If you’re like the rest of us, you might be interested in kettlebells because, well, they look cool! The black cannonball shape with a cast iron handle is as old-school as old-school gets. This back to basics aesthetic is more than just appealing – turns out kettlebells are some of the most functional pieces of equipment you can incorporate into your training.
There are so many other reasons to start using kettlebells in your workouts. No matter if you’re looking to get started with your first bell tomorrow or want a quick refresher on every reason why the kettlebell is a versatile and fantastic training tool, look no further. In this roundup guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about kettlebells and figure out how to choose the right one for you.
Kettlebells can be used for basic movements like swings and squats to more advanced movements involving a front-rack position. No matter how you add them to your training, they’re sure to offer variety to your current programming.
Our Top Picks at a Glance
- Body Revolution Neoprene Kettlebell
- Gorilla Sports Contrast Vinyl Kettlebell
- Body Power Neoprene Covered Kettlebell
- Bowflex SelectTech 840
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon or Fitness Superstore.
So, What Exactly is a Kettlebell?
A kettlebell is a type of free weight that is round with a flat base and an arc-shaped handle. It looks like a cannonball with a handle attached, or like a teapot without the spout. Historically, kettlebells are made from cast iron or steel. Unlike a dumbbell, the center of mass extended beyond your hand when you use a kettlebell. For this reason, bells can be thrown, pressed, swung, or moved in hundreds of ways. Because they’re so small and portable, it’s easy to incorporate kettlebells into all kinds of training.
Kettlebells help engage and activate several muscle groups at once, making the benefits of using them in training extensive. No matter your fitness level, it’s easy to find the right starting weight of a kettlebell and begin training.
Benefits of Using Kettlebells
One of the most comprehensive fitness movements you can ever master is the kettlebell swing. A properly executed swing is right up there with squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting with proper form. So what’s so great about a kettlebell swing? The number of benefits are surprising, and given all you can do with one single bell, the kettlebell is one the most underrated fitness tools around. If you feel like your current programming has stalled, or you’re looking for a way to refresh your fitness, you might consider adding in kettlebells for the following reasons.
Great cardio workout
A recent ACE study showed that the average person could burn up to 400 calories in as little as thirty minutes with a kettlebell, which far surpasses most other cardio exercises. That doesn’t include the “after-burn” effect or the rate at which your metabolism will stay revved after your workout is complete.
Helps work on balance and posture
To keep your balance while using a bell, you need to keep your back straight, your core engaged, and your shoulders in a natural position. Long term use of kettlebells might help improve your posture over time, which can help counteract the computer-screen slouch that so many of us have.
Kettlebell swings are hard to master because a lot is going on in each movement. Every time you swing, you engage your glutes, which then first activates and then relaxes your hip flexors. The repeated contraction can help loosen tight hips. Over time, dedicated kettlebell training might help combat the ever-pressing issue of sitting too much and improve overall hip flexibility.
Kettlebells can be used for strength, endurance, balance training, and overall flexibility – the factors which are commonly referred to as the four main aspects of fitness. Incorporating a kettlebell into your current programming can help you enhance your body awareness and coordination since all kettlebell movements are so dynamic.
Full-body movements require you to control the movement path of the machine. So, when you’re using a kettlebell, you have to double-down on the strength of your stabiliser muscles. And as we know, stabiliser muscles are the number one overlooked factor in developing big numbers on compound lifts. Having strong stabiliser muscles in all ranges of motion and an increase in core power means that your athleticism will skyrocket in no time.
Okay, now that we understand all of the great benefits of using kettlebells, you might be wondering how to get started.
How to Begin Training
You’re ready to start kettlebell training, but you don’t know where to begin. There are a few challenges with picking a kettlebell weight, depending on your training experience. If you’re new to full body movements or are new to weight training in general, you might shy away from using ‘heavier’ weights. Or, if you’ve been training for years, you might think that starting with a standard weight might be too light. For either instance, the best thing to do is toss aside your perception of weight training and explore using a kettlebell as something new, different, and progressive. To do that, you need to let go of whatever opinion about weight you have and learn to look at selecting kettlebell weight from a holistic perspective. Let’s take a look at what that means.
What is the Best Kettlebell Weight to Start With?
As we discussed above, selecting the right kettlebell should have more to do with your ability to move weight and less to do with what you perceive as being the accurate weight for your size or gender. Here’s a simple (albeit loose) guide on how to choose the right kettlebell. As with all things fitness, this choice is primarily based on personal experience, current conditioning, and ongoing training.
