If you’ve been thinking about starting or upgrading your home gym (whether that’s a corner of your bedroom, or a full two-car garage), this article will tell you exactly what you need to know about kettle bells, how many to get, where to buy them, and how to put them to good use. The design of the kettle offers three distinct advantages over it’s “bell” brothers, the dumbbell and barbell:
They sit flat on the floor (no rolling around) and the compact design means no wasted space. Likewise, dumbbells are a great training tool, but you’ll need a lot of them to get a decent full-body workout.
Armed with some savvy training knowledge (you will be by the end of this article), you’ll be able to get a great total-body workout with only 1-3 kettle bells, no matter your strength level. As a fitness coach, my goal is to get new clients feeling comfortable and confident while lifting weights and learning basic movement patterns.
Because the bell’s center of mass is directly under your grip, dead lifts fly up naturally without much cueing. But no matter your goal, or where you’re starting from, kettle bell training can transform your body and performance in ways you never thought possible.
Losing body fat and maintaining a lean physique comes down to controlling calories through nutrition and training. Kettle bell training offers many powerful ways to rev your metabolism and burn a mountain of calories in very little time.
The kettle bell swing is a hip hinge dominant movement, like a dead lift or box jump. This means each and every rep engages the posterior chain muscles of the hamstrings, glutes, back, and lats (plus lots of cores if you do them right).
When working all these large muscle groups dynamically at the same time, your heart rate jumps and you enjoy a calorie burn akin to a sprint (without the impact on the joints). Of course, any exercise can help you lose weight, but the kettle bell swing (and its big brother — the snatch) is a one-stop-shop for anyone looking for a simple and proven approach to cut body fat while building functional strength.
As mentioned above, kettle bells are a great way for beginners to learn the fine art of strength training. The foundational kettle bell lifts cover all the major movement patterns while developing athleticism and a strong mind-muscle connection.
Squats and swings build powerful and mobile hips — the keystone for every truly strong athlete. Row and press variations (especially bottoms-up) build resilient shoulders and a guaranteed ticket to the gun show.
This “what the hell” effect takes place when, after using kettle bells for a while, new reserves of strength and skill suddenly appear to demolish stubborn old personal records. For example, a long-distance trail runner might flounder after a couple laps in the pool… and a swimmer might find cycling tortuous.
Kettle bell training is optimal for a type of endurance called general physical preparedness (GPP). You won’t be the absolute best in any one field, but you’ll be in great shape and ready to handle a broad range of activities — from pickup basketball to packing a U-Haul.
Over the years, I’ve invested in nearly 30 kettle bells (a hodgepodge of different sizes, styles, and brands). Plus, a medium weight is ideal for kettle bell complexes — the stringing together of multiple lifts into a larger continuous set.
Kettles come much heavier than these (the 48 kg “Beast” is the cherry on top most collections), but we’re focusing on the sizes with the most value for beginners. Without the option of increasing weight in small steps, you are forced to make progress in various other ways with the same bell — volume (more reps), density (less rest), and variations (there are dozens of ways to perform a lift) are the big ones.
No matter your sex or fitness level, nearly every bell size has great value and there’s plenty of overlap in the recommendations anyway. These are your “bread ‘n butter” weights that will serve you well in both lower and upper body training for life.
Finally, the extra 12 kg will give you a great pair for double kettle bell workouts. We follow the same line of reasoning for the fellas, with an assumption of more general upper body strength.
We start with 12 kg as even the brawniest of dudes will get good use from one for mobility-oriented lifts like arm bars and windmills as well as advanced get-up and bottoms-up press work. From here, I like to recommend a pair of 20 kg (44 lb) kettle bells as this seems to be a sweet spot for double bell complexes.
The good news is there are plenty of trusted online sellers that offer quality kettle bells. Here’s my top-5 list of recommended kettle bell brands and merchants based on my own personal use (all links are affiliate):
But for some weighted moves, especially ones that require an explosive movement, kettle bells reign supreme. You can also hold them by the handle or the bell (the round part of the weight), which allows you to get a different range of motion depending on the kettle bell exercise you're doing.
