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Adapting Kettlebell Exercise Form with a Broad Chest

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

While tackling kettlebell cleans and snatches, fitness trainers often cue their clients to keep the weight as close to their body as possible in order to perform the most effective movement. The issue? That tip doesn’t always work for individuals with larger chests, and it can result in painful compression, pinching, and even collisions, says Damali Fraiser, a certified kettlebell instructor and size-inclusive coach in Brampton, Ontario.

Furthermore, there isn’t much guidance on how these individuals can customize their technique to prevent this discomfort besides the advice, “don’t get hit,” says Fraiser. “In manuals, it was like, ‘kettlebells should not hit breast tissue or should not hit you in the chest,’ but there was never anything that was really a direct effort to assist people with different bodies make those adjustments,” she says. “It just really gives a feeling that those bodies are not the expected user — which isn’t true.”

After a few of her clients opened up about experiencing pain and irritation while performing kettlebell exercises, Fraiser decided to take matters into her own hands. She began devising form adjustments that made classic kettlebell moves more accessible and testing them with clients with various body types, she says. “‘Larger chest’ doesn’t mean you’re only protruding to the front — it can mean to the side, it can mean lower down — like, hanging — and it can mean that your breast tissue is moving as you’re moving at a fast speed,” she explains. “So [we were] really taking use cases of different body types in order to make those nuances more clear.”

There’s nothing to lose from making these adjustments, either: Fraiser used her kettlebell know-how to ensure they didn’t reduce the efficacy of the movements, and since they also provide clients with comfort and confidence, she encourages all coaches — regardless of body shape or size — to keep these tweaks in their back pockets. “If you’re an instructor and you’re working with someone or you’re going to the gym with your friends and you pass that knowledge along, you’ll notice how much better they feel in their bodies even though your body is not the same as theirs,” says Fraiser. Liken it to finding a great sports bra for large breasts — no exercise is off-limits with the right fit and support.

To Fraiser, the ultimate goal is for these adjustments for folks with larger chests to become well-known variations, such as ones you might see for squats — not overlooked modifications individuals need to go out of their way to learn, she says. “If we continue to encourage people to explore these variations, more people might find comfort in things that they used to think were just not for them,” she explains.

So if the chest pain you experienced the last time you tried a kettlebell clean turned you off from the exercise or the idea of potential breast irritation worries you, consider picking up a bell and giving Fraiser’s top adjustments, as demonstrated below, a shot.

Potential Issues

For individuals with larger bosoms, adhering to the customary form for kettlebell exercises can result in the weight rubbing against or striking the body, as showcased above by Fraiser.

How to Modify Kettlebell Exercises If You Have a Larger Chest

Preparing Your Stance

When it comes to preparing your stance for movements like kettlebell deadlifts, swings, cleans, and snatches, the conventional approach is to position your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Then, you’ll leap directly into the air, and wherever your feet land comfortably is your appropriate stance, according to Fraiser. However, for individuals with larger bosoms, this positioning may cause the kettlebell to directly collide with the breast tissue, she clarifies. In such cases, Fraiser suggests widening the positioning of your feet so that the outer side of the shoulder joint aligns with the inner side of the knee. This alteration should decrease the likelihood of impact, but feel free to experiment and tailor it to your own body.

Aligning Your Arms

During the kettlebell clean or snatch, where the aim is to thrust the kettlebell straight upward, you can create space between your body and the weight — and thus minimize the chances of it striking or grazing your body — by forming a “diamond” with your elbows throughout the movement, as per Fraiser. Essentially, you’ll utilize the momentum of the kettlebell to guide the weight slightly out to the side halfway through the motion, and then back to the center. “You’re essentially combining a bent-over row with your deadlift position to create better clearance for your chest.”

Adjusting Your Body and the Kettlebell Position

It should be obvious, but you should feel at ease physically adjusting the weight and different parts of your body to optimize the effectiveness of the kettlebell exercise, advises Fraiser. Don’t hesitate to use your hands to verify if your knees align with your shoulders, or to slightly move the kettlebell off to one side rather than placing it centered between your feet, she recommends. “It’s also acceptable to physically shift your breast tissue out of the way,” she adds. “You may need to do so in order to feel settled and assume a position that minimizes collisions.”

Thank you for the input!