Kettlebell movements can be broken down into two groups: ballistic lifts like swings, cleans, tosses, and snatches and grind movements like Turkish get-ups, overhead presses, and windmills.
For ballistic lifts that rely a lot on power, it’s possible to use a heavier kettlebell than with grind movements like Turkish get-ups and windmills. That’s because grind movements need to be controlled through the entire range of motion. Most often, grind movements also require a lighter weight, so ideally, it’s a good idea to have two different weights on hand.
Other factors to consider include your overall fitness, current training programmes, and your overall experience with weight lifting.
Therefore, it’s tough to say what the “best” weight is to start with since that number is going to be different for everyone. With that in mind, there are some general guidelines.
For average men with a semi-active lifestyle, a good kettlebell startup kit might include bells between 8-10kg for grind movements and 12-14kg for ballistic lifts. If you’ve been training for a while, you might be better suited for 12-14kg for grinds and 16-18kg for ballistic movements. But, if you’re brand new to fitness and haven’t picked up any kind of weight in a very long time, it’s best to start light and move up from there. Remember that the work you’re doing engages so many muscle groups, and you’re going to tire quickly.
For the average woman, it’s a good idea to make sure that your bell weight challenges you. Where men might have the problem of selecting a kettlebell that’s safely out of their range, women tend to veer to the opposite and select training weights that are far too light. The myth that heavy kettlebells will make you bulky is so old and dated that it should be put on pension already, but somehow it continues to exist. Don’t let big weights scare you!
For ballistic movements like swings, the average active woman might start with kettlebells between 8-10kg. Athletic women who train often could probably complete movements with 12-14kg with no issues, and women who are new to the gym should start with 6-8kg.
Grind movements like windmills require more precision, so much like with men, kettlebell weight selection here is lower. Choose a bell that you can press overhead easily 8-10 times with fluid control. That means that average women might be comfortable working with bells that are between 6-8kg. Athletic women who train often will likely have greater shoulder strength, so you might be able to use bells between 8-12kg. Finally, newcomers should reach for bells between the 4-6kg range.
Choosing The Right Kettlebell
As mentioned, the starting weight you choose will be based on your kettlebell experience and your overall fitness and strength level. But that doesn’t mean you should just blindly go out and purchase the first kettlebell you find.
In fact, there are several factors to consider when choosing the best bell for your needs. Within each weight class of kettlebells, there are several different options.
First, consider whether or not you want your bell to be made of cast iron or steel. Ultimately, this distinction determines whether you want to purchase a “competition” kettlebell or one created for general fitness.
Competition bells have smaller handles, and the overall design is much more square-shaped. That’s because they’re designed to be used with just one hand. The advantage of a competition bell is that it won’t slide around, and the shape is always consistent, no matter the weight. But, since they’re designed for just one hand, any two-handed movements (like goblet squats or other beginner exercises) are inaccessible.
Most competition bells are steel. Steel kettlebells look different than cast iron. They’re generally the same size and dimension regardless of the weight range. Handles are flat across the top and joins the body of the kettlebell vertically. Steel kettlebells are great for high-rep workouts because of the wide, flat base and the uniform size. Steel is generally more durably than iron, which his something to keep in mind.
Cast Iron Kettlebells
Cast iron kettlebells are powder coated, so the iron is the skeleton and the powder coat paint is the finish. When a kettlebell is made from iron, it can range widely in size, depending on the weight. Most will have a curved handle that can vary in width and diameter. Cast iron kettlebells are solid with no hollow space. Generally, this kind of kettlebell is best for explosive ballistic movements.
When selecting a kettlebell, it’s important to ensure the bell has no fillers. That means that the manufacturer uses a specific mold to precisely cast the kettlebell at the correct weight.
Things to avoid
- Don’t choose a bell with a very thick handle. Handles that are overly thick will tire out your forearms before the rest of your body fatigues. The opposite of this is also true – don’t select a kettlebell with a narrow handle either.
- Avoid welding. Kettlebells should be one solid piece. Welding can break over time.
- Kettlebells that have “bases” or “feet” should also be avoided. A natural flat bottom is ideal. Bells that have a base can dig into your arm when you use it, but it might mark up your floor as well. With that in mind, a completely round kettlebell will be uncomfortable if you’re using it in a racked position.
