It's a two-for-one exercise, meaning you're able to combine strength training and cardiovascular conditioning into one efficient movement. Though it looks easy to perform, the swing can take a significant amount of time, practice, and coaching to perfect.
It teaches you to move fluidly, and when you add the external load (a kettle bell) it requires strength, mobility, and skilled movement. It's a powerful full-body exercise that requires attention to detail and a respect for human movement.
The unique shape of a kettle bell and offset handle allow you to press in the natural plane of motion relative to your shoulder joint. You just feel like you have more power to press efficiently with a kettle bell, mostly because of the more natural plane of motion.
Similar to the kettle bell swing, the clean is another explosive exercise for total-body strength and conditioning. The difference here is that the kettle bell finishes in the rack position as opposed to being projected horizontally away from your body.
The kettle bell snatch is physically demanding and technical, but offers outstanding total-body strength and conditioning benefits. It can help transcend athletic performance to new levels, build explosive strength, and forge strong, powerful shoulders.
The snatch requires proper technique, explosive hip power, and athleticism. This exercise should not be attempted until the kettle bell swing hip-hinge pattern and explosive hip drive are established.
Though watching videos is helpful, the best way to learn how to correctly do these challenging movements is to work with a certified kettle bell instructor. Think fitness devices like cable machines, boxes for jumps and even some free weights, specifically kettle bells.
However, given the inherent difficulty of attending gyms right now with a face mask and the potential risk of exposure, I decided to shake things up and took the plunge: I ordered a kettle bell. If you’re likewise looking for the best kettle bells to buy, you’ll quickly find lots of options and some might seem very similar to others.
I’ve found a lot of value in even basic exercises, which challenged my body in gym-worthy ways, an especially significant value in workout gear as we head into winter. Other fitness pros I talked to had predictably different takes on the best approach to equipping your home gym with kettle bells.
It’s easy to use and ultimately gives you unrivaled flexibility with what weight size you want in your kettle bell given you have the appropriate dumbbells to match with it. Heidi Pocono, a personal trainer and manager of training at GYMGUYZ, recommends a vinyl coated cast iron kettle bell.
Kettle bells challenge your balance because they change your center of gravity, turning regular exercises like lunges and squats difficult. Its wider handle makes it easier to grip with two hands (for the classic swing move), and its smoother finish is less likely to injure your skin over time.
Dragon Door was the first company to popularize kettle bells in America, which is why the most other brands simply copy that shape down to the millimeter. The Matrix Elite looks the same at first glance, but it features a slightly wider handle that won’t pinch your pinkies in two-handed positions.
Finally, we like that Kettle bells USA often has the Matrix Elite on sale for just a few dollars more than our budget pick. Besides, one of these things will basically last forever so it’s worth spending a bit more on something that’s a lot nicer to use.
Their unique shape and functionality give them many of the strength-building benefits of dumbbells while also providing users with the opportunity to do kettle bell -specific drills that involve a lot of movement, like the swing. Dumbbells are better suited to doing squats, curls, bench press, cleans, and other exercises that have less kinetic motion.
That means you can fulfill all your workout needs with one simple tool that stows easily in a closet. One important caveat to this endorsement of kettle bell training is that proper technique makes all the difference between effective and beneficial use and potential injury.
You can also consult credible online tutorials, and many trainers will set up a Skype arrangement where you can send videos to them for feedback and coaching. My wife, master ROC trainer Keira Newton, has an awesome YouTube page with all kinds of tutorials/workouts for kettle bells.
In terms of credible resources on kettle bell techniques and workout ideas, here are a few great sources available digitally and/or in print: Dragon Door has the most resources in terms of kettle bell books and DVDs (at least in the “hard style” approach that I use) available.
Finally, Steve Cotter is a master practitioner/teacher of competition kettle bell lifting techniques. While many people recommend women starting with an 8-kilogram bell (about 16 pounds), I think that the two-handed lifts like squats and swings aren’t very well-served by that low weight.
If you want to start modestly, my suggestion would be to get the 13-pound version of our budget pick and then order a larger, higher quality bell once you feel comfortable. With these three, all kinds of single and double kettle bell work is easily achievable and scalable.
Both of these linked pieces reiterate my earlier point about seeking credible instruction before beginning an at-home regimen. Cast-iron bells are more comfortable for two-handed grip positions, which beginners should master before moving onto the more challenging one-handed exercises.
As it turns out, there’s not a huge amount of difference between these things because most of them borrow their design from the Dragon Door ROC. Dragon Door was the first US company to run kettle bell instructor certifications (taught by famed instructor Pavel Tsatsouline) and have mass distribution in the US (Dragon Door started selling these bells in 2001).
