The Best Kettlebell for Home Fitness

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As a kettlebell gym owner and certified instructor, I know a thing or two about kettlebells. After testing five top-rated kettlebells for seven weeks (accumulating more than 2,500 repetitions with each bell), I’ve determined that the best kettlebell for all types of kettlebell workouts is the Metrixx Elite Precision E-Coat Cast Iron Bell from Kettlebells USA because it’s the most comfortable kettlebell I’ve ever used. (I recommend the 16-kilogram model for most men and the 10-kilogram bell for most women.) Its wider handle makes it easier to grip with two hands (for the classic swing move), and its smoother finish is less likely to injure your skin over time. These factors made this bell immediately more comfortable than cheaper models, and more comfortable over time than its more expensive competition.

Metrixx Elite Precision E-Coat Cast Iron Bell
A slightly wider handle and super smooth finish make this an exceptionally comfortable bell to use.

The Metrixx Elite is one of the few kettlebells that actually use an original design, and the product is better for it. Dragon Door was the first company to popularize kettlebells in America, which is why most other brands simply copy that shape down to the millimeter. The Metrixx Elite looks the same at first glance, but it features a slightly wider handle that won’t pinch your pinkies in two-handed positions. It’s also designed so that kettlebells of different weights will rest on the same place on your forearm, regardless of their size—this is preferred by advanced users for one-handed work. The smoothness of the Metrixx Elite kettlebell comes from Kettlebells USA’s single-cast manufacturing process, which uses a fresh mold for each kettlebell. This minimizes the surface imperfections that occur on other bells that are made using the same molds over and over until they wear out. Moreover, they’re finished with an e-coating1 that’s smoother and more consistent than the powder-coated finishes found on lower-end bells. Finally, we like that Kettlebells USA often has the Metrixx Elite on sale for just a few dollars more than our budget pick. Besides, one of these things will basically last forever so it’s worth spending a bit more on something that’s a lot nicer to use. And if you’re not completely satisfied, Kettlebells USA offers a “no hassle guarantee”—they’ll even pay for return shipping.2

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $90.

Perform Better First Place Kettlebell
Here you’ll find a build quality and a design comparable to the highest-end kettlebells, but at a lower price.

If the Metrixx Elite is sold out or otherwise unavailable, we recommend the First Place bell by Perform Better, which shares a similar design and a build quality comparable to the highest-end Dragon Door bells, but cost a lot less. The First Place features smooth handles and a smooth, consistent finish comparable to the Dragon Door for about $30 less. It also has a slightly wider base that makes it more stable to hold in a plank position—something that advanced users will appreciate.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.

CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell
It shares a shape with the high-end Dragon Door RKC bell, but has a cheaper coating and rougher finish. It’s good for two-handed moves, but will hurt your hands on one-handed work.

That said, it’s also important to note that for basic/intermediate kettlebell moves, which our testing group did a ton of, there wasn’t a huge difference in testing results between the five contenders. If the goal is to learn kettlebell basics and use two-handed techniques, all of these bells are quite suitable, and being budget conscious (finding sales/free shipping) isn’t a bad route. In that case, the CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell is a good bargain bell. It has a rougher handle that makes it a poor choice for one-handed work, and a cheaper powder-coated finish, but if you’re sticking to two-handed work, then it’s a good bell to start with.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

My wife and I have owned three gyms since 2008: Dynamic Kettlebell Fitness, dkb fitness, and now Dynamic Fitness. I am a senior instructor for RKC/Dragon Door (full disclaimer: I have taught kettlebell instructor certifications for them, and our gym has more than 175 of their kettlebells) and have trained with some of the top kettlebell instructors in the world, including Pavel Tsatsouline, Dan John, Andrew Read, and my wife, Keira Newton. We (Keira and I) have trained more than 800 clients in kettlebell techniques since 2008, and we’ve taught multiple instructor certifications in the US and abroad. In addition to running the gym, I coach strength and conditioning and varsity baseball at Santa Fe Prep School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I also write on strength and natural movement for Breaking Muscle.

Who is this for?

Kettlebell exercises combine cardiovascular and resistance training in one exercise—which means you’re improving conditioning (and burning fat) while building muscle.

