And so, when a one-of-a-kind opportunity to review some sweet kettle bells presented itself, I jumped on it. You see, this past summer, someone from KettlebellKings.com contacted me via Twitter asking if I had any plans to update my kettlebellreview from a few years ago.
After that, I reached out to All the major companies that sell pro-grade, competition -style kettle bells in the USA. A couple of those kettle bells literally took months to procure (many emails and follow-ups, waiting for a shipment from Europe, etc.).
I used a comprehensive point system to rate and rank the kettle bells in this review. Performance during basic KB exercises (e.g. swing, clean, press, snatch, etc.)
Prices, Selection, and Package Discounts Value Warranty & Refund Policies Overall Customer Service Experience For the actual testing, I simply did a lot of kettle bell training over the last few months using a program I designed myself.
I’ve done thousands of swings, cleans, Turkish get-ups, snatches, press and jerk variations, and several other traditional kettle bell exercises. Both include many unconventional kettle bell exercises to help you make the most of this gear and train the whole body in not just three dimensions, but also through all six degrees of freedom.
All that said, this review process was not very scientific mainly because I didn’t feel that I needed several months or years to evaluate these tools. Plus, once you get beyond the quality and design considerations, one of the biggest factors is the product’s fit and feel, which is very subjective and personal to the user.
I’ve learned a lot throughout this process, including some very interesting things: There are significant differences between kettle bells of very similar designs, pricing, and specifications — in quality, finish, fit, and function, among other things — some of which I never would have expected.
Now, if you’d like even more detail, and don’t mind hearing me blab a bit, feel free to watch the extended version below for some additional information (or just scroll down to see my top choices for kettle bells)… Below, you’ll see a directory of my top kettle bell choices, arranged in different categories, along with some of my notes about them.
For the sake of brevity, I decided to leave a lot of my notes out of this review. Please note that other than my number one choice (which stood out from the very beginning), it was very difficult to rank these kettle bells in order of my preference because many of them were very close.
So, when I took EVERYTHING into consideration — the quality of the kettle bell, product selection, prices, customer service experience, etc. Their kettle bells are some of the highest quality I’ve ever used (i.e. durability, fit and feel, finish, handle, etc.).
They also carry a full selection of kettle bells (i.e. all weights, including “in-between” sizes), and they offer many package discounts to save you as much money as possible. So, when I tally up all the different ratings I assigned to the various categories in my point system for this review, it’s no surprise why KettlebellsUSA.com is my top choice.
They have a great selection of very high quality kettle bells at affordable prices. So, the difference between the top two spots came down to a slight edge in quality, price, selection, and fit/feel (i.e. very subjective).
Update: March 2017 — After I published this review in November 2016, someone from KettlebellKings.com reached out to me with the following message: Forgive me for asking, but as competitive as we are and as much as we want to be the best we are curious if there is specific feedback you have about our Kettle bell Sport model that would have made it number one for you?
So, I sent them some more specific feedback including a mention (with photo) of an extremely minor defect on one of their kettle bells. Vulcan Strength Training Systems — Vulcan® Absolute™ Competition Kettle bells are among the highest quality that I’ve ever used.
And early on in this review process, I learned that it was one of my favorites, even though it was a lower grade kettle bell compared to their competition model. So, if you’re in the market for some of the best kettle bells that money can buy, and don’t mind paying a little more than you would elsewhere, check out VulcanStrength.com.
Also, those with large hands or who like to do two-handed kettle bell exercises (e.g. two-handed swings) may prefer the wider handle that Vulcan offers. You’ll pay a little more for Lead kettle bells than the other companies above, and they don’t have quite as good of a selection, but the quality is there.
But I was pleasantly surprised that both Lead and Vulcan produce such high quality models since they also manufacture many other types of fitness equipment. Kettle bells USA ® claims to have pioneered a new kettle bell design that they call their “Inner Core Technology,” which results in “the original & finest ‘no filler competitionkettlebell ( Source).” I spoke with the company’s Vice President, Alex King, about this new design.
He told me that it produces a kettle bell with superior balance and no interior rattle. He also said that it results in less strain on the body, and I’ve found that to be true while comparing them with the others.
You’ll know that a kettle bell has a hollow core with no filler if it has an opening on the bottom, like this… I’ve found that I can do more reps, more easily, and with less strain by using this new design — recommended!
And it does represent a niche product because out of all the kettle bells I reviewed, Rogue’s is the only one made out of iron. They were very enthusiastic about the review, and always kind and courteous, but it took over two months to actually get one of their kettle bells delivered to me.
And unfortunately, when it arrived, it was damaged (click here for photo — notice the two grooves in the handle). And I can’t blame them because they had already sent a separate kettle bell that never arrived (i.e. they don’t know what happened to it).
This allows for easier progressions while increasing weight, without having to adjust your exercise technique. That said, if you’re only going to use your kettle bells very rarely or only for the most basic exercises (e.g. swings, goblet squats, etc.
