THINNER YOU: Kettlebell training, the hottest fitness trend you never heard of

By Nicole Nichols of SparkPeople

Kettlebells were practically unheard of in North America until recently, but now exercising with a bowling-ball-shaped weight with a handle is the newest fitness trend. Used by fitness enthusiasts, collegiate athletes, and pro sports teams alike, more and more people are becoming curious about kettlebells. Here’s what you need to know.

What are kettlebells?
Kettlebells have been around for ages. Made out of cast iron, they’re cannonball-shaped weights with a single handle on top. Although they look really different from the free weights and machines that occupy most gyms, they are “one of the best and most efficient fitness tools you can use,” according to Henry Marshall, a NSCA-certified personal trainer and IKFF- and AOS-certified kettlebell trainer. Marshall explains that although kettlebells originated in Russia and continue to be popular in Eastern Europe, “American strongmen like Eugene Sandow and the Saxton Brothers trained with them in the early 1900s, too.”

What are the benefits of kettlebells?
The purported benefits of kettlebells appeal to people of all fitness levels, ages and genders. Somewhere along the way, says Marshall, “the fitness industry lost the real definition of ‘fit’ and replaced traditional full-body exercises with isolation exercises. Lately though, this cosmetic type of training is being replaced with movement-based training, which some call functional fitness training.” That’s what kettlebells provide, and individuals who want a more practical and traditional style of training are turning to kettlebells. Proponents of kettlebells, including Marshall, say that the benefits of kettlebell training are many. Kettlebells offer:

  • Full-body conditioning. “The body learns to work as one synergistic unit linked strongly together,” he says.
  • Big results by spending less time in the gym. “Because kettlebell training involves multiple muscle groups and energy systems at once.”
  • Increased resistance to injury
  • The ability to work aerobically and anaerobically simultaneously.
  • Improved mobility and range of motion
  • Increased strength without increase of mass. Kettlebell exercisers are lean and toned, not bulky—a benefit that appeals to women and men alike.
  • Enhanced performance in athletics and everyday functioning

How do you start using kettlebells?
Most commercial gyms do not have kettlebells, but small boutique gyms and independent trainers offer group classes and individual instruction. The best way start using kettlebells is to find a trainer or instructor with a kettlebell teaching certification. The most common and reputable certifying bodies, which train kettlebell experts around the world, are:

Patty Scott, a SparkPeople member (ZORBS13) and Agatsu-certified kettlebell instructor, stresses the importance of getting personal instruction when it comes to using kettlebells. “With the popularity of kettlebells, a lot of people are learning the basics from DVDs and YouTube. I cringe at some of the instruction given on websites, even though the instructions come from extremely well-respected and certified kettlebell trainers,” she warns. Scott, who was an experienced fitness professional and trainer long before she tried kettlebells, uses herself as an example. “When I first started using kettlebells, I sustained some nasty bumps and bruises. I cannot imagine what would happen to a person with less experience!”

Because kettlebell lifts are more subtle than traditional weight training exercises, it takes coordination and kinesthetic (body) awareness to perfect the exercises. A single exercise consists of multiple joints and muscle groups moving simultaneously, often in ways that are new and unfamiliar to most people. And because the movements are different than traditional strength exercises, they take practice—and professional attention—to master. When done wrong, there is more risk than just dropping the weight on your toes or bumping yourself, as Scott alludes to. Bad form could seriously injure your joints, neck, back and spine. The bottom line is to be safe—and learn how to use kettlebells from the pros.

Marshall couldn’t agree more. He also recommends seeking advice from a certified trainer before even picking up a kettlebell on your own. A kettlebell instructor will teach you how to move correctly, he says. “Through correct movement comes an intrinsic action in which your mind becomes one with the movement, so that you no longer think about the action,” he explains in a very Zen-like way. “Similar to riding a bike, once you learn you never forget.”