While they’ve been around since the early 18th century (the word first appears in a Russian dictionary from 1704), kettlebells have experienced a huge resurgence in the fitness industry in the past 10 years. Their unique shape and functionality give them many of the strength-building benefits of dumbbells while also providing users with the opportunity to do kettlebell-specific drills that involve a lot of movement, like the swing. The closed-loop handle of a kettlebell offers users a secure grip for movements with both hands. The kettlebell’s ball shape makes swinging it between the legs and back toward and under the groin for kettlebell swings, snatches, and jerks comfortable and easy. Dumbbells are better suited to doing squats, curls, bench press, cleans, and other exercises that have less kinetic motion.

Breaking Muscle explains that kettlebell exercises are effective because they combine cardiovascular and resistance training in one exercise—which means you’re improving your conditioning (and burning fat) while also building muscle. That means you can fulfill all your workout needs with one simple tool that stows easily in a closet.

I can’t recommend enough that users seek out a certified kettlebell trainer in their area to learn the basics before going fully into kettlebell work.

One important caveat to this endorsement of kettlebell training is that proper technique makes all of the difference between effective and beneficial use and potential injury. I can’t recommend enough that users seek out a certified kettlebell trainer in their area to learn the basics before going fully into kettlebell work. RKC (a kettlebell trainer certification program) has a trainer locator tool. StrongFirst, another great kettlebell resource, has its own trainer locator tool. You can also consult credible online tutorials, and many trainers will set up a Skype arrangement where you can send videos to them for feedback and coaching. My wife, master RKC trainer Keira Newton, has an awesome YouTube page with all kinds of tutorials/workouts for kettlebells.

In terms of credible resources on kettlebell techniques and workout ideas, here are a few great sources available digitally and/or in print:

Pavel’s classic, Enter the Kettlebell, describes programming and technique and is a great place to start when thinking about what to do with bells and how to do it.

Geoff Neupert’s programs, like Kettlebell Burn, Kettlebell Burn 2.0, and Kettlebell Strong, are well laid out, easy to follow, and highly effective. They often come with video tutorials as well.

The StrongFirst website has materials from Pavel, Neupert, and others. Each of these resources is excellent.

Dragon Door has the most resources in terms of kettlebell books and DVDs (at least in the “hard style” approach that I use) available.

Finally, Steve Cotter is a master of practitioner/teacher of the competition kettlebell lifting techniques. If you’re looking to work on the more flowing style of competition lifting, you can’t go wrong with his materials.

How we picked

If you want a kettlebell, the first question to answer is what weight you should get. If you’re getting only one, which you should as a beginner, I recommend a 16-kilogram bell for men and a 10-kilogram bell for women (get a 12-kg bell if 10 kg isn’t available). While many people recommend women starting with an 8-kilogram bell (about 16 pounds), I think that the two-handed lifts like squats and swings aren’t very well-served by that low weight. If you want to start modestly, my suggestion would be to get the 13-pound version of our budget pick and then order a larger, higher quality bell once you feel comfortable.

In an ideal world, a man would have 16-, 20-, and 24-kilogram bells. With these three, all kinds of single and double kettlebell work is easily achievable and scalable. For women, if they wanted a set of three weights, I would recommend 10-, 12-, and 16-kilogram bells. Here is a female perspective on starting out with kettlebells, from longtime kettlebell trainer Lauren Brooks. Here is another perspective on starting weights. Both of these linked pieces reiterate my earlier point about seeking credible instruction before beginning an at-home regimen.

