You can’t begin to push, pull, and swing unless you have the right stuff to push, pull, and swing. This chapter is about your choices. Of course, you could go outside and pick up a large, heavy rock to use for most of the exercises in this book. But you’d be better off getting yourself dumbbells, kettlebells, or a sandbag.
in the fact that you can use any of these tools to achieve the results you want. But you also can incorporate all three pieces of equipment for your workouts, if you are so inclined. Each offers unique advantages for total-body muscle growth and fitness. As you advance in your weight training, you may find that you want to add all three pieces of equipment to your arsenal of workout gear. It’s up to you.
There are three types of dumbbells on the market, but which type you choose to invest in depends entirely on what works best for you.
FIXED-WEIGHT. This style of dumbbell typically the type found in health clubs and gyms is one solid piece of metal that weighs a certain amount. Although you’ll find them made from a range of materials, from inexpensive cast iron to high-priced polished chrome, your muscles will get the same workout no matter how large a hit your wallet takes. Typically, these dumbbells are hexagonal.
PLATE-LOADED ADJUSTABLE. This type of dumbbell basically a small, 12- to a 15-inch bar that holds standard weight plates works much like a barbell, giving you the ability to add or remove weight plates on either end.
You can buy them in standard sizes of 10, 20, 25 pounds, etc. However, you can also choose to create your own by purchasing a pair of standard handles, plates, and collars for the ends. (Depending on the type you buy, the collars clamp, thread onto, or pinch the bar to keep the weight from sliding off.)
SELECTORIZED ADJUSTABLE. This advanced type of dumbbell which has only been available since the early 1990s allows you to quickly choose the amount of weight you want to load onto the bar and lets you change the weight without removing or reattaching collars.
Most use a series of thin, interconnecting weight plates that sit inside a special base. Before you lift the dumbbell from its base, you turn a knob, press a button, or move a lever to select how heavy you want the dumbbell to be. The correct number of plates mechanically attaches to the handle, leaving the remaining plates inside the base. Most brands of selectorized dumbbells allow you to change the weight in 5-pound increments.
Picking the Perfect Pair of Dumbbells
IF YOU HAVE SPACE AND BUDGET, FIXED-WEIGHT DUMBBELLS ARE YOUR BEST BET. The convenience of being able to grab them and start pushing, pulling, or swinging them instantly is the reason they’re the dumbbell style of choice in gyms worldwide.
But before you buy, remember this: Because they’re unchangeable (unlike the other two types), you may have little choice but to shell out a lot of money for a variety of sizes in order to perform exercises that require lighter or heavier weight loads. One bonus of fixed-weight dumbbells is that most of them have hexagonal-shaped heads, so they won’t roll on uneven floors as plate-loaded dumbbells will. And because they won’t roll, hex dumbbells are great for doing exercises such as Neutral-Grip Pushups and T-Raises.
IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE ENDS MEET, STICK WITH PLATE LOADED DUMBBELLS. If you don’t mind constantly fumbling with collars and weight plates between exercises, one pair of adjustable dumbbells with enough weight plates can be cheaper than having to buy various sizes of fixed-weight dumbbells.
But before you buy, remember this: Using an adjustable dumbbell when lifting heavy weights can sometimes be a bit cumbersome. Unlike fixed-weight dumbbells, which are more compact, plate-loaded dumbbells will be as large as their heaviest plates, which tend to be larger than lighter-weight plates. This can make certain exercises more difficult to do comfortably.
IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY, INVEST IN A PAIR OF SELECTORIZED ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELLS. Although most high-end, high-weight versions start in the hundreds of dollars and can easily run you over a thousand dollars, the ability to create dozens of different pairs of dumbbells (ranging from as little as 2.5 pounds up to 175 pounds per dumbbell), all from a piece of equipment that takes up the space of a small nightstand, is hard to beat.
But before you buy, remember this: Even if money is no option, some selectorized adjustable dumbbells aren’t as easy to use as others. With some brands, you may find yourself fighting with the mechanics of the dumbbell, which can waste valuable time if you’re following a routine that has you resting for less time between sets.
Another issue some lifters have with these dumbbells is the extra lifting they have to do in order to change the weight between exercises. Having to lift each dumbbell back into its base after every exercise just to change the weight may not seem like a hassle now, but wait until you have to change it after performing exercises such as heavy Deadlifts, Bent-OverRows, and other multijoint compound exercises. Because your muscles need to utilize the time between sets to get a thorough amount of rest, having to hoist each dumbbell back into its base can minimize that valuable recovery time and hurt the rest of your workout
WHERE TO BUY: You can get great deals on used fixed-weight and plate-loaded dumbbells at garage sales and through Craigslist.org. Most large retailers carry them new. Popular brands of selectorized adjustable dumbbells include Bowflex, PowerBlock, and Universal.
