A Guide to Your First Kettlebell. What Weight? What Style?

(Updated March 2018)

Hi everyone,

As part of my FAQ section, I want to help you choose the best weight to start your Kettlebell Training with.

Depending on the source you go, to there will be differing opinions on this, so I am recommending these weights based on how I see many beginners cope and with consideration to the type of training I do here.

Absolute Beginners (people who have never lifted a Kettlebell before).

This is the most vulnerable group, as these individuals need as much focus to be on good form for the exercise, rather than being distracted by the struggle to hold a heavy weight too.

One thing I can’t stand is feeling pressure to be strong already!  I think some beginners put a lot of stress on themselves to be great, especially those who already train. Strength with Kettlebells takes time to build, and this cannot happen without first understanding what the heck you are doing.  Making sure you can perform the exercise effectively before increasing the weight is SO important, which is why I am playing it safe with my recommendations.

Generally, women tend to play it safe (too safe) when it comes to selecting weights for themselves, were as men over-estimate their strength and ability to endure an exercise.  So I have taken this into account in my advice.

The one main lesson I have learned with KB training is you must leave your pride at the door!! When I trained with Steve Cotter in Dublin, he told ME to use an 8kg for the 1 handed swing!  I chuckled to myself  “pah, doesn’t he know that I can lift, like, 20kg already” … After 30 seconds swinging that 8kg, I was wishing for a 6kg!!  So there is no shame in playing it safe. When we become arrogant and proud is when we stand to get hurt the most (which doesn’t just apply to Kettlebells).

Women:

I highly recommend women start with 6kg or 8kg for most exercises, with a view to quickly increase to 10kg or 12kg. Consider 6kg and 8kg more suitable for upper body exercises and 10kg and 12kg more suitable for lower body exercises.  If you are planning to buy two Kettlebells to use from home, then I recommend women buy an 8kg and a 12kg, as these will give you more value for your money.   You will likely use the lighter KB for most exercises during the first few weeks, but you should aim to increase your ability and strength to allow for a heavier KB (even just for the lower body exercises and swings). Once you get the hang of the exercises, your confidence will improve and you will feel happier about using that heavy KB.  I remember thinking I would never use a 16kg, and only used it for the swings. Now I consider 16kg “light” for the swings and use 24kg! So there is no reason to be afraid of weight progression, provided your form is good.

Many women often struggle with strength, stability, power and confidence, so these things will be overcome quickly with KB training, provided the correct progressions are made.  Always remember that I am here to answer your questions and support your training 🙂

One thing I have noticed with women beginners is that they get comfortable with a weight and tend to stick with it long term! This will do you no good in the long run. You must aim to progress your training if you are to continue to see results. Please try and orientate your mindset toward seeing your strength WINS, rather than how far you still think you have to go. Remember, there is no destination, but the journey is pretty awesome if you’re prepared to see it.

Don’t be afraid to increase the weight once you can perform 12 “easy” reps of an exercise, or 30 “easy” seconds of a swing. You all know what I mean by “easy” – when you know deep inside, you have more to give, but you choose to coast through instead because you have had a shitty day or you want to live in a bubble where that is enough etc etc etc. NO MORE EXCUSES … Training should be CHALLENGING, so don’t sell yourself short. You have the ability to be better than even you expect. So never get complacent.

Also, remember:  Using a heavier Kettlebell for these workouts will never make you bulky. I can attest to that personally because I have trained with KBs, in this fashion, for over 2 years now and the only part of me that has become “bigger” is my booty! 😉 Remember that I also do considerable Barbell training too and I am nowhere near bulky! The high intensity and explosive nature of KB training make it very difficult for you to gain much muscle; instead will get a lot stronger and very well conditioned. Which translates  as “tighter” and “leaner” (provided your diet supports your training goals).


Men:

I recommend men start at 10kg – 16kg.  This may seem “too safe”, but I have seen many men struggle to complete my workouts with weights they normally find easy.  Also bear in mind that KB training is unlike any other, as it requires strength, power, mobility, stability, cardiovascular fitness and good endurance.  Very few of us can master all these things in one session; so again, progression is key.  Many men lack mobility, flexibility and endurance – so a lighter weight will allow them to focus on these things which are vital to KB exercises.

