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Choosing your first Kettlebell Part 1 – Why get one in the first place?

As many of you know, I teach a lot of strength, mobility and conditioning workshops many centring around the use of the kettlebell. Now, there’s nothing magical about kettlebells despite what many hardcore enthusiasts might believe. It’s basically a cannonball with a handle, nothing mystical there.

But, they are just a tiny teensy little bit special. There are many different tools to be used in our training. Barbells, dumbbells, clubbells, Indian clubs, gymnastics rings, powerbags and bodyweight callisthenics, to name just some of what’s available to us. So what make kettlebells so special?


Nothing special about these guys.


In my experience the kettlebell is possibly the single most versatile tool we have available in the modern gym environment. For most beginner-intermediate trainees, women or men, I can get an entire workout from a single kettlebell. Depending on the weight of the ‘bell I can use it in various different ways.

For a relatively heavy ‘bell, we look to things like half get ups and low repetition one/two handed swings. How we arrange those depends on what we are looking for from our training.

If it’s a medium sized ‘bell we can look to higher repetitions of the previous movements, or add things such as cleans, presses, squats and even snatches.

If the ‘bell is ‘too light’ for you, then we can slow down movements such as the get up, use the bottom up grip (where the base of the ‘bell faces the ceiling) for presses, squats and carries, or use the ‘bell for a more mobility based training session with movements like the (bent) arm-bar, pullover, Cossack and hack squat.

Ease of Use

The kettlebell also doesn’t care very much where you use it. So long as you have a stable floor, a safe space of around two square metres, and a high enough (or no) ceiling, you are good to go. This means you don’t necessarily need to have a gym membership to access your training. I have found kettlebells to be easily house trained, keep to themselves, don’t chase Postmen and can go for long periods of time without walks or attention (though that kind of defeats the purpose).

The fact that you can turn your living room, garage or patio into a gym that you can access at any time is an enormous advantage. It removes the biggest, most common reason people give for not being able to train: I don’t have time.

Minimalist Gym: Chalk, clock and notepad optional.

Most of my training progression has come from the continuity of training in my garage once the kids are in bed (baby monitors are also useful here, doesn’t matter how old they are!). Being able to walk through my kitchen, straight into my garage and knock out a 20 minute swing session followed by stretching in front of the TV saves me about 60 minutes and a monthly gym membership. It also gives me something to do during the long monologues in Game of Thrones.

The ‘Weird’ Shape

You’ll often here people talk about the kettlebell having an ‘offset centre of mass’. The Engineer in me starts pacing when I hear this, as it’s only ‘kinda’ true. But physics aside, the weird shape of the ‘bell is what allows it to be used for swings and snatches, dumbells just don’t work the same way.

Also, the shape of it it makes pressing and overhead movements both safer and more demanding. This sounds like a contradiction but let me explain.

Shoulders are possibly the worst designed joints in the human body (or the most ambitious, I could go either way here). For overhead pressing the kettlebell allows for a more natural, shoulder friendly, pressing movement when compared to the barbell or dumbbell. And once the ‘bell is locked overhead, unlike the barbell or dumbbell, it starts to pull ‘backwards’ which demands a stronger core and more stable, mobile, shoulders.

Strength is a Skill

The kettlebell is also a fantastic tool for learning the ‘skill of strength’. Kettlebells traditionally go up in 4kg jumps, though at the lower end some brands do offer 2kg jumps. This means that if you want to go from pressing/snatching a 12kg to a 16kg you are talking about a 33% increase in load. To make that jump you are going to need to own that 12kg ‘bell! The big jumps in size do not tolerate poor (and unhealthy) technique.

Using the kettlebell as a starting point for your training journey is a fantastic decision, so long as you are learning from a suitably qualified Coach. Generally once a female trainee is confidently swinging a 20kg kettlebell for sets of 10 with good technique, there is a high chance that she can be quickly taught to barbell deadlift more than 70kg. Easily. The swing and the deadlift share a lot of similarities.

With all of these advantages the question becomes more: Why aren’t you using kettlebells somewhere in your training?

On one end of the spectrum I have students who train only with kettlebells and bodyweight movements, on the other end I have powerlifters who use them for their mobility and conditioning, and martial artists who use them for their power training.

The aren’t magical, but they are versatile and there lies their power!

In Part 2 we’re going to talk about which ‘bell size you should start your kettlebell training with!