Because of their Russian heritage, kettlebells are measured in kilograms (kg), instead of pounds (lb). And unlike dumbbells (which increase by 1-, 2 ½-, and 5-pound increments) and sandbags (which you can adjust to practically any poundage you wish, down to the ounce), kettlebells take far greater leaps from one size to the next. They also offer fewer size choices.
Decades ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find more than three different sizes with 16 kg, 24 kg, and 32 kg being the most common. Today, the most common sizes you’re likely to find are:
4 kg (8.8 lb)
8 kg (17.6 lb)
10 kg (22 lb)
12 kg (26.5 lb)
14 kg (30.8 lb)
16 kg (35.3 lb)
18 kg (39.7 lb)
20 kg (44.1 lb)
22 kg (48.5 lb)
24 kg (52.9 lb)
26 kg (57.3 lb)
28 kg (61.7 lb)
32 kg (70.5 lb)
36 kg (79.4 lb)
40 kg (88.2 lb)
44 kg (97 lb)
48 kg (105.8 lb)
Picking the Perfect Kettlebell
So which one is just right for you?
Most experts feel that the best size for men to start with is a 16-kg (or 35-lb) kettlebell. One easy way to determine if a 16-kg size is either too heavy or too light for your body is to try to push it over your head with one arm and lock your elbow. You should be able to keep the weight stable but still experience a certain degree of resistance. If you can’t muster the strength to keep it there for 10 seconds, choose a lighter weight.
Just don’t make the mistake of going too light. Many kettlebells exercises especially many of the mainstay moves, such as Swings and Cleans are a lot easier to learn using a weight that offers your body a challenging level of resistance.
The same warning can be said about choosing a size that’s too heavy, which can make it much harder to learn proper form. To be honest, if you’re stronger than the average guy, you may be able to handle a size that’s heavier (between 18 and 24 kg). But if you’re new to kettlebell training, it may pay off, in the long run, to start with an average-size kettlebell so that you can focus on form.
Once you feel comfortable with your choice, you’re done for now, at least. Most fitness experts recommend that people learn proper technique first, particularly with the Clean and Press, Snatch, Squat, and Swing. But even once you’ve mastered these four moves, you may want to wait before investing in a heavier kettle-bell. The smarter purchase would be a second bell of the same size, which would allow you to pull off a variety of more advanced double kettlebell exercises, where you hold a bell in each hand rather than having both hands hold a single kettlebell.
There are also certain dumbbell exercises that can be mimicked with the kettlebell, but they’re not as easily pulled off if you have only one. As you go through this book and begin to select some of the exercises you believe work best for your fitness goals, keep in mind that you may need to invest in a few pairs of kettle-bells in various sizes.
KICK THE TIRES, BUT WATCH YOUR TOES You may think that it’s hard to screw up manufacturing a big round ball of metal with a handle on it, but as kettlebells have risen in popularity over the last 2 decades, so have the number of companies churning out a variety of different versions of this classic exercise tool. Making sure you’re investing in a quality kettlebell is critical, especially because among the push, pull, and swing trio, it’s the tool that could potentially do the most damage if it breaks mid-workout. To make sure you’re not going to need a contractor down the road, here are a few things you should do when purchasing a kettlebell.
SKIP THE SHINY STUFF. You want to invest in a kettlebell that’s not coated with any material, such as vinyl covers or a nonskid base. Although a colorful, coated one may look nicer, the biggest issue is that it may not allow you to see the kettlebell’s construction. Buying a plain cast-iron one allows you to see whether the bell is made from one solid piece. Cheaper versions sometimes forge the ball and handle separately and then connect them increases your risk of having the ball break off down the road.
GRAB THE HANDLE WITH BOTH HANDS. The handle should be large enough so that both hands fit comfortably without touching each other.
GRAB THE HANDLE WITH ONE HAND. You want to be sure that the tips of your fingers don’t touch your palm when they’re wrapped around the handle. If the handle is too thin, it can make certain exercises (such as Renegade Rows) harder on your hands and wrists, particularly when you’re doing Snatches and Cleans. If the handle is too thick for your hand, it can be dangerous to use.
ASK FOR AT LEAST A 1-YEAR GUARANTEE. If a company says no, chances are there’s a reason for it
WHERE TO BUY: Most large sporting goods stores (like Dick’s Sporting Goods) and big box stores (like Walmart) now carry kettlebells. Online, performbetter.com carries quality kettlebells.
When it comes to this final push, pull, and swing tool, you have two choices: make a purchase, or make your own. A lot of guys start with homemade versions and then progress to a commercial sandbag once they become hooked on sandbag training. I’ll cover both types in this chapter.