Men tend to try and progress the weight too rapidly and they end up not mastering good technique.  Aches and pains will happen, but you do not want to impair your ability to progress just because you wanted to lift the heavier KB.

Basically, I am trying to say, don’t worry about being the strongest now. That will come.  Focus on being good at moving well, then build strength on that.

If I offend anyone with my generalisations about men and women, I am sorry. It just happens that the genders do behave differently around weights, and even more so when there are spectators present.  It’s not ALWAYS true, but I see this trend over and over 🙂

What if you’ve been training with weights for a while?

It will come down to how good you are in reality. Many people assume that because they can lift Xkg with a Barbell or Dumbbell, that they can go right to the equivalent with a KB. In reality, though, this is rarely the case. I’d recommend testing your SKILL (not your strength) by choosing one of the lower weights first. Women: 8kg-12kg Men: 12kg-16kg.

Then set about mastering some of the fundamental/foundation KB exercises:

  • KB Deadlift
  • Two-handed Swing
  • Single Arm Swing
  • Clean (master the rack hold)
  • Overhead Pressing and Carry
  • Snatch
  • And others

What weight should you aim for?

The sky’s the limit!  However, women should realistically be using 16kg regularly as an intermediate and moving on to 20kg and 24kg as they advance (depending on the exercise).  For my workouts, 16kg and 20kg are realistic goals for this type of conditioning.  Men should be aiming for 18kg or 20kg as an intermediate and 24kg + as they advance.  Again it depends on the training style you adopt, but for my workouts 24kg is realistic.  It’s all to do with the duration and intensity you want to achieve.  Also consider what you are using my workouts for and what other training you are doing.

What type of Kettlebell should you buy?

There are two main styles of KB and I recommend you chose between these two:

  1. The Standard Russian Kettlebell:  Made of Cast Iron. As the weight increases, so does the size of the Kettlebell.  The advantage of these is that the Bell is fairly compact and can be easily racked by smaller individuals and will not be as likely to get in the way of females’ breasts.  They are also better for racking double KBs, but the handle is often thicker.
  2. The Competition/Pro Grade Kettlebell (usually more expensive): Made of Hollow Steel, they are all the same size no matter the weight. The inside is simply filled to make up the weight. The advantage of this is that your technique never alters to accommodate a different weight through progression.    Personally I love my Pro-Grades, as they have a very stable base for doing push ups, renegade rows etc, plus the handles are thinner and smoother than most Standard KB, making grip less of an issue. (However I know there are now Standard KBs with thinner handles on sale in places).

What to look for:

  • I recommend sourcing good quality Kettlebells with smooth (single cast are best), rounded handles. If it has a very angular handle, forget it!
  • Always try before you buy or at least be sure of the dimensions, so when you rack the KB, for example, it doesn’t rest on your wrist! Look for companies that have a good returns policy.
  • The handle should be long enough to allow you to hold it with both hands side by side.
  • A flat stable base.
  • Good quality paint that won’t easily chip, crack or rust – check for reviews from other buyers.

Where do I get my Kettlebells?

I bought all my original Kettlebells from Wolverton Fitness, UK. Currently, they only ship within the EU, but the ones I got are great quality and they are competitively priced.

Since moving to the USA, I have discovered the BEST Kettlebells and best company for these Kettlebells (either competition or standard style) are at Kettlebells Kings. Why? They are great quality (and price), they offer free shipping AND FREE RETURNS!

I have bought Kbs from Rogue in the past, but I am not a fan of the handles as they are very thick and rough. I prefer smoother and thinner, more standardised design. Kettlebell Kings have everything you’ll ever need. This is where I will be getting all my Kbs from in the future 🙂

Hopefully this will provide you with a good idea of what you need to get you started. If there is something you feel I have not covered, then just ask below.

Cheers

Marianne

  • February 11, 2012

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