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Slimming Electric Belts and Russian Bells: Are They Fitness Rip-Offs or Fitness Bargains?

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Russian Kettlebells

Claim: This cannonball with a suitcase-like handle is better than free weights for strength training, and kettlebells are the only workout you need.

Facts: Kettlebells can provide a challenging, effective workout for those who are bored with traditional free weights or simply looking for an alternative. The design of the kettlebell results in its center-of-mass being outside the grip because of the handle placement. This results in a far different -- and greater -- challenge than most free-weight exercises and can provide a terrific challenge to the muscles of the forearm, shoulder, and core, says Jonathan Ross, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.

Kettlebells can help people strength train and get them prepared for real-life situations. "Kettlebell exercises help with regular everyday functions such as lifting groceries, carrying a pile of magazines, gardening, throwing out the trash, or lifting a child -- moving irregular-size objects and controlling the momentum," says Tedd Keating, PhD, a professor of physical education and human performance at Manhattan College. "Kettlebells use a swinging, curvilinear pattern when performed, whereas free weights have a linear pattern. It's actually in the process of accelerating and decelerating the movement of the kettlebells that the strength and power gains are made," he adds.

A kettlebell is a compact and convenient piece of fitness equipment. Once you figure out the appropriate weight of kettlebell you need, all the exercises use that one kettlebell. So you don't need an entire set to do your strength-training program. As you get stronger, you simply do additional reps and increase movement speed, says Keating.

Fiction: Kettlebells will provide you with a better workout than free weights. Actually, kettlebells are simply different from free weights, not necessarily better. "It provides a different, unique challenge to your muscular system," says Keating. This is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to fitness -- it's just another tool in your fitness toolbox.

Price: $24.95 (10 pound) to $109.95 (100 pound)

Concerns: Kettlebells can be unexpectedly heavy, and since the design adds an additional "unwieldy" component, that can be both helpful and dangerous. "Many of the movements with the kettlebells are done rapidly -- thus generating a significant need to control the momentum of the weight," says Ross. Additionally, kettlebells can create an excessive challenge to the forearm muscles, putting the wrist at significantly greater risk of injury.

"The weight of the kettlebell is far outside the grip, thus dramatically increasing the torque on the wrist joint (imagine trying to swing a sledgehammer like a carpentry hammer). This property of the kettlebell -- one of its most frequently stated attributes -- needs to be respected and handled with care. A frequent mistake people make is to compare what it feels like to lift a 25-pound dumbbell overhead to lifting a 25-pound kettlebell. Given the different properties of the two, a far lighter kettlebell should be used," says Ross.

Bottom Line: Kettlebells can be very effective if used appropriately and very dangerous if not.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of, the health and fitness network, and author of The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible. Copyright 2008 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from, September 2008.



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