Kettlebell Hyperbole… let’s get real!

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Let’s Get Real!

Over 400 years ago someone filled a bell with lead and put a handle on it, effectively ‘dumbing’ the bell and giving the world a new workout tool. At least that is one story, and a convincing one, at least for the name. But similar toys made our muscles dance before that, often made of carved stone and with ages that pre-date Plato’s senior prom by a century or two. Halteres, or ‘throwing stones,’ would look right at home in any modern physical culture den today, although they were on the lighter side and used as a tool for jumping, not the common idea of pumping iron.


But, if we think for a minute what a bell with a handle actually looks like, our imagination doesn’t have to jump far to envision another common contraption that has survived for centuries, the kettle.

maybe not this kettle

Now there are certain modern marketing techniques that manipulate our love of exotic origins to funnel our ducats into coffers other than our own. The kettlebell suffers from this a bit, as its history is often embellished.

To be sure, most of the west abandoned the kettlebell part way through the last century, preferring instead tools like the dumbbell and barbell, probably because their plates could be loaded and unloaded with plates, and thanks in part to the rise of the sport of weightlifting and it’s official tool, the barbell.


But the geography eventually referred to as the Iron Curtain continued embracing the kettlebell as a formidable minion of gravity, thanks in no small part to gulags, where prisoners would whittle away their incarcerated hours throwing around these balls of iron.

But there is little evidence to suggest that Russia is the actual ground zero of the kettlebell’s timeline; history points instead to the British Isles, where kettlebell-like tools have been around for quite some time as variations of the original dumbbell (remember that bell with a handle?), and used as a throwing implement for early strength games in Scotland and Ireland (some even say derived from a curling weight, as in that weird ice sweeping sport).

Yup… I could see that.

Russia gets credit for the KB’s life support for over half a century, and that warrants some appreciation, but the Russian Kettlebell is a bit of a marketing coup, and a wise one aimed at our grudging respect to Soviet strength. Hey… as a country we opposed communism, but we had to admire their tenacity, right?


Anyway, the hype around the kettlebell doesn’t end there. Websites, articles, news reports and our source of all truth, YouTube, all sing the praise of kettlebells as if these lumps of metal have powers often attributed to messiahs and magicians. Did you know it was the Kettlebell that made [insert starlet of choice’s name here] ready for her role in that robot/alien/love story/superhero movie? Yes, the very same Kettlebell that burns fat, builds muscle, cures acne, does your laundry and writes your dissertation for you. You’ve heard of it, right? From Russia, I’m told…

As Allyson duly noted many years ago after reading one of these articles in Newsweek(!), “How? It just sits there.” Seriously… are ya supposed to rub it on yourself or something?

Why do I bring this up two days before our next kettlebell workshop? For two really important reasons:

1) YOU are the magician. You make things happen. It is your journey, your lessons, your intensity, your commitment, your passion! When you apply those to a kettlebell, it will dance, sing and be a quality companion on your road to empowerment. A poor carpenter blames his tools, a weak carpenter looks to the tool to do the work for him (or her), and a confused carpenter chooses a single tool for a big job because it was featured in a segment on Entertainment Tonight.

(How’s that for isolated writer syndrome? Is Entertainment Tonight still on.)

and 2) PLEASE don’t rub it on yourself…much.


So in this case, don’t believe the hype; instead BE the hype. Are you willing to work hard? Are you passionate about strength, movement and ability? Then a kettlebell or two can be very competent comrades on your mission to empowerment. We’ll show you a handful of groovy moves that are pretty exclusive to the kettlebell, and yes, with the effort and intensity needed for ANY change happen, you and that kettlebell can have all sorts of productive fun.

Yes, I’m the worst promoter in the history of fitness. Our love for the kettlebell here at the tribe also means our love for proper kettlebell education. If there is anyone you know who is the least bit curious, let them know what we’re doing this weekend. They’ll learn the importance of effort, not just technique.



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Showing 8 comments
  • Steven

    Don’t sandbags do all those things kettlebells do plus walk the dog, pick lottery numbers, and make you eternally youthful?

    I’m considering which of the two to buy so I can do some workouts in the park. The sandbag has a big advantage in being adjustable in weight, but I’m guessing that getting the grass stains and barkchip splinters out of a kettlebell is easier. Besides, I don’t have a dog to walk anyway.

    One word on food: Sprouts. Best food discovery I’ve made in years(and blogged about.)

    Wait, another word about food and kettlebells too-
    a local kettlebell guru has turned vegan. He’s a skinny little twig, so… No, he’s dang fit in fact. His blog is

  • chip

    Hmmmm, tough call between sandbags and kettlebells. I’d probably go sandbag personally, because you can always make it a bit heavier, and my personal preference is load over volume (high reps start to bore me). But for the park, they both throw well and clean pretty easily (although it is quicker to dry a kettlebell if the grass is wet), and they both have some uniqueness to them.

  • Justin_P

    I suspect that all ‘bells are tools of improvisation. I’ve often wondered how much the cannon inspired all of them at first. Kettlebells kind of look like cannonballs with handles. Or, maybe that’s the “ring weight.” The first barbells and dumbbells were shot loaded balls… or, should I say that they were grape-shot cannon ammo with handles in between them. Somewhere in my grandfather’s old shed, there is a livestock scale, built in the 1870’s which has counterbalance weights that are heavy plates. Hmm…

    It’s like you said, the effort put into the tool makes it magical. The tools themselves are pretty simple, once-ordinary objects.

    Worst KB proselytizing? Maybe. That was like reading Playboy… nobody’s really reading! Don’t you have a portrait of her hanging up somewhere there?

  • chip

    She does take a good picture.

  • Karim

    I’ve been beein into “functional fitness” for a while now, I’ve done barbell strength training for 5 years, and the last two years I spent doing kettlebell workouts. I have heard about the jori once in a while but you’re the first gut I’ve seen to utilise them.

    I’ve been eager to try them out, do look really cool and all that, but are they worth me buying just to test them out?

    Also if I get a baseball bat, and just duct-tape some sandbags/weights on them will the have the same effect?

  • chip

    Despite the marketing hyperbole that says you shouldn’t make your own club or jori, the truth is you can. The problem is experimentation. It takes a lot of practice to make something that won’t fall apart, and the last thing you want is something to give out during the process of it whirling around your head. Duct tape just doesn’t hold well enough.

    After much failed experimentation I finally started buying them. I now have mine custom made at He’s got several varieties of them, some loadable.

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