How much do kettlebells weigh and where do you get them?
There are kettlebells from two pounds to 106 pounds and beyond, according to Marshall. Naturally, you should start with a lower weight until your skills improve enough to try a higher weight without risk. Men usually start with a kettlebell that weighs between 25 and 35 pounds, while women tend to begin with a 12 to 26 pound kettlebell, depending on their fitness level. Scott says that lighter kettlebells are not recommended for most people. “It is necessary to have a kettlebell that’s heavy enough to engage your hamstrings and glutes during the swing, the most basic kettlebell exercise.” Even though smaller kettlebells exist, even in the five to 10 pound range, these would be “totally inappropriate” for many exercises, according to Scott. Although it seems counterintuitive, a weight that is too light may encourage improper form. But more importantly, you’ll derive little to no benefit from using such a lightweight kettlebell.

It’s challenging for a novice to pick out a high-quality and comfortable kettlebell since they often don’t know what to look for. “There are a lot of companies making cheap kettlebells, and they either have a weird handle shape or rough handles,” says Scott, who once bought a cheap kettlebell from Craigslist that badly tore up her hands. She recommends that you look for a kettlebell that is smooth and basically feels good in your hand. For clients who have been using kettlebells in a group or private training setting for a while, it’s easier to find the right fit since they know from their instructor what “feels right.” So once you have some experience using them, comfort, shape and fit is important in selecting kettlebells for at-home use.

Scott recommends vendors such as Agatsu and Dragon Door. Both Marshall and Scott consider Art of Strength’s kettlebells to be of high quality as well.

So if you’re ready to open your mind (and body) to give kettlebells a try, you just might find yourself in the best shape of your life!

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43 comments Add your comment


May 20th, 2009
11:12 pm

Kettlebells are a great workout. I was first introduced to them at FitZone Atlanta off of Howell Mill. Your whole body will hurt, meaning all of those muscles got a work out. Thanks, Lori!

Whiskey Pete

May 21st, 2009
10:47 am

Looks like another goofy “trendy” gimmick to draw clients to fitness trainers.

I can wait to see all the idiots swinging these things around at my gym.


May 21st, 2009
10:49 am

Oh my GOD…..How did we manage before this latest FAD came along.?????……How did I ever manage-??.


May 21st, 2009
10:53 am


Northern Songs Ltd

May 21st, 2009
11:00 am

Amen Whiskey….

sane jane

May 21st, 2009
11:16 am

The good news is, kettlebells are fun and effective. The bad news is… they actually hit their “fad zenith” about two years ago. Why this is being reported in 2009 as “the hottest fitness trend you’ve never heard of” (…”provided you are a shut-in.”) is beyond me.

Delaine Ross

May 21st, 2009
2:39 pm

Great article. If you’re in the Atlanta area check out for Atlanta’s only gym exclusively devoted to kettlebell training. And look for the RKC after your trainer’s name wherever you are. It is the original kettlebell certification in America.

Delaine Ross

May 21st, 2009
2:47 pm

And they are no “fad” – they were invented in the 1600’s by the Russian Special Ops and just hadn’t caught on in America until the last 10 years. With strength, cardio, and flexibility in one super efficient workout, you are training your muscles together and training your nervous system. Kettlebells are hands down the most efficient workout I can imagine. I started with kettlebells in CA almost 4 years ago and havent done anything else since – although many athletes cross-train with them because they not only train the production of power, but the production, reduction, and redirection of power. They also train your nervous system to go from a state of tension to relaxation back to tension in split seconds – imagine the benefits of that ability for boxers who are fluid one minute and then have to deliver a hit and then are fluid again in a split second – all the while not gaining excess weight and packing on “cosmetic” that will put you in a different weight class. I have a giant kettlebell tattoo bc to me they are the end all be all and the only workout that just… makes… sense.


May 21st, 2009
2:58 pm

I would hardly call fitness equipment that has been around for 200 to 300 years a “fad”. In any case, I use kettlebells on occasion, and they work as advertised.


May 21st, 2009
2:59 pm


Ms Ima Fatazz

May 21st, 2009
3:18 pm

OMG, I know this will melt the pounds off. I’ve tried weights, they were too heavy. I’ve tried treadmills, they made me sweat. I’ve tried dieting, it made me hungry.
I’m signing up next week at that new kettleball gym. Thank god for kettleballs. 20 minutes a day, three times a week and I will look like a greek goddess. Thank you ajc for informing me about these kettleballs.


