the joy of strength training


September 7th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Why kettlebells?

I am often asked why bother using kettlebells as opposed to dumbbells or any other implement commonly found in gyms. It’s a good question so let’s talk about it a bit.

There’s been a huge buzz about kettlebells in the last few years and many people have embraced the kettlebell culture enthusiastically. Kettlebells have also had significant impact in the arena of women’s fitness and I’m still not sure why. Possibly some very effective marketing, possibly the colour pink.

A kettlebell is one tool among many. If your ultimate goals are fitness, strength and health, there are any number of tools, toys and techniques you can use to achieve these. Andrew Stemler, author of the Elite Fitness Manual, whom you would suppose has an interest in bigging up the kettlebell, in fact says:

“A kettlebell, in spite of the hype, is neither a gym in the palm of your hand, an item that flenses fat from your body, nor builds indestructible bullet-proof abs: that’s done by hard work, skill, determination and diet.”

All this is true. And yet, I am falling for my kettlebell.


kb_cast_iron_120pxFirst of all, it’s way sexier looking than a dumbbell (no, I don’t get out much). Dumbbells are shaped for convenience, to fit around your hand, but they look clumsy. A kettlebell is a thing of curved beauty and its shape is complete without you. You have to work around it.

This is a significant difference between kettlebells and dumbbells: the relationship between your body and the way it moves around the kettlebell. You can do this because the kettlebell swings from a handle, so it’s an extension of the limb, a dance partner.

A dumbbell doesn’t swing free, it’s just something you have to carry. You can’t move around it in the same way.

With the kettlebell handle, you can fairly easily let go of the kettlebell and catch it again, making your moves flow better. If you’re really adept, you can let go of a flying kettlebell and move your body around it before catching again. Check out Chip Conrad’s spectacular Strength Rituals DVD to see this in action.

So you’ve got a broader range of exercises you can perform with a kettlebell and you can create better flow between them. I bet you never heard that argument before: you can dance with a kettlebell (no, I really don’t get out much).


There are some kettlebell-exclusive exercises. But any exercise that you can do with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell will be that bit harder with a kettlebell. In fitness terms, harder is generally better. The kettlebell is harder to control so provides all sorts of stabilisation and grip challenges as well as resistance.

What’s more, the folks at Bodytribe have discovered that using kettlebells with bands takes your training to a whole other level.


They’ve tried using bands with dumbbells but it doesn’t quite work. The shape of the kettlebell handle, on the other hand, is ideal for attaching a band and getting some serious resistance going (see Strength Rituals DVD for more on this; yes I’m pimping this yet again. There’s a good reason for it!).

Home workouts

Kettlebells have been enthusiastically taken up by the home workout crowd. Perhaps this is another reason for their popularity with sensible women who eschew wii fit and the val slide (don’t get me started!!!).

A kettlebell is a very useful workout tool to have around the house and you can easily get away with just having two different weights rather than the full range of every weight ever made. See A Girl’s Guide to Choosing A Kettlebell for some good advice on what weights to choose.

A set of kettlebells is cheaper than gym membership, will last longer and is never closed or full of nincompoops.

I can’t see myself ever using just kettlebells for my training but for some people they could easily be the sole tool for the job. Kettlebells will give you fitness, mobility, stability, strength endurance and explosive power. They can do wonders for fat loss (as long as your diet is right) and maybe a bit of muscle growth. They won’t make you super strong – for that you need barbells.

Will dumbbells do the same thing? Yes. But they’re not as much fun! Josh Hanagarne, the World’s Strongest Librarian, knows what I’m talking about.

Getting started

The best way to decide whether a kettlebell is for you is to get yourself to a decent workshop, something like the Crossfit Reading kettlebell workshop which I went to recently (I believe they are doing the next one in November so keep an eye out).

You do need to have someone teach you the exercises properly. A kettlebell is an awkward shaped object and there’s a bit of technique involved even in the simplest exercises.

But once you’ve mastered those, there is a whole world of groovy kettlebell moves to try which are quite advanced.

Roll up, get yer kettlebells here!

Are you a kettlebell fan? Are you a sceptic? Share your thoughts below!

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  • 1

    I’ve never seen a KB used with a band.

    Very cool and innovative.

    Niel on September 7th, 2009
  • 2

    Do try to get out more- your eloquent writing about kettlebells makes me worry that you’ll become the Emily Dickinson of exercise.

    Go show those English lads what for!

    Steven on September 7th, 2009
  • 3

    They said we did not stop for death
    My Kettlebell and I –
    Alone we cleave a path through air –
    The whole World
    To Defy

    gubernatrix on September 7th, 2009
  • 4

    The World won’t slow, Death be denied,
    For Kettlebell and thee.
    The choice is play and life and love,
    Or cold utility.

    Steven on September 8th, 2009
  • 5

    Wow! Wow wow wow. Emily Dickinson and off the cuff kettlebell poetry. Signs and wonders.

    Great post Ms. G. Thanks for the mention. And I second what they’re saying–get out more. In fact, don’t move. I’m on my way to England right now to buy you a crumpet. Those are English, right?

    Josh Hanagarne on September 8th, 2009
  • 6

    Yep. I try to be the Thinking Man’s Crumpet in the strength world 😉

    gubernatrix on September 8th, 2009
  • 7

    I just started learning throwing — hammer, heavy weight, and shot-put — and the kettlebell work I’d been doing turned out to be great preparation for these sports!

    Lyn on September 21st, 2009
  • 8

    Good to hear. Throwing a kettlebell is also a fun event!

    gubernatrix on September 22nd, 2009
  • 9

    Oh Lyn, I should have said, do you know Dan John’s work? He is a coach, thrower and kettlebell enthusiast. He does a lot of kb work as part of his training for throwing. Check out his newsletter.

    gubernatrix on September 23rd, 2009


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