Dragon Door bells achieved great acclaim, but their high price point (roughly $120 each after shipping and handling, the highest in our test) invited lots of competition from other companies. CAP is another popular fitness company that makes a good bell at a lower price point.
For example, this Yes4All bell is one of the most popular models on Amazon, but its large, flat face is hard on the wrists in one-handed positions. Although much more rare, some companies compete by distinguishing their offerings from Dragon Door’s with different designs.
Perform Better at one point implemented a screw-on rubber skid plate on the bottom of their bells, but later on scrapped it due to negative customer feedback. Vinyl-covered bells were created to protect floor spaces in commercial gyms and homes, but more often, the vinyl is there to smooth over the defects of a cheaply cast bell, and they often get criticized for very uneven handles that cause hand pain and tearing.
A poorly produced handle can rip callouses off the hands during snatching, and this test is where the bells differentiated themselves. In fact, I wouldn’t use the CAP or Rogue bells for high-rep snatching because they have coarse handles and some tackiness from the painted finish.
If you order through the company’s website and have a problem, Kettle bells USA will “make it right, period!” by sending a replacement and taking care of return shipping fees. Photo: Mark Blythe Matrix Elite kettle bell has a slightly different handle dimension and more distance from the ball part of the bell to the handle to create a larger opening for more comfortable two-handed positions.
The Matrix bell clearly outclassed the competition for two-handed work, as the smooth, e-coated handle with a wider grip was consistently easy on the hands, even when doing high repetition sets of 20-plus kettle bell swings. Even when the user advances to the one-handed moves, both two-handed swings and goblet squats should remain essential parts of a kettle bell program.
Any flaws in a kettle bell will be exposed when you use just one hand, but the attention to detail in forging a smooth, seamless handle was clearly on display with this bell. Besides the handle shape, the Matrix Elite (right) looks almost identical to the Dragon Door ROC, which costs anywhere from $30 to $50 more.
Photo: Mark BixbyAnother thing that sets the Matrix Elite apart from other kettle bells (including Kettle bells USA's own “classic” line) is the fact that it’s designed to have the same “rack” position (where the round part rests on your forearm) regardless of weight and size. Most companies use standard molds repeatedly, and inevitably, residue from previous castings creates uneven surface textures like edges or gaps.
Finally, Kettle bells USA showed awesome customer service throughout my process of testing. If you're used to standard Dragon Door ROC kettle bells (or any of its many clones), the Matrix Elite's rack position might feel strange at first, since the ball part sits higher up on the forearm by comparison.
If you see the bell offered at full price (with no discounted shipping), wait seven to 10 days, and you should find it available more cheaply. If the Matrix Elite is unavailable, or if you just want a standard-shaped bell without the wider handle, the Perform Better First Place Kettle bell feels the same in use as the high-end Dragon Door, but costs about 25 percent less.
Like the Dragon Door and Matrix Elite, the First Place has a smooth, seamless handle, few surface defects, and a high-quality finish. While Perform Better wouldn’t divulge what process it uses, I noticed that it’s somewhere between a matte powder coat and a glossy e-coat.
Reading user reviews (see here and here) that slam performs Better for having noticeable seams on the underside of the handle or other defects isn’t helpful considering the construction specs on their bells currently. The bell I received from them was really well-made, and it showed no signs of being defective in build or user experience.
I contacted Perform Better about this discrepancy, and company reps explained that among other small changes, they’d since switched to a gravity casting process, which creates a more uniform surface, as you recall. It’s also worth noting that Perform Better frequently has sales on its kettle bells, and while it’s usually cheaper to buy Perform Better bells directly from the company, it's worth checking Amazon and Strongest before buying to find the best deal.
If budget is your bottom line, then we’d recommend the CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell. But unless you really need to save a few bucks, it’s worth investing in our top pick, since these things last forever.
In fact, none of the five baseball player panelists said they would pay extra for any of the other bells for the basic routines they were testing with. The powder-coated CAP (left) and Rogue (center) bells are rougher than the e-coated Dragon Door (right).
Photo: Mark Blythe CAP bell has a powder-coated matte finish and a slightly gritty (though it’s evenly dispersed grit) handle to provide a good grip (though a bit on the coarser end of those we tested) and a flat bottom so it doesn’t rock when used for push-ups or rowing moves. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Dragon Door ROC Kettle bell should feel pretty good about itself.
Unfortunately for Dragon Door, other companies have been able to duplicate its design at a comparable level of quality for a lot cheaper. Interestingly, the Rogue bell has a 4.9-star rating on its website, with more than 100 reviews at the time of this guide's publication.