May 21st, 2009
3:20 pm

Atlanta blows as does the deep south.. can’t wait to move from dixie and get around progressive good hearted people in the west or up north.


May 21st, 2009
3:51 pm

If you like “gyms” full of shiny machines, mirrors, tvs, and wheels that go nowhere (like the one my hamster used to run on when i was in second grade), then kettlebells are not for you. Please consider them a fad, or don’t consider them at all, and please don’t try them. Just strap on your weightlighting gloves and keep doing the same lame “workouts” you’ve been doing for years without any real results . . . workouts, i’m sure, packed with lots lateral raises, leg extensions, and bicep-curls that you probably learned from some lazy personal trainer who doesn’t know the difference between strength training and body-building (and who probably is proficient in neither). And ladies, if you want a lean physique be sure to do lots of reps with low weight so you don’t “bulk-up” (complete B.S.). If, however, you’re not afraid of hard work and still have some functioning brain cells, then do 30 minutes worth of research and find out why people who count on strength to survive like the Navy SEALS and Marine Corps Force Recon, professional champion fighters like Randy Couture, B.J. Penn, and George St. Pierre train with kettebells, and why people with access to the best trainers in the world – athletes like Ladainian Tomlinson, and celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, and Catherine Hiegl train with kettlebells. Do yourself a favor and find a certified instructor near you ( / Otherwise, just stay close to your lat-pull down machine and the mirror.


May 21st, 2009
4:04 pm

kettleballs are silly, unless incorporated into a good crossfit workout.

Crossfit King

May 21st, 2009
4:22 pm

Kettlebells are for Anti-American Communists!!!!! The Navy SEALS, Marine and MMA fighters that use Kettlebells use them in TOTAL CROSSFIT WORKOUTS! People who do only Kettlebells workouts, talk about Kettlebells like a crazy religious cult….please don’t drink the kool-aid! For more information see


May 21st, 2009
4:24 pm

To all you negative people – hop on I-85 north and don’t come back. Or better yet- Take I-20 a keep going until you hit Texas. You’ll fit right in with the jerks passing a law that says it’s OK for students carry guns on college campuses.


May 21st, 2009
4:36 pm

Kettlebells have been around for hundreds of years, they are hardly a FAD, it’s just people are now hearing about them more now.

I’ve been going to a kettlebell gym in 4th ward called Gym Condition for the past year and I love working out with kettlebells. I have never been stronger in my life, my core strength is incredible, and it’s not hard on my knees like running is. Delaine Ross is an incredible instructor, I highly recommend her!

I do encourage anyone interested to seek out instruction from a professional though, swinging a 20 KG kettlebell is not a good DIY project. You could really hurt yourself if your form is off.


May 21st, 2009
4:38 pm

THE TRUTH, speaking for most of us here in the deep south…….what’s keeping you? We didn’t ask your sorry rear to come and we’ll help you pack if you promise not to come back. And by the way, how’s that change you can believe in working out for ya

Kettlebell Advocate

May 21st, 2009
4:58 pm

I agree 100% with Delaine and just so you know, I’m not a member of her gym. But I am living proof of the benefit of kettlebell training. I am middle aged, was overweight and out of shape. Started using kettlebells a little over a year ago and am stonger and fitter now than in the last 30 years. Joint aches and pains are gone as is the excess weight. Oh and another great benefit…for those of us with a few years on them and a disposition for vascular and heart disease, my lipid panels are the best they have ever been since I began any kind of treatment. Gone from a ticking time bomb to a healthy example my doctors use for their other patients. Whether you combine with crossfit, bodyweight exersizes or just use kettlebells alone, get out and do something. Your body and your mind will thank you. No koolaid, just fact!


May 21st, 2009
4:58 pm

Hey “THE TRUTH GOP – BYE BYE,” Delta is ready when you are.


May 21st, 2009
5:20 pm

I just ate a kettlebell. It was delicious.


