Which Kettlebell? Best Kettlebell Buying Guide
Kettlebells are a great bit of kit; they can combine strength, flexibility and endurance into one workout. However, choosing the best kettlebell for your training needs can be a pain.
I have created this in-depth guide with all of the information you need to make the right decision. I have also included some suggested products to make it even easier for you.
Best Competition Kettlebell
Best Cast Iron Kettlebell
Though they were a little known and seldom seen piece of equipment just ten years ago, lately the kettlebell has become popular around the world.
This is no accident. The simple piece of equipment, which originated on Russian farms around the 1700s, can do a surprising array of things for your body.
Kettlebell workouts are dynamic and often ballistic in nature so they work multiple muscle groups at once in ways that mimic and support real world motion. Most kettlebell workouts are based on high rep, high intensity movement and can burn incredible numbers of calories while strengthening muscles.
It’s no wonder they have become so popular.
The problem is that now that everybody is training with them, everyone seems to be selling them too and not all kettlebells were created equal.
For someone just looking to buy their first one, it can be hard to figure out how much you should be paying and what makes a quality kettlebell.
I have put together this buyer’s guide to help you find the very best kettlebell for your needs.
What Makes a Good Kettlebell?
Well, anytime you want to know about a piece of equipment, a good place to start is asking “what do the pros use?” Take a look:
Those guys are using professional-grade steel kettlebells, also known as competition kettlebells.
They are the most expensive option, running up to and over $300 depending on weight (the heavier you go, the more expensive they get).
Competition style are the best kettlebell type. I generally recommend them to everybody, but they might not be right for you if you are on a budget.
However, there are some important things that they can teach us as we explore the pros and cons of the different options.
The most important thing to note is the shape. Kettlebell exercises are diverse and many involve touching the kettlebell to your body in various ways.
You don’t want an awkward shape with sharp corners, edges, welds or seams that are going to scrape your skin or be uncomfortable.
An added bonus to professional-grade steel competition kettlebells is that all the different weights are the exact same size and shape.
This allows for a consistency that is very important at high levels of performance, but may not be a factor when you are just starting out.
You will also see, the handles are not painted.
It is so that any paint chips, which will happen over years of use, do not affect your grip and tear at your skin.
You will want to bear that in mind when you look at other, less expensive types of kettlebells.
Cast Iron Kettlebells
Cast iron kettlebells are the most common type on the market and what we recommend you start with. They are what you will see most commonly in gyms, as well as what you would have seen on a Russian farm three hundred years ago.
Most importantly, they are normally cheaper, ranging from $40-$100 depending on weight and brand.
No matter which style of kettlebell you choose, if you find the right brand they can be of extremely high quality and last you your entire lifetime.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of brands out there to choose from and it would be impossible to cover all of them.
Instead, I am going to take you through an in-depth look at what makes a kettlebell high or low quality and how you can make an educated decision when buying your own.
What Weight Kettlebell to Buy?
This is the first big question and it can be a tricky one to answer, since everyone's body and level of fitness is different.
There are some general guidelines, though.
Typically, for men, it is recommended to start with a 12-16kg, depending on fitness and strength level.
For women, I recommend starting with an 8kg or 12kg, then move up as you get fitter, stronger and more technically proficient.
If you do have the budget to start with both the lower and higher end of those recommended starting weights (for men, both the 12 and 16kg kettlebell), then go ahead and get both.
You will probably outgrow certain exercises quite quickly with the light bell and need something heavier, swings for example.
There will be other exercises that are a bit more technical like the snatch, that you will need to perfect using the lighter option for a period of time.
Having a couple of options means you can push your training harder and with more variety.
It still works out very affordable to buy a couple of them when you think about the huge variety of exercise you can perform with them.
Kettlebell exercises are widely diverse and normally focused on both high or low numbers of reps so just one or two can turn into months of training before you will need to think about the next weight.
Remember, you could be swinging this thing around for sets of 20, 40, even 80 reps. It won’t feel so light then.
Mostly, kettlebells are cast from a single mold. Sometimes, you will come across bells that have been made from two separate pieces.
The two-piece ones may not be as safe or secure so I would advise steering clear of those.
The cast iron kettlebells that are made from a single mold, can sometimes have a sharp seems under the handle so be sure to check for that if you can.
It is very important that the handle is smooth and rounded so that it will not pinch your palms. The best kettlebell should not have any welds at the edges of the handle or those sharp seems from poor molding.
These days, many kettlebells are being sold with ‘sleeves’ around the body of the bell to make them more comfortable to use.
Don’t worry if you can’t tell for certain if it has been welded or molded, as long as it feels solid, secure and there are no seams or burrs to pinch and scrape your skin, you’re on the right track.
Best Kettlebell Handle Size
For the competition bells, the handle size should be the same throughout the range of weights (33mm in diameter). This is another huge benefit to paying that little extra for the competition style.
When it comes to the other types of kettlebell, handle sizes can vary greatly. Usually, the sign of a poorer quality product is a very thin handle. You should be looking to get a kettlebell with a handle diameter of at least 30mm.