Then there is the question about which kind of kettlebell you should buy: cast iron, competition, or adjustable. Among these, we think cast iron has the broadest appeal, so that’s what we focused on for this guide. Cast-iron bells are more comfortable for two-handed grip positions, which beginners should master before moving onto the more challenging one-handed exercises. Cast-iron bells generally have a more rounded handle (versus the squared-off handle on competition bells, which is hard on the pinkies in a two-handed grip).

kettlebells-kettlebell-usa

Surprisingly enough, these kettlebells weigh the same. The cast-iron bell (left) is solid whereas the competition bell (right) is made of hollow steel. All competition bells are the same exact size regardless of weight. Photo: Kettlebells USA

Competition bells are created for the competition lifts—snatches and clean/jerks—which are way beyond the capacity of new lifters. Besides the handle shape, the main difference between cast-iron and competition bells is the size. While cast-iron bells increase and decrease in proportion to their weight, competition bells are the same size regardless of weight. They are made out of a single-forged piece of steel and have larger or smaller cavities in the bell case instead of changing the size of the bell itself. This makes them preferable for one-handed moves because the ball part of the bell sits on the same part of the wrist/forearm (in rack position) no matter the weight. Cast iron bells of different weights will sit on slightly different parts of the arm. If you’re interested in knowing more about the differences, Onnit Academy has a good explanation.

Though competition kettlebells have specific design specifications used in competition, the types of lifts done with them (clean and jerks/snatches) are also easily done with cast-iron bells. So one should not think that they need to “graduate” at some point to competition bells. We just opted for cast-iron bells in this test because kettlebell work is best entered into with two hands, and one can see from the above picture that the squared off handle of competition bells is less accommodating to both hands. Furthermore, people wanting to use kettlebells to maximize strength/body composition attributes will choose cast-iron kettlebells because their smaller/denser dimensions allow for using two kettlebells at once. Using double competition bells is unwieldy in the backswing (two at a time won’t fit between the legs very well), so this is another reason I opt for cast iron when doing doubles. See this link on the benefits of double kettlebell lifts. Finally, it’s worth noting that a competition bell will cost $10 to $20 more than its cast-iron counterpart at any given weight. It’s not worth paying extra unless you actually plan on competing—a slim minority of home kettlebell users.

kettlebells-form

The round part of a kettlebell rests on your forearm in “rack” position. Photo: Mark Bixby

Unlike with dumbbells, adjustable kettlebells aren’t a good buy. The appeal of getting multiple weight increments in one device is undeniable. However, given the dynamic nature of most kettlebell movements, I don’t recommend kettlebells with lots of pieces of movable or fragile equipment. A kettlebell should be capable of being thrown, dropped, and even juggled, so I would opt for single-forged metal that can stand up to a beating—and stay together in the process. Also, a major frustration with adjustable kettlebells is that they don’t offer a wide enough weight range to make them ideal for many. Most of these bells range from about 24 to 36 pounds in their adjustability. While this would be a fine range for most women, male users would start at 36 pounds and not have anywhere to go from there. The few adjustable kettlebells that have a higher-end weight range have an unwieldy shape that make them impossible to use for some of the signature kettlebell moves like snatching and jerking.

With that in mind, I set to work picking out the best cast-iron bells for testing. As it turns out, there’s not a huge amount of difference between these things because most of them borrow their design from the Dragon Door RKC. Dragon Door was the first US company to run kettlebell instructor certifications (taught by famed instructor Pavel Tsatsouline) and have mass distribution in the US (Dragon Door started selling these bells in 2001). Dragon Door bells achieved great acclaim, but their high price point (roughly $120 each after shipping and handling, the highest in our test) invited lots of competition from other companies. Rogue is one of the most famous competitors, popularized for its comparatively low price. CAP is another popular fitness company that makes a good bell at a lower price point. Then there’s a slew of other RKC copycats that have inferior distribution or are flawed in some other way. For example, this Yes4All bell is one of the most popular models on Amazon, but its large, flat face is hard on the wrists in one-handed positions.

Although much more rare, some companies compete by distinguishing their offerings from Dragon Door’s with different designs. Kettlebells USA’s bells have a slightly wider handle for better comfort in two-handed positions as well as a feel comparable to competition bells on one-handed moves. Perform Better at one point implemented a screw-on rubber skid plate on the bottom of their bells, but later on scrapped it due to negative customer feedback. They now make bells with a wider-diameter, more stable base.

You will also need to decide between a powder-coated finish and an e-coated one.1 Generally speaking, e-coating is a more expensive process that results in a smoother finish that’s necessary for one-handed work. Powder coating is cheaper, but is rougher on the hands. It’s fine for two-handed work but can rip off callouses during one-handed work.

