Not very long ago, kettlebell – the strange-looking cannonball shaped weight with handles – spent the majority of the time collecting dust in the corners of gyms. Today, they have become an essential piece of training equipment. Much of this transformation is due to the popularity of Functional Training. But even if yours is not a Functional Training gym, you need to offer your members a full range of top-quality kettlebells.
In this mega-guide, we take you through everything you need to know to buy your kettlebells with confidence. You’ll discover:
- Which type of kettlebells you should invest in for your gym?
- The key features to look out for?
- Buying traps that you need to avoid?
We believe that this is the most comprehensive kettlebell buying guide you’ll find online. That’s because we’ve gone the extra mile to interview ten experienced workers from seven kettlebell factories. That provides you with insider knowledge and tips that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Kettlebells are referred to by more than one name. These include cowbell weights and girya. For the sake of consistency, however, we will use the most common name – kettlebells.
- This article also does not include adjustable kettlebells, as these are not designed for use in commercial gyms.
Table of Contents
1. Kettlebell Industry Regions in China
China is one of the top suppliers of affordable high-end kettlebells in the world. There are three key manufacturing regions for kettlebells in China as follows:
- Jiangsu province (Nantong city
- Shandong Province (Qingdao City)
- Hebei Province
The kettlebell factories in Hebei Province produce cast iron bells that are generally of a low quality and budget priced. In Nantong City, the quality of the finished product is higher, though it varies between manufacturers.
2. Types of Kettlebell
2.1 By Material
Originally, kettlebells were made from on piece of cast iron. This remains the standard for quality and performance. The range of kettlebell sizes, weights and dimensions vary greatly. Just as with dumbbells, the heaviest kettlebells are the largest. Handles diameters and widths vary, with heavier bells having larger handles.
- Balanced and stable weight distribution.
- The handle is wider and allows for two handed use.
- Cheaper than steel kettlebells.
- Available in different shapes and sizes.
Steel kettlebells are mainly used in competition. The big difference between professional grade kettlebells and other types is that the bells have identical dimensions, even if they have different weights. That means that the handle diameter, height, and width are identical among the weight classes.
The uniformity of size among steel kettlebells allows for consistency in training. This is an important consideration for high level athletes. As a result, steel kettlebells are mainly used by elite athletes.
- Due to the fixed dimensions, your hand will be able to maintain a consistent grip between the weight ranges.
- The wide base is ideal for performing floor-based exercises.
- More durable than cast iron kettlebells.
- Slightly more expensive than cast iron kettlebell.
- Not suitable fort two handed training.
2.2 By Finish & Coating
The original RKC kettlebells did not have any type of protective coating. However, modern kettlebells come in a range of finishes. These have a dual purpose; they act as a protective layer while also strengthening the connection between the handle and the bell.
The majority of painted kettlebells are made of cast iron. The paint covering provides an anti-rust coating. However, paint quite easily flakes and peels off with the wear and tear that kettlebells are subject to. For this reason, painted kettlebells are not popular in commercial gyms. They are more likely to be seen in industrial-style gym environments.
Vinyl coated kettlebells have become popular in recent years. Multi colored vinyl coatings greatly enhance the aesthetic appeal of the kettlebell. It also adds to the protection of the metal core and provides an extra level of protection for the floor. Colored coatings also make it easy to identify the weight differences between kettlebells.
There are, however, some serious problems with vinyl coated kettlebells. The vinyl coating tends to break down quickly.
But vinyl coating is not really recommended and is most commonly found on the lesser quality brands. It also has a tendency to grab the skin in certain positions, which can severely interrupt the flow of your workout. The vinyl coating also prevents you from seeing the quality of the core underneath. It is possible that holes from the mold which the kettlebell was made from have been filled with a cheaper material. This can affect the uniformity of the weight of the kettlebell.
Rubber kettlebells are among the most popular types of kettlebell. They are more floor friendly and quieter than vinyl coated kettlebells. They also provide extra protection and are more comfortable to grip. Rubber is both durable and abrasion-resistant. However, it will age over time, especially when exposed to sunlight.
There are three types of rubber that are used in kettlebell construction:
- Recycled rubber
- Styrene-butadiene rubber (synthetic)
- Pure rubber
The mix that is used to create the rubber will determine that overall quality of the end product in terms of its elastic properties. The most commonly used ingredients are:
- Calcium carbonate powder
- Recycled rubber
Most makers of kettlebells will not publish the mixing ratio of their rubber. Even though some manufacturers claim to use 100 percent original rubber, very few of them actually do.
When it comes to recycled rubber, the most common types are tire rubber and sole rubber. Of the two, tire rubber provides the best finish. Every type of rubber will have a smell to some degree. A high level of smell indicates a low level of rubber quality.
Chrome kettlebells are electroplated with a light chrome. This gives them a gleaming finish that looks very professional. Chrome plated kettlebells have a more durable finish than painted kettlebells. The handles on chrome plated kettlebells are also smoother than other types, enabling a firmer, more comfortable grip. However, these kettlebells are likely to pick up scratches after a period of use. It is recommended that chrome kettlebells be used with gym floor mats.
PU stands for polyurethane. It is a versatile type of plastic. This is the safest, most advanced material used to coat kettlebells. Unlike rubber, there is no odor. PU is longer lasting and safer for the end user than many alternatives. Even though it is the most expensive type of kettlebell, its durability makes it cost-effective for long-term use.
There are two types of PU kettlebell:
TPU is created by an injection method under high temperature. In contrast, CPU is melted in a mold. CPU is longer lasting. It has an average life span of eight years, which is twice as long as TPU.
Not surprisingly, it is also more expensive. CPU is also unable to be recycled.
3. Kettlebell Physical Structure
Kettlebells originated in the 1800s in Russian markets as clanky, unwieldy strongman tools. Over time, they evolved into a more streamlined cannonball shape. Most kettlebells now have four parts:
- Kettlebell Base
The actual cannonball weight part of the kettlebell is known as the bell. The key considerations are whether the bell is hollow or solid and what material it is made of. It is recommended that advanced lifters use a hollow bell as it will keep the same size and shape, even if the weight changes.
3.2 Kettlebell Base
The base of the kettlebell refers to the bottom part that sits on the floor. If you intend to do any movements that use the kettlebell as a ground fixture like renegade rows, handstands, or mounted pistol squats, you will want a kettlebell with a completely flat bottom. The majority of quality kettlebells on the market will have a flat bottom. However, some cheaper brands will not sit flush on the ground. Be sure to check on this feature before buying.
Note: Rubber coated kettlebells will have a rubber pad that is about 1 cm thick. This lessens the noise and reduces the risk of injury and damage to the floor.
Kettlebell handles are either one piece poured with the rest of the kettlebell or the stainless-steel handles are welded to the cast iron body. When purchasing a kettlebell with a welded handle, you should check if the welded part is flat and intact. Also look for obvious signs of weakness that may cause the handle to dislodge during exercise.
Check, too, that the handle seams are completely flat. Manufacturers of cheap kettlebells often don’t bother to grind this sharp seam, which can end up causing your members’ hands to get scratched by tiny protrusions during workout.
Look for a kettlebell handle that is ergonomically designed for maximum grip and comfort. You want the handles to be smooth and comfortable to hold.
When kettlebells are cast, a seam, or flashing, results. This is seen across the center of the handle on its underside. In order for the finished handle to have a smooth finish, it must be smoothed out prior to coating. However, the cheaper manufacturers will fail to do his leaving, leaving an annoying sharp seam which will cause gripping discomfort. Be sure to check that the flashing has been smoothed out when checking your purchase.
The diameter of the handles is an important consideration to ensure gripping comfort. The majority of manufacturers will provide handle diameter details on their website. Look for a diameter of between 30-31 mm and 38 mm. The general trend is for the diameter to increase with the weight of the kettlebell. Be wary of extremely thin handles which you can get om cheaper kettlebells. Competition kettlebells, however, will have a consistent diameter of 33 mm around the handle.
