Thursday, February 07, 2008

Review: Adjustable kettlebells

Anyone in the fitness world can attest to the rise of the kettlebell craze in the past decade. If you believe the acolytes, these round chunks of iron with a handle can cure the common cold, fix the deficit, and stop global warming. Before kettlebells were reintroduced, after a century of ignominy in Western gyms, trainers supposedly had their clients working for twice as long and getting half the results.

In truth, for many exercises, kettlebells are no better than dumbbells -- those other old-fashioned chunks of iron that never lost their popularity. For most pushes, presses, and lifts, you are better off with the evenly distributed weight of dumbbells which place less stress on the wrists. Some of the kb fans argue that the off-balance mass of kettlebells provide greater resistance for a given weight. Perhaps, but you can always just heft a heavier dumbbell.
Although the hype doesn't live up to the reality, kettlebells can be a good addition to a home gym. Where they particularly excel are the swings and rotational lifts that integrate many muscles and planes of motion. Used properly in a thoughtful program, these exercises can offer excellent training benefit for outdoor athletes.
Unfortunately, as simple as they are, kettlebells are astonishingly expensive (worse if you add shipping). Deciding on a size is tough for beginners unless they have access to a kettlebell trainer. Since the basic concept of progressive overload still applies, you can't effectively train with just one or two sizes (at least for long). The cheapest kettlebells have small handles that are poor for two-handed exercises and some have rough grips that are hard on the hands when they twist. The nicer ones solve those issues but it can cost several hundred dollars to purchase a set, which also takes up a fair amount of floor space.
A good solution for the home user is a pair of Kettlestack Kettlebell handles ($60 each, delivered). These have large, smooth grips that are shaped properly for working out. They are relatively cheap because you supply the weights. If you don't happen to have some old weight plates lying around, they can be bought at any sporting good store for around 40? per pound. Adding it all up, for around $150 you get around a dozen different kettlebells and a great addition to your gym.
Adjusting the weight of a Kettlestack takes less than a minute just using a hex wrench. Once tightened down, the stack is solid without the slightest hint of rattle, even when dropped. Compared to a traditional kettlebell, a Kettlestack of the same weight is slightly larger and not quite as round but the feel is very similar. You can do all the same exercises as with the much more expensive cast iron versions. The only nit is the bottoms are not flat like on a kb so they don't sit on the floor quite as nicely
If you are putting a home gym together, I'd still recommend starting with quality selectorized dumbbells because they are the most versatile freeweights and take up little space. But Kettlestacks are the next best thing and a great complement for training. Of course, if space and money are no problem, then get a full set of nice kettlebells and have at it.
Purchase through Amazon.

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