You could go even cheaper by getting a vinyl-coated bell, but we don’t recommend it. Vinyl-covered bells were created to protect floor spaces in commercial gyms and homes, but more often, the vinyl is there to smooth over the defects of a cheaply cast bell and they often get criticized for very uneven handles that cause hand pain and tearing. I tested several vinyl-covered bells commonly sold in big box stores, and none were worth buying. They were extremely uneven in terms of metal handle quality, had limited weight options, and they weren’t significantly cheaper than the budget options we ended up testing—you don’t even save money on shipping. I also noticed major tearing in the vinyl parts of these bells while they were sitting on the shelves to be sold as “new” at Sports Authority.

kettlebells-group

From left: Metrixx Elite, CAP Cast Iron Competition, Rogue, Perform Better First Place, Dragon Door RKC. Photo: Anton Brkic

In the end, I settled on testing the Metrixx Elite Precision E-Coat Cast Iron Bell from Kettlebells USA, RKC bell by Dragon Door, the First Place bell by Perform Better, the CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell (which confusingly isn’t actually a competition bell), and the Rogue Kettlebell.

How we tested

Our testing group, which consisted of myself and five members of the high school varsity baseball team I coach, worked with all five bells at the beginner/intermediate level and did only two-handed moves (dead lifts, squats, presses, high pulls, and swings).

Only at the conclusion of the third week of testing did I ask the players which bell was their favorite. They all said that they hadn’t noticed much of a difference between the bells, but they did appreciate the slightly wider handle gap of the Metrixx bell, which was more accommodating to a comfortable grip on two-handed work. We decided that if just basic/intermediate kettlebell work is what you’re after, any of these bells would work just fine, and that choosing the most budget-friendly bell would be a smart choice. However, if a user is interested in exploring the full range of what kettlebell exercises have to offer (including the kettlebell snatch, which in lab testing has yielded a remarkable rate of burning 20.2 calories a minute over a 20-minute workout—the same rate of caloric burn as a 6-minute mile pace), a premium bell like the Metrixx bell is definitely what he/she should opt for. I was the only tester who did high-repetition snatching (a one-handed exercise) with the five test bells, and the Metrixx easily rated highest when testing with both one and two-handed exercises.

Each of the five bells in the test group were used for 21 workouts over the course of a seven-week testing period. We did a basic routine together first, then I did a more advanced one. The basic routine consisted of five dead lifts, five squats/presses, five high pulls, 10 swings. I used this protocol because it includes the kettlebell swing (which is a signature kettlebell move anyone doing kettlebells should learn to perform), a couple of beginner moves, and the two-handed high pull, which puts significant pressure on the hands/grip. I selected this protocol to show the strength and conditioning benefit of a simple kettlebell routine and evaluate the quality of the kettlebell handle in terms of how it taxes the hands.

A poorly produced handle can rip callouses off the hands during snatching.

For the second test, I did 100 snatches with each bell (20 on the left hand, 20 on the right, 15 on left, 15 right, 10 left/10 right, 5 left/5 right) in the shortest time possible (took me on average 3:45). The kettlebell snatch puts more pressure on your hands and grip than any other move does, and snatching reveals which product has the best handle. A poorly produced handle can rip callouses off the hands during snatching, and this test is where the bells differentiated themselves. The three more expensive bells—Dragon Door, Perform Better, Metrixx—easily outperformed the cheaper CAP and Rogue bells. In fact, I wouldn’t use the CAP or Rogue bells for high-rep snatching because they have coarse handles and some tackiness from the painted finish. I have heavily calloused hands from years of kettlebell work, and the two cheaper bells worked those callouses into swollen, bright-red welts by the time I got through 100 reps.

Our pick

Metrixx Elite Precision E-Coat Cast Iron Bell
A slightly wider handle and super smooth finish make this an exceptionally comfortable bell to use.

