Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 1: Efficient Fitness

I've gotten great results from training with kettlebells. Several friends ask me for resources. I couldn't find a solid starting point for ultra beginners, so I made my own.

This part is a short rant on why kettlebells provide for efficient training, especially for busy people.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not your 24 Hour Fitness trainer. Come on. You’re better than that.

Why Should You Exercise with Kettlebells?

If you’re already sold on kettlebells, you can skip to Part 2 to find a starting weight and learn about buying kettlebells. 

If you’re not sold on kettlebells, there are a few reasons to check them out. Primarily, they provide an efficient, low-friction way to work out (I almost wrote “easy," but that would be misleading). 

Efficiency is Definite, Fitness is More Likely

I won’t try to sell the fitness results kettlebell-training produces because everyone gets different results for different reasons. Anecdotally, exercising with kettlebells has gotten me into the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’ve gotten great improvements in my strength, endurance, flexibility, speed, and muscle tone. But I also benefit from eating well, sleeping 7 to 8 hours a day, and being 25 years-old at the time of this writing. As the balding-cream commercials warn, results may vary. 

The thing that I will advocate most about kettlebells is that they are an incredibly efficient way to exercise. All the overhead costs associated with exercising, including the physical space necessary to train, daily time expenditure, cash cost, and cognitive effort, are low for kettlebells, especially relative to power-lifting or cross-training. 

If you’re a semi-busy person, the relative cost of any exercise will be higher for you, so the low cost of exercising with kettlebells may be the best reason to check them out. More efficient exercising means you have more of an opportunity to exercise, which means you’re more likely to hit whatever fitness goals you have for yourself.

Kettlebells are Simple

On the fitness side, kettlebells provide a comprehensive workout with a few simple pieces of equipment. Kettlebells are distinct from dumbbells in that their center of gravity is weird, so it takes quite a bit of effort to stabilize your kettlebell as you work out. Additionally, almost all kettlebell exercises consist of “compound movements,” so a few exercises replace many. Rather than use an entire rack of weights or one of those crazy, total-gym machines that look like complex S&M toys, you can get away with using a couple of metal balls that fit in your closet. And if you think you need dedicated equipment for cardio, the constant tension of holding the kettlebell coupled with the quick movements in some of the exercises will get your heart-rate up fast, so you can pass on the elliptical (which has to be the longest-running prank in fitness ever pulled). 

Gyms are Hell

It may sound silly, but busy people know that the upfront cost of going to the gym can be prohibitively high. The typical post-work workout-routine looks something like this: Drive to the fancy gym where you pay $90 per month for access to a juice bar. Wait for your turn at the treadmill. Run. Wait for your turn at the squat-rack. Squat. Wait for your turn at the bench. Bench. Wait for your turn at the pull-up bar. Pull-up. Drive home. Kill yourself. 

Not going to a gym eliminates much of the upfront cost of training by allowing you to start instantly and by eliminating the need for any of the social inconveniences involved in gym life. If you train with kettlebells, your post-work workout-routine looks more like: Pick up a kettlebell. Go somewhere with 8 feet of clearance. Hammer out a full workout in 30-50 minutes. Fight injustice and rescue kittens for another 30-50. 

Being able to crush a workout in half an hour gives you less excuses not to crush workouts.

Hunks of Metal are Cheap

Additionally, large orbs of metal are remarkably cheap. Unless you’re already in solid shape, you’ll only need two kettlebells to get started, and they'll cost about $176 in total. Training with kettlebells reminds me of the scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker burns the giant pile of money. When the mobster asks why he’d burn his money, the Joker responds, "I'm a guy of simple taste: I enjoy dynamite and gunpowder and gasoline. You know the thing that they have in common? They're cheap."

Compared to a gym membership, the $176 fixed starting cost is low. You won’t get access to a sauna, the gym social-life, or a personal trainer, but you’re tying to get fit, not spur the economy. Be like the Joker. Keep it cheap and effective.

There’s No Need to Get Complicated

Finally, because you will only be training with one or two kettlebells, there’s much less to keep track of while you’re in the middle of a workout. Anyone who struggles with information overload is going to struggle with their workout, so eliminating the need to remember weight progression is a big deal. Gone will be the need to calculate 30%, 75% and, 90% of your one-rep-max for a single training session. Instead, training sessions become a function of proper form, reps, and time.