Kettlebell Sport. Whats It All About And Where Do I Start?

Kettlebell Sport. Whats It All About And Where Do I Start?

Kettlebell sport 


This article is aimed at anyone who has discovered the delights of kettlebell training and yet may well not even realise that kettlebell sport even exists. Believe me, you’re not alone!

 In my experience, one  grows into kettlebell sport,  it’s highly unlikely that your decision to pick up a kettlebell for the first time will be driven by a desire to compete with them.   

Once there is an actual awareness that such a sport exists, some will naturally gravitate towards it as they become proficient in their own training and look for that next step.

Finding a local club that uses kettlebells is a good start. But we’re not looking at one of the franchised options here such as Kettlercise and so on. These are fine in their own right but will not help you get into kettlebell sport. Seek help from some of the governing bodies in your own country to get advice. I know for example that if you’re UK based, you can gain information about local kettlebell sport clubs from the GSU website.

So, lets look at some of the options: 


My own route into kettlebell sport  came about by way of the Pentathlon. At that time, back in 2013, there were 4 competitions running each year to coincide with the 4 seasons here in the UK. 

Pentathlons are a different variation of traditional Girevoy Sport (GS) but a very worthy discipline and an easier route into the competitive arena.  See my Pentathlon article here 

Briefly, pentathlons consist of 5 different disciplines each done for 6 minutes with a 5 minute break between each. These are all done with a single bell and multiple hand changes are allowed. The total lifting time is therefore 30 minutes with 20 minutes of resting.

The 5 disciplines are 

  • Cleans
  • Long Cycle Press (clean and press)
  • Jerks
  • Half Snatch
  • Push Press

There is a points value associated with each bell and any weight from 8 to 40 kg plus can be used and there is a max rep count for each lift. The key is to strike the correct balance between kettlebell weight and reps lifted. Go too heavy and you risk a low score due to a lower rep count. Likewise if you go too light and complete the reps too easily, you will also fail to maximise your score.

I really enjoy competing in pentathlons for two reasons. The single bell stuff better suits my current level of mobility and the tactical element. Pacing yourself is key to a successful outcome in pentathlon. If you go all out on the first couple of disciplines, you’ll potentially burn out before the end. It’s all about knowing how hard you can push and how soon.  

There is a greater overall volume of lifting in comparison to GS but the single bell and multi switch elements certainly make it more accessible, especially for those with less than great mobility.

Within Pentathlon, there are 3 body weight divisions for male and female.

In the UK, there are generally 3 or 4 events each year.

Girevoy Sport 

GSU  (Girevoy Sport Union)

OKSE (Organisation Of Kettlebell Sport England)

This is the traditional form of kettlebell sport. Contestants can compete in a number of disciplines.  For men, it is either double long cycle (clean and jerk) or biathlon which is jerks and then snatch. For women it can be long cycle with single or double bells and Biathlon. Women may also have the option to choose to compete in snatch only.  All of these sets are performed for 10 minutes.  In the case of the single bell lifts, there is only a single hand change allowed. For biathlon, there is usually a break of an hour or so between the jerk set and the snatches.  

There are numerous entry points into this sport with many countries holding regional events at many times of the year. It’s a fast growing sport, particularly in the United States and here in the U.K.  Regional events usually have a bigger choice of bell weights that can be used, typically for men, 12 16 20 24 28 and 32 kg bells. For ladies, 8 12 16 20 and 24 kg bells.  

Once you make the move to international competitions then the bell choices become more limited with 16 24 32 for the men and 12 16 24 for the women.  

There are a number of body weight and age categories within GS and veterans start at 40 years of age.

 Grassroots kettlebell league 

For those interested in GS, this is the perfect starting place. The Grassroots league was set up specifically to encourage people into kettlebell sport.  All of the lifts are as traditional GS but with a couple of difference which are designed to make the events more accessible.  

