Kettlebells, Which Ones?

It seems that everywhere you look these days, people are selling kettlebells. However, many of the products are just a handle welded onto a ball. If you are really interested in using kettlebells for CrossFit, kettlebell training or kettlebell competition, you need to know what you are looking for.

To start, we should look at the history of the kettlebell. They are an exercise implement of Russian origin, resembling a cannon ball with an attached handle. The main advantage that kettlebells have over dumbbells is that they extend the center of mass beyond the handle facilitating ballisting and swinging movements. Because of this fact, for the most part, throughout their history they have been used for high repetition exercises at moderate weights.

In 1948 Kettlebell lifting or Girevoy Sport was born in Russia and has since spread around the world. There are 2 events, the 2 kettlebell jerk and the snatch. They are performed in that order for 10 minutes each, with the score being the total repetitions performed. For the jerk, both kettlebells are cleaned to the chest and as many push jerks as possible are performed before the 10 minutes are up. You can’t put the kettlebells down, any resting must be with the kettlebells on your chest. The Snatch follows, you perform as many kettlebell snatches with one arm and then do a single swing to switch hands, and then continue until the time is up. Like the jerks, you can not put the kettlebell down during the 10 minutes. This competition is traditionally performed with 2 pood (32 kg/71 pound) kettbells. With the evolution of the sport, there are now professional grade kettlebells available, that, similar to Olympic Bumpers, are the same size, regardless of the weight, and are often color coded so that you can tell how much someone is lifting by the color.

50 years after the sport’s origin, Pavel Tsatsouline a fitness instructor from what is now Belarus, popularized the kettlebell in the U.S. While traditionally kettlebells were available in increments of the Russian measurement of poods (16 kg/36 pounds), with their new popularity, sizes other than the common 1 pood, 1.5 pood (24 kg/53 pounds) and 2 pood (32 kg/71 pounds) became available. They are now available in pound increments as well as kilograms in weights as low as as a few pounds and as high as hundreds of pounds. Kettlebell conditioning classes emerged with many additional movements added to the arsenal such as various swings and and even juggling movements.

The tool caught the interest of CrossFit where the two handed Russian swing that finished in front of the eyes, used as an assistance exercise for teaching the snatch, was modified to continue until it finished over head. It was used a high repetition conditioning exercise. Additional kettlebell exercises that CrossFit incorporated, include Turkish getups and snatches.

For CrossFit and even competitive Kettlebell Lifting there are certain characteristics that you should look for:

1. Handle diameter. For most brands, that are not competition grade, the diameter of the handle goes up as the weight goes up, ending up around 33 to 37 mm by the time you reach a weight of 1 pood. Some of the kettlebells available in sporting good stores have much thinner handles which are nearly impossible to hold onto while doing kettlebell swings and completely useless for snatches.

2. Handle width. Usually the handle width also goes up with weight. Often with lighter weights, it can be difficult to fit both your hands on the handles for kettlbell swings. This problem is eliminated with competition grade kettlbells where all weights are the same size. This problem is als taken care of with the Rogue “Kilo” Bells where the handles extend beyond the with of the ball portion of the bell on the lighter weights.

3. Handle texture. There are cheap products out there with rough finishes which can really tear up your hands on the high repetition movements that are the staple of kettlbell training. The worst offenders leave seams from the casting that can lead to blisters or even open wounds along the sides of your fingers during s set of swings. The best products are sanded smooth after casting before finishing.

4. Construction. The best kettlebells are cast as a solid piece, rather than having the handle attached as a separate piece.

5. Finish. Finishes vary from uncoated steel, to enamel and even powder coating. For competition, bare steel is very popular, but for kettlbell swings as part of CrossFit workout, powder coating is hard to beat.

Rogue offers three different kettlebell types to meet your needs. The first two are made by Ader. Ader Premier Kettlbells are solid cast iron with all the seems sanded smooth before being epoxy coated. They are very sturdy, and the finish is excellent for swings and adequate for snatches. They are very reasonably priced and make a great addition to any CrossFit gym. Ader Pro Grade Kettlebells are made from steel with unpainted 33 mm handles and are color coded to show the weight. All weights are the same size. These are the kettlebell of choice for people who compete in Kettlebell Lifting. The final option is the Rogue “Kilo” Bell. These are made in the U.S.A with American craftmanship that shows. The powder coated finish is perfect, for CrossFit movements such as swings and snatches as it is very forgiving when coming in sweaty from a run and going strait to swings. Read some reviews here.

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