuff) while keeping stress off of the actual joint itself.

This is important for both injury prevention and rehabilitation. The kettlebell floor press can help to correct imbalances around the shoulder joint and improve movement quality.

Greater Core Strength

The kettlebell floor press is a great way to build core strength, especially with the single-arm version. The exercise requires you to maintain a stable torso throughout the movement. This will challenge your core musculature and help to improve your overall strength.

Improve Your Lockout

Due to the shortened range of motion, you should be able to handle more weight than you can typically press. This is especially helpful if you struggle with locking out pressing movements, the bench press in particular. Add this exercise to your program to develop pressing strength and improve your lockout.

It’s Shoulder-Friendly

If you are experiencing problems with your shoulders while pressing, limiting the range of motion can lighten the stress on the shoulders while still providing a good stimulus. The neutral grip can also help with shoulder impingement issues, and forcing each arm to work independently will allow you to correct any imbalances you may have.

However, If you have a known injury that you are working around, get it looked at before swapping exercises, and remember to start light until you are confident with the movement.

Drawbacks of the Kettlebell Floor Press

The main downside of the kettlebell floor press is the abbreviated range of motion. This means that the chest and shoulder muscles aren’t going to be developed to the extent that they would with a pressing variation that allows you to go through a full range of motion.

Especially with the pecs.

mTOR, when activated, triggers muscle hypertrophy due to an increase in protein synthesis. (1) Loaded stretching is one of the contraction types that increases mTOR activation the most.

We can take advantage of this with a full range of motion chest exercises because we can load the chest in its fully stretched state. Lowering a weight all the way to your chest and holding for 2 seconds, while actively pulling the weight down with your upper back muscles, has this effect.

Dumbbell Incline Press

Floor presses, due to their limited range of motion and inability to load the pecs in a fully stretched state, miss out on this hypertrophy pathway.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid floor presses! I’ve discussed the many benefits of the kettlebell version of the floor press. But this highlights the need for variation and understanding of why you’re choosing each exercise and variation.

Who Should Do the Floor Press?

Here we’ll discuss those who can benefit from adding the kettlebell floor press to their strength training programs.

Strength and Power Athletes

The kettlebell floor press may be used by strength and power athletes to increase pressing strength, address lockout weaknesses and sticking points, improve scapular stability for pressing, train around an injury, increase triceps hypertrophy and strength, and overcome imbalances from left to right.

General Fitness Goals

The kettlebell floor press can improve muscular imbalances, increase upper body strength, add variety to training programs, and improve scapular stability and strength.

Programming the Kettlebell Floor Press

There are many ways to program the kettlebell floor press for a variety of strength and fitness goals. The following is by no means exhaustive, but are a few to get you started.

To Gain Muscle (Hypertrophy)

The floor press is an excellent exercise for building muscular strength in the triceps and chest. To build muscle in your triceps and chest, aim for the total hypertrophy zone (9-12 reps) with 30-75 seconds of rest for 3-4 sets.

To Gain Strength

Train with heavier kettlebells for fewer reps to improve lockout strength, as well as add mass to your chest and triceps. Start by performing KB floor presses with 4-6 reps for 5-8 working sets with 120-150 seconds of rest between efforts.

Why Powerlifters and Strength Athletes Should Use Kettlebells

Bench Press Competition

Kettlebells have a unique shape and unstable weight, which makes them beneficial for strength athletes.

The instability of the kettlebell will challenge your stabilizer muscles in a way that barbells and dumbbells don’t. The better your stabilizers the stronger you’ll be on your core lifts.

And, kettlebells bells allow for unique positions that even dumbbells can’t provide. Changing variables like elbow or wrist position can target and strengthen muscles in new ways.

Kettlebell Floor Press Variations

Try these variations of the kettlebell floor press to switch things up or make the movement more difficult.

Single Arm Kettlebell Floor Press

Kettlebell floor presses can also be done by exercising one arm at a time. Place a kettlebell on your right side. Place your right hand in the horns, roll onto your side, reach over with your left hand, and roll to your back with the KB on your chest.

Perform your prescribed number of reps with your right arm, rest, and then perform a set using your left arm.

This variation is tough! It’ll challenge your core much more than the dual KB version.

Or try using two kettlebells but only focusing on one side at a time. Lift a kettlebell in each hand to the fully extended position above your chest. But, instead of lowering both and repeating, lower the kettlebell in your right hand only. Lift the weight back up, and then lower the left side bell.

You can also have both arms on the ground, lift your right bell, lower it, and then lift the left side.

Kettlebell Floor Press With Glute Bridge

Press through your heels and raise your hips into a full bridge position. Now complete your KB floor press as described above. This will increase the activation of your glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles, and will move the focus of the press to the lower portion of your chest. Almost like a decline bench press.

Dumbbell Floor Press

Perform this movement just as you would with kettlebells. However, I like to lift each dumbbell onto my thighs, and then use momentum and some help from my legs to get the dumbbells into the starting position.

Kettlebells are one of the best pieces of equipment you can buy for your home or garage gym. They’re incredibly versatile and will help you build muscle, get stronger, and be fitter.

Titan Fitness Cast Iron Kettlebells – These are my favorite style of kettlebells. If you are just getting into kettlebells, start with a 16 kg (35 lb) or 24 kg (53 lb) bell. I bought my 35-kg kettlebell from Titan Fitness and I love it.

Rogue Fitness Iron Kettlebells – These are great, high-quality kettlebells. I have two 16-kg and one 24-kg from Rogue.

Rogue Fitness E-Coat Kettlebells – These are slightly cheaper than the cast iron kettlebells but are of the same quality and are shaped from the same mold as the cast iron. I have one of these and I use it often with my cast iron version. They are the same height, weight, and feel, which is important if you are doing dual kettlebell work.

Conclusion: The Kettlebell Floor Press

The kettlebell floor press is a great alternative to traditional weight lifting exercises and a great addition to your chest workouts. It can help powerlifters or strength athletes improve their performance, and it’s a shoulder-friendly chest exercise if you have a nagging issue you need to work around.

The kettlebell’s unique shape forces your stabilizer muscles into action in ways that barbells or dumbells don’t. Changing positions of the kettlebell will also target different muscle groups in new ways. When kettlebells are programmed correctly, they can help you achieve your strength or hypertrophy goals.

Do you have any questions about kettlebell floor presses? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check out our other kettlebell exercises for more ways to target your chest muscles. Thanks for reading!

Learn how to perform the dumbbell hang clean and jerk
Learn how to perform archer pull ups, an advanced pull-up variation
Learn how to perform incline hammer curls to build upper arm strength and size
Learn how to perform the dumbbell Romanian deadlift

References

  1. Yoon, Mee-Sup. “mTOR as a Key Regulator in Maintaining Skeletal Muscle Mass.” Frontiers in physiology vol. 8 788. 17 Oct. 2017, doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00788
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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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