  • All lifts are performed for 5 minutes instead of 10 
  • Judging is less strict and aimed more towards guidence 
  • You are competing against other beginners as well as more experienced individuals but medals are only awarded to the beginners.  
  • The events are smaller and tend to be in a more relaxed setting.  
  • There is a great opportunity to work with the more seasoned athletes either to gain inspiration or knowledge.  

You can work any combination of the 3 lifts. These being Long cycle, jerk and snatch  Guys and girls may choose to use a single bell for Long cycle.  

Like pentathlon there is a points value awarded to each bell. Unlike Pentathlon, the points for the bells as they go up in weight isn’t linear as it’s designed to encourage participants to use heavier bells. This applies in particular to the experienced athletes as this is the perfect opportunity to move away from your usual competition weight and try experimenting with something a little heavier.  

In the UK in 2016, there were nearly 20 grassroots events. There were also a couple in the United States so expect to see many more from this organisation in the coming years.  

 Marathon training (IKMF) 

There has been a keen interest recently in kettlebell marathon events. These is run by the International Kettlebell Marathon Federation and they are very popular within the Scandinavian countries.

There is either half marathon events which are 30 minutes or full marathon which is 60 minutes. There will soon be an option for children to compete with 15 minute events. These are all multi-switch with the one caveat being that you have to complete the the full time otherwise your score will be zero.   

There are 4 events to choose from 

  • Jerk 
  • Long cycle 
  • Snatch 
  • Half snatch 

You are also able to compete within a league system called The Ultimate Girevik League. This is run by the IKMF annually.  There are 3 rounds and you can compete in any of the 4 lifts, all of them if you are feeling brave enough. They also hold European and World Championships annually.  


All of the above with the exception of pentathlon, have ranks. Ranks enable you to gauge your own progress. This is what a typical ranking structure may look like.

IKMF ranks

Ranking varies according to the organisation so best to check the requirements on the relevant website. You will need to achieve a certain rank if you want to be eligible for your national squad. The entry requirements are generally not set too high though so as to encourage participation. Kettlebell sport is quite unique in that you may well find yourself competing in a World Championship after only a few years of lifting.

So, what’s it like to compete in GS?  

Personally, it’s a combination of a thrill and a dread! Most GS athletes will get where I’m coming from with this. Training for these events can be brutal. There will be set backs, disappointments when training numbers don’t match yours or your coaches expectations. There will also be days where you walk out of the gym feeling invincible, you’ve smashed it, exceeded your numbers and you feel totally on track. 

On the day, if your preparations have gone well and you’ve put in the hard work at the gym, you may well think that you should smash out a personal best but what about those pre-competition nerves? What about your judge, are your reps going to be of a high enough standard? 

You will probably be a bundle of nerves prior to stepping up on the platform. You may wonder why am I doing this? I think nerves come from two things, the fear of failing and the fear of the pain that awaits you. I can’t sugar coat this. This is 10 minutes of ever increasing levels of discomfort and you will need to dig deep into your physical and mental reserves.  

I have, to my shame (or so it feels) twice put the bells down before the 10 minutes was up. Both were in the 9 minutes area. On both occasions, I was physically beaten not mentally. There were literally no more reps in me. On the first occasion it was due to the strictness of judging as I had asked for a judge who was approved by the IUKL as it was a qualifying event for Team England. I made the grade and qualified but fell some 15 reps short of my target due to the longer fixation that was required on the over head position. On the second occasion, it was simply bad prep due to an injury. 4 weeks prep simply doesn’t cut it for this game. This is why it’s vital to gain as much experience as possible with competitions. Always be looking to increase your standards and ask for the judge to be critical of your performance. 

Once up on the platform, nerves will dissipate to a degree. Once you get a couple of reps under your belt, you will feel reassured that the judge sees your reps as passable. I had this fear at my first international competition which was the IUKL World Championships. I literally thought I’d be getting a succession of no counts. It didn’t happen of course and I scored 81 reps in veterans class of 24 kg Long cycle and won a World Championship Gold medal in the process.  

If you perform well, the feeling afterwards is fantastic. It’s all over and you’ve done good! This is when you forget about all of the pain of training and the nerves you’d had just moments before. I always like to say that most of the enjoyment for me, seems to be retrospective! 

Conversely, perform badly or below your expectations and you may well feel quite miserable. But it’s important to always take away a positive from every event.  

The community spirit 

One of the greatest aspects of our sport is the tremendous community sprit that exists around it. The support is always there from the other lifters and the supporting audience. When I go to a competition, I always enjoy catching up with friends as well as meeting new people. We also support and encourage each other via social media. Its like a big kettlebell family and it’s a great thing to be a part off. Of course, once you’re up on the platform, you want to beat the guy next to you but I have found that win or lose, congratulating the other contestant will always be the first thing you do once you’ve managed to pick yourself up off the floor.  

My next article will focus on coaching join kettlebell sport and how that may be of benefit to you.

IKMF Marathon World Championships 2017

IKMF Marathon World Championships 2017

Vanzaghello, Italy, that was the destination for the 2017 IKMF World Championships. This was my first attempt on the world stage for a marathon event. I’d had a pretty miserable time of it some 3 weeks prior at the GSU British championships. A fair portion of skin decided to part company with my hands at about the 40 minute mark and blood became a bit of an issue.

We arrived in Italy in Italy on the Thursday and soon got aquatinted with the Norwegian team who were all staying in the same motel. On the Friday, via a shared taxi, we arrived at the venue for the weigh in. The venue was a big sports hall which was kind of in the middle of nowhere. You certainly couldn’t walk anywhere meaningful from that location other than a train station. It’s a good functional space though with good lighting, tiered seating and plenty of room for an event such as this. There was no preparation done at the hall at that point.

Weighing in was relatively painless. Made the payment for my two events and was out of there on a train to Milan in no time at all.

Competition Day Number One.

We arrived at the venue today to find that it had been transformed. 8 platforms, banners, mats, podiums and all the other things essential for a big competition were all set up and ready to go. Looked great actually.

Sandy Doyle giving it her all.

Long cycle jerk – Half Marathon – 28 kg

Not my primary lift and MS rank was the goal although it wasn’t fully realised in my own head so wasn’t banking on this happening. Probably why it didn’t. Set off too fast at 13 RPM and kind of got a bit burnt out in the last 10 minutes. I found in my prep that I’m a lot more comfortable with a 24 kg bell for an hour at 12 RPM than I am a 28 kg bell at 11 RPM for 30 minutes. My home PB here is 321 reps. At the comp I had 10 no counts as a result of a slightly bent right leg in the overhead position. Result was 307 reps so some way off my best. Hands seem to be in good order though on completion so that was a relief.

My best here for a 1 hour set of LC jerks with a 24kg bell is 706 reps. This was a verified set for CMS rank (550 reps) This is MS numbers and I am fairly certain I could do MSWC here in veteran class (750 reps) so this may be a future goal. For some reason I am a long way ahead here in comparison to the 30 minute set where I am struggling to hit MS numbers.

Great day today though. The IKMF are a very welcoming and friendly organisation. The general vibe at the event was both serious and playful. A great combination. The organisation of the event was very sharp and things got underway bang on schedule. We had a brief opening ceremony first. I was the lone Team England member and dutifully carried out the England plaque when my country was called. Each country representative was given a framed certificate with an acknowledgement of their countries participation. Very nice too.

It was really super to meet people for the first time after only knowing them via social media. Stephane greeted me very warmly and presented me with a T shirt. Lots of others too said hi to me as I milled around taking it all in. By the time I left, I had 3 more T shirts to my name including one from Team Norway!

Per Olhans with one of his 4 lifts

I had my camera with me and decided to set about taking photos at the event. There didn’t seem to be any official photographer on duty so I was more than happy to help out here. It’s a good distraction for me and less fraught than shooting at a GS event due to the time you have with each flight. I took over 700 pictures over the two days

Competition Day Number Two

Half Snatch – Full Marathon – 24 kg

My main lift and the one 80 percent of my training had been aimed at. Been hitting some really good numbers here in training. My best efforts prior to this competition are listed below.

  • 24 kg x 30 minutes x 539 reps (for UGC)
  • 24 kg x 45 minutes x 705 reps
  • 24 kg x 1 hour x 843 reps
  • 26 kg x 480 reps (UGC)
  • 28 kg x 20 minutes x 323 reps
  • 32 kg x 30 minutes x 332 reps
  • Double 16 kg x 30 minutes x 400 reps (proud of that one, thought I was going to die)
Andreas Jacobsen going all out with the 32

850 reps was the target here as it was at the GSU British championships. I failed there due to my hands falling apart as already mentioned. I managed to go the hour but at a pitiful 7 RPM in the final 10 minutes. I made 754 reps so some 96 reps shy of target.

I was lifting at 9 am and this was another concern for me as I never lift at that time normally. I was also worried about my hands of course but at least on this occasion I had a good chance to work on getting the bell prepped to my liking.

Bell prepped, I stepped out onto the platform alongside a true great of marathon lifting, Andreas Jacobsen. Next to him was Thomas Barthomeuf, another great athlete who’s always kicking my ass in the Online Kettlebell Challenge Cup. We were all going to be doing half snatch but at different speeds I was targeting 14/15 RPM to make my 850. Andreas was aiming for 1050 reps so 17/18 RPM. Thats a really fast pace for the hour.

Stephane ‘Dogman” doing his thing!

I’ve managed a half marathon at that pace but certainly don’t have the conditioning for an hour. But (theres always a but) I am 10 years his senior and a lighter athlete so need to put things into perspective. It was still quite disconcerting to see Andreas stomping away out in front of me though.

I was comfortable cardio wise throughout my set. 30 minutes in I had 440 reps so was slightly ahead of target. This was probably just as well as I noticed my hands were starting to sting at around that time also, thats never a good sign and flashbacks to the British Champs were not a welcome feature here. Cracked on though as there was a lot at stake. I came along way to achieve this so there was no way I was going to let my hands spoil the occasion. And it didn’t. I got the job done with 854 reps. It would have been nice to have had a sprint finish like Andreas did but wasn’t to be.

That was my lifting over and done with. There were a few athletes doing 4 lifts, 2 on each day. Thats an incredible amount of work. I’m not sure I’d be up for that. Big congratulations to them though. I won’t single out any particular performances here but there were some mighty efforts put in, some truly inspirational stuff which only helps to light the fire in me even more.

The medals and awards were carried out as the event went on with no interruption to the actual lifting. This is a really great idea as the running time was already fairly lengthy. Everyone got a medal I believe but there were different size trophies to denote what position you finished in. We also got certificates on the day with our lift, reps and position we finished in.

The rest of my day was spent taking more pictures some of which can be seen here.

All in all, a great event which was very well run and hosted by Stephane and Oleh and their respective teams. I am now looking forward to heading off to the European Championships in Ireland and then onto the next World Championships in Spain, only this time I won’t be alone and we will be a proper Team England!


Jennifer Hintenberger setting a world record in her lift
Kristofer Larsson jerking the 24 for an hour
Kristofer Larsson, using the power of the beard, put in a solid performance.
Kirsten Tonnessean going all out with the 16
Sarasino rusty Marco approves of the IKMF Marathon
Judi DeMuro on the 24 kg bell
Olivier Vdr was another athlete who put in 4 rounds
Frans Bach working it hard
Pantelis Rpk working the 28 hard


8 platforms in action
Abi Johnston working hard with the 24 kg bell
Konrad putting in a big PB with the 32
Chilling it after our sets with Andreas and Judi



The certificates we all received at the comp
This is what I came for. Mission accomplished












Kettlebell Pentathlon Training Guide

The kettlebell pentathlon is a very strategic event in comparison to traditional Girevoy Sport. 5 lifts, performed for 6 minutes each over a 50 minute time frame with a choice of up to 5 different weights to keep you company on the platform. The scope for variation is what makes it interesting to me. There are lots of different permutations that can be tried. Factor in a maximum rep count for each exercise and the solution to finding what works for you can be even more daunting.

I always recommend that people should shoot for the higher rep count as opposed to going heavy and coming up short reps wise. Just to re-cap, maximums are as follows

  • Cleans 120 reps (20 RPM)
  • Long cycle press 60 reps (10 RPM
  • Jerks 120 reps (20 RPM)
  • Half snatch 108 reps (18 RPM)
  • Push press 120 reps (20 RPM)

These are deemed realistic numbers that may well be achievable with good form. They are by and large realistic providing a Fixometer is not used.

With so many variations, just how do you go about preparing for such an event?  I can only speak from my own personal experience here. I have competed in 10 pentathlons over the last 4 years and have a personal best score of 1620 points with a Fixometer and 1760 without. Both of these were scored at a competiton. I have also prepared other athletes for pentathlons, all of which have had success.

Heres a 4 week cycle of a program I have used for training towards a pentathlon.

As you can see, I rotate the 5 exercises round. Green is one cycle and orange is another. This way, the order is always mixed up and it keeps things interesting as well as benefitting overall strength development. Just cycle through the 5 exercises starting with cleans on day one and then start with LCP on day two and jerks on day 3 and so on.

Light to moderate cardio every other day with the option of a day off on Thursday and Sunday.

This of course needs to be progressive so on the second cycle (weeks 5-8) I will increase the minutes to 7, 6, 5 as opposed to 6, 5, 4 and then on the final 4 weeks I would do 8, 7, 6.

Weights wise, I wouldn’t deviate too much from my intended competition weight, probably keeping with one full weight of my comp weight (no more than 4 kg above)

I would test every month to see how I was progressing.Sometimes this test would be a two thirds pent so would be 4 minutes work and 3 minutes 20 seconds rest. This is a fairly good predictor of your overall performance if you were to calculate your reps for the remaining two minutes.

You should be aiming to get as near as possible to the max RPM limit for each lift. If you’re way short, then reduce your weight.

Like any program, you shouldn’t be a slave to it. Feeling tired, then ease up a little. Feeling strong, then go for a heavier session with fewer reps. It’s not an exact science and has way more variables than traditional GS.

Alongside this of course, you will need to add in some GPP (General Physical Preparation) This should only be about 20-30 minutes and you should be looking to get your training done within the hour (not including mobility and stretching) GPP could take the form of squats, jump squats, pulling and pushing motions in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Just mix it up and keep things interesting.

Always try and keep the reps even per side unless you have a weaker side that needs strengthening up. Do not favour your strong side, do the opposite!

Obviously, if you are hitting the maximum rep count per minute then you will need to up the weight. It is perfectly fine to increase in 2 kg increments especially on LCP.

If you follow some kind of structure, whether it be this or something else, you will definitely benefit on the day of the competition. Being prepared is everything, leave nothing to chance and you give yourself the best possible opportunity to put in a good performance.


The Kettlebell Pentathlon

The kettlebell Pentathlon

A new and exciting form of kettlebell sport is growing rapidly within the UK. It is the kettlebell pentathlon.

Devised by Valery Fedorenko of the World Kettlebell Club, (WKC) it has from the onset, been designed to be more accessible than other forms of kettlebellsport, such as the biathlon. This does not necessarily mean that it is easier!

Pentathlons are now supported by the IKFF in the UK These take place both in England and Scotland and are generally sold out events

There are still skills to master in order to become proficient at the pentathlon but unlike many other forms of kettlebell sport, you only ever use one

kettlebell and multiple hand changes are allowed. Also, the maximum working length of any one set is 6 minutes as opposed to 10 in regular GS

Here are the basic mechanics of it

There are 5 disciplines performed in a set order. The 5 disciplines are:


2.Long cycle press (clean and press)


4.Half snatch

5.Push press

  • Each discipline is carried out for 6 minutes.
  • Multiple hand changes are allowed
  • There is a 5 minute break after each discipline
  • There is a maximum repetition (rep) count for each discipline. These are only maximums and a sub maximum number will not be penalised

The maximum rep counts are as follows. These are deemed as realistic numbers that can be achieved within the given time constraints and with good form. No additional points are scored for reps over the preset maximum.

  • Cleans 120 reps
  • Long cycle press 60 reps
  • Jerks 120 reps
  • Half snatch 108 reps
  • Push press 120 reps

The competitors are allowed to choose a maximum of 5 different weights for their kettlebells. Those bells can then be used for whatever discipline they choose. No changing of the weight is allowed once the athlete starts that particular discipline and no setting the weight down until the 6 minutes are up. If the weight is set down whilst there is still time left on the clock, the set is ended but all reps will count up to the point when the bell was placed down. Also, if the competitor hits maximum reps whilst still having time on the clock, the kettlebell will be put down and that competitor will gain additional rest. However, by and large, with correct form and proper judging, this is unlikely to happen.

A different points value is assigned to each kettlebell as follows:

  • 8 kg = 1 point
  • 12 kg = 1.5 points
  • 16 kg = 2 points
  • 20 kg = 2.5 points
  • 24 kg = 3 points
  • 28 kg = 3.5 points
  • 32 kg = 4 points
  • 36 kg = 4.5 points
  • 40 kg = 5 points

This continues right up to 72 kg! Intermittent weights such as the 10, 14 and 18 can also be included with the additional values of .25 so a 14 would be worth 1.75

If the competitor performs 100 reps with the 24 kg bell in the half snatch then this is worth 100 (reps) x 3 (points) = 300 points

All five scores are added up in this way to create a total score.

There are currently 3 weight classes each for men and women.

These are


  • up to 79 kg
  • 79 kg to 85 kg
  • 85 kg and over


  • Up to 60 kg
  • 60 kg to 67 kg
  • 67 kg and over

The disciplines

This article hasn’t the space to go into the detail of all the disciplines required but here is a brief description including details of what the official will be looking for in each lift.

The Clean

The kettlebell is cleaned to the rack position.

The judge will want to see

  • There has to be a moment of fixation in the rack position.

The clean and press

The kettlebell is cleaned to the rack position and then pressed overhead

.The judge will want to see

  • A clear separation of the clean and the press. There must be a moment of stillness once the rack is achieved.
  • There must be no knee bend prior to the press. This is a strict press only.
  • The kettlebell must fixate at the top of the movement with no wobble or sway
  • There must be good alignment


From the racked position, the knees are dipped and then straightened to drive up the kettlebell before catching the kettlebell at the top of the movement with a second dip of the knees. You then straighten the legs to complete the rep.

The judge will want to see

  • There needs to be solid fixation at the top of the movement with good alignment
  • Fixation in the racked position.
  • No push press. The bell must be caught at the top position with a straight arm

Half snatch

Unlike the full snatch movement, the half snatch is lowered from the overhead position to the rack position before lowering for a back swing into another rep.

The judge will want to see

  • There needs to be a rack position on the way back down (a stop and go)
  • There is solid fixation at the top of each rep with good alignment
  • The bell is caught at the top position with a straight arm.

Push press

From the rack position, you dip your knees and drive the bell up to the overhead position. Your heels must stay in contact with the floor.

The judge will want to see

  • Good fixation and alignment.
  • Checking your heels stay flat on the floor.
  • That you don’t bounce out of rack straight into another rep

The IKFF pride themselves on fairness within their competitions and therefore these criteria are to be adhered otherwise you will be no stranger to the No Count board!

A trial run

Once you have got your technique down reasonably well on the 5 disciplines it’s time to put in a trial run.

Start off conservatively. Remember, you are working for 6 minutes at a time and over 5 different disciplines.

The key to a good score in the pentathlon is all in the choice of weight and pacing.

Aim to pace yourself accurately. It’s a 6 minute set so take 6 minutes to complete it. It’s a false economy to set off too fast for two reasons. One, you will no doubt end up with more no counts from your judge and two, you will burn out earlier. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the extra rest gained will benefit you very much. A better strategy is to pace yourself to start with and keep your breathing under control throughout.

At the start when you are fresh, it’s very tempting to choose a weight, which in isolation may seem quite manageable but you must consider the accumulated fatigue. Once the first discipline is over, you still have 4 more to go so it’s no good burning out on the first 1 or 2 events with over zealous weight choices. Once you start to get an idea of what it’s like to flow from one event to another and how the accumulated fatigue will affect your performance in the subsequent lifts, you will be able to make some fairly accurate predictions on your own performance.

This takes a few trial runs to achieve and some number crunching on the calculator but will ultimately lead to ever increasing personal bests. You will be able to determine if going lighter and hitting closer to maximum reps is a better strategy for a high score or maybe sacrificing a few reps in order to use a higher weight will work better. Or maybe if you go lighter on the half snatch, you will be so much stronger on the push press ultimately pushing your final score up. This is one of the aspects of the pentathlon that I really enjoy. Putting pen to paper and seeing what strategy stacks up best! One of the strategies I like to use is a mini pent. This is effectively a two thirds pentathlon, working for 4 minutes and resting for 3 minutes 20 seconds. This is clearly not as exhausting as a full pent and therefore can be tried more often. I find it’s a good predictor of performance in a full pentathlon set.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have some form of strategy before going for a full pentathlon test or competition. Plan out your hand changes and how many reps you hope to hit in each minute. These ongoing targets will help keep you focused in each discipline. Better scores will be achieved if you adhere to a preset plan rather than just mindlessly banging out random hand changes and reps.

The kettlebell pentathlon is an extremely challenging event but with the mix of 5 different lifts, it’s also a lot of fun and very satisfying to do.

Kettlebell Types And What To Avoid

There are many different types of kettlebell on the market and to the beginner, the apparent differences between them can be very confusing.
I advocate two specific types of bell for my program.
Cast iron and Competition
Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of each before looking at what
to avoid.
Cast iron
As the name suggests, these are a solid one piece moulding. Not all cast bells are created equally though.
Unlike the competition kettlebells which are made by and large to a standard specification, cast bells vary enormously both in design and quality. I have seen some truly horrendous cast bells in my time and if you happen to choose one of these, you may limit your chances of ever becoming competent with a bell due to the discomfort.
Check the handle for thickness. This should be about 32-35mm.
Too much or too thickness in the handle will impede your grip. The handle should be smooth to the touch and not too rough. The bell itself should be
painted only and not be coated in any form of plastic. Plastic coating may look pretty but I find that it pulls on the skin when held in the rack position or pressed overhead. It’s also prone to perish in time, especially if you ever leave your bells out in the elements. Go for the standard round shape and not some oddball new age bell which is trying to stand out from the crowd by being a funky shape!
You will often see some big names in the fitness industry produce bells with plastic coating. Whilst these will be built well and look very nice, please don’t assume just because they are a
big brand name, that they know how to design a kettlebell. More often than not, these bells are designed to be aesthetically pleasing as opposed to being truly functional.
  • Compact design so can be less intimidating to beginners
  • Generally more affordable
  • Quality can be very high
  • Easier to store
  • Easy availability
  • Because they are a single piece moulding, they will get bigger as they get heavier. This may not seem like a big deal but you will find that in the rack, and in the overhead position, the bell will sit slightly differently on your forearm. This may take some getting used to
  • Quality can be very poor
  • They generally have smaller bases than competition bells so are not so well suited to floor based exercises such as renegade rows.
  • They have a smaller radius so you have a more acute contact point on your forearm when holding them in the rack position.
Competition kettlebells
These bells are also known as pro-grade kettlebells. They are my choice. This is to a degree dictated by my involvement in kettlebell sport as we exclusively use competition bells. However,
even before I competed, I found favor with this type of bell. When it comes to purchasing, the minefield is definitely easier to navigate!
There are some variations around handle thickness and design but the actual circumference of the bell itself remains constant. Some designs feature a hole in the bottom. This allows any residual material left inside as a result of the manufacturing process, to fall out. Some of my bells could literally double up as a giants rattle!
Crucially though, this particular design has a better weight distribution with more of the weight higher up in the bell. This is a bonus for those attempting big snatch numbers. But a standard competition bell is perfectly fine
  • Better consistency in quality
  • Whether you have an 8 or a 48 kg bell, the external circumference remains the same. This is advantageous in that you don’t have to get used to something of a different physical dimension as you progress up through the weights hey have a bigger contact point on your forearm due to the wider circumference. This will increase comfort
  • They have larger bases and are therefore more stable for floor based exercises
  • Generally more expensive
  • Can seem intimidating, especially if you’re quite small
  • Take up more space
What to avoid
There are many kettlebells out there on the market place that need to be avoided.
Lets not mess about, right from the off, never buy plastic!
There is a reason why kettlebell manufacturers in the know, never produce plastic bells. Sand is a common filling in order to get the weight.
This will eventually start to leak out especially with the cheaper bells.
They are usually a two piece moulding and guess where the seam usually is? Right underneath the handle where your hand will be! I am not going to go ahead and list a bunch of advantages and disadvantages because I would rather you avoid them altogether.
The chance are you will need to buy your kettlebells via mail order. In my experience, most shops tend to stock plastic kettlebells. There are many reputable mail order stockists. Here in the UK, I use Wolverson exclusively as the quality and price point is spot on.

Just Starting Out? Here’s some advice on choosing the correct starting weight

A common pattern generally occurs here. Women tend to underestimate their
own strength whilst guys will let their egos take over and opt for something too heavy! I was exactly the same when I started out. I was a well conditioned weight trained individual. But I wasn’t conditioned for the way in which kettlebells train the body! Surely, I thought, if I can happily shoulder press 28kg dumbbells, I could happily manage a 24kg kettlebell? Nope!
So, lets break this down. For the females amongst you, go with the following as a starting point
Non weight trained.
In this category, even if you’re an aerobic diva, start with a 10kg or 12 kg bell for 2 handed swings and an 8kg for most other things. 10 really is a minimum for swings as you will need that much just to give yourself the necessary feedback to indicate correct form.
Weight trained
I’m going to state 12-16 here for 2 handed swings and let you decide what feels right. Caveat being that you aim to move to 16 just as soon as you can. 8-12 kg for everything
else. That’s quite a range but I have to make allowances for the different strength levels amongst you.
Non weight trained
12-16 kg for swings with a move to the 16 as soon as possible. Most likely a 12 kg for everything else.
Weight trained
16-20kg for swings. For everything else a 12 to a 16kg.
This is just a guide of course. You may also be able to use the heavier weight for squats, deadlifts and other kettlebell exercises. But you need to be prepared to invest a little here. You will outgrow the bells pretty  quickly if you follow my advice on this website. There are other variables that you can employ to make the lighter weight feel more intense again but, ultimately as you gain strength and experience, you will need heavier bells.