Metrixx Elite Precision E-Coat Kettlebells by Kettlebells USA is the best kettlebell for most people because it’s the most comfortable kettlebell around. Kettlebells USA sells all varieties of bells (two varieties of cast-iron, vinyl-coated, and competition bells), but the Elite is the best because its handle is the best I’ve ever used. It’s super smooth and is shaped just a bit differently from other bells in a way that better accommodates two-handed grips. If you’re used to a standard kettlebell shape, it takes a second to get used to, but you’ll learn to love it. And Kettlebells USA offers a “no hassle” guarantee on all of its products. If you order through the company’s website and have a problem, Kettlebells USA will “make it right, period!” by sending a replacement and taking care of return shipping fees.

kettlebells-metrixxelite-performbetter

Note that the pinkies gripping the Metrixx Elite (left) protrude a bit less than those gripping the Perform Better (right). Photo: Mark Bixby

The Metrixx Elite kettlebell has a slightly different handle dimension and more distance from the ball part of the bell to the handle to create a larger opening for more comfortable two-handed positions. The handle gap is just over a half-inch wider than the four other bells tested (which all used the same basic dimensions as the Dragon Door bell, the industry standard in cast-iron bells). For two-handed dead lifts, swings, and high pulls, this bell is easily the most comfortable bell to use, as it doesn’t pinch the outside of the hands or pinky fingers, like the other bells tested do. Since all people entering into kettlebell work should start with the two-handed basics, having a great bell for two-handed work is essential. The Metrixx bell clearly outclassed the competition for two-handed work, as the smooth, e-coated handle with a wider grip was consistently easy on the hands, even when doing high repetition sets of 20-plus kettlebell swings. Even when the user advances to the one-handed moves, two-handed swings and goblet squats should remain essential parts of a kettlebell program.

The Metrixx bell was also really nice for the more advanced, one-handed work. Any flaws in a kettlebell will be exposed when you use just one-hand, but the attention to detail in forging a smooth, seamless handle was clearly on display with this bell.

kettlebells-metrixxelite-dragondoorrkc

Besides the handle shape, the Metrixx Elite (right) looks almost identical to the Dragon Door RKC, which costs anywhere from $30 to $50 more. Photo: Mark Bixby

Another thing that sets the Metrixx Elite apart from other kettlebells (including Kettlebells USA’s own “classic” line) is the fact that it’s designed to have the same “rack” position (where the round part rests on your forearm) regardless of weight and size. Whether you’re using a 10-kg bell or a 28-kg bell, the way the bell sits on your arm will feel the same. No other cast-iron kettlebell on the market offers this feature. This means you’re getting much of the benefit of a competition bell in one-handed positions, while still maintaining the better two-handed performance of a cast-iron bell. However, unlike a competition bell, the Elite’s size still differs depending on the weight.

The single-use mold of Metrixx bells delivers a consistency and smoothness unmatched by other manufacturers.

While other kettlebells can approach the smoothness of the Metrixx Elite, no other bell will be as consistently smooth. That’s because Kettlebells USA casts each one in a fresh, single-use mold, which is discarded after use. Most companies use standard molds repeatedly, and inevitably, residue from previous castings creates unevens surface textures like edges or gaps. The single-use mold of Metrixx bells delivers a consistency and smoothness unmatched by other manufacturers. The company also uses gravity die-casting instead of the faster pressure-casting technique favored by most companies. Molten liquid iron is poured into a cast, and gravity slowly and evenly pulls it into the cast. Pressure castings are done with a high-pressure injection process. While pressure casting is faster (and necessary for complicated casting with lots of small parts), gravity die-casting is generally the preferred casting method for creating solid, even surfaces on simple 3-D objects (like kettlebells). Additionally, the Metrixx bells are e-coated with black paint. E-coating utilizes an electromagnetic application process where a charged kettlebell is submerged in an oppositely charged paint (opposites attract!) for a comprehensively even and thin coat. Powder-coated bells are spray painted; thus, the coat is more likely to be missing in spots or more uneven.

Finally, Kettlebells USA showed awesome customer service throughout my process of testing. Since I hadn’t used a bell with these dimensions before (I am used to the Dragon Door-style bell), I had lots of questions about why KB USA decided to do what it did in the production of its various lines. Company reps responded to each of my requests within 24 hours. And again, the “no hassle” guarantee means they’ll fix any problem you may have with your purchase—including paying for return shipping.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

If you’re used to standard Dragon Door RKC kettlebells (or any of its many clones), the Metrixx Elite’s rack position might feel strange at first, since the ball part sits higher up on the forearm by comparison. This especially stood out because the other bells tested all sat in the position close to the wrist that I was used to. But I quickly recognized I just needed to get used to the new weight-bearing position of the Metrixx bell. After lots of use, I felt more comfortable.

