Recently I have had people ask me about using kettlebells. Why a kettlebell? Because it’s a hand held gym. It’s easy to transfer from one exercise to the next. it builds strength, muscle and cardiovascular endurance. You can take it anywhere. It burns fat as well as builds muscle. The only thing you can’t do on it is a pull-up. Here is what you need.
First, a kettlebell. Duh, that’s obvious. Anyway, the size you should get in good old fashioned English system is 35 lbs. for the men, 20 lbs for the ladies. If you’re strong, you might blow through the 35 quickly, but I believe that there is plenty you can do with a 35, whether it be work on form, a new exercise, or for metabolic conditioning to keep you motivated. They come in kilograms in 4 kg (8.8lb) increments. Traditionally the best way to do it is to buy a 35 lb. 55lb and 70lb. In my opinion, those jumps are too big. I would and did buy a 35, a 45 and two 55′s. Once you have built a foundation of strength, the doubles work great for front squats, sumo dead lifts and rows while you master the single kettlebell for presses and snatches
What brand and where should I get them? If money isn’t an option, buy a Dragon Door brand. They are considered the best, I’ve used one and it is a high quality bell. However, you are going to pay $3 a lb for a 35 which is absolutely exorbitant. I know this is not going to be a popular opinion, but it’s the truth. Do not buy kettlebells at your local sporting goods store either. You’ll pay over $2 a lb. and the quality stinks. You can buy a good bell for between $1.50 and $ 2.00 a lb. The keys to a good bell are the handle. If it is too rough, it will tear your hands up. Too smooth and once you sweat it will slip out of your hand. Not a great feeling. Also the base should be flat and wide, not wobbly. If you like to do pushups on a bell or renegade rows and that wobbly bell slips, say good bye to a fingernail or two.
Here are the bells I own. Troy, Body Solid, Christian Fitness Factory, and Kettlebells USA. I’ve used Punch, Dragon Door and Ader.
Troy bells are a great deal. They have a nice handle grit, and it’s thinner than most. They are also pretty cheap. I paid $92 for each 70 lb bell and did not pay shipping. You can get them on EBay through CSN as well as Abe’s of Maine which is a camera store that sells fitness equipment. My friend paid about $56 for a 35. The bell has two drawbacks. One is the paint on the handle does chip. This doesn’t bother me. It helps hold chalk better and looks badder. Also, the handle is welded on, it’s not built in one piece. I have no intention of dropping from a 3rd story window so, I’m not worried about the weld holding.
The first bells I bought were Body Solid, They are smooth with enamel, shiny, black and really pretty coming out of the box. They make good bells, thick handle, flat bottom at a reasonable price. I bought mine through Craig’s List from a dealer in Massachusetts. About $1.30/lb.if I recall and he delivered them within 2 weeks. I like them, they get the job done and the thick handle works the grip. I would buy them again. I own a 35, a 45 and two 55s But the enamel chips pretty easily. Also, the handle gets slick in the summertime and does not hold chalk that well.
I own two Kettlebells USA bells. A 28 kg and a 40 kg. They are excellent bells at a reasonable price. The grit to smoothness ratio for my taste is perfect They can take a beating too. I dropped the 28 on the garage floor last summer doing snatches and other than the logo falling off, barely a scratch. They hold chalk well. My preference is the heavier the bell, the more grit I want on the handle. The handle on the 88 is significantly thicker than the 28 and it requires chalk for certain exercises. The only issue I have is they kind of jerk you around with shipping. It comes out to $2 a lb., but the price of the bell is a little over a $1.15. They do run sales and you can get good deals. If I had to do it again, I would buy these. They also sell pro grade bells. More on that later.
I also have a Christian’s Fitness Factory bell which is a 12 kg that I bought for my wife. They took what they liked about the CAP brand bell and enhanced it. It’s a nice bell, handle has a little grit. Not as much as I like for heavier bells, but for anything up to 55 lbs., I think it works well. The plus for them is the service is fantastic and they deliver was in 3 days. They also sell Troys and Dragon Doors. I paid $41 for a 26 lb bell. Absolutely reasonable.
I found the Ader I’ve used similar to Kettlebells USA and they have a wide, flat base. The Punch bell I used was good and it’s made in the USA. The price is up around the Dragon Door territory. A bell I’ve heard great things about is Lifeline. Thick handles as well. I’ve spoke to people who swear by them, but I’ve never used them.
So places to get a good, reasonably priced kettlebell through the internet are EBay, Kettlebell USA, Abe’s of Maine, and Walmart.com. Yes, you can order it online and they will ship it for free to pick up at the nearest store.
Pro Grade bells are used in Girevoy Sport competition. They are made out of steel and no matter what the weight, have the same size handle as well as shape. They are also shaped to fit the forearm well in the “rack”position. You will pay a little more for these and your collection will look like a rainbow. Yellow for 35′s, Green for 52′s, Red for 70′s, White for 88′s. But they hold chalk well and are made for endurance contests. I’ve been thinking about getting a set of 52′s because I’m currently doing a lot of Clean and Jerk work.
