Kettlebells are an extraordinary piece of workout equipment. They are portable (for us busy travel fitness folks), fun, and can make for a brutal HIIT exercise. Kettlebell exercises can be done very quickly and efficiently, usually in under 20-30 minutes.
I love the fact that I can take a kettlebell, toss it in my trunk, and have a piece of workout equipment on the go! It doesn’t hurt that you get to also workout outside with your kettlebell if you want… Birds chirpin’ and sweat drippin’!
Just take one look at a kettlebell and it looks like that little cannonball is wearing horns! Once you do a kettlebell workout, you may think it actually does have horns…
A Brief Kettlebell History
The kettlebell is a cast-iron weight (resembling a cannonball with a handle) used to perform ballistic-exercises that combine cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training. Russian kettlebells are traditionally measured in weight by pood, which (rounded to metric units) is defined as 16 kilograms (35 lb).
Kettlebells were developed in Russia in the 1700s. The Soviet army used them as part of their physical training and conditioning programs in the 20th century. They had been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 1940s. Though kettlebells had been in the United States in some form since the 1960s or earlier, Dragon Door Publications and Pavel Tsatsouline developed the first instructor certification program in the USA in 2001.
Using Kettlebells for Exercise
Most kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength. The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once.
Unlike the exercises with dumbbells or barbells, kettlebell exercises often involve large numbers of repetitions. Kettlebell exercises work several muscles simultaneously and may be repeated continuously for several minutes or with short breaks. This combination makes the exercise partially aerobic and more similar to high-intensity interval training rather than to traditional weight lifting. In one study, kettlebell enthusiasts performing a 20 minute snatch workout were measured to burn, on average, 13.6 calories/minute aerobically and 6.6 calories/minute anaerobically during the entire workout – “equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace”
Okay, I’m Convinced… Where Can I Get One?
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know that I just purchased my first kettlebell a little over a week ago. I was going to be away from my gym for about two weeks for work, Easter Holiday, and my children’s spring break. I had two options, either suck it up and pay $10/day for a guest pass at a local gym, or maybe I could try out a kettlebell workout.
Up to this point, I have already been very interested in purchasing a kettlebell so this also made for a good reason to purchase one! Plus, I COULDN’T take my guest pass at the gym with me and use it later once I left, but I COULD use a kettlebell many times in the future.
Let the Kettlebell Search Begin!
I began my search by googling “kettlebell beginners guides” and “kettlebell beginner workouts” for a solid couple of hours. It was pretty enlightening… I never thought I would learn so much about kettlebells…
What I Found Out:
- Many kettlebells come in kilogram weights, not pounds… (Convert kilograms to pounds by multiplying the kg weight by 2.2. For example, 16 kg = 35 lbs.)
- It is best to start with a lighter weight than expected. Don’t let your ego get in the way here…
- (A good way to judge a starting weight is to go to your gym, and while standing, press a single dumbell over your head with one arm. Lock out your arm and press it above your head and hold it for 20-30 seconds. If you can’t hold it, go lighter, if you can and it is easy, go heavier.)
- Typical, fairly strong and regularly active men tend to start with a 16 kg (35 lb) kettlebell.
- Typical, active women tend to start with a 6-8 kg (13-18 lb) kettlebell.
- The CrossFit community is a strong believer of kettlebell workouts and if you go to any CrossFit forum, they have great advice.
- Online, the general consensus is that a company called, Dragon Door makes the highest quality kettlebells for the money.
- The things to look for on a quality kettlebell are:
- Single piece cast iron kettlebells are best
- No welding (when tossing a kettlebell, handle welds tend to break)
- No seams (seams cause blisters and cuts on your hands)
- A smooth handle (a rough handle causes blisters and cuts also)
- A large enough handle for two hands to comfortably fit on (this is for two handed swings which will be an integral part of your routine)
- There is such a thing as “pro grade” or “competition grade” kettlebells.
- These are typically made out of stainless steel and all weights are physically the same dimensions. These are mainly for fairness in competitions. (These are more expensive and overkill for a beginner)
Where to Find Kettlebells Locally?
To my surprise, the only real sporting good store in Bowling Green, KY was Dunhams. They only had one selection of “real” kettlebells and it had a price tag of $100 for a 35 pounder! THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!
To my disappointment, I decided that $100 was too expensive for my first “experimentation” with a 35 lb kettlebell. I knew I could get a better quality kettlebell for my money online if I was able to wait…
I immediately grabbed my iPhone and pulled out the Yellow Pages app. I searched for “sporting goods stores” and “fitness equipment” near Bowling Green and began calling around. NOTHING!
I checked Sears, NOTHING… I checked for a Dicks Sporting Goods, NONE WITHIN 65 MILES…
Then, my wife said we needed to go to Wal-Mart for some groceries before returning home. To my surprise, I walked up on a “Golds Gym” branded, vinyl coated, $40 kettlebell! As I look at this kettlebell and look at the price, I am thinking… “How can this only cost $40 when the one at Dunhams cost $100 for the same weight?” But, being the cheap person that I am, I decided to buy it and try it out. If worst comes to worst, it can make a great paper weight or door stop!
This is a photo of the actual Golds Gym 35 lb kettlebell that I found at Wal-Mart for $40. Not bad, but not great…
It worked well to get my feet wet, but I’ve already bought a higher quality, 53 lb Ader Kettlebell!
- Look for kettlebells at your local sporting goods store.
- Look for super cheap ones at Wal-Mart, Target, or Meijer, if that’s your thing… (I would invest in a higher quality kettlebell personally if I wasn’t in a pinch for a quick workout.)
- Look for specialty stores or ones that specialize in CrossFit equipment and you have a winner.
- The best place to look is ONLINE! If you are not in a hurry, it is worth shopping online for a quality kettlebell that will last forever.
Click the links below for online stores to three of the best kettlebell providers:
Dragon Door Publications Kettlebells : The best quality kettlebells, but also come with a premium price tag. You get what you pay for…
Ader Kettlebells from Rogue Fitness : Close in quality to Dragon Door kettlebells, but comes with an easier to swallow price tag. (I just bought a 53 lb Ader Kettlebell from Rogue Fitness and it should arrive soon!)
Muscle Driver USA Kettlebells : Great kettlebell for the money. Good for your first kettlebell experimentation…
Also Available on Amazon.com
Disclosure: The links below are Amazon affiliate links. That means, at absolutely no extra charge to you, I will earn a small commission if you purchase these items. These are items that I have researched and even bought for myself. I can stand behind my research and current usage to comfortably recommend these items.
I hope that this article has helped and added a little clarity to understand more about the differences in kettlebells and where to start. If it has helped, please let me know about it! Tweet Me, leave me a message on my Facebook Page, or leave a comment in the box below!
I want to hear from you! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Leave a comment!
Stay tuned for my next blog post which will outline a great beginner kettlebell workout!