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Kettlebells are extremely popular in both home and commercial gyms. Versatile, robust and effective when it comes to building functional fitness, strength and muscle mass, kettlebells are an excellent all-around fitness tool.
With so many kettlebells of various shapes and sizes on the market, it can be confusing when it comes to buying one for your home workouts or kettlebell classes. This kettlebell buying guide answers many common questions that first-time kettlebell users tend to ask, which should make things a little clearer! You can either read the complete guide or navigate to a specific topic using the links in the list below.
Kettlebells are incredibly popular and are used by fitness enthusiasts around the world. A kettlebell is a type of weight that consists of a “bell” shaped weight, with a flat bottom, which is attached to a handle. Kettlebells are typically made from cast iron or steel, and look a little bit like a traditional teapot, without a spout - hence the name “kettlebell”. Kettlebells can be swung, lifted, pressed, moved and held in dozens of different ways to produce highly effective, muscle-building and fat-burning workouts.
When looking to buy a kettlebell, there are some fundamental design features that you should be aware of. Look for a kettlebell that is easy to grip, balanced and correctly shaped. You should also consider how many kettlebells you want to buy and which weights are best suited to your training goals.
Kettlebells are great tools when it comes to developing strength, power, core stability and endurance. They have been around for hundreds of years, but really became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s when functional training increased in popularity.
Scientific studies have shown that kettlebells are excellent equipment for developing:
Used correctly, kettlebells can also be used to aid injury rehabilitation and manage/aid knee, back and other body pain.
Kettlebells are so effective because they tax and develop so many aspects of fitness and strength training at the same time. Studies confirm that while kettlebells can develop your overall fitness, they are highly effective at improving specific elements of endurance, strength and power as well. Whatever your fitness goals, it’s likely that kettlebells can help you achieve them efficiently and effectively.
Kettlebells also place unique demands on core muscles because of the way a kettlebell is shaped. The body has to work hard to control the movement of kettlebells and hand strength is developed very quickly. With grip strength being highly correlated with wellbeing and longevity and a key aspect of functional fitness, kettlebells are a highly “functional” piece of training equipment.
Kettlebells can also increase the “length of the lever” when hip hinge exercises such as swings are performed, which can allow users to develop more force and power than a swing performed with a dumbbell for example. Cast iron kettlebells can also be gripped with two hands if necessary, meaning that you can perform heavier swings, placing emphasis on the muscle in the lower back, legs and glutes. If a user wants to place more emphasis on grip and forearm strength, then a kettlebell can be held with a single hand.
Some key things to remember when using a kettlebell include ensuring that you have a secure grip and making sure that you do not round your back whilst performing “hip hinge” exercises like kettlebell swings. Kettlebell swings are the most iconic of kettlebell exercises and are fundamental to most kettlebell workouts. With this in mind, it can be a good idea to study and practice the swinging technique with a light weight to begin with. Use a mirror or a video camera to check your technique if necessary.
With some more advanced exercises such as kettlebell cleans, you have to learn to keep hold of the handle whilst you rotate your hand from a position with your knuckles facing towards the ground - to facing upwards. This can take some practice. However exercises like kettlebell bicep curls and lateral raises are relatively easy technically.
Thanks to their versatility, kettlebells are perfect for home workouts. Three kettlebells weighing different amounts is ideal, and allows you to perform dozens of exercises.
Kettlebells are most often used in isolation rather than in pairs. There are several exceptions to this, however - including Renegade Row and Sots Press but if your aim is to get started and enjoy a wide variety of challenging exercises without investing a considerable amount of money, then buying three kettlebells of different weights is an excellent starting point.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to three kettlebells you can still perform an array of exercises with just one. When exercising with a single kettlebell, investing in a resistance band set can add extra variety to your workouts. You could perform kettlebell swings, cleans and presses for example and finish off with some resistance band chest flys and bicep curls.
As mentioned previously you should ideally have three kettlebell weights; one relatively light kettlebell to perform balance, single-leg, isolation and overhead press exercises, another to perform compound upper body and dynamic exercises and finally a heavy kettlebell for performing whole-body compound movements such as goblet squats and deadlifts
As a general rule of thumb, women who have not lifted weights before may consider investing in kettlebells weighing 6kg, 10kg and 12kg, while men can opt for 12kg, 16kg and 24kg. These weights are suggested as a rough guide only and the weight that best suits you will depend on a number of factors including experience and fitness levels. The idea is that you have a relatively light, medium and heavy kettlebell.
The suggested range of kettlebell weights should give you the variety of resistance you need to perform most kettlebell exercises with an adequate but not dangerous amount of resistance. There is no hard and fast rule for what weight you will need, but if you are completely new to kettlebells and resistance exercise, the weights above are typically a good starting point.
If you already have experience in fitness training and lifting weights you may want to consider heavier weights than those suggested above. One thing that is worth noting however is that it can take time to learn the correct techniques for many kettlebell exercises, so starting with a lighter weight is best practice until you have the specific movement nailed down to perfection.
