In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet utters one of the most famous soliloquies ever put to paper: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Many of us mistakenly use Juliet’s logic to make the choice between brand name items and their cheaper generic counterparts. Sometimes it’s quite acceptable to choose generic brands; sometimes it’s a huge mistake. An error that ends up costing more in the end than if you’d just spent a few dollars more to begin with.
Kettlebells can be just such an item, depending on your needs. Don’t worry, there isn’t too much you really need to know to make an intelligent buying decision about these “cannonballs with handles” as they’re often called.
There are a few things you need to consider, though. Factors that can affect your comfort, exercise variety, the longevity of the equipment – even your safety when performing certain movements.
If you’re looking for quality kettlebells, don’t waste your money on the vinyl, sand-filled junk you’ll find at Walmart or other discount retailers. Buy steel and steel only. In fact, never purchase vinyl weights of any kind for your home gym.
This is what you get when you cheap out on sand/concrete filled vinyl kettlebells:
- Bulkiness: Sand or concrete filled kettlebells are extremely bulky because the fill material contained inside the outer coating is much less dense than steel. This doesn’t just make for an issue when handling them; they’re more likely to break open if dropped or struck with something by mistake.
- Severely Under-Weighted: Cheap kettlebells rarely come close to their stated weight either, often weighing pounds under what you think you’re paying for. Steel has variances too, but those variances are in mere grams or ounces. (Note: Lower-priced companies like CAP and York who use steel in their weights are known for being underweighted too, so you still need to be brand-conscious).
- Easy to Damage: Sand and concrete filled kettlebells can sometimes be purchase for half the price, but they’ll also only last half as long. The only damage that will happen when using a steel kettlebell is if you toss it through a wall or drop it hard on your wooden or concrete floors. Steel kettlebells last forever. Period.
Handle Design and Quality
Since you know you’re going to buy steel at this point, let’s move onto cheap steel versus quality steel kettlebells. The overall design and manufacturing quality of a kettlebell handle is very important.
- Flashing: There’s a flashing seam that runs along the underside of a steel kettlebell handle. If you buy a quality brand, you’ll never notice this seem because it’s carefully ground and polished down after the equipment has been cast. Buy a cheap brand and your hands will likely suffer, potentially bleed because of it.
- Diameter: Quality kettlebells will have a handle diameter starting at around 30mm for lighter weights. Cheap ones will be much thinner, making them hard to handle. As the weights get heavier, the handle diameter should get larger, going up to 38mm for 50+ pound kettlebells. This isn’t because smaller handles will break. After all, we’re talking about steel here. Handle diameter has to increase as the weights go up, or you’ll never be able to hang onto them while doing momentum-based exercises like swings and snatches.
- Width: Width is yet another problem with inexpensive kettlebells. They rarely leave enough width for a petite female to fit both her hands inside the handles, let alone a large man. Most quality brand manufacturers make their kettlebell handles in a “V” shape that extends the handle well beyond the width of the weight itself. If you have really large hands, consider purchasing competition kettlebells that have same-sized (consistent) handles regardless of weight.
- Finish: The last factor to consider when it comes to handle design is the coating. There are several to choose from, but only two you should consider: 1) Bare steel; or 2) Powder coated. To be honest, what you choose here will come down to personal preference. Either is perfect for holding chalk, and both offer superior grip quality even if you don’t chalk up during your workouts. Cheap brands use vinyl or cheap paint. Both are slippery and the coating will wear off rather quickly too.
The materials used and handle design are extremely important considerations when buying a kettlebell. The casting method is paramount for longevity and safety. Your personal safety, the safety of those around you when working out, and the safety of your home and other personal property.
There are two main ways a kettlebell can be cast:
- One-piece casting: Where the weight and handle are cast in the same mold.
- Two-piece casting: Where the weight and handle are casted in separate molds then welded together later in the manufacturing process.
It doesn’t take a genius to know which method offers uncompromising safety. Does it?
Quality brands use #1 because they don’t want anyone to gets injured or killed while using their products. Also, as with other quality features, the finished product will last virtually forever.
Discount brands use #2 because the molds are cheaper using this process. It also doesn’t take near as much time to complete a kettlebell for shipment and sale.
Quality kettlebells make a wonderful addition to any workout routine. Make sure to subscribe for updates about upcoming product recommendations and tons of exercise tips.
Stay tuned and stay fit!