Product review: the kettlestack

Soviet-era instructional diagrams for kettlebell use

It’s not entirely clear where and when the first person got the idea to stick a handle on a heavy thing and fling it around—both the Russians and Scottish are at least two claimants to the honour of throwing rocks—but at some point in human history, someone invented the kettlebell, a rounded weight with a handle – rather like a kettle without a spout. These kettlebells can be lifted, swung, flipped, cleaned, squatted, and used as substitutes for dumbbells and barbells. Kettlebells are enjoying a renaissance in North American fitness, in part thanks to some well-developed marketing that hints at military training secrets, in part because they are versatile and fun training tools.

An intro to kettlebell training

KettlestackKettlebells themselves are solid balls, usually iron, that come in various weights, but each kettlebell itself cannot be adjusted. As a woman who sees nothing unusual about owning five pairs of black boots, I also crave more versatility in my training implements. Enter the Kettlestack.

The Kettlestack combines the concept of a kettlebell with the plate-loaded element of bars or dumbbells. This enables the user to adjust the weight used for kettlebell exercises. The design is simple: a band of steel is threaded through a handle in a “U” shape. The ends of the band have three available holes through which passes a central hexnut. Plates of any size can be loaded on to the handle; then the hexnut passes through their centre holes, and is secured with a bolt or two (depending on the configuration).

I tried out the Kettlestack for various exercises: snatches, cleans, swings, curls, overhead presses, and ab exercises such as Turkish getups and windmills (shown below). I also gave deadlifting with it a try, and liked that quite a lot – unlike using a bar, the torso stays more upright with a kettlebell deadlift because the weight is between the knees, not in front of them.

Windmill part 1 Windmill part 2

To do the windmill, clean the kettlestack up to shoulder height, then press it overhead so that your arm is straight. Allow the weight to rest on the back of your forearm. Look at your hand. Keep looking up at your hand as you carefully bend sideways from the hips, keeping legs and arms straight. Let your hip drift out to the side as your body leans over, and keep your midsection tight – don’t let it sag. Once your non-kettlestack hand touches the floor, return to starting position, again keeping arms and legs straight. Only when you have completed the desired number of reps do you lower the kettlestack. You could, however, do a combo if you like, of clean + press + windmill = 1 rep. This exercise strengthens shoulder girdle and midsection.

Assembly of the stack was easy, although my first attempt at this one morning at 6:30 am before coffee seemed somewhat complex. Then again, tying my shoes for my morning workout at that hour usually feels like brain surgery. Once I looked at the schematic diagrams on the Kettlestack website (and the caffeine hit my system), it was very simple to do. Basically, slap the ends of the “U” around a few plates like the bread for a sandwich, stick a plate or two on the outside if desired, bolt the thing together like the sandwich’s toothpick, and it’s time to swing. In the beginning, I didn’t have enough small plates to really fill out the bell, so although it was well bolted, the rattling of the few plates I had strung together was disconcerting enough to make me quit temporarily. However, a quick trip to the local sports store and a few more 2.5 and 5 lb plates later, the bell puffed out nicely like a solid little iron Michelin man. I used standard plates for this (1″ diameter holes), which work very well. Changing the weights is easy and about as fast as changing a dumbbell that uses a spinlock collar. Using a combo of smaller and larger plates, with the smaller ones on the outside, gives the stack the rounded appearance and behaviour of a more traditional kettlebell, but using plates that are all the same size works just fine too.

While lots of fun, what impressed me most about the stack was not the thing itself but the obvious care and attention that the Kettlestack folks have lavished on their product. The handle has a comfy grip that because of its slightly oval cross-section, fits well even into my small paws. The Kettlestack people assure me that this is a deliberate part of their design, and that plenty of creative energy was expended to ensure that lifters of all shapes and sizes would find the stack a comfortable training tool. The three levels of holes on the “U” enable the stack to adapt to various plate configurations that use many different sizes of plates. The materials used are basic but good quality, and users are even given additional instruction on using additional bolts if desired.

The Kettlestack gets the Mistress’ seal of butched-up approval! Makes you strong like bull!