Exercises You Should Be Doing: 1-Arm Bottoms-Up Anything

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Drake said it best:

“Started from the bottom now we’re here.”

Based off last week’s article on Building the Squat From the Bottom and today’s apropos titled post, you may think I’m obsessed with bottoms.

Kim Kardashian and J-Lo jokes aside, you’re 100% correct.

When I was coaching at Cressey Sports Performance and working with numerous overhead athletes, utilizing bottoms-up exercises was a daily occurrence…many times serving as a starting point for guys traveling to Massachusetts to train after a tenuously long baseball season or maybe recovering from an injury.

Get it?

Started From the Bottom?

Bottoms-up? Starting point?1

In case you’re not picking up what I’m putting down: I like bottoms-up (kettlebell) exercises.

Like THIS one. And THIS one.

There are many reasons why, too.

1) Better Shoulder Health and Rotator Cuff Activation

With regards to shoulder health and rotator cuff activation, there aren’t many things more effective than holding a kettlebell upside down. Because grip becomes more of a “thing” here, a phenomenon called irradiation comes into play. Simply put: grip strength helps the shoulder to “pack” itself, providing more stability to the area.

Don’t believe me?

Hold your arm out in front of you making a fist. But don’t do anything, just hold it there.

Now, MAKE A FIST (as if you were going to thunder-punch a T-Rex). Notice how your shoulder kinda tensed up and “packed” itself. That’s irradiation.

Moreover, when we start talking about the rotator cuff muscles and what the anatomy books tells us their function is we get this:

  • Internal/external rotation of the humerus.
  • Abduction of the humerus
  • Humeral depression (counteract pull of delts)

All of this is correct. And, I defy anyone to put this bit of trivia in their Match.com profile and not be beating people off with a stick.

However, the RC’s true “function” is to keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid fossa.2Bottoms-up KB carries are an excellent choice to train the rotator cuff in this fashion.


2) De-loading

I am a firm believer in lifting heavy things. The slogan of this site is “Because Heavy Things Won’t Lift Themselves” for crying out loud.

That said, it’s important to pump the brakes from time to time and understand (and respect) that lifting “heavy,” all the time, isn’t necessary to build a strong, durable, aesthetically pleasing body.

It’s the backbone, of course. But the “go heavy, or go home” mentality can be just as deleterious and stagnating as going too light.

What I also love about bottoms-up exercises is that they serve as a built-in “de-load” mechanism for many trainees, not to mention a tricky way to place a spotlight on any glaring side-to-side strength/muscular imbalances.

Have someone perform a 1-arm Bottoms-Up Bench Press or Overhead Press and watch as it becomes abundantly clear which arm is stronger than the other.


What’s more, because so many trainees like to “muscle” their exercises3, many of the smaller, stabilizing musculature gets the shaft. And thus, nagging injuries may occur.

Relax: I’m not going all Tracy Anderson and saying something asinine like “it’s important to use lighter weights so we can target our deep, less angry, stabilizing muscles. Also, dipping your left hand into a bucket of unicorn tears detoxes the body of sadness.”

What I am saying, however, is that it’s okay to use an exercise such as this as an accessory movement to help address a gross imbalance or weakness, or to even help build some muscle. The Bottoms-Up KB Overhead Press is actually one of my favorite shoulder exercises to build mass because it forces people to be strict with their technique.

  • Squeeze glutes, quads, and abs.
  • Lock rib cage down.
  • Press

3) Core Stability

I don’t feel I need to spend a lot of time on this one. Performing any unilateral movement (upper or lower body) has obvious core training benefits.

Here, not only are we getting all the benefits described above, but we’re also getting the benefit of challenging our core musculature to prevent any un-wanted motion (in this case: lateral flexion, rotation, extension, etc).

Bottoms-Up Split Squat


Bottoms-Up Bulgarian Split Squat


Bottoms-Up Reverse Lunge


With all these drills the objective is to stabilize the kettlebell so that it stays upright throughout, while at the same time maintaining a good thoraco-pelvic canister (minimizing rib flair and excessive anterior pelvic tilt).

[A good way to visualize this is to think about an invisible line being drawn from your nipple line to your belly button. You want to “connect” your rib cage to your pelvis and LOCK IT DOWN. The invisible line should stay the same throughout the duration of a set and not get longer].

You’ll notice on all the examples above I make a fist with my free hand to help increase bodily tension. This is important to help maintain that canister

4) And Lastly, Because I Said So

How’s that for a legit reason to give these exercises a try?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. This wordplay doesn’t come easy folks.

  2. This is why I’m not a huge fan of high(er) rep external rotation work. Exercises such as side lying external rotation and standing band external rotations are fantastic in terms of EMG activity. But it’s important to stay cognizant that high(er) repetition work will fatigue the rotator cuff, thus resulting in superior migration of the humeral head leading to increased risk of impingement.

  3. That’s just a nice way of saying they’re compensating the shit out of everything.

  • I think I might have to try the overhead press one. My left side is still weaker than my right when pressing due to all the immobilisation it had last year when I broke my humerus. What would you shoot for repwise?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I’d start with the carries Kate. Might be a nice “intro” to pressing and there will be a 15-20 degree (below and above) the joint angle from the isometric contraction.

      Build the stability and then start to add ROM.

      However, if you feel you’re ready for pressing I’d start with 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions. Avoid too much fatigue to start.

      • Thanks, i’ll try both. I’ve been doing a short kettlebell class at the gym which seems to have become a 1:1 session with one of the PTs because no-one else turns up! I’m reasonably good with carries but not like that. I notice it pressing and doing lateral raises. Everything else is doing pretty well.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Score! Lucky you that no one else is showing up.

          Also: FYI: I’m coming to London in August. I expect to see you there…..;O)

          • No pressure then! Will depend on cost. Having to spend out on new school uniform and equipment for my boy this summer – been told to expect an “Ouch! How much?!” moment. But never say never. 🙂

  • Health Maintains

    Excellent and astute. Passing touches off present minute mindfulness like nothing else can. Much love! Compose ON!!

  • This is great. Not only do I really dig your writing style the information here is very helpful. I often wondered how to strengthen the lesser know muscle groups for better stability especially in my shoulders. I notice I lack shoulder mobility (and possibly strength) on my right side. Never even occured to me to flip the darn kettle bell upside down. Thanks again!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, thank you kindly for the kind words. I try to keep things engaging, so if you’re willing to put up with lame cat jokes, movie references, and the occasional potty mouth…..then this is the right blog for you.

      Glad I was able to shed some light on a often complicated topic. And, thanks for reading!

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  • Shane Mclean

    If you say so, then so be it. Congrats on making the articles of the week.

    • TonyGentilcore


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  • Deb Caspary

    I love my kettlebells. It’s so great to see new uses for them! Thanks

    • TonyGentilcore

      I’m surprised no one has made an infomercial with kettlebells. You can swing em, carry em, deadlift em, squat em. Annnnnnnnnd they can also be a paper weight, a door stopper, …….