5 Kettlebells Worth Adding to a Home Gym, According to Pro Powerlifters
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The humble kettlebell. It’s the strength world’s purest form of tough love: straight to the point, kind of brutal, but very impactful when used effectively. Pavel Tsatsouline —Belarusian-born fitness instructor known for training US Navy SEALs and Marines, and the person credited with popularizing kettlebell use in the United States — wrote a book, the title of which offers one of the most perfectly succinct descriptions of this piece of equipment: Simple and Sinister.
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Kettlebells also offer a ton of advantages for home gym owners. Their small, stout shapes store efficiently and their multitude of uses means lifters don’t have to invest in a lot of other equipment. However, not all kettlebells are created equal. Even though they might look simple to the untrained eye, there are subtle differences in grip, materials, and geometry that set the superior options apart from the rest. It’s best to consult experts who’ve swung more than their fair share before making a purchase.
What the Experts Say
For this story, SPY tapped Billy Brown, a CrossFit gym owner, a reviews editor at Barbend.com, and a certified U.S Powerlifting coach who has held three California state powerlifting records. We also consulted David Buckles, a level two-certified CrossFit coach who owns a CrossFit Gym in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both experts regularly use “poods,” the traditional Russian metric for kettlebell weight, in daily conversation.
All of the kettlebells on the below list were hand-selected by Brown and Buckles based on the equipment they personally use in their fitness routines. For men new to using kettlebells, both recommended a starting weight of 35 pounds. “That’s generally what I suggest for a beginner dude,” Brown said. “You can get a lot of work done on it, build a lot of stability and strength, and then upgrade,” Brown said.
Buckles echoed Brown: “When I first started, I bought 35- and 44-pound weights and I felt really good with the 35-pound one,” he said. “But when I went up to the 44, it really kicked my ass, and that promoted the wrong form and wrong technique. It’s not about how much weight you can do. It’s about how much weight you can do properly.” Wise words.
Dragon Door RKC Kettlebell
Dragon Door RKC Kettlebells are designed to last and have a burly, simple, and uniform iron build that gets straight to the point without being fancy. Buckles has a 16-KG Dragon Door Kettlebell that is more than 20 years old and is still rock-solid: “I have bought some new ones since then and that 16-K looks identical to the new ones I have added to the family,” he said.
“Dragon Door kettlebells are expensive and shipping is brutal, but I would say they are the gold standard,” he continued. “If you buy the right one, you really only have to buy the right one one time. If it’s a $100 kettlebell you use for the rest of your life, that’s a pretty rock-solid investment.”
One thing to be aware of: many kettlebells have a powder coating to protect them from scuffs and scratches and give users a better grip. Buckles noted, though, that coating can sometimes have the opposite effect and chip away, shortening the kettlebell’s lifespan and making them harder to grab over time. Dragon Door’s kettlebell designers eschewed any type of coating, which Buckles attributes to their incredibly long life.
BEST COMPETITION KETTLEBELLS
Kettlebell Kings Competition Kettlebell
Why it stands out: According to Brown, Kettlebell Kings make great competition kettlebells: “They’re a perfect uniform size and they make their handles really well,” he said. (FYI, competition kettlebells are distinct from traditional kettlebells in that they’re all a uniform size, whereas traditional models increase in size and dimension with increases in weight.)
The secret to Kettlebell Kings’ incredible handles? They’re cast from a porous material that offers a little texture and can also absorb chalk well when the user’s hand inevitably gets sweaty and coated in white powder. These kettlebells also use precision casting without welds to create top-notch balance. “They really step up my fetish for symmetry,” said Brown.
That perfect symmetry makes the more irregular movements like goblet squats easier to perform because the user can depend on the geometry, balance points, and grip to remain the same throughout an entire weight range.
Differentiation: They have a winning combination of incredible grip and perfect symmetry.
Price Point: The most expensive of the bunch hovers around $150.
Why it stands out: “Elieko’s kettlebells are interesting because their handles are smooth metal — you’d think they’d be slippery, but they are surprisingly grippy without a bunch of texturing.” Brown said. Eleiko handles are also the widest on this list, which makes double-handed swings all the more comfortable.
Differentiation: Tired, calloused hands will rejoice at the superior texture and wider width on the grips.
Price Point: At $84, they’re surprisingly reasonable, especially considering the premium price of most of Eleiko’s equipment.
Rogue Fitness Kettlebell
Why it stands out: Buckles — who is wildly picky about his personal kettlebells and generally hates any type of coating — has recently warmed up to the single-cast powder-coated options from premium fitness equipment company Rogue.
“Rogue is starting to make really good ones,” he said. Why? While thick powder coating can distract from the simplicity of a well-built kettlebell and can chip over time, Rogue uses a very reasonable and light powder coat to create texture. “The coating that Rogue puts all over their kettlebells has a texture on it and that texture gives you more grip,” Brown added.
Differentiation: Very solid balance with a perfectly subtle grip and great texture throughout.
Price Point: At $70, these are also fairly inexpensive considering the sticker shock of most Rogue products.
Amazon Basics Cast Iron Kettlebell
Buy Now On Amazon
Why it stands out: The steeply-discounted price of the Amazon Basic kettlebell makes it a compelling choice, even if it dips in quality compared to the premium options on this list. It’ll get the job done at the end of the day.
“You can of course have your preferences and find the best ones, but at its most basic you are looking at a rock with a handle,” Brown said. “There are even less moving parts than a dumbbell — it is just one solid piece.” While the handle does not have fabulous grip, some chalk can take care of that. This fix is used by most core kettlebell enthusiasts to mitigate slippery sweat even when using premium kettlebells.
Differentiation: It can still get you ripped at half to a third of the price.
Price Point: It’s the lowest of the low on this list: $44 for 35 pounds.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kettlebells
How wide should a kettlebell handle be?
“You want a good, wide, handle,” said Brown. “Most of the kettlebell work you’re going to do is kettlebell swings. If your hands are smashed together with a skinny handle, you’re going to be miserable.” Brown suggests looking into the widest-handled options. “It is tough to go too wide on a handle but easy to go too small,” he said.
What’s the deal with novelty kettlebells?
Certain brands have come out with novelty kettlebells that look like animals, monsters, and all sorts of different builds. Both experts suggest steering clear of these regardless of how cool they may look in one’s home gym.
“They’re fun and great for swings but for any other movement, they can really dig into your arm,” Brown said. “I am not a fan of asymmetry with weights.” Buckles’ feelings toward novelty kettlebells are stronger than Brown’s. “I’d avoid them like the plague,” said Buckles. “They might look fun, but as soon as you rack one, you’re going to take a gorilla fang to your forearm.”
Should you buy an adjustable kettlebell instead of a bunch of individually-sized ones?
While it is tempting to buy an adjustable kettlebell that alots for a wider weight range with a single purchase, the designs have significant drawbacks. “I love the idea,” said Buckles. “Unfortunately, they don’t have the symmetry that you want. If you catch a snatch wrong or rack them improperly then you will have one specific plate digging into your forearm which will hurt like hell.”
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