Price wise, the Metrixx bell is on the higher end if you go off of the company’s suggested retail price: A 16-kilogram bell (the recommended starting size for men) will cost almost $100 with S&H, though on sale for about $40 less at the time of publication), while a 10-kilogram bell (a great size for women to start with) will cost $80. But over the course of the 12 weeks I’ve been researching bells, the Metrixx bells have been on sale (or had a free shipping offer) for most of the time—as low as $60 with free shipping at one point. If you see the bell offered at full price (with no discounted shipping), wait seven to 10 days, and you should find it available more cheaply. Also, Kettlebells USA has West Coast, southern (Texas), and East Coast distribution centers, so the shipping costs are generally low regardless of where you live in the US (outside of Hawaii).

Runner-up

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $90.

Perform Better First Place Kettlebell
Here you’ll find a build quality and a design comparable to the highest-end kettlebells, but at a lower price.

If the Metrixx Elite is unavailable, or if you just want a standard-shaped bell without the wider handle, the Perform Better First Place Kettlebell feels the same in use as the high-end Dragon Door, but costs about 25 percent less. In fact, its dimensions are identical except for the extra half inch of flat base diameter on the bottom of the Perform Better bell. This means it performs identically, but is easier to hold in a push-up position for the sometimes-precarious renegade row—typically done with two kettlebells of the same size.

Like the Dragon Door and Metrixx Elite, the First Place has a smooth, seamless handle, few surface defects, and a high-quality finish. Its finish is comparable to the e-coating on the Dragon Door or Metrixx Elite. While Perform Better wouldn’t divulge what process it uses, I noticed that it’s somewhere between a matte powder coat and a glossy e-coat.

Reading user reviews (see here and here) that slam Perform Better for having noticeable seams on the underside of the handle or other defects isn’t helpful considering the construction specs on their bells currently. The bell I received from them was really well made, and it showed no signs of being defective in build or user experience. I contacted Perform Better about this discrepancy, and company reps explained that among other small changes,3 they’d since switched to a gravity casting process, which creates a more uniform surface, as you recall.

It’s also worth noting that Perform Better frequently has sales on its kettlebells, so this one can sometimes be purchased for less than what’s listed here. Also, it’s usually cheaper to buy Perform Better bells directly from the company, though they are carried on Amazon and at StrongFirst, and it’s worth checking at all of those places.

Budget pick

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.

CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell
It shares a shape with the high-end Dragon Door RKC bell, but has a cheaper coating and rougher finish. It’s good for two-handed moves, but will hurt your hands on one-handed work.

If budget is your bottom line, then we’d recommend the CAP Cast Iron Competition Bell. But unless you really need to save a few bucks, it’s worth investing in our top pick, since these things last forever. While the rougher handle makes it a poor choice for one-handed work, it’s perfectly adequate for two-handed work and has the same dimensions as the Dragon Door RKC model. In fact, none of the five baseball player panelists said they would pay extra for any of the other bells for the basic routines they were testing with. The CAP bell consistently held the lowest price point over the three-plus months we researched and tested the bells. At one point, it was available for just $50 through Amazon with Prime shipping.

kettlebells-cap-rogue-dragondoor

The powder-coated CAP (left) and Rogue (center) bells are rougher than the e-coated Dragon Door (right). Photo: Mark Bixby

The CAP bell has a powder-coated matte finish and a slightly gritty (though it’s evenly dispersed grit) handle to provide a good grip (though a bit on the coarser end of those we tested) and a flat bottom so it doesn’t rock when used for push-ups or rowing moves. CAP bells are also color-coated at the handle base for easy identification (if you have a collection of bells, differentiating similar sizes can be difficult). The CAP bell tested well on the basic two-handed moves, but its coarser handle was a dealbreaker for any one-handed advanced moves like kettlebell snatching or clean/jerks. However, I preferred it to the Rogue kettlebell’s similarly rough, but tacky finish. The tackiness irritated my hands something fierce while performing snatches.

