Another good thing about kettlebells is that they make for a less expensive and more space-conscious home gym than one based on free weights. You can get four kettlebells (enough for most people) for around $300. A good home gym with free weights can cost thousands of dollars.
Harley Pasternak is a sought-after trainer with a client list that includes Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr. and Katy Perry. He is also the bestselling author of the "Five Factor" fitness and diet books. Unlike a lot of "celebrity trainers" out there, Harley is actually well-qualified, having a master's degree in exercise physiology and nutritional sciences from the University of Toronto.
"Kettlebells are one tool," he told me. "When people base their entire exercise regime around them, they're making a mistake. Gravity only goes up and down, and there are certain body parts that are difficult to train with them as a result."
Pasternak also warns that good technique is especially important because there's a greater risk of injury. Slow-speed lifting of traditional weights involves easy-to-control movements, but with kettlebells you're swinging and bending and lifting the weight quite rapidly. Truthfully, there were a couple of times I worried I might bonk myself in the head and wind up spending my days on the couch giggling through reruns of "I Didn't Know I Had 19 Kids and Counting" on cable TV.
Pasternak sees kettlebells as best suited to conditioning competitive athletes. "For 99.9% of the population, dumbbells are a more effective tool than kettlebells," he said.
I can certainly see Harley's point and agree they're not for everyone; a solid training base from weightlifting should be established first. If you wish to take your physical performance to a higher level, however, careful kettlebell training from a qualified instructor can be valuable.
Just be prepared to field questions about your bruises.
Fell is certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.