Whether you’ll need to increase the kettlebell weights you use will depend largely on your fitness and training goals. If you are looking to build power-endurance for example and you can easily perform 20 kettlebell swings with perfect form and technique, then you will probably want to increase the weight slightly - but perform fewer reps to begin with - until you become accustomed to the heavier weight. You will still be able to build power and power-endurance with a lighter weight and more repetitions, but it will be more efficient to use a slightly heavier weight; remembering that to build power an exercise should be performed at speed.
If you are looking to build strength on the other hand, when you can perform 10 repetitions with perfect technique, you may want to consider using a heavier weight. Opinions vary, but most strength coaches tout using lower repetition-ranges with longer rest periods in between sets to develop strength; although this does depend on the exercise and the individual. Always be extra cautious when increasing the weight and make sure that your technique does not falter, as this greatly increases the risk of injury.
Kettlebells are generally placed into one of two categories - cast iron hard style and soft style competition kettlebells.
Hardstyle cast iron kettlebells were the first type of kettlebells to arrive on the fitness market and in most gyms outside of Russia. CrossFit gyms, for example, will typically have hardstyle kettlebells that are made of cast iron.
Hardstyle kettlebells get bigger as they get heavier, and they will also have handles designed for comfort and ease of grip that differ from competition kettlebells. Hardstyle kettlebells have handles that angle outwards, making it easier to grip when using two hands for exercises such as goblet squats, high pulls and two-handed swings. Both our neoprene and pro cast iron kettlebells fall under this type of kettlebell.
Competition kettlebells are usually made from steel. As the name suggests, competition-style kettlebells are standardised kettlebells that can be used in competitions across the world. With competition-style kettlebells, regardless of the weight, they are all the same size. Competition kettlebells will also tend to have wider, consistently sized handles. They have a hollow centre with a size that depends on the weight - lighter competition kettlebells have a larger hollow centre than heavier ones.
Competition kettlebells are standardised so that tournament performances across the world can be compared. It is also crucial that the designs are standardised so that the shape and ergonomics of the kettlebells don't become a performance factor. Competition kettlebells are rarely used in home gyms, unless the user is looking to enter kettlebell tournaments.
Kettlebells should not be completely round or spherical. The kettlebell should have two flat areas so that it can fit snugly against the wrist.
METIS kettlebells have been designed so that when performing dynamic or ballistic exercises like kettlebell cleans, the kettlebell will 'land' in a position that fits neatly, in line with the forearm. If a kettlebell is completely spherical with a handle on top it will push into the forearm. Kettlebells should also be flat on the bottom so that they won't fall over when stored or used for an exercise such as renegade row - which depends on balancing on one kettlebell.
Most experts will advise against using kettlebells with any kind of rubber or plastic 'foot' on the bottom. Although the foot might help with balance and impact on the floor at times, it will make many exercises like clean and presses very awkward and potentially painful to carry out.
Kettlebell handles are a big deal when it comes to choosing a robust kettlebell that you can use effectively and safely. If you are unable to grip a kettlebell handle because it is too thick, then you may have difficulty performing some exercises safely, and your grip is likely to fail before any other muscle group.
Depending on what exercises you want to perform, you will also want to make sure that you can easily grip the kettlebell with both of your hands as this is essential for exercises such as goblet squats and two handed swings.
Kettlebell handles should be smooth but not completely friction-free. Kettlebells rotate within the user's grip when performing exercises such as clean and press. If a kettlebell handle is not smooth and produces a lot of friction when it rotates, it is likely to result in abrasions on the palm of the hand and could hinder the user's ability to perform specific exercises. METIS kettlebells have been specifically designed to provide enough grip without causing a significant amount of friction when rotated inside a close-fist or grip.
Kettlebell handles can potentially break but this is predominantly an issue with kettlebells that have handles welded on rather than one-piece or "single cast" kettlebells. Single cast kettlebells are extremely difficult to break and well worth investing in considering the dynamic and overhead exercises you will likely be performing - you do not want a handle breaking off at any point.
Having a convenient and tidy way to store your fitness equipment is always a good idea, especially if you are training at home. If you own up to 4 kettlebells you can store them in a stand or tray such as the non-slip METIS Kettlebell Stand made of steel with rubber, protective feet. If you have a greater number of kettlebells, then a rack such as the METIS 3 Tier Kettlebell Rack, made with heavy-duty steel stores is ideal for commercial, home or garage gyms.
Both kettlebells and dumbbells are excellent for developing strength and fitness. The most apparent difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell is the location of the handle. Kettlebells have handles that are at the top, while dumbbell handles are positioned in the centre. This positioning affects how the equipment is held and changes the distribution of the weight. When you hold a kettlebell with a single hand, it will usually fall to the outside of your body, whereas a dumbbell will have its weight equally distributed to each side of your hand or arm.