Poor fitness level (No training experience, recent rehabilitation from injuries, small build) — 12-16 kg Average fitness level (Some training experience, healthy, moderate build) — 16-20 kg Excellent fitness level (High training experience, healthy, large build, athletic background) — 20-24 kg Poor fitness level (No training experience, recent rehabilitation from injuries, small build) — 8-12 kg Average fitness level (Some training experience, healthy, moderate build) — 12-16 kg Excellent fitness level (High training experience, healthy, large build, athletic background) — 16-20 kg
I want to offer a BIG THANKS to all the companies who agreed to send me free product samples to make this review possible (see below for the complete list). *If you order kettle bells through one of my referral links, please send me a copy of your receipt and I’ll send you a gift: The 7 Key Components of the Kettle bell Swing (coaching video).
***Important Note: Product research, testing, and evaluation for this review was conducted between August and November 2016. Note: RogueFitness.com politely declined to send me a free product sample.
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. It’s also designed so that kettle bells of different weights will rest on the same place on your forearm, regardless of their size—this is preferred by advanced users for one-handed work.
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.
It also has a slightly wider base that makes it more stable to hold in a plank position—something that advanced users will appreciate. If the goal is to learn kettle bell basics and use two-handed techniques, all of these bells are quite suitable, and being budget conscious (finding sales/free shipping) isn’t a bad route.
We (Keira and I) have trained more than 800 clients in kettle bell techniques since 2008, and we’ve taught multiple instructor certifications in the US and abroad. Kettle bell exercises combine cardiovascular and resistance training in one exercise—which means you’re improving conditioning (and burning fat) while building muscle.
While they’ve been around since the early 18th century (the word first appears in a Russian dictionary from 1704), kettle bells have experienced a huge resurgence in the fitness industry in the past 10 years. (Most recently, as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to work out at home, significant stock shortages have become the norm.)
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. The closed-loop handle of a kettle bell offers users a secure grip for movements with both hands.
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. 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. Then there is the question about which kind of kettle bell you should buy: cast iron, competition, or adjustable.
Cast-iron bells are more comfortable for two-handed grip positions, which beginners should master before moving onto the more challenging one-handed exercises. It’s not worth paying extra unless you actually plan on competing—a slim minority of home kettle bell users.
Photo: Mark BixbyUnlike with dumbbells, adjustable kettle bells aren’t a good buy. A kettle bell should be capable of being thrown, dropped, and even juggled, so I would opt for single-forged metal that can stand up to a beating—and stay together in the process.
Also, a major frustration with adjustable kettle bells is that they don’t offer a wide enough weight range to make them ideal for many. 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. They were extremely uneven in terms of metal handle quality, had limited weight options, and they weren’t significantly cheaper than the budget options we ended up testing—you don’t even save money on shipping.
From left: Matrix Elite, CAP Cast Iron Competition, Rogue, Perform Better First Place, Dragon Door ROC. Photo: Anton BrkicOur testing group, which consisted of myself and five members of the high school varsity baseball team I coach, worked with all five bells at the beginner/intermediate level and did only two-handed moves (dead lifts, squats, presses, high pulls, and swings).
However, if a person is interested in exploring the full range of what kettle bell exercises have to offer (including the kettle bell snatch, which in lab testing has yielded a remarkable rate of burning 20.2 calories a minute over a 20-minute workout—the same rate of caloric burn as a 6-minute mile pace), a premium bell like the Matrix bell is definitely what they should opt for. 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. In fact, its dimensions are identical except for the extra half inch of flat base diameter on the bottom of the Perform Better bell.
This means it performs identically, but is easier to hold in a push-up position for the sometimes-precarious renegade row —typically done with two kettle bells of the same size. 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
I managed to score two 12 kg Rogue Competition Kettle bells off a seller on my local Craigslist a few months back. The seller bought them new from Rogue and decided she wanted traditional cast iron kettle bells instead, so her loss is my gain
I usually dedicate a short section in my kettle bell reviews to unboxing, since it’s not unusual for me to see Rogue kettle bells arriving with a damaged finish due to being packaged in a flimsy cardboard box with no padding. Second, the Rogue Competition Kettle bells are completely finished in a powder coat, including the handle.
By way of comparison, standard competitionkettlebell handles are unfinished bare steel. These panels are designed to make supporting the kettle bell on your forearm more comfortable, since the weight is distributed over a larger area of your arm.
I work out in a spare bedroom at home and I can’t be having the mess that comes with using lots of chalk, at least not if I want to stay married! Thankfully, the Rogue Competition Kettle bells have a textured powder coat finish on the handles, which really helps with grip retention without having to completely rely on chalk.
The handle of the Rogue Competitionkettlebell is fairly small, although there is just enough space for two-hand swings if you don’t have giant hands. However, I found the flat panels to be bothersome for high rep snatch sessions until I got used to them.
I don’t think Kettle bell Sport athletes would use these due to increased risk of injury from the edges of the flat panels. The 33 mm handles are also nice, since they are thinner than the majority of cast iron kettle bells and therefore easier to hold on to for longer periods of time.
You’ll like the flat panels on the sides if your workouts involve a lot of pressing movements, since they do make the rack position much more comfortable. If you have any questions I didn’t cover in the review, post them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!