Updated: Sep 4
I love the Russians for three reasons. Number one: I love their fair and just political system that honours hard work and honesty. Two: Gary Kasporov, the greatest chess player to have walked the Earth. And three: I absolutely, more than anything else, love the Russians for the kettlebell. This piece of exercise equipment is Russian through and through – simple, hard and to the point. It is basically a cannonball with a handle. But, its beauty lies within its simplicity; this piece of equipment is so versatile it is beyond comprehension.
I was introduced to the kettlebell about 15 years ago whilst serving in the Royal Marines. Back then kettlebells were largely unknown in the UK and few gyms had them. I remember the first time I ever saw one being used. A Physical Training Instructors in the barrack’s gym was vigorously swinging this huge steel ball between his legs. For a while I watched with a curious yet fascinated eye. When he finished his training session I approached him and asked what he was doing. ‘Kettlebell swings!’ he shouted, unapologetically spraying my face in a shower of spit and sweat. Of course I’d never heard of kettlebell swings so I invited him to explain what they were. He told me that the kettlebell is an ancient Russian training aid and that it is by far the most diverse piece of training equipment in existence. The kettlebell swing, he added, is a dynamic all-over body exercise that’ll make muscles ache that you didn’t even know you had.
I suppressed my incredulity. His excessive enthusiasm was probably a consequence of the dopamine rush he was enjoying after playing with his balls for 30-straight minutes. He clearly saw something in my face that smacked of disbelief and so demanded that I pick-up his bell. He proceeded to coach me through a hundred swings. ‘Back straight!’ he roared. ‘Look forward not down! And push through with your hips!’ After the set I was moderately impressed with the exercise and how the kettlebell engaged the body. But I certainly wasn’t won over to the opinion that it was the most diverse piece of training equipment in existence. Until the following day.
When I woke up the next morning I was greeted by a hideous bout of the DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). Seriously, I was aching in places that I didn’t know you could and I hadn’t the grip strength to stir my porridge. When I recovered I sought out the kettlebell guru and asked him if he would accept me as his protégée. He kindly took me under his wing and taught me all he knew about the ancient art of Russian kettlebell lifting. I’ve never looked back since.
What makes the kettlebell so good?
Due to its design the kettlebell, unlike, say, dumbbells, cables or exercise machines, destabilises the body through the execution of the movement. When you swing a kettlebell it pulls you forward and throws you back. This might not sound like an attribute but it is. For when you are destabilised you are forced to engage the core and recruit the assistance of a myriad synergist muscles to prevent yourself from losing balance. And it is for this reason why after my very first set of kettlebell swings my whole body ached.
When the PTI proudly proclaimed that the kettlebell is the most diverse piece of equipment he wasn’t exaggerating. Off the top of my head I can count (and perform!) 16 individual exercise. There are many more. It is for this reason why I call the kettlebell a self-contained gym because, with that one piece of exercise equipment, deceptively simple though it appears, you can work the whole body inside and out.
Wanna get fit!
Whenever someone says ‘I wanna get fit’ I instantly retort with ‘Then go buy a bell’. Most all kettlebell movements activate the two major muscle groups – legs and back. To fuel and feed the major muscles the cardiovascular and respiratory system are fired up which can result in an intense aerobic workout. Few if any exercise machines offer this blend of physical stimulation. With enough space and the correct weight kettlebell you would never need to visit a gym again, they are that good. So, if you are serious about improving your fitness go purchase a kettlebell immediately.
The basic rule-of-thumb when purchasing your first kettlebell is: males should start off with about a 12 to 16kg and females either a 6 or 8kg. Remember, you will only need one kettlebell at the start, using two requires a lot more skill and proficiency.
With your new kettlebell it is best to learn two simple exercises – such as the swing and squat to overhead press – and practice them for a couple of weeks until you become used to the way it moves.
In the wrong hands kettlebells are dangerous as they move in an unconventional manner and they require significantly more skill to handle than do conventional free weights. When you develop confidence and you have a whole plethora of exercises at your disposal, think about either increasing weight or doubling up.
Kettlebell buyer’s guide
The problem today is, because kettlebells have become so popular, and because few people have the first clue about what constitutes as a proper kettlebell, the market is flooded with, well, crap. Kettlebells should never be made out of plastic. Also, irrespective of the weight (or pood, as it is called in Russian (one pood = 16kg)), the kettlebell should be the same size. The dimensions of an 8kg (or ½ pood) bell should not differ from a 32kg (or 3 pood) bell. Furthermore, the style of the kettlebell should mirror that of the standard Girevoy competition bell. See picture below.
Below I have sourced some excellent examples for your consideration.
1) BodyRip Primeium Pro Competition Kettlebell
This, if you'll excuse the vernacular, a sleek and sexy looking bell which sports a highly polished handle. This is a significant feature. Let me briefly explain why. Years back I made the mistake of buying kettlebells in bulk. They were cheap and poorly made (I didn’t know this at the time). The handles were abrasive and knobbly. This led to two negative outcomes. The first: after a single session my hands were shredded like confetti. The second: left unused for a week the handles formed a thick crust of rust. Eminently a bad thing when they also rub your hands raw. I love kettlebell training as much as the next man but not at the risk of contracting tetanus. What I’ve learnt from this: only buy kettlebells with polished and treated handles that are as smooth as a baby’s.
DESIGN: Colour coded design with wipe clean vinyl outer and anti-slip base. Ergonomically designed kettlebell with comfort handle for better grip and handling. Designed for whole-body, functional training.
MATERIAL: Made from high quality cast iron: reliable durability. Solid surface: durability and anti-corrosion paint surface.
Click on the image for availability
2) Powrx Competition Kettlebells - Gym Quality
The Powrx’s kettlebells are created in the image of the Girevoy competition standard design – this is an absolute must. And though the Powrx kettlebell handles do not appear as smooth and shiny as the GJQ they are substantially cheaper. This makes them the perfect beginner’s kettlebell.
Including a digital exercise chart. Professional Steel Kettlebell for home and gym use. Weights 4kg, 6kg, 8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, 28kg
FOR BEGINNERS & ADVANCED ATHLETES: Light Kettlebells are best for beginners. Exercises can be carried out using one or two kettlebells depending on the type of exercise
DESIGN: The Competition Kettlebell is made of 100% Steel making them durable. It has a flat base making it STABLE when you perform floor exercises.
Click on the image for availability
3: Capital Sports Steel Competition Kettlebell and Weights
Capital Sports deliver a compact quality kettlebell for the serious trainer. They are constructed from high quality materials and to the exacting standards of the traditional Girevoy competition kettlebell. Each bell, irrespective of the weight, is cast to the same dimensions; so an 8kg is exactly the same size as a 32kg. Also they are made from one piece. This is an important point when purchasing kettlebells: do not buy a bell with a welded handle. Welded handles are an inferior construction and if they are dropped they stand a high chance of cracking.
Flat bottom prevents the KB from rolling over between sets.
Handles particularly suited for fast and numerous repetitions without losing strength | Handle suitable for all hand sizes
To ensure optimum support of your training, Capital Sports adhered to their usual high-quality standards when making the Compket Competition Kettlebells.
Click on the image for availability
Do your fitness a favour - buy a bell and start swinging!
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast