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Why Your Home Gym Needs Adjustable Kettlebells

Adjustable kettlebell open (it's red, half of it is in the top left corner) with plates scattered around. They are labeled with their weights.

Photo: Beth Skwarecki

If you’re short on space or can’t afford a whole kettlebell collection, a good quality adjustable kettlebell is one of the best investments you can make for at-home strength training.

I have two adjustable competition bells from Titan, which can be as light as 12 kilos (26 pounds) or as heavy as 32 (70 pounds). Lest I start to sound like a commercial, Kettlebell Kings makes one just like it, and Bells of Steel does too. Sticker price is around $300 for Kettlebell Kings and $250 for the others, although they go on sale sometimes. I got mine for closer to $200.

“Competition” style means that the bells are the same size and shape as those used in kettlebell sport competitions. I mention this because there are some oddly-shaped adjustable kettlebells out there, and most of them don’t look like they would be comfortable to clean, press, snatch, or do anything else besides swing. The adjustable competition bells’ plates are contained within a smooth round shell, and they feel exactly like using a regular competition bell.

I constantly get questions about how I like my adjustable bells, so I’ll do a full rundown here. Do I like them? Yes. Do they come loose or rattle during workouts? Not usually, no. Are they a pain in the butt to adjust? Only sort of.

What you can do with adjustable kettlebells

The short answer is: anything you can do with kettlebells, basically. The biggest downside is that they can’t get any lighter than 12 kilos. Many beginners will need a lighter bell to start with, especially kids and petite women. If you’re expecting to strict-press your kettlebell overhead or do long sets of snatches or clean and jerks, you’d probably want to start with an 8, or perhaps even something lighter.

If you just want to swing your kettlebell, especially if you like swings where both hands are on one kettlebell, you could end up finding that 32 kilos isn’t heavy enough. In that case, a T-handle will let you swing even heavier. Here’s a handle you can buy for $45; here are instructions to make your own out of $11 worth of plumbing parts. Neither price includes plates.

Once you have an adjustable, or a pair of them, you can do cleans, presses, jerks, snatches, swings, front squats, goblet squats, turkish getups (if you must), or complexes that blend a bunch of those things together.

Why I love my adjustable kettlebells so much

Kettlebells come in standard sizes, with jumps of 4 or 8 kilos (9 or 18 pounds) from one bell to the next. At first I thought the point of an adjustable kettlebell was to be able to create a standard bell size you don’t have—if I had a 16 and a 24 but no 20, I could load my adjustable and boom, a 20. Or if I wanted to do an exercise that calls for a pair of 24-kilo bells, I could use my single 24 and load the adjustable to be its mate.

This is all true, and it’s why, if I only had the space for a few bells, I would make sure at least one of them was an adjustable.

But there’s another reason I fell in love with adjustable bells: you can get all the in-between sizes. Let’s say you can strict press a 16 for a few reps but haven’t managed to press a 20. (This may be the case even if you are strong enough to press the 20, because the heavier the bell is, the more precise your technique needs to be.) Well, you can move your way up by loading the adjustable to 18 kilos and working with that for a while before you attempt the 20 again. Or, since they’re loadable in increments of just one kilogram, you can even go from 16 to 17, and then to 18, 19, and then 20.

Do you need incremental loading to train effectively? Arguably, no. You could train enough with the 16 to get to the point where a 20 is easy. But having the option to load incrementally gives you more ways to train. And you don’t have to seek out a specialized kettlebell gym that has 18s; you can make the bell you need from the ingredients you have at home.

The disadvantages of adjustable kettlebells

Aside from the range of weights being pretty rigid (there’s no way to make it weigh less than 12, and no simple way to make it weigh more than 32), there’s one major annoyance about adjustable bells: You have to adjust them.

Adjusting my kettlebell requires me to:

  1. Tip it over onto its side
  2. Use an allen wrench to remove a bolt at the bottom
  3. Carefully take off the bottom of the shell (there is a seam at the equator of the bell where the two halves come together)
  4. Remove a nut from the big threaded bolt that runs vertically down the middle of the bell
  5. Remove the little weight plates inside
  6. Adjust the nut that sits above the weight plates
  7. Put the desired plates back on, remembering which one goes in which place (they are different sizes)
  8. Put the big nut back on
  9. Put the bottom shell back on
  10. Tighten the bolt with the allen wrench

If I’m only changing the weight by a kilo or two, I can skip steps 5 and 6. The nuts at the top and bottom of the plate stack serve to keep the weights balanced in the bell; if you’re just swapping a two-kilo plate for a three-kilo one, you can get away with not re-adjusting the whole stack.

All told, I would say it’s about a 5-minute process. If I’m in a hurry, I can make it happen in 2 minutes. If I have extra time, I call my six-year-old daughter over and let her do it. (She loves acting as my kettlebell mechanic.)

In short: Adjusting your kettlebells before you begin your day’s workout isn’t a big deal, but you wouldn’t want to have to swap weights from set to set once you get going.

How to make life with an adjustable kettlebell easier

Two red adjustable kettlebells. One is labeled 18 and one is 20.

Photo: Beth Skwarecki

There are a few annoyances to life with an adjustable kettlebell, but a dry-erase marker and a paint pen take care of most of them.

But before we get to the markers: Sometimes the plates work loose or rattle while in use. In my experience, they’re fine for short sets of exercises, but can sometimes start to make noise near the end of a long workout. To avoid this, make sure to tighten the nuts above and below the plates, and make sure the bolt at the bottom is secured nice and tight.

Next, a little safety tip: when it’s fully loaded, be cautious about how you tip the bell onto its side. I smooshed a fingernail one day. I’m fine, but I’m also more careful now.

Finally, the most important tip: label everything.

When you first unbox your adjustable kettlebell, take photos (or a video) showing how it all goes together. It will look simple, and then the next day you’ll be like: “wait, this two-kilo plate looks different from that two-kilo plate. Which one goes at the top and which at the bottom?”

Next, and this step is crucial, use paint markers to write down how much each plate weighs. My adjustables each have a 6-kg plate, a 4-kg plate, two 3-kg plates, and two 2-kg plates. (This lets you mix and match make every increment except for 13 and 31.) You can tell the difference visually, but I promise that if you don’t label them, someday you’re going to mix up a 2 and a 3, or a 3 and a 4.

Since I have two adjustable bells, I used a pink paint marker for one of them and a white paint marker for the others. You’ll also want to set aside a place in your home gym where the plates will sit when they’re not in the bell, so keep this in mind when you’re deciding how to fit your workout equipment into that corner of your apartment.

And to make your life easier, keep a dry-erase marker near wherever you load your bells. Mine are red, so I use a black marker. If your bells are black, maybe you’ll need a chalk marker. (This exercise is best left to the reader.) This step is important especially when you’re working with those incremental sizes—one time I picked up a bell that I thought was loaded to 18 and did half the workout thinking “wow, I’ve gotten so much stronger lately,” only to realize that it was actually loaded to 14. I now have a strict policy of always writing the total weight on the outside of the bell. Learn from my mistakes.

https://lifehacker.com/why-your-home-gym-needs-adjustable-kettlebells-1848784354