kettlebells - steel or iron?

The Balance shop sells both “Kettlebells Comp Steel” and “Kettlebells Iron”.

Here is the physical difference:

“Kettlebells Comp Steel” = made from steel, kettlebells are all the same size/dimension irrespective of mass/weight. The steel kettlebells we sell are of a high quality and meet the requirements demanded by those organising Kettlebell Sport competitions. They are made to +/- 50 grams. Each kettlebell weight has a different colour and follows a standard seen internationally – 16kg yellow, 20kg grey, 24kg green, 32kg red. In response to the requests we made the manufacturer now provides us with steel handles that are smooth, bare metal – this is preferable for high repetition work we often encourage for those needing athleticism.

The bases are wide and flat to provide a stable base – essential for exercises where you place your weight though the bell – renegade rows or kettlebell and bodyweight conditioning complexes such as “snatch and press up burpee”.

“Kettlebells Iron” = made from iron, kettlebells vary on size depending on their mass/weight. The iron kettlebells we sell have handles of a smooth finish, moderate thickness, depth to allow hand to hand work, handle length that is long enough NOT to distress your wrist joints (beware of poor quality kettlebells!). The kettlebell handles are painted with several coats of paint – many who train for strength prefer this as it allows more traction and grip – with low to moderate reps this does not present a problem with blisters as it can with long timed sets.

Here are the arguments for and against:

At the Balance facility we use both types during the course of our sports injury and back pain rehab sessions, strength and conditioning for performance or fitness, and in the various classes going on. Much is down to personal preference and what you are familiar with, some of it is down to be the right tool for the right job at the right time!

I asked for the informed opinion of Ken Blackburn a highly accomplished coach, teacher of kettlebell lifting, an athlete, kettlebell lifter and Director of the IKFF – International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation:

“Competition kettlebells are superior to other kettlebells since the size/dimension of the bells stays the same regardless of weight. Thus, this reinforces a smooth and un-interrupted learning curve for the lifter. Otherwise, if the dimensions of the k-bell change as the weight goes up, the participant is constantly having to re-learn the best alignment and positioning of the bell. Not efficient on multiple levels.”

Some feel that the steel kettlebells are of the highest possible quality, with less layers of paint they are less prone to chipping – with bare metal handles they are are not susceptible to chipping at all.


Here are some reasons for iron rather steel offered by myself. Standard sized steel competition bells were standardised around the dimensions of the average man. If you are a woman who is on the petite size the steel kettlebells will feel larger than for the “average” man. Whether this is too large is down to the individual, some say they are too large and are difficult to control when brought up to the shoulder (the rack position. For the inexperienced fitness trainee the size of the kettlebell can also seem intimidating – of course with a good coach this shouldn’t remain an issue. As stated previously many just prefer iron as this is what they used first, saw first or were advised to buy however this is not really a valid reason. The only remaining reason to object to steel is for those dealing with ongoing issues of back pain who struggle to control their spine when in extension (bent backwards). The ideal position for keeping the kettlebell in the “rack” is keeping the bell over the pelvis. For those with a small frame or particularly vulnerable going backwards with a steel 8kg kettlebell takes them further back than an 8kg iron kettlebell would.

Painted iron kettlebells will chip with use, this is an inevitable consequence when using 2 together with energy and vigour! for those that have chipped handles the best thing to do is sand down the handles. Some who focus on strength and power training say they prefer some paint on the handle as it offers more grip and traction.

Whatever your choice have a good reason behind it – we will do a survey soon to discover what the current preference is for. Any questions please contact us we will do our very best to help you.