Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
My shoulders have always been the weakest part of my body. I like to work on them a few times a week in different ways in my quest to make them stronger. One exercise I recently added to my routine is the bottoms-up shoulder press with a kettlebell. If you’re a man over 40, I strongly urge you to try it, too. You don’t need a lot of weight for the exercise to be effective, and, due to its unique positioning, you're essentially forced to use perfect form and concentration to pull it off at all.
The bottoms-up shoulder press presents two challenges for me—and most older guys, too, for that matter. I have a hard time with more standard overhead lifts, which can be painful for my lower back due to core weakness and an anterior pelvic tilt. Secondly, I’ve always had tightness in my shoulders. I’m unable to lift my arms straight up toward the ceiling without tilting backward. Unlike exercises like the military press, the bottoms-up shoulder press demands that your core and shoulder stabilizers are fully braced and locked in to even execute one rep. Holding the kettlebell in the bottoms-up position adds an element of instability to the exercise—which forces you to completely focus for proper execution of the movement.
Start with the lightest kettlebell in the gym. Because of the nature of this exercise, the weight will feel heavier than you'd expect. You can do the bottoms-up shoulder press from a standing, kneeling, or half kneeling position. I prefer half-kneeling because it supports my lower back best. In the half-kneeling position (left leg forward, right leg backward) there should be a 90-degree angle at your front and back knees. The most important part of the set-up is to brace your core by squeezing your glutes and your abs as tight as possible. This will lock in and protect your lower back.
Pick up the kettlebell with your right hand and hold it by the handle. Flip the weight and keep the handle in the heel of your palm, with the bottom of the kettlebell facing the ceiling. While holding the kettlebell in a bottoms-up position, you will be forced to grip the handle as tight as possible so the weight doesn’t fall to the side. Your forearm must remain perpendicular to the ground, and it should be directly in front of you, not flared out to the side. This will lock your shoulder stabilizers into the safest position to press the kettlebell upward toward the ceiling.
All you must do now is simply press the kettlebell up. This is extra challenging because you must completely control the weight so you don’t lose it to either side of your forearm. You will most likely need to press more slowly than you would using a dumbbell. If you feel your spine tilting backward at all, you must squeeze your core tighter, or drop to a lower weight. Once you’ve fully extended your arm toward the ceiling, slowly come back down to the starting position, while still keeping your forearm perpendicular to the ground. That’s one rep.
This exercise is great for core, shoulders, forearms, grip, and concentration, while at the same time reinforcing safe positioning while using lighter weights. To start, go for 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps with each arm. Use the lightest kettlebell in the gym to get the form down perfectly, then progress as you gain more mastery of the move.
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