Kettlebells are weights that have the bulk of the weight on the bottom and a handle connecting it from one side to the other. Most of them almost look like cannonballs with handles, although there are some pretty unique kettlebells (but we’ll talk about those later). They are used for distinct exercise moves that are most often completely unique to the movement that only a kettlebell can provide. They have become very popular recently as a functional fitness tool. Meaning that unlike more conventional exercises that typical weights provide, kettlebell exercises and movements actually work your muscles in a way that closely mimic more common movements that you do in your everyday life. This type of fitness is not typically used to give you that glamorous beach body (although it very well may). They are more often used to provide your muscles with the exercise it needs to be able to handle the rigors of your daily routine a little easier. Kettlebells are perfect for functional fitness because of a lot of the movements that you are able to do with the kettlebell, simply by design, work muscles and muscle groups that conventional weight training just can’t touch. That is why kettlebell workout routines have become some of the most popular unconventional workouts in today’s fitness landscape.
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History of Kettlebells
It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the kettlebell with 100% certainty. I dug more into it on this page, but to summarize for you today, there are accounts of variations of weights resembling them going way back as far as Ancient Greece. The modern version of kettlebells was popularized in Russia in the 18th century. The word “girya” (translating to “kettlebell”) was first found in a Russian Dictionary in the early 1700s. The weights became a staple in workouts in Russia in the early 1900s with their Olympic weightlifters using them to work muscles that conventional weights were not hitting. The trend has seen an explosion in America in the 2000s largely, in part, thanks to celebrities adopting them as their go-to workout equipment.
Note: If you are entirely new to this workout concept, view our beginners page.
Kettlebell weights are traditionally measured in kilograms due to their origin in Europe. There is also a unique form of weight measurement that I have only heard used for the kettlebell called the “pood”. Apparently, it is a Russian unit of mass. I don’t understand how anyone can actually use this measurement since 1 pood equals roughly 16.38 kilograms or 36.11 pounds. So when someone is lifting a “1 pood kettlebell” they are using a 36-pound weight.
For simplicity sake, I will speak in pounds here when we talk about kettle weights. So it really depends on a few factors when you are looking at what size bell you should start with. If you are a male in good shape, you might be able to handle a 36-44 lb bell right out of the gate. If you’re completely out of shape or don’t want to risk injury, you might want to start with something lighter, like a 26-pound weight. While a female in good shape might be able to throw a 26 pounder around, a woman that is in rough shape might want to stick to something like a 15-pound bell to start.
There are really all sorts of weights for kettlebells and it really depends on the exercise routine you are doing and your level of comfort. It is very easy to hurt yourself if you don’t have proper form when working out with kettlebells, especially if you’re trying to be a hardass and going gung-ho with a heavy weight right away. The best advice I could give would be to use a kettlebell set that has a variety of weights where you can build up from lighter to heavier as your skill on the various moves improves.
Want to learn more? Read About the Top Benefits of Kettlebells.
Kettlebell Workouts for Men
Speaking of workouts, there are definitely some kettlebell exercises that men can do to help up their fitness game. Like I said before, using kettlebells for some of these moves will target more muscle groups, and hit them in a different way than using conventional weights to train. Here are my top 5 moves for men and a brief description of how to do them.
We all know and love curls. Curls for girls is what I called them in my Glory Days. I may or may not still do so. But anyways, to do this one, I like to use a heavier weight. Hold the weight with both hands on the outside of the handle. Squat down to where you are lower than 90 degrees. Put your elbows on the inside of your knees. Lower the weight. It will almost touch the floor. Now curl it back up while moving nothing but your bicep. This completely isolates the bicep and you will feel a big-time burn by your 10th rep.
This one requires a little bit of balance and skill, so you may want to hold off unless you’re confident. Balance yourself holding the handles of two bells that are on the ground. Do a normal pushup (you can go a little lower than normal on the pushup but be careful and don’t fall on your face!) but as you come up to the starting position lift one of the bells by bringing the elbow back and the weight up alongside your ribcage. Place the weight back down. Do another pushup and a row with the opposite arm. Repeat this for 8 reps with each arm.
Single Arm Single Leg Press
This move is a beast! Hold a bell in one hand and put your other hand on your hip. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend the bell overhead almost completely straight (don’t lock your elbow). Slowly lower the bell while at the same time lifting the leg on the same side. The goal is to get the elbow to touch the thigh of your leg. Now slowly return to the starting position. Do 15 reps of this on each side.
I have a real love/hate relationship with lunges. I love what they do for me but I hate actually having to do them. Here’s something that makes them even more deadly. Take a bell and hold it to your chest with the same grip as the bicep curl. Do a lunge (forward, 45 degrees, sideways, or backward) while at the same time raising the bell overhead. Variations of this are obviously the different lunges, but you can also do this with one hand and extend the arm of the leg that is not doing the work on the lunge. So for a forward lunge, you raise the right arm with the weight while having your right knee almost touch the floor on the lunge.
