When using a kettlebell with two hands most people always hold it in front of themselves with their arms straight down (for example a deadlift) or by their chest in a position commonly known as “goblet.”
But there are many more than those 2 ways to use a kettlebell with 2 hands.
Learn the 6 most common ways I train people to hold the kettlebell with two hands and how they can keep your training interesting and also stop you from hitting plateaus.
You can’t use a kettlebell correctly if you don’t understand how to hold it. Often when people are introduced to kettlebells they learn to hold it by the handle with their arms straight down and in front of them (such as in deadlifts and swings) or they learn to hold it up with elbows bent in front of the chest for squats in what is known as the goblet position.
Afterwards they learn a variety of one handed positions and then think that that is the end of their options.
But when it comes to using one kettlebell and two hands there are at least 6 ways I teach people to hold it. The way depends on the exercise, the person and the goal. Every time you change how you hold the kettlebell you change how you have to support the weight, thereby making it a whole new exercise.
While there may be infinite ways to do this there are 6 safe and effective ways that I commonly have my students use. They are as follows:
Standard (aka Deadlift)
When doing an exercise you can often have multiple options for holding the kettlebell. Let's take a look at all of the different positions and how they can be applied to different exercises.
We will also review how all of these positions (except for standard) apply to the exercise of a split squat. We will use the split squat because it works well with all the variations except for the standard position. Additionally the split squat is an exercise that most people are able to do or can (and should) learn quickly.
Standard aka Deadlift
If you walked up and grabbed a kettlebell by the handle with your arms straight and pointed toward the ground then you are using the standard position. This is the most logical way to pick it up.
This position is great for deadlifts and swings. The swing is the center of the kettlebell universe (and one of the two most important exercises you can do with a kettlebell). This makes this position critical and you should expect to use it often in your training.
Additionally this is frequently the position people use to move a heavy kettlebell from point A to point B. I call this the deadlift and “waddle.”
While this is an important position, it is not the only option available.
This position is similar to the standard position but your arms and the kettlebell are behind you. Your palms should be facing away from you. This resembles what it looks like to have your hands cuffed behind your back, thus the name “prisoner.”
This moves your center of gravity behind you. Remember, once you are holding a kettlebell you and the kettlebell become one object sharing a base of support. This changes the muscles activated, and in particular your stabilizer muscles.
However, the main reason I use this variation is to open the shoulder girdle. To be technical this variation puts your shoulders in extension and internal rotation which undoes a lot of the damage of something like sitting and typing where you are doing the opposite.
A quick adjustment to make this more effective is to remember to spread your collar bones wide while holding the kettlebell in this fashion.
I learned this position from the hack squat, but since it helps people's shoulders and necks feel better I started using it with other exercises such as the split squat.
The goblet is when you are holding the kettlebell in front of you but higher by your chest. Your arms are bent so the kettlebell is close to your body. This name comes from Coach Dan John who invented the excellent exercise known as the “Goblet Squat.”
This position is great because it allows us to work on your posture and it makes your abs work hard. You will also feel your shoulders and biceps getting plenty of work. Especially when you use the position for loaded carries.
There is also a variation of this where the kettlebell is in the same position but “upside down” which I call the “bottoms up goblet position.” This is the starting position of the kettlebell halo, which is a great kettlebell mobility exercise.
This position is one of the better known versions of doing squats or splits squats with a kettlebell. I like to use it when I want people to learn a more upright torso position. Having the weight in front allows you to “lean back” and still stay balanced because of the shift in center of gravity.
In this version you are holding a kettlebell behind your back with your elbows pointed towards the sky. Similar to how you would swing a large hammer down in front of you.
Using a kettlebell this way is an invention of my own. But it has its roots in the kettlebell halo. It is the back position used as an isometric. You also see a similar shoulder position when using Indian clubs or maces.
This allows us to open the shoulder in flexion as well as stretch the triceps. Both of which will do wonders for your ability to lift your arms over your head. A very useful skill.
One difference between this and the back position of the halo is I will let people rest the kettlebell on their back. This allows the use of slightly higher weight than you would normally use for the kettlebell halo.
But this is still an exercise for a relatively light kettlebell. You won’t be using nearly as much as you can when holding a kettlebell in standard, prisoner or even goblet position.
This position involves having the hands very close together and hanging the kettlebell over your thumbs. The kettlebell will be resting on the front of your forearms.
Most people need this position for only one exercise - The Kettlebell Pullover. This is an amazing exercise for working on your overhead position and building strength in your lats, abs, and chest. If it is only for this one exercise it is still worth learning the position.
However, if someone has full overhead mobility it can be used standing up. But this will take more mobility than needed for something like a Double Kettlebell Jerk. Very few people have (or need) the amount of mobility needed to use this position standing upright.
When this position is used upright the weight is always very light. This is because of the extreme mobility requirements. With the kettlebell pullover, however, the weight can get much heavier. But as always, be sure to err on the light side.
When applied to the split squat this will guarantee you keep an upright torso. Leaning forward or backward simply becomes a non-option with this variation.
This is similar to the goblet position but instead of having your elbow bent and the weight close to your chest, your elbows are straight and the weight is far in front of you.
You will really work your shoulder muscles and will feel your abs in a whole new way. Also you will need to lean back to counterbalance the weight
The leaning back to counterbalance can be particularly helpful when people are having problems finding an upright torso position. This is very common with split squats making this a great variation for improving technique.
When it comes to varying your training there are many options available. If you are using a kettlebell most of the variety focuses on using one hand and one kettlebell.
But by using these 6 positions you can add variety to a large number of kettlebell exercises while still using two hands. Just remember when trying a new version that you should start light. You don't know how difficult the new position will be for you until you try it.
And remember that every new position in which you hold the kettlebell gives your body a brand new stimulus to adapt to. This means the technique will change slightly, so make sure you are always in strong (and safe) positions. In addition to keeping things interesting, the new stimulus will also help you keep seeing results with your training program.