Next, you will need a Pedi-egg and Cornhuskers hand lotion. Using kettlebells will give you callouses and you need to shave them down. It is not recommended to use gloves. If it’s a hot day, I do use fingerless gloves, because my hands sweat. 80% of the time I don’t. For me it has nothing to do with protection, it’s to absorb sweat. Hand care is a must. Conrhuskers is not oily and absorbs quickly within a minute. Use it every night.
Chalk is also an option to absorb sweat and I do use chalk. However, it can really help rip up your hands. Only use it on the fingers and the bell. Avoid putting it on the base of your fingers directly because you will tear your callouses up and have to ride the elliptical machine until they heal. The only drawback to learning kettlebells is the chance you will develop blisters.
See a kettlebell certified instructor. Yes, you can learn a lot of these movements on Youtube. I did. However, I also saw an Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor twice, 9 months into my journey and she definitely fixed my form on some things. Two hours $100, immediate gains. Kind of like buying Apple stock, which is still a bargain at $600 per share. Look at the Price/Earnings ratio. It’s only 17. According to that blowhard Jim Cramer, anything over a 40 P/E is considered expensive. It has $100 billion in cash and is going to pay a $2 + dividend per share this year. Surest buy you’ll ever make. If you bought a share a month ago, you would have made the $100 already to spend for two sessions with an RKC!
Finally lose the running shoes. Flat soled sneakers or bare feet. I use Adidas shell toes, Chuck Taylor work great. Think about squatting on your bed. That’s what your jogging shoes are doing for you. Get those feet flat and reap the gains.
What exercises should you learn?
The Swing. First and foremost! It’s the foundation to the clean and the snatch. It’s a great strength and conditioning movement. Once you ace it two handed, try it one handed. It hits your grip, abs, hamstrings. You will not get better instruction on Youtube than Franz Snideman’s Breaking Down the Kettlebell Swing. It’s in 3 parts and show how you go from a Sumo Deadlift to a Swing.
Turkish Getup. This is a complicated movement that takes practice learning each part. The beauty of it is you can do it without weight until you have mastered all the steps. It is a total body movement that strengthens your shoulders, back, legs, abs as well as cardio. Franz breaks this down in three parts as well in his Revolutionfitness address in Youtube.
Goblet Squat. Take a kettlebell in a steering wheel position and drop your hips back as if you are sitting i a chair. Go all the was to the bottom past parallel, elbows between your thighs. Pause, come back up. If you squat right, you won’t hurt your knees. You must squat! A house is first built with a foundation. Your foundation is your legs. Want to have better cardio condition? Squat. Want to build a stronger press? Squat. Want to work your abs? Squat. When you’re advanced, take 2 70′s kettlebells squat them for reps. I bet holding them in the rack will be the first thing to go because it will fatigue your upper back.
Clean: Once you’ve mastered the swing, learn the clean. The crisper the clean, the better the press. The bell does not “flop” over the top and bang your wrist. It rotates around the wrist. I always think of drawing a gun. Learn it correctly
Clean and Press. Clean it to the rack position, press straight over head. What I love about pressing from the rack vs. with dumbbells is the position your shoulder is put in. When you press dumbbells by your ears, you can feel the bad position your shoulder is in or doing behind the neck presses. From the rack it much more natural and you will still hit your deltoids.
Snatch: The Tsar of all kettlebell lifts. Explosive and fun. But technically difficult to master for two reasons. Learning the timing and grip to catch the bell over head without banging your wrist. And transferring the bell from your fingers to your palm and back without pulling the callouses at the base of your fingers. This exercise took me a long time to get right. Even after I saw the RKC.
Windmill: Great for shoulder stability, core and hamstrings.
What workouts should I do?
I started out on my own. I belonged to a gym and they had all sizes of bells. I saw a workout in some web site called the Art of Manliness and it had a kettlebell workout you did in a circuit. I’m the first to tell you the first swings I ever did were double 12′s! Then I flopped the clean and press over and bruised my wrists, then it was pushups on the bells, followed by lunges and Russian twists. Even with the issues I had, I loved the circuit/metabolic conditioning aspect. I had a pump and was huffing and puffing with my heart pounding through my chest in 30 minute vs the 60 minute lifting/running regimen I was doing. Then I found a 12 week program from MBody strength. I studied all the movements on Youtube and tried to duplicate them. So that being said, start by practicing the movements. A great book is Enter The Kettlebell, which has two workouts as well as instruction on the movements. I think the beginning instruction is fantastic. However, if I did his first workout, the Program Minimum to start out, I don’t think I would have liked it as much as I do. David Whitley has a free EBook on his irontamer.com website called 101 Kettlebell Workouts. I would mix this and the Program Minimum together. David has a general conditioning section which is great to start out. 30 workouts under 30 minutes. Muscle building programs which require doubles and circuit training. For me, 2 days a week doing the Program Minimum and 3 days a week doing the general conditioning is the perfect way to start and reap the benefits of starting with kettlebells.
So there you have it. If you’re willing to think outside the box of bench pressing and long boring cardio on treadmill, you can put yourself in the best fighting shape of your life with kettlebells.