I have been working out with kettlebells over 10 years now and they have remained my favourite piece of fitness equipment ever since I first picked one up in the gym. In fact, I love them so much that I even went on to complete a kettlebell instructor course in addition to my advanced personal trainer diploma with Future Fit in 2017.
Kettlebells are perfect if your training goal is a balanced blend of strength, mobility, power and endurance (general fitness) but they also deliver when it comes to designing sports specific training programmes (for example, for runners, golf players, martial arts enthusiasts and so on). I simply call kettlebells ‘a complete gym in the palm of your hand’ – so if you only want to invest into one kind of fitness equipment, I would definitely go for the kettlebells. Check out my recent article about the various benefits of working out with kettlebells.
This article is for you if you have been thinking about adding some kettlebells to your home gym, but you are unsure where to start – if you are a first time kettlebell buyer, things can get really confusing with so many different options and brands out there. Unfortunately, not all kettlebells are created equal and there are lots of poor quality and poorly designed versions out there that are only kettlebells by name. Yet, at the same time, thanks to the renaissance of kettlebell sports in the Western world, you will also find plenty of professional quality products as well to suit every budget.
Hopefully you will find this article helpful once you are ready to purchase some kettlebells and start your kettlebell training journey.
10 considerations when buying kettlebell(s)
Style and material
There are two main types of kettlebells – the cast-iron classic (otherwise known as ‘fitness’ kettlebell) and the steel competition style kettlebell (or ‘sports kettlebell’). However, both types can be used for fitness and competition.
1.1. Cast iron kettlebells (aka ‘fitness’ style kettlebells)
These are made of a very solid material that is likely to last you a lifetime. They are made using moulds of various sizes: the heavier the kettlebell is, the larger it is.
Generally, they are less expensive than the competition kettlebells and still quite sturdy so definitely a great investment considering cost, quality and performance.
They are perfect for general fitness workouts if you are looking to increase general strength and conditioning. However, the varying sizes are not ideal for competitive kettlebell athletes, because every time you use a kettlebell, the position of the kettlebell in the hand and against the body will be slightly different, making it harder to build consistent technique.
1.2. Competition kettlebells (aka ‘sports’ style kettlebells)
They are the international standard of measurement and design for kettlebell training and sport. As I alluded to this at the beginning of this article, kettlebell lifting has evolved into a popular form of sports in the Western world, and as with all sports, there comes standardised design and measurements.
These kettlebells are made of steel and are hollow on the inside. As opposed to the cast iron ones, the dimensions of these do not change regardless of the weight – this is necessary to enable precise and uniform technique. They simply use heavier metals to fill the inside as the kettlebells become heavier (for example, an 8kg kettlebell will be completely hollow inside and a 48kg one will be filled with solid lead). Because the different weights are all the same size, a colour code is used so that athletes can easily recognise what weight each kettlebell is (for example: 8kg – pink; 12kg- blue; 16kg – yellow; 20kg – purple; 24kg – green; 28kg – orange; 32kg – red; 36kg – grey; 40kg – white; 44kg – silver; 48kg – gold).
These will certainly last you a lifetime and are virtually indestructible.
I have chosen to invest into competition style kettlebells as I consider them to be the highest quality and I am keen to take my training to the highest level possible (as my chosen expertise as a personal trainer). Who knows, maybe one day I will enter a kettlebell competition!
In some cases, cast-iron kettlebells are covered with some kind of coating (typically, rubber or neoprene) so that the kettlebells do not damage your floor if you use them indoors. I personally would not worry too much about the extra coating as long as you place them on the floor/carpet gently and move your valuables, pets, kids etc. out of the way to eliminate obstacles and safety hazards – like you would when it comes to handling any kind of heavy duty equipment!
It goes without saying that this is the main part of the kettlebell that you will be in contact with during your workouts – therefore you want it to be the right size and thickness. I suggest looking at handles that are between 33-35 mms thick. Generally, thicker handles will challenge your grip strength but may not be the best choice for high repetition training.
When looking at clearance (i.e. the amount of spacing between the handle and the body of the bell) you need to make sure that you can comfortably and snugly put your hand into the handle which is crucial for many of the standard kettlebell exercises. If there is too much clearance, you will have a loose fit, resulting in losing stability on your movements. The standard spacing for a good kettlebell is 55 mms from the bottom of the handle to the top of the ball and 186 millimetres from one side of the handle to the other.
As regards to the surface of the handle, I would go for a smooth, steel polished handle to provide a smooth yet firm grip when when your palms begin to get sweaty. These types of handles also hold chalk better which is important when you are performing very high reps or are using very heavy weights. If a handle is too rough, it will cause chafing on your hands and cause discomfort during training.