May 21st, 2009
5:51 pm

As an instructor to personal trainers at one of the top health clubs in the world, I can tell you that Kettlebells definitely have their place in the fitness world. Are they the end all be all? No. Are they great for achieving much of which they claim to achieve? yes. Should everyone quit what they are doing and go get kettlebells? No. If proper movement patterns do not occur, they are quite dangerous and will have little benefit. However, if a person has excellent movement patterns, they should definitely be incorported into a workout purely on the fact that they will be different than exercises they have tried in the past. The fitness world is moving away from the isolated machines more and more and heading toward a direction where ACTUAL strength and movement patterns are much more important. Machines still have their place for the most part and can still give certain benefits (hypertrophy amongst a few others) that some seek. However, you will see the next age of gyms cater to those who want to be able to move their own bodies and possess true “functional” strength. Mark my word. No one piece of equipment is THE answer, they all have their place in some way.


May 21st, 2009
6:27 pm

Kettlebells Rock, got two 35 lbs. and a great enjoyable workout routine, I get to enjoy the weather outside and get great body conditioning at the same time


May 21st, 2009
6:42 pm

Blasphemy, Vince! You. WILL. Drink. Your. Cool aid!


May 21st, 2009
9:40 pm

Vince, You’re on the right track, but just b/c someone does not have correct movement patterns is not a reason to shy away from kettlebells. It’s why everyone interested in trying them should find a qualified instructor. Kettlebells, when used properly, help people develop those correct, safe, and strong patterns. They are a great rehabilitative tool as “Kettlebell Advocate” and many others will attest.

Return of the Kettlebell

May 21st, 2009
9:43 pm

“Crossfit King” you sound strangely like a fat troll I know who has been doing Crossfit for about 5 minutes. It’s a shame you still haven’t learned to think for yourself. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be paying extra $$ for a “brand” . . . and you might have been accepted to a decent law school.


May 22nd, 2009
8:19 am

I agree Stephen, a qualified instructor is extremely important. My point is that if any Joe Blow walks into a gym and starts using kettlebells, he could be doing himself some serious harm by doing things incorrectly. Any time an explosive total body exercise is used, there is a greater risk-reward ratio. Kettlebells can be very rewarding but only with proper technique which most people DO NOT have. Most people do not realize they are spinal loaders instead of hip loaders until they are laid up in bed for a week. We have members at our facility asking to put kettlebells out on the floor for any and everyone to use, not a chance. The potential for bad things to happen is significantly greater with these types of exercises. The potential for great things is there too, its all just a matter of proper form and technique.


May 22nd, 2009
8:55 am

The fitness movement may be moving towards non-isolation movements, but the rest of us, those doing powerlifting or olympic lifting, or just plain bothering to educate themselves beyond what the ignorant personal trainer at the Gold’s up the street says, never caught the 3 decade long fad of machines and isolation. Only the fools who don’t want to expend effort to learn anything on their own use machines and isolation exercises. And competitive bodybuilders, but that’s a different story altogether.

FLETC Instructor

May 22nd, 2009
11:38 am

As an instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, I see just about every agency out here training with Kettlebell. As with any piece of equipment or program whether a rowing machine, Nautilus machine, free weights, medicine balls, Bosu balls or Kettlebell, improper form and technique can get you injured. Our agency is one of the largest at FLETC and we use Kettlebell, but we build from a basic foundation of form and technique before even handling a KB. The law enforcement officers in-training truly enjoy training with them, mainly because they see the benefits from training with them. Are Kettlebell for everyone? Is Yoga or Pilates or free weights for everyone? No, it is a choice for the individual to choose. But try it and if you don’t like it, then you know it is not right for you. I have drunk the Crossfit Kool-Aid and would do nothing but those workouts. There are 30 Crossfit certified instructors teaching thousands of law enforcement officers using Crossfit based workouts here and that should say something about the Crossfit workouts. Again, not for everyone but if you try it and stick with it, you will see results.