On the other hand, you don’t want it to be much more than 40mm thick either. Once the handles get too fat, they become very hard to keep your grip on.
Great for working your forearms, but not so great when your grip gives out as the kettlebell passes overhead during a snatch.
If the manufacturer lists the sizes, then 30mm – 40mm is good.
Cast iron kettlebells have a durable, smooth, painted finish. This is to prevent rusting and to create smooth surfaces for your skin that can provide just the right amount of grip.
The finish can be applied in a number of ways. Some companies bake their paint on, others use a powder coating process, and others use epoxy.
Paint that has been epoxied can chip more quickly than other methods. When the paint starts to chip on the handle it can damage your hands.
Inevitably, any type of finish will chip over time. The important thing is that the finish does not cause blisters or pain when sliding in your palms repeatedly.
To a certain degree, it comes down to your preferred texture, powder coated paint can tend to have a little more grip while baked and epoxied paints can be smoother.
Some users prefer a texture that is like a very smooth sandpaper, usually achieved by powder-coat paint jobs. The rougher surface means less movement, and fewer blisters on sweaty hands than a smooth polish.
I, however, like the smooth, bare-metal finish of a steel bell. It just feels so much more natural and solid in your hands. You can always use a bit of chalk to keep the handle dry and grippy.
The Base of a Good Kettlebell
If you are able to do a hands-on inspection with your kettlebell, it is good to test that it rests completely flat on the floor.
Take the kettlebell to an uncarpeted part of the store and place it on the ground. Squat down above it and put both hands on the handle.
If you slowly put your weight onto it, does it feel completely solid or do you feel it wobble underneath you?
It should provide a stable base upon which you could put part of your body weight without worrying about it tipping to one side or the other.
You are going to want to do pushups or renegade rows in your training, for example, and you don’t want them tipping over and damaging your wrist.
If you can't get hands-on before you buy, the likelihood is that you can't, just ensure the based is flat.
Are Adjustable Kettlebells Any Good?
So, you may have seen what’s called an adjustable kettlebell at your local fitness store.
They might have told you that it was the perfect way to get started, how one great purchase could give you all the different weights you need, all for the low, low price of… wait a minute.
Sounds a bit too good to be true? That’s because it is.
While adjustable kettlebells have come a long way since the first rickety designs, there are good reasons why they still aren’t used in many gyms or by coaches often:
- Believe it or not, you really don’t need a whole set of different weights to get started.
You can add more reps to progress and improve technique in the beginning.
The same kettlebell can be right for you when you can only manage fifteen good reps of a certain exercise as it can when you can manage fifty.
- There are so many ways to use a kettlebell that when you have mastered basic exercises and are feeling stronger, there are always harder variations you can move onto with the same weight.
- Kettlebell exercises require the bell to touch your body in a number of ways for up to 80 reps in a set.
Remember when we talked about a smooth finish earlier on? The same concept applies here.
While adjustable kettlebells are more often rounded in shape and attempt to take this into account, most brands still come with slots between weight plates that make them uncomfortable to use.
- Classic kettlebells are basically cannonballs with handles; they are one of the most durable pieces of equipment you can find.
They need to be durabl because they are swung, tossed, dropped and generally beaten across the course of their lifespan.
The more moving parts introduced into an adjustable system, the more likely they are to wear down over time creating wobbling weight plates or all out malfunction.
It is important to note that in the past couple of years, adjustable kettlebell technology has come a long way and will continue to do so.
If you weigh these pros and cons, do a little research and find a brand that you think is right for you it may be the cheapest way to get a ‘full set’.
Pictured above is the Kettlebell Kings Adjustable Bell. If you are set on having a few weight options but don't want to break the bank, this is the best looking adjustable option I came across. Click here to view it on Amazon
However, I still recommend a solid cast iron or competition steel kettlebell over the adjustable ones if you're serious about kettlebell exercises.
Which is the Best Kettlebell to Buy
Now you have all the knowledge you need to make an educated purchase that fits you best.
Maybe you’re a real believer in quality and just want one professional-grade steel competition kettlebell that will last you your lifetime. You’re ready to spend a little extra for quality.
Maybe you prefer the flexibility of an adjustable kettlebell despite the drawbacks. That could be right for some. Although, I do advise against it.
Most physical stores sell pretty cheap, poor quality kettlebells. To get the best kettlebell, you are going to need to buy online.
Unfortunately, that means you will not be able to physically inspect it before you buy to make sure it is smooth and feels good in your hands.
You can now use this guide to sift through my recommended products and top picks (shown in the tables at the top) to make a well-informed decision.
My Top Pick Competition and Cast Kettlebells
Top Competition Kettlebell
Top Cast Iron Kettlebell
As with most fitness and strength equipment, you really do get what you pay for with kettlebells.
The higher prices usually mean that the manufacturer has been able to be more precise and to take more care in producing the finished product.
You can get some cheap ones that may do the job for a while but they likely won’t last or provide a great experience.
I have tried to pick high quality brands that don’t break the bank for this whole guide. So, if you stick with one of the products mentioned here, you won’t go too far wrong.