Picking the Perfect Sandbag
With the popularity of sandbags on the rise, more and more products have entered the market. Some can run you as high as hundreds of dollars and come with instructional DVDs. Here’s what to look for
MAKE SURE IT CAN TAKE A BEATING BUT THAT YOUR HANDS WON’T. If you can test it in person, put it through its paces. A sandbag that seems like it’s going to leak most likely will.
You want to look for a sandbag made from a heavy-duty material such as canvas something that feels impossible to puncture. But more importantly, take the time to rub and roll your fists along with the bag. It doesn’t have to be baby smooth, but it shouldn’t tear up your hands, either. Some cheaper models use materials that may be indestructible, but they can feel like sandpaper on your skin, bringing your routine to a halt before your muscles get a thorough workout.
HAVE SAND AT THE READY. Ironically, most sandbags don’t come preloaded with sand (or any high-density material, for that matter) because of how inefficient it would be to ship them. Do yourself the favor of getting your sand before you buy your bag. Some lifters prefer to use dry rice because it weighs less. It’s your call.
The reason: The moment you get your sandbag, you should immediately fill it to its capacity (even if you’re not strong enough yet to use it at that level) and try picking it up and swinging it from every handle. You want to be sure every strap and every seam is as well constructed as it should be.
ASK ABOUT THE RETURN POLICY. Compared to the other two pieces of equipment, sandbags are not only the easiest to break or rip blame that whole cast iron versus canvas thing but they are also the most likely to take a major beating, since some sandbag drills may require you to drag the bag across the floor or toss it onto the pavement or dirt. Knowing the rules on a replacement if it tears after an intense workout may be the deciding factor when you’re choosing between several different sandbags.
REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE BUYING ONE IN THE FIRST PLACE. One of the things that make sandbags so unique compared to dumbbells and kettlebells is how they force you to dig into the bag with your fingers to get a firm grip and then constantly maintain that tight grip in order to use them. Some purists feel that the newer designs offer too many hand-holds all over the bags (such as handles and straps) that defeat the purpose of training with a sandbag by minimizing the extra grip and stability benefits they naturally offer.
Personally, I like sandbags with straps or handles because they are more versatile. The straps make it easier to mimic many dumbbell and kettlebell exercises. But just because they are built-in doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time. A good piece of equipment allows you to exercise the way you wish to exercise
WHERE TO BUY: You can buy burlap bags, heavy-duty plastic bags, and playground sand at any hardware or garden store to make your own (see below). If you want a bag specifically designed with handles for exercise, some good bags include Rogue Fitness bags (roguefitness.com) and the Ultimate Sandbag Training System (ultimatesandbagtraining.com). There are even hybrid sandbags that are essentially a cross between a sandbag, dumbbell, and kettlebell. Search for Sandbells at performbetter.com.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN GEAR
Making a homegrown workout sandbag is as easy as tossing a few shovelfuls of beach sand into an old canvas daypack. But you’ll want something sturdier that won’t get you jailed for stealing public sand. Here’s how to make sandbags that can weather tough workouts.
What You’ll Need
- Several contractor-grade, heavy-duty plastic trash bags
• A few bags of playground sand (it typically comes in 50-pound bags) or rice
• Roll of duct tape
• 2 sturdy canvas duffel bags (get a few different sizes if you plan to make
several sandbags of different weights) or old backpacks
• Bathroom scale
• Shovel or a large plastic cup
- Grab your scale, place an empty heavy-duty trash bag on top of it, and fill it until you’ve reached your desired weight. (Some lifters prefer rice over sand because it’s lighter and isn’t as prone to spilling.) For men, between 30 and 70 pounds is a great starting point. If you’re making sandbags of various sizes, write the weight of each sandbag on a piece of duct tape and stick it to the bag. Note: You can choose to make one large, sand-filled garbage bag with the weight you plan to use or make several smaller bags of various weights that you can switch around to change the weight of your sandbag.
- Twist the top of the sand-filled trash bag a few times, but leave enough space in the bag so that the sand can move around inside it. (If you don’t, the sandbag will feel stiffer, more predictable, and more stable when you eventually use it.) Seal the bag tightly with duct tape.
- Place your sand-filled bag inside one or two more trash bags, sealing each one securely with duct tape.
- Place the sand-filled bags in your duffel, zip it shut, and you’re ready to go
- If you’re still paranoid about sand spillage, you can take the extra step of duct-taping the zipper. However, keep in mind that tape on the outside of the bag may make it more difficult to grab at certain places, and it will make changing the weight of the bag (if you plan to use several smaller bags and change the weight for different exercises) more time-consuming.
HOMEGROWN: Use old duffels, backpacks, heavy-duty trash bags or zipper-lock bags, sand or rice, duct tape, and a scale.