Kettlebells, dumbbells, mace bells, club bells. Before 2020 I had only heard of or used one of these: dumbbells. Each of the others I was introduced to over the course of this year. Here are my current thoughts after about one year of exposure. This could evolve as I gain more experience.
There's a reason kettlebells continue to be so popular. Once you obtain kettlebells in a few different weights you basically have all you really need. Lighter weight kettlebells are great for certain moves or cardio based "get your heart pumping" type workouts, while the heavier weighted KBs can pretty much cover all of your full body, strength-training goals.
There's a plethora of YouTube videos to provide you with new ideas when you run out of old ones. And there's definitely more to kettlebells than just swinging, and more to swinging than just the first couple swings you learn about. The only con that I see to kettlebells comes from personal experience. One day this summer I felt a sharp pain in my back while swinging one and that put me off kettebells for a few days, and any type of swings for a while longer. I recommend seeking out the assistance of a professional trainer (like Will Parker at Girya Garage) when first starting with kettlebells to make sure your form is correct and that you have all the help and guidance you need.
Steel Mace in at number two
I signed up for Instagram this year and curated my feed in such a way that 80% of what I see seems to be men and women doing mace 360's or 10-and-2's so I'm not a good judge of its popularity. By this standard steel maces are "everywhere", but of course in reality they remain pretty obscure. I will say that I really, really enjoy exercising with steel mace and for the bulk of this year it was my overall personal favorite exercise tool. You can tap into some kind of primeval vibe when using a mace or gada, and that is a big part of its appeal.
Kettlebells overtook mace on my personal list by the end of this year simply because kettlebells are more versatile - there's a wider variety of things you can do with them, or at least that's how it feels right now. Mace is a bit more limited in my experience thus far, but for what it does it does it well. One of my goals for 2021 is to expand my steel mace knowledge and become more creative with it.
Clubs at number three (club bells, steel club, Persian meels, et cetera)
|Karlakattai or mudgar style club made in India|
I found it hard to make full use of clubs this year, be it wood or steel. I made some mistakes early on by buying the wrong type of steel club. The wrong design for me at least. And after going all-in for kettlebells and steel mace it was hard to make room for or see the need for club bell practice each week. I also bought some lightweight wooden Indian Clubs earlier this year before realizing what I really wanted was heavier clubs like Persian Meels. Things started to shift once I got a shena pushup board and some starter meels to go along with it. What felt heavy at first eventually became pretty manageable as I carved some time each Tuesday and Friday morning for this specific activity.
As we roll into 2021 I fully expect club swinging to have a bigger impact on my life, so its status could change. Thanks to Mark Robson at Me First Fitness I've finally been turned on to a brand of steel club bell that has the proper weight distribution and dimensions (the TAP Bell Club by Oates Specialties) and I have become vaguely familiar with terms such as "karlakattai" and "mudgar" which should open doors to new possibilities.
2020 wasn't the first year of my life that I've really gotten into exercise, although it was the first year in a long time where I really went at it this seriously and sustainably through a combination of research and diet plus commitment/obsession. In years past when I would go through sporadic, fleeting exercise spurts the dumbbell was my usual go-to. So for the first few weeks of 2020 dumbbells were all I had handy as I got back into strength training on a regular basis. Once kettlebells entered my home the old dumbbells once again began to acquire dust. That is about to change though!
If kettlebells are like vinyl LPs, then dumbbells must be like CDs or maybe even cassettes. Maybe a better analogy is if clubs are like chopsticks then the dumbbell is like a fork. They aren't trendy or as cool looking or as exotic, but they are dependable with a tried and true design. My wife and I plan on converting our guest bedroom into a home gym, and once that is set up I plan on adding some heavier dumbbells to my collection and making it part of my regular routine.