May 22nd, 2009
6:54 pm

The fact of the matter is that most people don’t like doing difficult exercises. So, when it comes to exercise, I separate people into two groups; those that enjoy difficult compund movements and those that don’t. I won’t even address the latter. Ok, if you like doing the tough exercises, keep reading. I’m certainly not an authority on the subject and can’t tell you that Kettlebells are more effective than similar exercises performed with barbells or dumbells but I can tell you that its very liberating not to have to load and unload plates on a bar or find some remote corner of the gym where I can do compound dumbell exercises. Kettlebells may not be the “end all be all”, but for the level of fitness that 95% of the people are trying to achieve, Kettlebells will work…..if you’re not scared to do the work. Kettlebells are both effective and efficient. But then again, I suppose the eliptical machine is efficient too. I mean, any piece of equipment that allows you to read a magazine, talk on the phone, and change your ipod at the same time is a modern marvel if you ask me! Good luck and happy treading!


May 23rd, 2009
11:26 am

I have been using kettlebells myself for about two years now. I can say that I have seen the most change with kettlebell use as far as fat loss and functional strength than any other training that I’ve been exposed too. I work two jobs. One a cushy office job, and the second loading trucks for UPS. As many others have mentioned it isn’t for everyone, but it is highly effective. I love training with them because I have a tight schedule and I don’t belong to gym or have access to any other equipment as I am on a tight budget. I was in reasonably good shape before using kettlebells, but now I am pretty lean and have really improved my cardiovascular conditioning. I am a kettlebell advocate and I think a person should try it before knocking it. With proper technique(which applies to all forms of fitness) kettlebells are safe, effective, and actually kinda fun. :)

Joey Porter

May 24th, 2009
6:30 pm

dumbells and free weights never get old and it works. This pos is for slackers.

regardless of what exercises you prefer your diet is the most important key to staying in shape.

Most of you have intestines filled with weeks of fecal matter. You should have at least one bowel movement per day. Ideally everytime you eat you should take a dump, this is how the human body works. However due to socialization folks have learned to hold their poop.

No Pain no gain.

this stupid gadget is an accident waiting to happen.

stay away from it.


May 24th, 2009
11:16 pm

Too bad this article didn’t go into the history of these more instead of making it sound like a recent fad in the past 4-5 years. They could have at least explained why they come in weights that differ from traditional weight systems used in the U.S.

Political Man

May 25th, 2009
5:31 am

I wonder how people got fit before the advent of kettle bells, and for that matter, personal trainers. Dumbbells and barbells will do the job. You can do any movement with dumbbells that can be done with kettlebells. Add in rowing, treadmills, cycles, running stadiums or hills, etc. Forget the gym, personal trainers, kettlebells.


May 25th, 2009
11:42 am

Dead weight is dead weight no matter what shape it’s in. Just grab some and start working, who cares what it looks like. And for the guy who thinks Georgia is backward with no nice people, maybe you should travel alot more. I’m from Atlanta and have been all over the world via Uncle Sam, Georgia’s as good as it gets!


May 25th, 2009
8:03 pm

Kettlebells have been used very commonly in Russia for ages. They will get you in better shape in 3 months than 3 years of lifting weights.

Scott Shetler

May 26th, 2009
2:12 pm


To answer your question about the history of kettlebells I suggest you visit: I recently published a book on kettlebell training and used this blog as a reference regarding the history of kettlebells and how they became used as training implements.

The history of kettlebells is a little misunderstood. They were originally used as units of measure in farmers markets, a weight with a handle that could be easily lifted to balance a scale when weighing produce, the unit of measure was referred to as a “pood” which is equal to 16kg or about 35 lbs. Traditionally kettlebells jump in 4kg increments, although many manufacturers offer 5 lb increment kettlebells, similar to dumbbells. The kettlebells used in Russia and Eastern Europe, a similar style to the American Kettlebell Club kettlebell, are actually designed to specific dimensions for the sole purpose of being lifted, a little different then what some of the other companies are marketing.

As a student of Russian Weightlifting and Training methodology one thing that is quite apparent to me is that the Russians love to put weights overhead. Overtime these farmers began lifting kettlebells in loosly organized competitions, mainly the name of the game was who could put the weight overhead for the greatest number of repetitions. While kettlebells have been used for 100’s of years they actually developed into a sport form in the 1940’s-1960’s is when more organized competitions came to be.