The competition

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Dragon Door RKC Kettlebell should feel pretty good about itself. Dragon Door was the first US company to start producing kettlebells in 2001, and it was also the first US company to offer the highly acclaimed RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Instructor Certification Program taught by famous kettlebell guru Pavel Tsatsouline. As a result, almost all cast-iron kettlebells sold in the US are based on the Dragon Door design. I have always found the quality of Dragon Door’s bells to be excellent—there are 175 of them in my gym. Unfortunately for Dragon Door, other companies have been able to duplicate its design at a comparable level of quality for a lot cheaper. The fact that the company’s bells are easily the most expensive (and rarely on sale) makes them a pick for people who place more emphasis on a good brand than a good value.

The Rogue Kettlebell is very similar to the CAP bell. It has a powder-coated matte finish, machined bottom, and color-coded handle for easy weight identification. The Rogue bell’s handle finish feels tackier, which was fine for the two-handed moves but irritating (literally) to my hands on one-handed moves. The tackiness/coarseness I found in Rogue bells made it my least favorite of all bells I tested. Rogue claims that its slightly coarser handles are designed to hold chalk well (which they do), but I prefer not having to chalk at all. Chalk is messy and dries the hands, and it gives a grip advantage that limits one of the great advantages of kettlebell training: building grip strength/endurance. The Rogue bell maintains a steady price point, and the 16-kilogram bell is always available for about $70 after shipping costs. Like CAP, Rogue bells are sold in 4-kilogram increments, so they don’t make a 10-kg bell (great starting weight for women).

The 12-kg bell goes for $60 (including shipping). Interestingly, the Rogue bell has a five-star rating on its website, with more than 80 reviews. I would take that with a grain of salt, as Rogue has become the de facto outfitter for Crossfit gyms around the country, and the Crossfit crowd tends to dogmatically support anything that Rogue puts out there. Crossfit gyms generally employ only basic kettlebell moves (not snatches, clean/jerks, which they do with barbells) in their classes, so many of the user reviews don’t reflect experience with the harder-on-the-hands kettlebell techniques done with one hand.

Can I save on shipping and buy a kettlebell at a brick and mortar store?

Interestingly, not really. I went to the three box stores in Santa Fe that sell kettlebells (Sports Authority, Target, and Big 5 Sporting Goods) and found that purchasing a 16-kg bell (which is 35.2 pounds, though retailers often sell these bells in 5-pound increments—so 35 pounds is what’s often available) in the store isn’t much different from shopping online. I made trips to all the stores in Santa Fe carrying kettlebells, and it mostly seems like the box stores add shipping cost into their pricing.

Sports Authority: Sports Authority sells its own private label bell under the name SA Gear. This is the same label under which it markets its dumbbells and barbell equipment. SA Gear comes from a Chinese manufacturer. It has a large handle (6-inch circumference versus the standard 5 inch of bells I tested) with some uneven pebbling on the grip that would wear on the hands with higher volume. It also has a small, unevenly ground base that causes the kettlebell to wobble on the floor. For $80, the 35-pound kettlebell wasn’t cheap enough to warrant testing or recommending. The store also sells vinyl-coated bells. The ball part of the bell is vinyl, while the handle has a small circumference and coated cast iron. I noted flaking off of the coating on several handles of bells of this variety. Not recommended.

Target: Target sells the GoFit kettlebells online (for about $80 with free S&H, but I don’t like this model; see below on Big 5 review) and the Champion C9 models in-store. The largest C9 I’ve been able to find in-store and online is the 20-pound model, which sells for $50 in both cases (with free shipping/handling). The C9 bells feel pretty nice in the hand. I did some exercises at Target, and though the bell was boxed (and didn’t allow me to test its stability on the ground), the handle was a nicely ground, smooth surface that felt even/comfortable. The problem is that they don’t make these bells in larger increments than 20 pounds. While this is an ideal weight for women to start with, it’s too small for men, and it doesn’t give women any room to progress to heavier weights.

