Five years ago when I swung my first kettlebell, I tried to tell everyone about how awesome they were. Really, like any chance I got. The problem? No one really seemed to understand, and it was all for a good reason – practically no one knew what a kettlebell was! Just a few short years later it seemed like everyone I talked to about kettlebells would at LEAST come back with “Yeah, isn’t that one of those balls with a handle?” The kettlebell had arrived into the American conscious.
Despite its recent success, most people still know very little about the kettlebell and kettlebell training. So here are a few answers to the 7 most frequent questions about kettlebells.
1. Where are kettlebells from?
Kettlebells originate in Russia, where their use was decidedly unathletic – they were weights used by farmers to weigh their grain on scales in marketplaces. The story goes that the farmers would swing, lift, and toss them around during their downtime. The strength and cardiovascular benefits from using kettlebells this way caught the eyes of strongmen and weightlifters in Russia, and from there on out kettlebells became an indispensable tool in the arsenal of Russians – both elite and average – for forging superior strength and fitness.
2. Are kettlebells a fad?
The Russian word for kettlebell – girya – first appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704. Contrast that with the introduction of the barbell, which appeared around the 1850s. And not even the type of barbell you’re accustomed to – the barbells of the day were bars with fixed-weight iron globes on the end. The plate-loaded system of barbells didn’t even appear until 1910 when it was invented by Franz Veltum. The plate-loaded dumbbell has a slightly longer history, first patented in 1865.
So, are kettlebells a fad? Yes. They have been the number one fad in weight training since the 1700s. Give it another 300 years and it’ll probably peter out.
3. How many sizes do kettlebells come in?
As many as you could want. The majority of companies that produce high-quality kettlebells make them in increments of 4 kilos (about 9 lbs) and some even come in increments as small as 2 kilos (4.5 lbs). The standard weights generally start out at 18 lbs and go all the way up to 106 lbs. If you look hard enough you can even find kettlebells that are upwards of 176 lbs! However, most men and women can make do with standard-sized kettlebells and going above and beyond is great for really die-hards. Most men and women can make excellent progress for years and years with a basic set of kettlebells weighing 26, 35, 53, and 70 lbs. Even if all you have room for is one or two kettlebells you will find plenty of ways to keep getting stronger and fitter if you’re creative. The first kettlebell I ever bought was 35 lbs, and I still find multiple uses for it on a weekly basis, even though it’s no longer a challenge for me. Buying any size kettlebell of good quality is not just money well spent – it’s an investment that you’ll have long enough for your grandkids to take advantage of.
4. Who uses kettlebells?
Just about everybody.
No joke, kettlebells are extremely versatile and their uses range from general fitness all the way up to tactical and elite sport training. My coach, John Scott Stevens, SFG II, is a 5th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has produced dozens of national junior Olympics medalists, and he trains all of his students with kettlebells. He has had children as young as 10 train with kettlebells to improve their martial arts fitness, and the results have been nothing short of amazing. On the other end of the spectrum, many 60 and 70 year olds have discovered kettlebells and have made tremendous progress with them. As a matter of fact, when I went to get certified as a kettlebell instructor through StrongFirst’s predecessor, the RKC, there was man on my team who was 73 years young! Kettlebell training is elite, but not elitist.
As I mentioned earlier, strongmen and weightlifters in Russia and around Eastern Europe have made kettlebell training a staple of their regular training regimen. Athletes of all stripes and military men and women around the world have adopted the kettlebell as one of few tools in their arsenal. For example:
Soviet weightlifting legends Yuri Vlasov, Leonid Zhabotinskiy, and Vasily Alexeev were all big proponents of kettlebell training (Vlasov once interrupted an interview with a Western journalist to press a pair of heavy kettlebells and commented “It is hard to find an exercise better suited for developing strength and flexibility simultaneously.”
Celebrities such as Katherine Heigl, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Biel, Gerard Butler, and Jennifer Aniston have all reported using kettlebells on a regular basis.
And perhaps most tellingly, members of the Secret Service Counter Assault Team, US Navy SEALs, and Force Recon Marines – individuals whose life depends on their strength and conditioning.
Your life may not depend on your strength and conditioning, but if you’re looking for a tool that you can depend on for life, look no further than the kettlebell and Pavel’s Hardstyle training method.
5. Will kettlebells help me get stronger?
Yes! As long as you use them properly (ideally under the tutelage of a StrongFirst kettlebell instructor) you will forge strength in every nook and cranny of your body.
6. Will kettlebells help me lose fat?
There answer to this question is a “yes, if…” sort of answer.
Yes, if you also make changes in your diet. Oftentimes I talk to prospective clients who insist that their diets are not to blame for their weight problem. News flash: barring some sort of glandular problem, that IS the thing to blame for your weight. Kettlebell training, with all of its intensity and propensity for building strength, will hack some fat off of you and build some muscle no matter what. But without some attention to eating your veggies and staying away from candies and sweets, the kettlebell will continue to make you strong and fit but your diet will continue to make you fat. If you decide you like cupcakes and beer more than washboard abs and a back that looks like a relief map of South Dakota, the kettlebell will only do so much.
Remember: You can’t outwork a bad diet.
7. Where can I buy kettlebells?
Fortunately for you, you can now get them just about anywhere. When I was a young iron enthusiast, there was only one sports store I knew of that sold kettlebells. Now you can buy them at Wal-Mart (don’t, however. Unless you like kettlebell-shaped paperweights, in which case by all means, go nuts).
Unlike human beings, not all kettlebells are created equal. There are high quality kettlebells and very low quality ones. It is not uncommon for cheap kettlebells to end up with chipped paint almost immediately after you begin using them, and that’s if you’re lucky. A colleague of mine, James Breese of England, almost endured a headache of epic proportions while preparing for his certification. He was snatching a 50 lb kettlebell (a snatch is a ballistic exercise in which you swing a kettlebell between your legs and lock it out over your head) when all of a sudden, the bell broke loose from the handle and landed behind him! If it had broken off a second or two sooner, he would have been far less lucky and would have ended up with a permanent hood ornament for his forehead.
I can’t really vouch for the quality of most sports-store kettlebells, though in my experience they leave a lot to be desired.
My top two recommendations for kettlebells are the following:
Dragon Door. They were the first company in the US to manufacture kettlebells and still remain among the best military-grade kettlebells you can buy. Durable, rugged, and very consistent as far as quality goes.
Perform Better: Very similar to Dragon Door’s kettlebells, only less expensive. They tend to have a thicker handle (which can be great for your grip) and also have a rubber coating on the bottom that can be removed as needed.
Other companies also offer kettlebells which I’m assured are high quality, though I can’t really vouch for them as I’m not familiar with them. You don’t need a room full of kettlebells to get a good workout – even with just a small batch of a small, medium, and heavy kettlebell you can keep progressing almost forever. The best part – they’ll last almost forever too.
If you’ve got more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. But don’t let your questions keep you from taking the plunge. Buy a quality kettlebell or two today and find your local StrongFirst instructor and jump in feet first! Strength, fitness, and a lean physique await you!