I began using kettlebells both with my clients and myself beginning in 2003, and have seen great improvements in both general physical qualities and special/specific physical qualities. I have a national champion powerlifter I train who at 111 lbs. has deadlifted 455 lbs. squatted 405 lbs. and bench pressed 310 lbs. and a college linebacker I’m training who in 6-8 weeks, after identifying his lower back as a limiting factor in speed and power production, we were able to raise his vertical jump from 29″ to 39.5″ using kettlebell exercises in addition to his strength/power training regimin.

Then again, we don’t “work out” at my training center, we “train”. Kettlebells are highly effective and if you can’t see the potential benefits, you don’t understand how to properly implement them into a training program. For those that can’t there is always time to pick up that “flashy” lycra 1-piece with matching head and wrist bands!

Interesting discussion here though…

Scott Shetler
Extreme Conditioning & Fitness
Atlanta Barbell & Kettlebell Club
Duluth, GA


June 9th, 2009
3:36 pm

Some of the best kettlebell prices I have found are at
Right now they are all 20% off too!

Kettlebell workout

July 9th, 2009
3:05 am

Those who have have disproportionate hips, have risk of suffering from bone degeneration, back problems, joint aches, rheumatism. To achieve fat-weight loss, exercise is important. One can go for kettlebell exercises. Various exercise can be performed with kettlebell. It helps to get fat reduction and taut muscles. And it is great for hip training. To get more knowledge on kettlebells exercise, refer

Kettlebell Training

October 18th, 2009
7:27 pm


January 17th, 2010
5:59 pm

I’d like to hear more about the 17th century Russian Special Ops team.

I’ve been swinging the iron for 5 years now, and it’s my favorite workout. Economical when compared to most gym memberships, Workouts themselves are transportable to the great outdoors, however with the recent cold snap, I’ve been doing them in the kitchen before work. The versatility of the kb’s is the most amazing thing about them. They have a sick cardio component as well as a wicked strength training aspect to them. Is there a fad-ish thing about using them? Probably. But it’s like when my kid discovered Jimi Hendrix a couple of years ago. He acted like he discovered Jimi all on his own, that no one had ever heard him before. The difference between him and the nay-sayers here is, he was a lot more gracious about something new than the trendies here seem to be.

kettlebell user

March 26th, 2010
11:40 pm

Amazing… all the people who have bad things to say about kettlebells who have never used them. Ignorance is apparently still very rampant in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Fad? Trend? The uninformed, parroting, cynical naysayers do so without ANY knowledge whatsoever of what a kettlebell is or its effectiveness. I have to wonder what the physiques are like of these big talkers. Anyone who has worked with a kettlebell (unlike you idiots who say it’s just a fad) will attest to the effectiveness of it. No, it is not the cure-all, end-all. It is simply another piece of equipment that will dramatically increase one’s fitness conditions and performance. But whatever… you guys who shoot down the kettlebell with ZERO knowledge about or experience with it are obviously either “larger than life” couch potatoes, or bulky can’t-scratch-my-back-to-save-my-life, water-logged (and maybe roids?) sarcoplasmic muscle heads who still do the same goofy workouts you did back in high school. Go back to your sissy, useless bicep curls. We gireviks (I bet you have no idea what that word means… go ahead… google it and fake it, like your workouts) will run circles around you in terms of real life functional strength and endurance. Don’t get me wrong… if you’re laying on your back and a car falls on you, I’m sure that bench press will really come in handy. I’m glad you guys think it’s a useless, trendy fad… then we don’t have to worry about you sissies ever coming anywhere NEAR our levels of physical fitness.

Well, hey. At least you’ll look real good with no neck and huge muscles that are build on sarcoplasm. (Go ahead. Google it. You know you want to. Well… I guess I shouldn’t assume that… you probably enjoy being ignorant and being part of the shallow club of followers.)

Terry Evans

August 31st, 2010
10:38 am

I am looking to join a class located in Fort Worth, Texas and I would like to know who can assist me? Please reply back ASAP.