Kettlebell - Which Weight? 8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 24kg or 32kg?

Paul S. Chun • Tuesday, July 14, 2020 • Tokyo, Japan

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This blog post was written for Elbower’s previous life as a habit formation tool. The founder decided to change the focus of the company, but fully respects the usefulness that these posts provide to readers. Please enjoy them, but realize that references to Elbower inside of them are now out of date.

How Should I Know What Size to Buy?

So, you've decided to buy or are considering buying a kettlebell. Congratulations - it's totally worth it! I made this same decision when I decided to cancel my gym membership, and I'm really happy that I made that choice. Having my kettlebell at home has done wonders for me, both in terms of my physical fitness and my mental health and therefore my general wellbeing.

Of course, you'll have to make a major decision when purchasing your kettlebell: what size should you buy?

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of opinions on this issue, so this post is dedicated to helping you navigate these opinions in order to choose which size to buy.

I probably should have mentioned earlier that I'm not a fitness trainer. I'm just your average exerciser who probably does more Internet surfing on topics of interest than he should (don't we all?). That said, the approach I'm taking to help you figure out your purchase is to take the opinions from various figures across the kettlebell world and put them together in a neat, summarized format for your easy consumption.

What the Pros Say

Pavel Tsatsouline

If you haven't seen this name before, then it's fair to guess that you haven't started your journey of research on kettlebells yet, and that's completely okay!

Comrade Pavel, originally hailing from Belarus, was instrumental in the popularization of kettlebells in America in the 1990s with his book and video, both titled "Enter the Kettlebell!" and is also the brains behind the popular "Simple & Sinister" program as well as the bustling StrongFirst Nation kettlebell community.

In his video "Enter the Kettlebell!" which has been uploaded to YouTube and is just above, he guides users through basic kettlebell exercises such as the swing, the clean and the snatch. Just before he goes into his teaching, though, he makes his recommendations on kettlebell weight, which are as follows:

Pavel's Recommendations

Average Gentlemen
(Max Bench Press < 200 lbs/90kg)
Stronger than Average Gentlemen
(Max Bench Press ≥ 200 lbs/90kg)
Very Strong
Recommended Starting Weight 16kg (35 lbs) 20kg (44 lbs) 24kg (53 lbs)

Average Lady Stronger than Average Lady
Recommended Starting Weight 8kg (18 lbs) 12kg (26 lbs)

He also says that, if you have the means, buy three: the weight he recommends, and two heavier kettlebells. My speculative analysis here is that he thinks you'll probably outgrow your initial kettlebell faster than you'd think.

His full recommendations are available in the above-posted YouTube video, Enter the Kettlebell, at 8 minutes and 11 seconds if you'd like to see them yourself.

Lauren Brooks

Known as the "kettlebell queen" in fitness circles, the Southern Californian claims to be on a mission to train women over 40 in order to "help these ladies get what they want," but the information she shares on her website as well as on her YouTube account is extremely useful for all ages and genders who want to get fit and learn more about kettlebell training.

Lauren has a great piece on how kettlebells have changed her life. This is a phrase that gets used often enough that it can feel cheapened, but her story (which includes the above-mentioned Pavel Tsatsouline) is a motivating read and shows the incredibly magnetic pull that kettlebell training seems to have that other forms of training seem to lack.

Lauren's Recommendations

This enthusiastic trainer recommends the following:

Most Women Stronger Women
Recommended Starting Weight 6 to 8kg (15 to 18 lbs) 25 lbs

Lauren also claims that women will develop strength and (eventually) use a 35 to 44 pound kettlebell.

Most Men Stronger Men
Recommended Starting Weight 12 to 16kg (26 to 35lbs) 20kg (44 lbs)

Lauren claims that many men will develop great strength and use a 53 pound bell all the way up to 106 pound bell.

You can see these recommendations yourself on her website.

Taco Fleur

This passionate kettlebell trainer, who's published several books and created courses and certifications for kettlebell training on his website Cavemantraining, originally hails from the Netherlands but currently calls Spain his home. It'd be hard to know that, though, as he's used many beautiful corners of this planet as his gym, as is evident on the many beautiful nature photos where he can be seen with his trusty kettlebells.

Taco's Recommendations

Taco's recommendations are a bit more nuanced, and he has made a table to match your needs depending on:

  • Gender,
  • What you want to do with the kettlebell, and
  • Your current level of expertise.

Planning on lots of overhead work Male Female
Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance) Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance)
Never done anything overhead 8 to 12kg 8 to 10kg 8kg 8kg
Mediocre with overhead work 12 to 16kg 12kg 12kg 10kg
Do overhead work in the gym regularly 16 to 20kg 16kg 16kg 12kg

Planning on lots of slow lifting Male Female
Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance) Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance)
Never done any slow lifts 16kg 12kg 12kg 10kg
Mediocre with slow lifts 20 to 24kg 16kg 18kg 16kg
Do slow lifts in the gym regularly 24 to 32kg 20kg 24kg 20kg

Planning on lots of ballistic movements (swings, cleans, etc.) Male Female
Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance) Low Volume (bulking) High Volume (endurance)
Never done anything ballistic 12 to 16kg 12kg 12kg 10kg
Mediocre with ballistic work 16 to 20kg 16kg 16kg 14kg
Do ballistic work in the gym regularly 20 to 24kg 20kg 20kg 16kg

You can see these recommendations yourself on his website.

Other Considerations

As I write this, we are in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of over half a million humans worldwide, including 138,000 Americans. And even in the face of this scary time, the employees of your local delivery service are still working their tails off to ensure that what you order online is brought to you safely and quickly.

If you decide to take Pavel's advice and order three kettlebells, please think about how this will affect their job. Hauling 150 pounds of cast iron up stairs is not a fun task, so if you live on the second story or above, please consider taking the package on the street and bringing it in yourself, one bell at a time.

My Decision & Was It Right?

I personally ended up following Pavel Tsatsouline's non-wealthy recommendation after reading his book and went with a single 16kg kettlebell. I'd previously given kettlebell swings a try at my local gym in Berlin and they fulfilled their promise of strengthening my back and creating memorable soreness, but I found the 12kg bell a bit heavy at the time, so I was worried that the 16kg might be overdoing it.

I hoped that this was going to be a tool that I'd work my way up to be able to use in more and more ways as I got stronger, and I am happy to report that this is the case. After six months, I am toying with the idea of getting a heavier kettlebell, since I feel that I've grown out of it for swings (though it's still plenty useful for the long cycle, which I've yet to fully master with an hour-long marathon).

Of course, in order for me to continue to get stronger, I have to stay consistent with it, which is something that Elbower can help with, completely free of charge, forever. I wrote about that in a previous post in case you're curious.

Alright, I've shared with you what the pros say and what I ended up doing and how happy I am with my decision. I hope you can take this information in and choose the right setup for you!