Buying your first kettlebell

by Scott Bird on August 26, 2007

Kettlebells are great things. If you need any convincing, just take a look at Tracy Reifkind’s site. Her transformation has been nothing less than amazing.

Once you’ve decided to try a little kettlebell training – particularly if you’re working out at home – there’s one question to answer :
Missy

Which one should I get?

 

I’m glad you asked.

What exactly is a Kettlebell?

Often referred to as a ‘cannonball with a handle’, a kettlebell is simply a solid chunk of cast iron, comprising a spherical weight with a flat bottom and a curved, thick handle on top. Although there are adjustable models made up of several parts, these have never felt quite right to me. Personally, I stick to the original.

Kettlebells were traditionally manufactured in various sizes, each of them based on the old Russian unit of measurement pood (approximately 16.38 kg/36.11 lb). Although the pood was abolished in the USSR in 1924, many kettlebells are still manufactured in multiples of 16kg. There are also lighter weights, if that sounds a bit daunting.

Where do you get them?

Although they’ve been around for centuries, it’s only fairly recently that they’ve been seen in regular use. Still, tracking them down can be slightly more difficult than finding dumbbells or weight plates.

Generally, kettlebells are sold in stores specializing in supplies for martial artists; as well as larger online fitness retailers. In the US, great places to start are Dragon Door and the Art of Strength. For those in the UK, somewhere such as London Kettlebells is a good start in your search. Elsewhere in the world, your nearest martial arts supplier is a good bet.

NB: they’re heavy little things, and shipping costs can be considerable. Keep this in mind if you find somewhere fairly remote that appears to sell them cheaply.

Also remember that they’re virtually indestructible, and the design hasn’t changed much over the centuries. If you see one on eBay, or your friend is selling one, grab it.

How do you know which one to get?

For guys, a good starting point is a 16 kg/36 lb bell. This was the first one I bought, and it’s more challenging than the weight would suggest. For anyone with a few years of weight training under their belt, or anyone over 183cm/6′ and about 90kg/198lb, consider starting with a 24 kg/54 lb bell. If you get a chance to try one out somewhere before you buy it, pick it up and clean it (lift it to your chest, don’t get out the polishing rag). That’ll give you a reasonable idea.

The female equivalents are about half these (on average – of course there are those who would easily work with more than this), 8 kg and 12 kg. Again, if you can try before you buy, great.

If you already have a kettlebell and are considering a second, typical progressions are 16/24/32 kg (for men) and 8/12/16 kg (for women). Once you have these three, if you want more, start again at 16 or 8. There are plenty of exercises involving two bells, and many of these are easier with the same weight for each.

NB : younger athletes may wish to consider halving the recommended weights for adults (depending on their age, size and strength).

What do you do with them?

This is where the fun really starts. Although there are plenty of books and DVDs available, there are many great (and free) resources which will take you through the basics. For starters, take a look at these :

Mike Mahler’s list of kettlebell exercises
This page covers the basic kettlebell exercises beautifully. As you’ll quickly discover, these alone will have a marked impact on your physique.

Anthony DiLuglio’s Minute of Strength
This is an excellent newsletter, featuring video demonstrations of variour kettlebell techniques. Superb.

Straight to the Bar : Kettlebell exercises

Finally, you might like to take a look at my own (constantly growing) list of kettlebell exercises. This includes the ones I perform regularly, as well as a few of the more interesting video demonstrations I’ve come across.

My own experience

I first decided to buy a kettlebell about a year ago, and it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. One look at the increased strength and fat loss I’ve experienced puts it firmly in the ‘essential‘ category.

Now it’s your turn.