Plus, the shape of a kettle bell lets you work your muscles a little differently than a traditional dumbbell, Jessica Sims, a NASM-certified personal trainer at the Hitting Room in New York City, tells SELF. When you take a class with kettle bells, or any other new type of equipment, it's normal to feel a little lost.
Oh, and a quick lesson on the lingo: The “ball” refers to the heavy sphere at the bottom, and the handle is the part attached to it. The handle is also referred to as the “horns,” and can be gripped at the top, on the sides, or near the base where it meets the ball.
Adding a kettle bell increases the resistance your body has to work against to stand back up, challenging your muscles even more. In addition, holding the kettle bell close to your chest helps you nail proper form.
“When you pick up heavy grocery bags, you should squat down like this so you don't hurt your back.” Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, gripping the sides of the kettle bell handle with both hands at chest height.
They also secretly challenge your core, since you have to keep your abs tight to avoid arching your back. Sims says to choose a heavier weight with a dead lift—since you're not bending your elbows at all, you're mostly using your glutes, which are likely the strongest muscles in your body.
Hinge at your hips and push your butt back as you lower your torso and the weight toward the ground. “Make sure that you don’t let the kettle bells swing, keep them stable by your side like actual suitcases,” Sims says.
Push through your heels, putting most of the weight on the back foot, to return to the starting position. Adding weight to a sit-up adds an extra challenge for your core, and the press at the top works your shoulders and arms, too.
For these sit-ups, Sims says you can either keep your knees bent or put them in butterfly position, depending on what feels comfortable for your hips. Start in a sit-up position, lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Kettle bell swings are great for your butt, legs, and lower back, Sims says. You can probably go heavy here, but she suggests nailing the technique with a lighter kettle bell before adding too much weight.
To perform a swing with proper form, you have to “thrust your hips aggressively to get the kettle bell up, don't use your arms,” Sims explains. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with both hands.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to swing the kettle bell between your legs. Stand back up; use the momentum from your hips to swing the weight to chest height.
Your form here should be similar to a traditional dead lift, except your legs should be wider than shoulder-width distance and your feet should be turned out a bit. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and toes angled out.
Switching to one-handed swings isolates one side at a time, which makes it harder and helps improve stability. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with one hand.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to swing the kettle bell between your legs. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with one hand.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to thread the kettle bell between your legs. Bring your now-empty hand to meet the weight at the top of the movement (so you don't slam it into your chest).
Grasp a kettle bell in each hand, palms facing out, arms bent so the weights are resting at each shoulder. Bend your knees just a few inches, and as you stand back up, press the weights straight up overhead.
To protect your lower back and make sure you're using your triceps, don't arch your back, Sims instructs. The key here is to straighten your arm completely at the top—that'll let you work the triceps through a full range of motion. Grip the kettle bell by the ball at the base of the handle with both hands and raise it directly overhead.
Keeping your elbows close to your ears, lower the kettle bell behind your head to neck level. The trick is to keep your core tight and hold your torso stable as you rotate your arms and the weight.
Lift the ball to eye level and slowly circle it around your head to the left. Hold the kettle bell handle in your right hand with your arm hanging straight at your side.
Holding a kettle bell above your head at the top of a crunch challenges your core and lower abs—so does the flutter motion of your legs. Start with the weight above your shoulders, and to make it more difficult, bring it a little behind your head, Sims says.
Make sure to keep your core super tight and lower back flat on the ground. If your back comes off the ground, or you feel any strain, bring your legs up a couple more inches.
Stand in front of a box or step, holding a kettle bell by the handle with both hands at your chest. Crew Performance Zip-Front Sports Bra (jcrew.com, $45), Cotton On Body Pocket Crop Tight (, $35), and Puma Fierce Evoking Women's Training Shoes (, $120).