How to Adjust Your Form for Kettlebell Exercises If You Have a Large Chest, According to a Trainer

If kettlebells are constantly colliding with your breasts during snatches, cleans, and more, these form variations will help you get in a pain-free workout.

Woman Holding Kettlebell
Photo: Getty Images

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 problem? That tip doesn't always work for folks with larger chests, and it can lead to painful compression, pinching, and even collisions, says Damali Fraiser, a certified kettlebell instructor and size-inclusive coach in Brampton, Ontario.

What's more, there isn't much guidance on how these individuals can tailor 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 help 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.

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.

What Can Go Wrong

For individuals with larger chests, sticking with the standard form for kettlebell exercises can cause the weight to rub against or hit the body, as Fraiser demonstrates above.

How to Adjust Kettlebell Exercises If You Have a Larger Chest

Setting Up Your Stance

When it comes to setting up your stance for movements such as kettlebell deadlifts, swings, cleans, and snatches, the standard approach is to place your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Then, you'll jump straight into the air, and wherever your feet land comfortably is your proper stance, says Fraiser. But for people with larger chests, this stance may cause the kettlebell to drive directly into the breast tissue, she explains. If this occurs, Fraiser recommends widening your feet positioning so that the outside of the shoulder joint is aligned with the inside of the knee. This adjustment should reduce the chance of collision, but feel free to play around with it to make it work for you and your body.

Positioning Your Arms

During the kettlebell clean or snatch, in which you want to drive the kettlebell straight up, you can create space between your body and the weight — and thus reduce the chances of it hitting or grazing your body — by creating a "diamond" with your elbows throughout the movement, says Fraiser. Essentially, you'll use the momentum of the kettlebell to guide the weight slightly out to the side halfway through the movement, then back to the center again. "You're actually going to combine a bent-over row with your deadlift position in order to create a better clearing of your chest."

Repositioning Your Body and the Kettlebell

It should go without saying, but you should feel comfortable physically repositioning the weight and different parts of your body in order to make the kettlebell exercise work best for you, says Fraiser. Don't be afraid to use your hands to check if your knees are in line with your shoulders, or to move the kettlebell slightly off to the side rather than placing it centered between your feet, she says. "It's also okay to actually move your breast tissue out of the way," she adds. "You may need to [do so] in order to feel settled and feel the position that is going to have less collision."

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