Since mobile personal training and on-site group fitness classes are a big part of what we do at First Step, it is important for us to find equipment that is versatile and compact. Kettlebells have both of these qualities and as a result, they are used regularly by everyone on our team. Used in a variety of methods, they can help develop power, upper and lower body strength, core stability and increase conditioning.
Origins of the Kettlebell
Kettlebells have recently become popular in mainstream, North American fitness; however, they are not at all a new piece of equipment. In fact, some believe they originated centuries ago in Ancient Greece. In the early 1700s, kettlebells were used in Russia to weight crops. After hours, farmers would use the bells to show off their strength. In the late 1800s a Russian doctor named Vladislav Kravevsky introduced kettlebells as a weight training implement in Russia and soon they grew into a symbol of strength and national pride.
Kettlebells in the West
Kettlebells were not introduced to North America until the late 1990s when the "modern king of kettlebells", Pavel Tsatouline, wrote an article about them in an American strength magazine. Soon after that, a company called Dragon Door offered to begin manufacturing kettlebells in North America if Pavel agreed to teach people how to use them. As a result, the RKC certification was created, Dragon Door began producing kettlebells and a decade later, kettlebells could be found in just about any weight room you visited. Pavel also created possibly the best kettlebell resource for fitness professionals and the general population on how to use a kettlebell called: Enter the Kettlebell: Strength Secrect of the Soviet Supermen. If you are interested in learning to use a kettlebell, we highly recommend this DVD.
Which Kettlebell is right for you?
With their rise in popularity, the options for purchasing a kettlebell are endless and likely overwhelming. The first factor to consider when purchasing a kettlebell is what you will be using it for. If you are looking for something to use at home, you likely don't need to spend hundreds of dollars to purchase a top of the line model. Conversely, if you are planning to use your kettlebells in a high traffic location like a gym or fitness centre, you will need something that is durable and can take a beating. You will also need to consider how much each bell should weigh. If you are purchasing for your personal use, you can probably get by with 2: One for upper body exercises and a heavier one for swings, squats & other lower body exercises.
The Dragon Door kettlebell is North America's original and has recently become available in Canada. This product is cast iron and since it is made from a single mold, it is solid enough to last for years with high amounts of usage. This product is durable, military grade, has a smooth & comfortable grip, and is rust resistant. On the negative side, this is a pricey product. At $79 for the 12 kg, $99 for the 16 kg and $119 for the 24 kg, it is one of the more expensive models available. This is a high quality product that will last you for a long time, but you'll have to pay for it!
AmStaff offers a vinyl dipped kettlebell at an affordable price. This kettlebell has a comfortable grip that is wide enough to fit two medium sized hands. The grip size does vary with the weight, which should be considered before making a purchase. The vinyl coating is advertised to provide protection, but chances are that if you drop a 35lbs weight on your hardwood floor, it's going to cause some damage whether the weight is coated in vinyl or not. Another negative aspect of the vinyl coating is that since it covers most of the kettlebell, it's difficult (or impossible to tell if parts of the bell have been filled with something other that cast iron, which will impact precision of the weight and the durability). It also makes it tough to tell if the kettlebell is a single piece. A kettlebell made from more than one piece is far less durable than a single piece mold which can be very important depending on your training style. This is not such a big concern if you plan to train at home and aren't laying a beating on your equipment. We have used vinyl dipped kettlebells in our group training and personal training that have lasted for a couple of years without any damage. We recommend this product for personal use or light use for fitness professionals.
The J/Fit kettlebell is one of the better values available. It provides the balance of durability and competitive price, although it's not cheap. Similar to the Dragon Door products, these bells are single mold and made of cast iron to provide the durability needed to take the beating of being used in a gym or with athletes. The smooth, comfortable grip measures 2 inches in diameter on all sizes which is a nice consistency and the flat sides make it more comfortable for some exercises such as a kettlebell push press (although this might not sit well with the purists out there). We noticed that the bottom of these bells aren't always perfectly flat, which can become an issue if you are performing push ups or front support rows. At under $2/lb, these bells are priced as well as most single mold, cast iron kettlebells on the market. If you're looking for something with durability and don't want to pay the price for most elite and reputable kettlebells, this is our recommendation.
Take a look at some of our favourite kettlebell exercises below to help you get started. Once you are comfortable with these, progress to some more challenging and explosive movements like the kettlebell swing variations, kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell clean. To learn more about how to perform these and many more kettlebell exercises take a look at Pavel's fabulous resource Enter the Kettlebell.