Last updated on July 7th, 2021 at 01:22 pm
When building a home gym, it’s important to make sure the equipment you pick is both versatile and effective. There are few, if any, implements that meet those requirements better than the kettlebell. For those in the know, kettlebells are an easy addition to their home gym. For those that aren’t, you may find yourself asking, “What is a kettlebell and do I need them?”
Kettlebells trace their history back to Russia in the early 1900’s and probably before. Russian strongmen and weightlifters of that period were known as “gireviks”. This loosely translates to “kettlebell man”. In that time, kettlebells were THE implement of choice for building strength and in many cases still are.
The Russian special forces, or “Spetsnaz” also use them as their primary training method. Since kettlebells build both impressive strength and seemingly unending endurance, kettlebell training was ideal for this branch of the Russian military.
The incredibly simple and deadly effective kettlebell was brought to the US by a former Spetsnaz trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Known as the “father of the kettlebell”, Pavel introduced American law enforcement and military forces to kettlebell training. Pavel quickly showed US forces such as the Navy Seals how to stay in peak physical condition using the versatile, effective, and easily transportable kettlebell.
Kettlebell training turned out to be so effective that it quickly caught the eye of the US fitness community. Very few, if any, implements have more uses or are as effective.
Does it Belong in a Home Gym?
The short answer is yes. There’s a reason the humble kettlebell has swept the US training community by storm. Once you start using them in your regimen, you’ll see why.
Before I ever considered dedicating a space in my home to being a home gym, I owned a set of kettlebells. In fact, my first several purchases of exercise equipment for home use consisted of several types and weights of kettlebell.
Kettlebells are ideal for a home workout area and take up almost no space. They can be used in almost any room that has a bit of space to move. They can also be used for an unusually large number of exercises. In fact, you could build a substantial home fitness program around kettlebells alone.
Another really compelling reason to invest in kettlebells is that they are a supremely budget minded implement. You can literally start with just one (In his books, Pavel suggests just that). I can think of no other piece of equipment that allows you to do so much with so little.
Simple and Sinister…
At this point, many people wonder where to start with their new kettlebells. Pavel Tsatsouline wrote a book, called Kettlebell Simple and Sinister, that is an amazing place to start. In it he outlines a program that consists of just two exercises. Those two exercises, when done daily, will build a strong physique and a surprising amount of cardiovascular endurance.
Doing just kettlebell swings and “Turkish get ups” every day, as outlined in this book, was my very first home workout routine. Before the weight bench. Before the free weights. Before the yoga. Before the dedicated space in my garage. Every morning I moved my coffee table and followed Pavel’s prescription on my living room floor. I got stronger. I built endurance. I started on my path of working out at home. I owe a lot to Pavel, his book, and the deceptively simple kettlebell.
OK, so you are convinced. You’re going to add at least one kettlebell to your home gym arsenal. Congratulations! Let’s address the two most basic questions… What do you start with and what kind should you get?
First, let’s address quality. It’s pretty hard to screw up a kettlebell, but it can be done. Fancy plating, color, or coatings are often where a kettlebell can go wrong. In my humble opinion, simple, black metal is all you need. Something with a nicely finished handle (I’ve used some kettlebells with rough/unfinished handles and my hands were not too happy about that).
***Since I first wrote this article, I’ve found a new line of kettlebells and have fallen in love. Kettlebell Kings make the best kettlebells on the market hands down. Their website is amazing, their customer service is top notch, and they make remarkably good kettlebells.
If you buy a great kettlebell it will literally last you a lifetime and the kettlebells by Kettlebell Kings fit that bill perfectly. Check out their website here for tons of great information and to check out their extensive line of kettlebells!
I love my monkeys!!!
I always want to be transparent here on GymCrafter.com and I think it’s important to point out what I use personally. I absolutely love my kettlebells. They are one of my favorite pieces of equipment. A big part of that is because of the specific kettlebells I own.
After eyeing them for years, I finally bought a set of the Primal Bells by Onnit. They are amazingly designed. They are beautiful. They are durable. And they actually motivate me to work harder. Many a day I’ve looked in those monkey faces and screamed at them, motivating myself to work harder than I normally would. A lot of my workouts start with me looking at them and saying something like, “Okay, Mr. Monkey, let’s do this!”
Not a fan of monkeys? Onnit has an amazing selection of cool kettlebells. You can get Zombie kettlebells. You can get an Iron Man kettlebell. You can even get Star Wars kettlebells! I’ve mentioned in other articles the importance of little touches that make your home gym your own and motivate you to actually work out more. These cool kettlebells are a great example of that!
As for size, Pavel has a pretty straight forward recommendation for this too. Men should start with a single 26-35 pound kettlebell. Stronger men can start with a 45 pound version. Women should start with a single 15-18 pound kettlebell, with stronger women starting at 25 pounds.
You can definitely progress past these starting points, but the nice thing is you will always still use these foundational weights as you add more exercises and try new skills.
As a note, you will usually find kettlebells in weights measure in traditional lbs. or kg. But you will occasionally find them measured in their traditional Russian measurements of “pood”. If that’s the case, here’s how those weights break down…
– .5 pood = 8 kilos or 18 lbs.
– 1 pood = 16 kilos or 35 lbs.
– 2 pood = 32 kilos or 70 lbs.
Tips & Recommendations…
There are a couple of tips I’ve picked up over the years that will help you get the most out of your kettlebell workouts.
First, take a lesson. Just one lesson. Find an RKC or Strong First certified instructor in your area and go see them. In one lesson they can teach you the basics of kettlebell safety and form. While they are a relatively safe piece of equipment, some of the more dynamic movements like kettlebell swings can definitely be done wrong and thus cause injury. A lesson will prevent this.
Second, get a set of wrist guards. You can see a pair here on Amazon that will work great. When you first start working with kettlebells, you’ll find that your wrists might not be able to take the weight of the kettlebell resting against them in the “racked” position. Wrist guards will allow you complete the exercises without worrying about wrist pain. Over time, you’ll build up a tolerance and won’t need them. At first you’ll be glad you have them as part of your home gym equipment.
Third, workout barefoot or in zero drop shoes (shoes with no rise in the heel leaving your foot basically flat on the ground). Good old fashioned Chuck Taylors work great. I love my Nano’s by Reebok. But any zero drop (aka NOT running shoes) shoes will work. They’ll give you a much more solid foundation to work from and are the type of shoe you should be working out in anyway!
What do you think?
If you have always used kettlebells, or have just added them to your home gym, let me know what you think in the comments below! Your input may help other readers discover the highly effective and fun world of working out with kettlebells.