March 23, 2021
This is an in-depth review of SET FOR SET's line of Kettlebells by Jan Libourel. It includes a thorough inspection of quality, finish, and dimensions, and it ends with a hands-on, in-use comparison test against kettlebells from other sellers.
The other day my brother-in-law--a professional journalist of no small renown--remarked to me that he regarded me as something of a prophet or pioneer of the kettlebell. He said that until I started training with them almost five years ago, he had been completely oblivious to their existence. Nowadays, individuals and classes exercising with kettlebells have become a commonplace sight in our local parks.
Unlike my brother-in-law, who is considerably my junior, I had always been aware of the existence of kettlebells but regarded them as relics of the era of globe barbells and The Great Sandow for most of my life. Toward the end of the first decade of the present century I became aware that they had enjoyed a considerable revival among fitness enthusiasts, but it was not until the spring of 2016 that I acquired a 12kg kettlebell at a closeout sale of a now-defunct sporting good chain. I had been training very consistently with free weights, and my first kettlebell did not present much of a challenge, but I was sufficiently intrigued by its potential that I soon acquired a one-pood (36+ pound) kettlebell. Initially, it gave me a grueling workout, but I soon advanced to a 45-pounder. Its ascendancy also lasted for about a month, whereupon it gave way to a 53-pounder. That challenged me for three months until I got a 62-pounder for Christmas from my wife. Finally, I acquired a 75-pound kettlebell that marked the upper limit of my kettlebell progression. By that time, the kettlebells had largely consigned my extensive assortment of free weights to disuse and had become my favorite exercise tools until they were in turn challenged by my discovery of the virtues of the macebell. The latter and the kettlebell remain my two favorite implements for fitness training.
All of this is by way of saying that although I am always chary of pretending to the mantle of expertise in any endeavor, I like to hope that five years of continuous training should give bestow a degree of credibility on the following review of SET FOR SET's Kettlebells.
All right, let's look at criteria for what constitutes a good kettlebell:
Clearly, a quality kettlebell should be, as far as possible, free from casting imperfections and other irregularities of finish. I have even heard of trainees lacerating their hands on sharp seams left in the handles by sloppy casting. Fortunately for me, I have never encountered any such unpleasantness with any of the kettlebells I have acquired. The 20kg./44-pound SET FOR SET kettlebell sent to me for evaluation certainly earns high marks here. It sported a beautiful satin matte black finish that contrasted smartly with the runic-looking SET FOR SET logo in yellow. The sandblasting used in the final finish left a slight trace of roughness that actually made the kettlebell easier to grip and handle than the absolutely smooth grips found on many other kettlebells.
On a related point, in some Internet discussions of kettlebells, commentators have warned, "Don't buy Brand X (or Y) kettlebells. I (or a pal of mine) ordered one and it arrived with the handle broken." This is thought to be an indicator of low quality. In point of fact, it is not. Cast iron, the material of choice for nearly all exercise dumbbells is an inherently brittle substance and breaks easily. There are a number of amusing online videos of kettlebells' being dropped and breaking their handles. Also, there exist videos of people tossing and flinging their kettlebells about. This is not a good practice...at least if you value your kettlebells. If you want to toss weight around, invest in a slam ball. It's an excellent piece of fitness equipment and one I recommend highly. Treat your kettlebells with respect and consideration and they should be capable of giving good service to your progeny for generations to come.
The most critical dimensions on a kettlebell are the "window" (the area enclosed by the handle) and the circumference of the handle. This was brought home to me a few months ago when I was performing power cleans (two-handed), goblet squats and Russian swings with my 45-pound kettlebell. I was performing fairly high repetitions with this moderate-weight kettlebell, so I decided to step up to 53 pounds, fully expecting it to be considerably more challenging. Imagine my surprise when I found the heavier weight to be more dynamic handling and actually easier to manage! The answer obviously lay in the dimensions of the handle and window. The 45-pound kettlebell had window dimensions of 2.5 inches high by 4.5 inches wide. The 53-pounder's corresponding dimensions were 3x5.5 inches. Evidently, the cramped hand positions imposed by small window on the lighter weight more than offset its advantage of lighter weight, at least in the two-handed exercises I was performing. When I went to measure the window dimensions of the new SET FOR SET 44-pound kettlebell, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they exactly duplicated those of my beloved 53-pounder--3x5.5 inches.
Handle circumferences on kettlebells range between about 4.75 inches and 5.25 inches. I personally prefer the smaller circumference, but the new SFS offering splits the difference at 5 inches, which I still find very serviceable.
One minor criticism I have of the new SET FOR SET kettlebell is that I should have preferred a somewhat wider base dimension for greater stability when performing exercises like kettlebell pushups or renegade rows. The base diameter on the sample I received measured slightly less than four inches, about the same as on other kettlebells in my possession in the same weight range--in other words, no better but certainly no worse.
For my use, a kettlebell in the 20kg/44-pound range would best be deployed for high-repetition drills meant to burn fat, improve muscle tone and provide cardio benefits. For several workouts, I pitted the new SFS kettlebell against the 45-pounder I had purchased back in 2016. I found that for two-hand cleans and presses and goblet squats I was able to perform appreciably more repetitions with the SFS, probably because of the superior handle design. However, when performing Russian swings, the SFS kettlebell did only slightly better than its rival. In any event, the SFS kettlebell has definitely earned a place of honor in my kettlebell line-up, and its older counterpart I hope to pass on to a deserving young man of my acquaintance.
If you leave out "fancy" kettlebells with animal faces and whatnot, all exercise kettlebells are rather similar devices. However, the new line of SET FOR SET kettlebells feature good design, extraordinarily handsome finish and are offered at moderate cost. If you are in the market for a good kettlebell, the SFS line is certainly worthy of your most serious consideration. I am sure many kettlebell enthusiasts will join me in hoping that they soon expand their line to include 28kg/62-pound, 32kg/70+-pound and perhaps heavier offerings that will appeal to more advanced trainers.
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