When performing a chest press with a dumbbell, for example, the force will be applied downwards. When the same exercise is performed with a kettlebell, if the kettlebell falls to the outside of the arm, pressure and force will be applied laterally/side-ways as well as downwards.
Because kettlebells activate core and fixator muscles in the body more effectively than dumbbells, they are generally considered more functional and better for building 'true strength' that transfers directly to sport and everyday movements such as lifting heavy objects. On the other hand, dumbbells do a better job of isolating the superficial muscles and are therefore often touted as better for bodybuilding and physique training.
Both kettlebells and dumbbells can be used to perform a vast array of exercises. Although many of the same exercises can be performed with both kettlebells and dumbbells, the different ways in which the equipment is weighted and the variation in the handles means each option has specific exercises that they are better suited to. Whilst the ideal scenario would be to have both, kettlebells are arguably more versatile than dumbbells, so if you have a limited budget and you are looking to kit out a home gym, kettlebells may be the best option.
There are dozens of exercises that you can do with a single kettlebell. These different exercises can be grouped into different classifications and exercise types:
Dynamic & ballistic exercises - great for losing weight and building speed and explosive power for sports. Dynamic kettlebell exercises include kettlebell swings and cleans. Dynamic exercises typically target fast twitch muscle fibres and often involve jumping or moving weights at high speed. Always take great care with technique and warm up before performing ballistic exercises.
Isotonic concentric exercises - involve a constant amount of tension and usually a constant speed. Concentric kettlbell exercises include squats, floor press and one-arm-rows. A concentric exercise or muscle contraction is one which shortens a muscle. For example, when you perform a bicep curl with a kettlebell, the upward part of the movement, which shortens the bicep is considered the concentric phase.
Isotonic eccentric exercises - involve constant tension, whilst a muscle is lengthening. With a kettlebell bicep curl for example, the downward phase when the elbow is extending represents an eccentric contraction. Eccentric contractions are fantastic for muscle growth and injury rehabilitation. Eccentric exercises generally require a partner or spotter to perform. For example, with a pressing exercise, to emphasis the eccentric phase, the spotter helps the user to lift the weight, and then the user lowers the weight to perform the eccentric contraction or exercise as the muscle lengthens.
Compound exercises - use various muscle groups and usually allow you to lift relatively heavy weights. Kettlebell squats and deadlifts are examples of compound exercises. Compound exercises are usually performed using isotonic concentric muscle contractions. Compound exercises are great for developing functional strength and for building muscle mass.
Isolation exercises - involve smaller muscle groups and are usually classified as "single joint" movements. Kettlebell bicep curls and lateral raises are isolation exercises and are great for building big arms and shoulders. As they target smaller muscle groups compared to deadlifts, for example, the weight that you'll want to use will be drastically lighter. Isolation exercises are typically used to strengthen a specific muscle or to shape and tone an area of the body - bodybuilders for example, will use lateral raises to shape the deltoid muscles.
Balance & rehab/prehab exercises - prehab and rehab exercises will typically be prescribed by a physiotherapist or sports therapist to prevent and rehabilitate injuries. It is common for these exercises to focus on building core strength, shoulder and knee stability. Prehab and rehab exercises should be approached with great caution and a relatively light weight should be used with an emphasis on technique and control. Balance exercises can be used to enhance core stability and reduce the risk of lower-body injuries to the knees and ankles. Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift is a great exercise for developing balance and core strength.
Most people will want to perform a range of exercises that incorporate all the formats listed above. With this in mind, it is typically best to invest in a range of kettlebell weights if you wish to perform a whole-body workout. You will typically need a different weight to perform compound exercises such as squats, compared to isolation exercises such as front raises.
When buying a kettlebell, ensure that you have an idea of what your fitness goals are, and ensure that you have a safe place to use them. Whereas you can probably use resistance bands safely in the lounge whilst watching TV, kettlebells require a bit more space!
We recommend having three kettlebells if your budget allows (a relatively light kettlebell for isolation and balance exercises, a medium weight for upper body exercises and a relatively heavy kettlebell for compound exercises). If you have one kettlebell we suggest that you go with a weight that is challenging for fundamental kettlebell exercises such as swings, goblet squats and cleans. You can still enjoy fantastic fitness and strength benefits by working out with a single kettlebell. If you want to add more variety, a resistance band is a highly effective tool for performing whole body workouts. Longer bands such as the METIS Power Bands, can also be combined with kettlebells to provide an additional level of resistance.
Whether you have one, three or more kettlebells it’s important to make sure you use weights that are suited to your physical capabilities to ensure you can complete exercises with the correct form, maximise your results and minimise the risk of injury. Kettlebells are a fantastic training tool if used correctly as this guide outlines. If you follow all of the advice and tips listed you’re well equipped to reap the benefits of kettlebell weights! You can see our full range of cast iron kettlebells, neoprene kettlebells and kettlebell storage solutions on our main kettlebell page. We also stock a wide range of other gym weights as well as other types of gym equipment that is designed to cater for all fitness levels and goals.