- The window, or the size and curvature of the space between the handle and the bell, is very important. Look for something that’s offers easy insertion of your hand but isnt’ too wide. More comfort overhead and in the rack positon means better workouts over time.
A Good Starter KettleBell Routine
Use this routine to help you build strength and endurance. It’s perfect for a kettlebell beginner. Intermediate and advanced kettlebell users can cut down rest times to make it more intense. The entire workout should take about 20 minutes to complete. Make sure you’re properly warmed up before starting since all of these movements are multi-joint movements.
Goblet squat – Hold the bell by its horns. Retract your shoulders. Tuck your elbows in so your forearms are vertical. Assume a hip-width wide stance. Breathe into your belly and squat down. Make sure to keep your torso upright. 2 sets of 10 reps
One-Arm Row – Place your bell on the floor in front of you. Take a staggered stance with your right foot in front. Angle your torso to a 45 degree angle. Rest your right elbow on your right thigh for support. Reach for your kettlebell with your left hand. Make sure to keep your shoulders square. 2 sets of 8 reps each side
One-Arm Press – Using the same foot placement as for a goblet squat, start by holding your kettlebell in one hand at shoulder level. Press the weight overhead so that your arm is straight. To lower the bell safely, first return to the shoulder (racked) position and then lower to the floor. 2 sets of 5 reps each side
One-Arm Squat to Press – Now put all of the previous movements together. Begin with the kettlebell in one hand at shoulder level. Tuck your elbow so your forearm is vertical. Squat and then press up overhead. 2 sets of 8 reps each side
Some Great Kettlebell Picks
Rubber coated and made from cast iron, the Body Revolution Kettlebell is a great choice if you already know that you want a bell for general fitness. The wide handle makes it easy to held and very comfortable in the front rack position.
- Textured handled makes it easy to grip and hold, even if you’re not using chalk
- Neoprene coating makes them quiet when setting on the floor
- Handle is a little narrow for two-handed exercise
- Flat bottom base
- Handle isn’t as secure as other options on the market
Overall, not a bad kettlebell for the price. We love the wide handles that make it easy to do all kinds of movements. The flat bottom base could be improved to be more of a standard kettlebell shape. But, if you’re working out in a top floor flat, the neoprene coating and bottom might be helpful to keep down the noise.
The Gorilla Sports Contract kettlebell starts at just 2kg and moves all the way up to 20kg, so chances are there’s a bell to suit your fitness level. It’s coated in plastic and features many bright colours.
- Wide handle makes it easy to use for one-hand work
- No welding so no chance of the handle breaking
- Plastic coating, compressed cement filling
- Has a flat bottom base
If you’re brand new to kettlebells and don’t want to dish out for something of higher quality, you might consider purchasing this bell just to find out whether or not you like the movements and the training. The quality of this kettlebell leaves a lot to be desired, but the price point isn’t out of control either, so it might be perfect for someone brand new to kettlebell training.
The Body Power Vinyl-coated kettlebell comes with a wide handle that makes it easy to use for all sorts of movements. Vinyl keeps it quiet when the kettlebell touches the floor, making this an easy choice for anyone worried about disturbing neighbours.
- Handle shape is ideal – wide enough for two-handed work and perfectly suited for single handwork as well
- Bottom is flat, which makes swings feel a little awkward at times
This is a decent kettlebell for the price. The handle is smooth and wide enough for a variety of hand sizes. We love the fact that it has a wide enough insertion area too, making this perfect for two-handed work like goblet squats and two-handed swings.
The Bowflex SelectTech 840 Kettlebell combines six weights in one system. This adjustable kettlebell features a wide handle and the option of using weights ranging from 3.5 kg all the way to 18 kg.
- Saves a lot of space and replaces six bells with one
- Handle shape is much different than traditional kettlebells
- Dial can be a little awkward to turn
- Can’t drop the bell, so you have to be mindful about setting it down on the ground
The price point on this adjustable kettlebell system means that you absolutely need to be sure you’re going to use it. It’s not inexpensive by any means, but it does offer a lot of value for the purchase. Additionally, it saves a lot of space, since you’re able to combine so many kettlebells into one small area.
Kettlebells are a versatile tool to add to any training programme, no matter your fitness goals. In addition to being able to help your ability to produce movement over extended periods of time, kettlebells help build powerful forearms and a strong grip. By constantly having to recheck your center of gravity, you challenge your cardio and can work several muscle groups at once. Bridging the gap between strength and cardio can reduce your overall training time and ensures you never miss a workout.