Kettlebells are an excellent strength training tool worthy of consideration for a place in your home workout equipment lineup. Similar to the best dumbbells, the best kettlebells are weights that you can use to build muscular strength and endurance. The unique handle and aerodynamic design of kettlebells allows them to be swung and powerfully wielded in ways that might not be as safe with a dumbbell, allowing for a greater range of possible exercises. As such, kettlebells are versatile, cost-effective fitness equipment for those looking to work out at home but who have a limited budget and space.
SELF spoke fitness professionals about the benefits of kettlebells, what factors to consider when buying kettlebells, and tips and guides for beginners using kettlebells.
Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells for Home Workouts
If you’re new to fitness, all you need to know is that a kettlebell is basically a cannonball-shaped piece of iron with an attached handle on top. “When you hold a kettlebell, the bulk of that weight is below the handle, which forces your body to stay stable and controlled while performing exercises,” explains Vanessa Liu, a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition specialist. “For example, if you hold a 15 lb. dumbbell, that weight is evenly distributed across the dumbbell. But if you hold a 15 lb. kettlebell, it feels more challenging because the bulk of that 15 lb. kettlebell weight is below the handle.”
Renee Peel, an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Kettlebell Instructor at the Fhitting Room says that there are many benefits of using kettlebells. “You can do total body, strength, power, and conditioning that is low-impact,” she explains. “You can supplement them into your current training plan or you can use them solely as your main training program. They are versatile; you can do over 100 total-body exercises with a kettlebell.”
According to Justin Meissner, an NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Kettlebell Certification Instructor, and Mobility Specialist, kettlebells are also a wise investment due to their durability and versatility. “You don’t need a lot of them to be able to get great workouts in. There are exercises you can do with kettlebells that do not work very well with dumbbells, but any dumbbell exercise you can do with a kettlebell,” he says, agreeing with Peel by noting, that they’re great for strength building, cardio, and more.
Liu adds that kettlebells are fantastic for building strength for everyday functional movements. “Kettlebells are good for when you have to hold a weight at your side, like in a carry exercise. Think about how you carry grocery bags—there’s a handle and most of that bag weight is below the handle,” she says. “A kettlebell carry is a very functional exercise that mimics how you carry everyday things.”
Kettlebells Workouts for Beginners
Meissner says that if you are new to kettlebells, a great place to start for beginner kettlebell exercises is with some videos on proper form, grip position, and body mechanics. “Learning proper form and technique will set you up for success, he says. His favorite move is a kettlebell swing. “These will strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and the core, and can increase cardiovascular output,” explains Meissner. “There are simpler exercises as well, like a goblet squat, which is just holding the kettlebell up by the chest while doing squats. Russian twists are great for the core, and bent-over rows will strengthen the back and arms.”
Kate Cherichello, an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Professional, and Founder of Be. By Kate. Training & Coaching, shared some additional guidance on how to safely and effectively incorporate kettlebells into your workouts. “Core engagement is key. When there is a weight pulling you away from your center, you increase your chance of injury. Keeping the core activated is going to help keep your body in alignment and is particularly important for your back safety,” she explains. She also notes that it’s important to be in control of the weight at all times, especially during exercises like kettlebell swings.
“The weight should be a challenge, but not so much that your form is compromised. Take a break or change to a lighter weight before letting anything happen to your form,” advises Cherichello. “Additionally, before adding any weight to an exercise, practice the exercise without the weight so as to ensure you have the form down first. It is paramount to safety and longevity in working out!”
What Are the Best Kettlebells to Buy?
Although most kettlebells will serve your needs, there are a few things to look out for when you’re trying to buy high-quality kettlebells. Meissner says it’s most important to pay attention to the material used to construct the kettlebell, opting for steel or cast iron kettlebells in lieu of plastic. “Plastic [kettlebells] usually have just rice as the weight on the inside, and they are poorly made. Also avoid rubber-coated kettlebells. Lots of brands that aren’t kettlebell brands make bells with non-slip rubber grip. It will cause more problems than you think.”
Meissner recommends buying either powder-coated and competition kettlebells made of steel or cast iron. Although they will cost more than plastic kettlebells, they will last a lifetime. “Powder-coated kettlebells are cast iron and the heavier they get, the larger the bell gets. They are powder coated so they feel nice in the hand and move easily,” explains Meissner. “Competition style are all a regulation size for sports so no matter the weight, they are all the same size. Some people like the bigger size of competition bells as it can be easier to work with. They are also color-coated by weight and people tend to like the bright colors.”
If you’re looking to get fitter and stronger from the comfort and convenience of your home, check out our top picks for the best kettlebells for your home gym workouts.