Weighted Sit Up
Sit-ups are no one’s friend, let’s be honest. So we might as well make them extra painful by bringing along a kettlebell for the ride. This is pretty self-explanatory, but to perform this move you simply lay flat on your back with your knees bent. You hold the weight by the handle with both hands at your chest and do a sit up. Make sure that you tuck your chin the whole way through and don’t reach with the weight. Enjoy about 15 reps of these and thank me in the morning!
Kettlebell Workouts for Women
Working out with kettlebells is not just for men. There are actually a ton of moves that are unique to the kettlebell that is perfect to tone the parts of the woman’s body that they just can’t reach with traditional weight training. Many of the celebrities that have popularized kettlebell workouts in the United States in the past 20 years or so are actually women who swear by using them as their go-to pieces of fitness equipment. Here are my top 5 kettlebell exercises for women.
This is probably the most familiar move to anyone who uses a kettlebell. To do this move you stand up straight, feet about shoulder length apart. Hold the bell by the top of the handle with both hands. You want your knuckles to be facing away from your body. Now you let the bell dangle as you slightly bend your knees and stick your booty out (you don’t want to go too low…this is not a squat move). Now you drive your hips forward while simultaneously swing the bell forward and stand up, bringing the bell to shoulder height. Now you never want to stop moving during this move. It’s one motion, like a pendulum. You also want to make sure your core is completely tight and engaged, as well as your behind.
I decided to give this one to the women because they’re tougher than the guys when it comes to working the core. So this one you hold the bell on the sides of the handle. You sit down with your legs bent and your body at roughly 90 degrees (you don’t have to break out the protractor here). Lift your heels off the ground and twist your body, bringing the bell to one side of your body and back over to the other side. That’s one. Do about 12 of these and your core will be screaming!
So this one is a little tricky. You want to take the bell and hold it straight out in front of your body. Arms straight. Now you take the bell in one hand and swing it behind your back and grab it with the other hand and bring it back to the starting position. Do this about 8 times and then change directions for another 8.
This is a squat move that I despise because I always feel it the next day and curse myself for it. So this one you hold the weight to the chest at the handles. You put your legs a little wider than shoulder length apart and point your toes outwards. Now you squat as low as you can go. Down and up, keeping the bell at your chest. 12 reps of this will have your inner leg muscles begging for mercy!
This one is kind of cool until you realize it’s a ton of work! So you start with your feet wide and the bell on the floor next to you. Pivot your feet towards the bell and bend the opposite to lower your body and pick the bell up. Raise the bell as you pivot your feet back the opposite direction and keep the bell chest level. Think of it as putting groceries away in the cupboard. You bend down, pivot, and place them in the cupboard. Only this time your groceries are a slightly larger version with a little extra weight. Now you retrace your steps and put the bell back to the floor and do it all again. Each side 8 times.
So we’ve talked about what kettlebells are, a little bit about their history, what weights they come in, and even some of my favorite moves for men and women utilizing the kettlebell. Now we have to discuss what the best kettlebells are to use for your workouts. Really it’s all about safety here. If you are just starting out using kettlebells, you do not want to go too heavy. This is a common mistake that I see a lot of people (especially meathead guys) make and it’s so incredibly avoidable that it annoys the hell out of me. You don’t have to show how strong you are by lifting a 72-pound kettlebell in your first workout. You need to understand the movements and way that your body is going to react to those movements before you have to up the weight. I know this is a hard concept for many of you out there. But please take it easy.
Now…for my money, the best bet if you’re going to be working out at home with kettlebells, you want to get a set. You want to have more than one weight, and ideally, more than one of each weight. This allows you to do so many more moves that require two bells. Unless you want one jacked arm and one tiny one!
One of the coolest things about kettlebells as opposed to other weights, like dumbells or barbell weights, is that you don’t have to be stuck with something boring. There are some really unique kettlebells that look really badass and are a great addition to any home gym. The thing that you want to make sure of when you are looking to get a cool kettlebell is that they are completely balanced. That is one of the essential elements that can’t be overlooked. I know that having a zombie head or a screaming chimp is freaking awesome, but if it’s not 100% balanced, it could really hurt you during your workout. So before making that purchase, just make sure that they guarantee that the bells are completely balanced, which they should be if they are a reputable company.
I’ve seen everything from monkey kettlebells to zombies and mythical figures to Star Wars character bells. There are some really unique kettlebells that will fit your personality and make you feel pretty badass when doing your workout. The other thing you want to be aware of is the weights. Make sure you are getting a good range of weights so you are able to incorporate more moves and exercises into your kettlebell workouts.
Read more about all these right here —> Unique Kettlebell weights.