Big 5 Sporting Goods: Big 5 sells the GoFit 35-pound bell for $80 and a 45-pound GoFit model for $100. The 45-pound model had a huge handle, much larger than the 35-pound offering. The handle on the GoFit caused me immediate concern as it has large pebbles intermittently dispersed on the grip side of the bell. These large pebbles would shred the hands with high-volume work. Not recommended.

Footnotes:

1. E-coating is a more time-intensive process because it involves dipping individual bells in an electrically charged paint bath to more thoroughly cover the oppositely charged (opposites attract) kettlebell. E-coating is also considered the superior process because it allows for a comprehensive and uniformly thin layer of paint over the bell. Thus, there is superior protection from rust (imperative in humid environments) and less finish between the hand and cast iron (a bulky or tacky finish can cause the ripping in the hands associated with kettlebell lifts). Powder-coating involves a spray-on application, which often results in an incomplete or uneven coating process. Not surprisingly, e-coated kettlebells are generally more expensive than powder-coated bells. While powder-coated bells are not “bad” by any means, users will typically see more variation in bells of the same make if they’re powder-coated. If you’re acquiring a collection of bells, all of your e-coated bells will be the same. Jump back.

2. You have to purchase directly through Kettlebells USA, either from its site or its official eBay page. Jump back.

3. Because this bell seemed so different from the inconsistent reviews online, I called Perform Better to figure out what was going on. I spoke with Rob Milani, who runs sales and facility outfitting for the company, and he explained the eight-year evolution of these First Place bells. He said that the bells initially came with the rubber bottom plates because they were marketed to large box gyms concerned about floor protection. Users reported that they didn’t like the stability compromises of the rubber bottom, however, and Perform Better quit attaching the plate. They still have the plate available on the vinyl-coated bells. Milani further explained that Perform Better has worked closely with Mark Toomey/Pavel (who run the kettlebell training company StrongFirst), who use Perform Better at all of their certification trainings. Milani explained that this partnership has produced the bell currently sold (and he said final tweaks to the coating were completed about eight weeks ago) and that the company plans on sticking with this design for the foreseeable future. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Scott Iardella, What's So Special About Kettlebells Anyway?, Breaking Muscle
  2. Rob Milani, Sales and Facility Outfitting at Perform Better, Interview, November 10, 2015
  3. Product Comparison: Competition Kettlebells Vs. Cast-Iron Kettlebells, Onnit Academy, February 19, 2012
  4. Chad Schnettler, John Porcari, Carl Foster, and Mark Anders, , Kettlebells: Twice the Results in Half the Time?, ACE Fitness Matters, January/February 2010
  5. Lauren Brooks, Getting Started with Kettlebells: How to Buy, Learn & Train, Breaking Muscle
  6. Andrew Read, How To Do The Perfect Kettlebell Swing, Breaking Muscle
  7. Logan Christopher, How to Get Started with Kettlebell Juggling, Breaking Muscle
  8. Kettlebells: Have You Wondered Where These Funny Looking Cast Iron Balls With Handles Came?, Healthy Exercize
  9. Technoman, Manufacturing Processes - Gravity Die Casting, HubPages
  10. Jerry Fletcher, Very Bad For Wrists and Hands, Amazon review for Yes4All Kettlebell, July 19, 2013
  11. shigadeyo, Only [reluctantly] buy these bells if you're training for the SFG Certification!, Amazon review for Perform Better First Place Kettlebell, November 3, 2014
  12. Darcy Riggs, Good for the money, but..., Amazon review for Vinyl Yes4All Kettlebell, April 27, 2014
  13. Cindy, 8kg Perform Better Kettlebell, Amazon review for Perform Better First Place Kettlebell, March 30, 2013
  14. Exploding the Myth that competition kettlebell handles are too small for 2 hand swings, Kettlebells USA
  15. E-Coating vs. Powder Coating, Sharretts Plating Company Blog
  16. Alex Zinchenko, The 5 Basic Keys to Double Kettlebell Training, Onnit Academy, May 22, 2013
  17. What is the Best Kettlebell Weight to Start With?, Onnit Academy, January 4, 2016

Originally published: February 8, 2016

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