Here are four tips to help you choose the ideal handle thickness:
- Grip the kettlebell and notice if/where your fingers meet your hand when you wrap your hand around the handle.
- If your fingers touch your palm, the handle is probably too thin.
- If your fingers are spaced more than a few inches from your palm, the handle is too thick.
- The right thickness of the handle feels comfortable in your hand, and your fingers rest about 1 1/2 inches from the heel of your palm.
Some kettlebell exercises will require you to fit both hands into the handle of the kettlebell. The best manufacturers produce kettlebells that have ‘V’ shaped handles to allow for a wider space at the top.
The distance from the handle to the bell portion of the kettlebell plays a role in how comfortable the kettlebell is in your hand, where it sits on your wrist, and, ultimately, how well you can perform with it. If the distance is too short, you can’t comfortably fit your hand through the handle and it doesn’t rest in the correct spot on your wrist. If the distance is too far, the kettlebell doesn’t rest in the right spot on your wrist. Both instances will negatively affect your performance because you’ll be uncomfortable.
A good distance from the center of the lower part of the kettlebell handle to the center of the bell portion of the kettlebell should be about 2 1/2 inches.
4. Kettlebell Physical Properties
The two key methods used to manufacture kettlebells are:
- Single-piece casting
- Two-piece assembly
Single-piece casting is preferable as it will always be stronger than a two-piece assembly kettlebell. The most inexpensive kettlebells may have the handle welded straight onto the bell. These are the weakest types of kettlebells and should be avoided, especially if the bells are to be used carry exercises or those where you put pressure on the handles, such as push-ups.
4.2 Size and Shape
As previously mentioned, competition style kettlebells are standardized in terms of their physical properties and are color coded according to weight. However, standard kettlebells vary on both counts. As a standard bell gets heavier it will increase in size. The handle diameter will also be larger. This can make the heaviest kettlebells a challenge to securely grip.
The cheaper a kettlebell is priced, the more likely it is that it will give an inaccurate actual versus stated weight. Inaccuracies in weight become important when you are dealing with heavier weighted kettlebells. Your members deserve to know that the weight they are handling is true to the stated weight. The best way to avoid this problem is to buy your kettlebells from well-known and well-respected manufacturers.
When it comes to selecting the kettlebell weight range to stock in your gym, keep the following guidelines in mind:
- The majority of men start using a 12-16 kg kettlebell.
- The majority of women start using an 8-12 kg kettlebell.
4.4 Grip Feeling
The feel of the grip of the kettlebell in your hand is a paramount importance. Your members will be constantly swinging the bells in the air, so the firmness of their grip will keep everyone safe. The last thing you want is for the kettlebell to come flying out a member’s hand and smashing into a nearby member while they’re in the middle of their workout!
The best way to assess the grip feel of a kettlebell is, naturally enough, to grasp hold of it. If it feels right to you, it will more than likely also feel right to your members.
In terms of the smoothness of the handle, you want it to have a little bit of roughness to help provide a secure grip.
- Be sure to check the handle seam. Focus on the flashing along the bottom center line of the handle.
- Analyze the strength of the weld between the bell and the handle.
- Check the handle size: Look for a set of kettlebells that will accommodate the hand size of the average person. Do not be tempted to buy cheap kettlebells with narrow handles.
- Test out the gripping comfort of the handle: focus on comfort, firmness and smoothness.
- Steel kettlebells, while more expensive, are more durable than cast iron kettlebells
- Do a comparison check between the stated weight and the actual weight. If the differential is more than 3 percent, look for another manufacturer!
- Pick up the kettlebell and check for even weight distribution.
Your members will have to undergo a learning curve when beginning to use kettlebells. Your job is to ensure that they are using top of the range equipment that is safe, comfortable and durable. We are confident that our buying guide will help you to wade through the huge range of kettlebell brands on the market to find the best of the best.
Do you still have unanswered questions about buying kettlebells? We’d love to answer them for you. Just ask it in the comment section, and we’ll be sure to get back to you soon.
Related reading: top 10 gym equipment brands in China
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