Ancient Persian Kettlebell

Ancient Persian Kettlebell

The Kettlebell is arguably one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment.  Whether you’re looking to maximize your value for your dollar or minimize the space taken up by gym equipment, the kettlebell is hard to beat.  Its design and methods of use target multiple muscle groups at the same time, requiring great core stabilization, balance, and dynamic force resulting in a serious total body workout. But where did the kettlebell come from?

Unfortunately, our ancient fitness ancestors did not have the foresight to record the exact history of this implement so that a blog writer could post an article on the Internet about it in 2018.  My job is never easy.

If you do a quick search on the origins of the kettlebell, many sites credit the Russians with developing the idea for a swingable weight in the 1700s.  The word ‘Girya’, meaning kettlebell, first appeared in Russian dictionaries in 1704.  Russian Army trainers recognized the kettlebell as a versatile and valuable tool for total body conditioning and the kettlebell soon became synonymous with strength in Russia.


The Russian influence on kettlebell training is prevalent today with many kettlebells still being measured in poods.  A pood is equal to 40 funt, or 1 Russian pound.  A pood is equivalent to about 16kg or 36 pounds.  Kettlebells are often measured in multiples or fractions of a pood, where 1.5 pood equals 54 pounds.  The Russian pood measurements are the reason why there is such a jump in weight between kettlebell sizes.

Former Russian Special Forces trainer Pavel Tsatsoline is often credited with popularizing the various kettlebell exercises and bringing them to the United States in the late 1990s.  He is largely responsible for the modern popularity of the kettlebell through his Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) company and training certifications.

Greek Halteres

Greek Halteres

While the Russian kettlebell connection is strong, researchers have recently unearthed evidence pointing to development of a kettlebell-like implement, the Haltere, in ancient Greece around 500 B.C.  A pair of Halteres would be held in the hands and when the arms were swung, additional momentum would be generated.  This momentum was used to increase the distance an athlete could jump in the triple jump long jump, with the Halteres likely being dropped before the final jump.

Similar kettlebell-esque devices appear in the ancient histories of India, Iran, Scotland, and China. But unfortunately, much of the history of the kettlebell seems lost to time.  

Ancient cooking kettle

Ancient cooking kettle

So why ‘kettle’?  The story goes that strongmen used old, heavy, cast iron cooking kettles filled with sand or other heavy material as rudimentary weights.  Some modern kettlebells can be filled with sand or water to customize their weight.

Wherever they came from, there is no denying that kettlebell workouts are a serious butt kicker.  You need to generate quick force to get the thing moving, then stabilize it as it moves away from your body before countering the momentum and pulling it back in.  Few other devices can hit so many areas of the body at once as a kettlebell. Strength, speed, and endurance, the kettlebell develops them all.

Now as a service to generations of the future, let's make sure we get some documentation etched into a cave wall somewhere so blog writers 300 years from now don’t have to speculate where the Shake Weight or Thigh Master came from.  Thank you.