Chad Settler, John Forward, Carl Foster, and Mark Andes, Kettle bells: Twice the Results in Half the Time?, ACE Fitness Matters We've all turned up to the gym, short on time and motivation, only to find every piece of equipment we need for our workout isn't free.
Faced with this scenario, you have two options: ditch the workout and go home or find a piece of versatile equipment that is underused and undervalued by most of the gym-going community. Packing the same weighty punch as dumbbells, kettle bells are likely to be found in a dusty corner of the gym.
Much like the humble rowing machine and versa climber, most gym bros steer clear of the cast-iron 'bells, helping you get an effective, time-efficient workout in, without having to worry about your kit getting pinched. This and the growing popularity of sports such as CrossFit and Strongman have helped drive kettle bell training and workouts into the mainstream.
On top of this, owing to their design, kettle bells are one of the easiest weights to move around during your workout in a short timeframe and can be stored away easily, from your car boot to your garden shed or garage. “Kettle bells give you the opportunity to move athletically with additional resistance from a variety of angles and more challenging positions,” explains Jon Lewis, a personal trainer with fitness outlet Industrial Strength.
Not only that, but exercises such as kettle bell swings can help increase your heart rate, burn extra fat and tone muscle, but where they really come into their own is in building strength throughout your posterior chain. As these are your body’s biggest muscles, you’ll also torch calories,” says Rob Blair, PT at The Commando Temple.
Additionally, kettle bells are an incredibly useful tool for those looking to build their base of strength and mobility, so if you're struggling with your barbell back squat, for example, utilizing the kettle bell goblet squat is a good way of practicing proper form with a safer exercise that can then be upgraded as your strength increases. Well-suited for swings, presses and carries, kettle bells also lend themselves to more dynamic movements, where a dumbbell or barbell may be more difficult to use.
Usually, kettle bell workouts are built on a high-rep range, meaning that several muscles are worked at once and, if kept at a consistent pace, can offer similar aerobic benefits to HIIT training. Similarly, by performing kettle bell circuits three times a week, you’ll pump up your VO2 max by 6 per cent in just under a month, according to the NSA’s Sac Report.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also found that kettle bell training contributes to a healthier lower back, owing to the loading and movement patterns. “Kettle bells are arguably one of the most versatile bits of equipment you can find in a gym,” says Sam Wrigley, a London Bridge-based PT.
“This exaggerated flexion and extension at the hip puts a lot of force through the lower back.” When it comes to getting injuries from poor form, the “arching of the back and not engaging the glutes in an overhead press or folding in a goblet position” can put you at risk of busting your lower back. Stand with feet set wider than shoulder-width and bend your knees to grab the kettle bell with both hands.
Drive your hips, keep your back flat swing the weight up to shoulder height. Initiated by a powerful hip thrust from your hamstring and glutes, opting for heavier weights (once the move is mastered, of course) for up to 90 seconds a set will vastly improve your anaerobic fitness, accelerating your heart-rate and ignite a fat-burn that the bench press can only dream of.
Instead, by combining a front squat with an overhead press, you're transforming a drab move into a compound, multi-joint exercise that demands full-body power. In one swift movement, slightly jump off the ground and raise your arms to extend above your head.
Land softly on your feet with your knees bent as though you're doing a squat and extend your arms straight above you shoulder-width apart. Powerlifting moves needn't be restricted to barbells bending under crippling weight loads.
Instead, the kettle bell clean and press offers the opportunity to increase grip strength, become stronger in overhead movements (your shoulder press will thank you) and will help you learn the lesson of maintaining a rigid core during all lifts. Plus, the researchers found that participants performing the kettle bell snatch usually maintained 86 to 99 per cent of their maximum heart rate, making it an essential move for easy weightless.
Drive through the heel and bring yourself back up to standing position, without letting your leg touch the floor. Functional and an easy gym brag, the kettle bell pistol squat is the king of mobility moves.
Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, clasping a kettle bell in each hand in front of your chest with palms facing each other. Bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat, keeping the kettle bells in the same position and ensuring you don't round your back by tensing your glutes throughout.
Keep your arms strong and walk short, quick steps as fast as possible. Ideal for building grip and plugging onto the end of a tough workout, farmer's walks also pack heavy-duty muscle onto your upper-back while fighting lower-back pain and being a useful conditioning tool and fat-loss.
Drive your hips, keep your back flat swing the weight up to shoulder height. Increase the demand you place on the shoulder stabilizing muscles by doing kettle bell swings with one arm.
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