How to Perform a Kettlebell Halo

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Back of young fit woman performing kettlebell halo
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Also Known As: Halo, dumbbell halo

Targets: Shoulders (deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius), forearms, abdominal muscles

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell or dumbbell

Level: Intermediate

Exercising with a kettlebell is an effective way to increase muscular strength and endurance. But the tool can also help to improve joint mobility. Since we tend to get less flexible as we age, increased range of motion may be the most lasting benefit from kettlebell training. All the strength in the world is of little use to an immobile body.

One area where mobility becomes restricted is the upper body. Specifically, the shoulder girdle and upper back tend to hold tension and, as a result, motion in the area becomes restricted. The kettlebell halo is an excellent shoulder and upper back mobility exercise to help reduce or prevent this lack of mobility.

Benefits

Many people love the way this movement makes the shoulders feel. That alone is a good reason to practice the move.

Others may incorporate it into their routine as part of a warm-up or for rehabilitation and pre-rehabilitation purposes. With controlled movement around a joint, the body increases the circulation of synovial fluid, which acts as lubrication to the surrounding joints. Synovial fluid helps reduce friction in the shoulder girdle and upper spinal vertebrae.​

The exercise provides other notable benefits.

Shoulder and Spine Mobility

Researchers have noted that the kettlebell halo can loosen up the shoulders and thoracic spine, making them stronger and more resilient. The thoracic spine is located in the mid to upper part of the back.

Maintaining mobility in the shoulder and thoracic spine can assist in activities of daily living such as reaching or pulling while twisting, or turning your head to look behind, especially when driving.

Core Stability

When performed properly, the kettlebell halo can help you to develop core stability that assists with balance and other essential functions. Specifically, exercise physiologists have stated that the halo helps improve reflexive stability —a precursor to core strength.

Reflexive stability in the core region (throughout the torso) helps your body to stay steady and upright when confronted by resistance. For example, a mother carrying her infant needs reflexive stability to keep the baby safe if a toddler is forcefully tugging at her legs.

Step-By-Step Instructions

As the name suggests, the halo is performed by making tight circles around the head with the kettlebell. If you don't have a kettlebell, you can also use a dumbbell. Start with lighter weight (2–3 pounds) and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable with the movement.

Here is a step-by-step instructional guide to help you learn the exercise:

  1. Begin in a standing position with good posture. Shoulders should be relaxed and positioned over the hips. Knees should remain straight but soft (not locked or stiff).
  2. Hold the kettlebell in front of the body, grasping the horns (the vertical sides of the handle). The handle should face down and the bottom or ball of the kettlebell faces up.
  3. Begin by circling to the right. Carry the kettlebell around the right side of your head and let the kettlebell drop down behind the neck. Finish the circle by bringing it around the left side of your head back to the starting position.
  4. After you complete one full rotation, reverse direction. Begin by circling to the left and finish by coming around the right back to the starting position.

Continue circling for 10 or more repetitions alternating sides. You can also use time instead of reps, such as 30 seconds or one minute in each direction.

Keep in mind that there are other ways to carry the kettlebell. You can also hold it by the bottom (ball) with the horns upright. If you choose to use a dumbbell, hold it vertically in front of the chest with one hand on top of the other.

Common Mistakes

There are a few mistakes to avoid when performing this movement. Be sure to check your form in a mirror when learning the exercise.

Over-Circling

Try to keep the path of the kettlebell relatively close to the body. Avoid making a very large circle around your head. The forearm should barely skim the top of your hair as you move through the circle. When the kettlebell is behind you, it should be positioned behind the neck or slightly lower. If it is behind the top of the head it is too high.

Poor Posture

In a standing position, it is easy to move through the torso to increase your range of motion. If you notice that your waist is bending to make your circle bigger or if you find yourself arching the back to bring the kettlebell behind your neck, then your posture is not solid enough.

Plant your feet hip-distance apart, soften the knees, and tighten the torso before you begin. Keep your core solid throughout the movement to gain those extra core stability benefits.

Holding Your Breath

It is very typical for exercisers to hold their breath when performing sustained movement over the head. Remember to breathe normally throughout the exercise. If you find yourself frequently holding your breath, you may be lifting too much weight.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you are new to exercise or if you have limited mobility in the upper body, try this exercise seated in a chair before you try it standing up. By supporting the torso and lower body in a seated position, you eliminate some of the spinal stability benefits. But you'll be able to safely increase range of motion through the shoulder girdle to prepare for a more advanced version of the exercise.

Up for a Challenge?

You can change your body position to make this exercise more challenging. A variation called "Angel of Death" is an advanced move where you add a squat or lunge between each circle around the head. You can also add a halo movement in the squat or lunge position.

Start standing and complete a halo. Lower into a squat or lunge and hold while you complete another halo, then return to the starting position and begin again. Alternate sides.

The exercise can also be done in a half-kneeling position. Grab a mat and start with both knees bent. Then place the right foot in front of the body with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Complete 5–10 halos to the right. Place the right knee under the body and the left foot forward. Complete 5–10 halos to the left.

Safety and Precautions

Exercisers who have back pain or limited mobility in the lower back may have a hard time completing this movement. Work with your healthcare provider or a qualified professional to make sure that the movement is safe for you and that you are performing it correctly.

While resistance training is not contraindicated during an uncomplicated pregnancy, those women who are in their late second or third trimester may have a harder time completing this movement because of their forward-shifted center of gravity. Guidelines from national and international organizations often advise a more conservative approach to resistance training during pregnancy. Always consult your healthcare provider for personalized guidance regarding exercise recommendations. And if you choose to include this movement, you may want to choose lighter weights.

Try It Out

Include the halo exercise in your favorite upper body workout. Either add this exercise to an established routine or use it instead of a shoulder press in a complete upper body series:

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Article Sources
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