These days kettlebells come in all sorts of weights and sizes.
There is no magic formula to determine the perfect weight for you, but considering the following questions before buying kettlebells may help:-
- Are you a beginner who is just starting out or a more advanced exerciser who is already in a great shape?
- Are you a large boned and heavy individual or a lighter, more petit person?
- What sort of exercises/training are you going to use the kettlebells for?
- How often are you planning to use the kettlebells – are they going to be a staple in your home gym or merely an accessory kit?
- What other type of weights do you already have in your home gym?
For women, I would suggest buying a 8/12kg kettlebell to start with; for men, I would suggest 12/16kg to start with. In any case, having at least 3 different weights in your collection will give you a variety of exercise options for both strength and cardiovascular conditioning. As you become fitter and more skilled in kettlebell training, you may want to expand your collection by adding heavier weights. However, having said that, fitness stores often offer a big discount if you buy a full set (e.g. ranging from 8kg to 32kg) in one go, rather than acquiring kettlebells one by one. I personally chose to buy a full set upfront as I already knew that I was committed to using them often and as the main equipment in my home gym.
Singles or pairs?
Again, there is no magic recipe for deciding whether you should buy singles or pairs. I have found that training with single kettlebells gives me plenty of variety and there are very few exercises that you can perform with pairs only (such as the seesaw, renegade rows, anyhow’s). Here is the low down on the key differences between training with single and double kettlebells:-
- More challenging for the core and balance;
- Takes longer to complete your workout, needing to repeat the exercise on both sides of your body;
- Easier to increase the weight.
- Both sides of your body are loaded equally, which helps with stability and balance;
- Often requires more strength and advanced skills to use a pair so not for beginners;
- Harder to increase the weight.
- Takes up more space.
As you can see, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here, these are just different approaches. Pick the option that is the best fit with your training goals, training preference/style, budget, space etc.
What to avoid buying
Naturally, the high quality, professional grade cast iron and steel kettlebells are the most expensive on the market; whilst vinyl, plastic and fake leather ones are the least expensive. In my view, these cheap versions, which you are most likely to find on Amazon and fitness stores like Sports Direct, Decathlon, Argos and the supermarkets, are only kettlebells by name. They certainly do not perform like a real kettlebell, and the shape and design do not allow for proper mechanics of kettlebell training. Besides, they are unlikely to last you very long so I consider them a waste of money. When you buy kettlebells, you literally get what you pay for!
The only time I would consider buying these cheaper, knock-off versions is if they were used to introduce kettlebells for children so they can learn the basics of safe practice.
Here are a few examples of poor quality kettlebells on the market:-
Avoid: adjustable/multi-part kettlebells made out of plastic, slippery handles, vinyl kettlebells that won’t last, funny shaped body, cheap materials, odd shaped/oversized handles.
Where to buy kettlebells from
In my experience, the best place to buy professional grade kettlebells from in the UK is Wolverson Fitness – having done some extensive research, I have found their pricing to be the most competitive and they also do great deals on pairs and sets. (You can also save money on postage if you collect the items from their warehouse near Birmingham). In the USA, Kettlebell Kings have the best reputation and they also offer free kettlebell workout videos and tutorials if you sign up through their website.
Additional equipment and accessories for kettlebell training
Shoes – like weightlifters, I would wear hard and flat shoes with no or little cushioning, or even go barefeet (but be careful not to drop the kettlebell on your toes!). Shoes with too much cushioning are very soft, making it difficult to push off the ground when you are doing explosive type of kettlebell exercises (such as snatches, clean and jerk, push press, sports style swings etc.).
Clothes – there is no specific dress code to follow for kettlebell training but I would avoid loose fitting T-shirts and shorts to make sure the kettlebell does not get caught in your baggy clothing, interfering with your technique.
Timer – my training with kettlebells revolve around using reps, time or a combination of both as the determining factor for length and intensity. A popular timer I can recommend is the Gymboss which allows you to set intervals, act as a stop watch or simply show you the time.
Chalk – if you tend to sweat a lot, or work with heavier kettlebells, chalk will help you get a firm grip on the kettlebells and prevent you from dropping them. The most common type of chalk you can get is powdered magnesium which you can find in most outdoor or adventure stores.
Hand moisturiser – if you train with kettlebells a lot and also use a lot of chalk, it is very likely that your hands will become dry or even calloused. Give your hands a bit of TLC by applying some good quality hand cream. It’s true that kettlebell training is not great for pretty and manicured hands, but it does wonders to the rest of your body!
Have you got any kettlebells at home? What’s your favourite brand or place to buy kettlebells from?