Kelli Keyes 24kg press

4 Must-Haves for a Heavy Kettlebell Press

4 Must-Haves for a Heavy Kettlebell Press

A few months ago, I was in Chicago assisting with the SFG (Strong First Girya) certification.

While I was there, I tested for the SFG Iron Maiden title, which consists of three lifts with a 24 kg (53 lb) kettlebell; a pistol, a press and a pullup.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous as I was standing in front of 150+ people for my press attempt.

I weighed in at 123 pounds that day, and was holding just under half that much in my hand.

I had only hit my press with the 24kg once during my training, when I hit the top of my strength cycle a few days before. It was the lift I was most concerned with, because presses have the most potential for something to go wrong.

(Credit for all photos: Mandy Whitley)

Here’s a list of “must haves” to hit a heavy press.

  1. A solid clean
  • A solid backswing
  • Strong hips and glutes to bring the bell to the rack position
  • Straight forearm and wrist when the bell is in the rack position.
Kelli Keyes - the clean
The clean
  1. A slight dip to the side
  • Slight dip of the upper body away from the bell as it’s going up
  • If this dip is too far, abs disengage and it’s over
Kelli Keyes - The dip
A slight dip to the side
  1. “The wedge”
  • Wedging your upper body back under the KB immediately after the ‘slight dip’
Kelli Keyes - the wedge
“The wedge” – Getting your body back under the bell
  1. TENSION – most important!
  • Tension throughout the entire body
  • Fist with the non-loaded hand
  • Squeezing the bell with the loaded hand
  • Feet planted and pressing into ground
  • Pulling your kneecaps “up”
  • Glutes fired
  • Abs braced
Kelli Keyes - Tension

The more tension created throughout the body, the easier the KB goes up. The biggest mistake is thinking a press is an “arm” exercise. It’s really a whole body exercise.

A few minutes prior to my attempt, Master SFG Jon Engum was speaking to the new SFG candidates, and said “Pressing makes us happy.”

I nailed my press, and as you can see, Jon is right.


I didn’t get the IM that day. After my press I hit a 24k pistol, but couldn’t get the weighted pullup locked out.


Don’t worry IM title, I’ll be coming for you again!


– Kelli



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