When shopping for a kettlebell you’ll discover that there are two distinct types. Bare cast iron and vinyl coated ones. Are there any functional differences and which one is best for you? Let’s find out.
for use in a space where there is no rubber or foam flooring, a vinyl coated kettlebell is your best choice. In a home gym where there is already gym flooring, a cast iron kettlebell is better. There are small differences in comfort but this depends on use. Effectiveness and price are very similar.
When do you need a vinyl coated kettlebell and when do you need a cast iron one? Find the specifics down below.
Types of kettlebells
The shape of all kettlebells is roughly the same. A cannonball shape with a flat bottom and a handle sticking out the top that you can grab with two hands. It’s a pretty simple piece of equipment and there aren’t many differences in the overall shapes between models.
There can be slight differences in the design of the handle. Some are a little more comfortable to hold than others but that has no correlation with the two types we’re talking about today.
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There are two types of kettlebells that look slightly different;
- Bare cast iron (sometimes with enamel or other finish)
- Vinyl coated (or sometimes another material)
So when we’re talking about cast iron kettlebells, we’re talking about the outside of the kettlebell. On the inside they’re all pretty much the same. Almost all kettlebells have a cast iron core. It’s on the outside what we’re talking about.
The description ‘bare cast iron’ is not quite correct. The outside of these kettlebells doesn’t usually consist of exposed iron. Exposed iron starts rusting pretty quickly. You might not leave them outside in the rain but even a damp garage might be enough to start corroding exposed metal. And if you’re actually working out with kettlebells (as you should), some sweat will get on them. Sweat is especially corrosive.
That’s why even bare cast iron kettlebells aren’t really ‘bare’. There will be some coating or finish on the outside to protect it.
Often this is enamel or they are powder coated. Both of those finishes are very good at protecting against corrosion. However, they are still hard. That’s where the big difference lies. A better way to describe the difference would be;
- Hard coated kettlebells
- Soft coated kettlebells
But that’s not how they’re sold and you wouldn’t find this post if I described it that way.
Those two types are what this post is about. Is it necessary to have that soft coating or are you better off without it? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both types and then analyze what’s best for you.
It’s worth touching on the coating of the handle separately.
The handle (part you grab with your hands) of almost any kettlebell is usually going to be bare iron, especially for the higher weights. Of course there are always exceptions but commonly the handle is going to be bare iron anyways.
So when talking about the two types of kettlebell, that doesn’t necessarily mean the handle but just the body.
Usually the soft coating of a kettlebell will cover a small part of the handle but doesn’t go all the way up. As said before, there are a few kettlebells that have coating all the way around the handle but I personally prefer the type with the metal exposed at the handle.
Because there is a lot of twisting force going on at the handle when you use the kettlebells, that’s often where the coating will fail. And once it starts tearing, it’s difficult to get it to stop. There is also often a seam in the coating in the middle of the handle. This is a weak point that can often tear open.
For light kettlebells (under 10 kg), it’s ok to have the handles coated in a soft material since the forces are a little less.
Cast Iron Kettlebells
First up, cast iron kettlebells. As described above, they aren’t really ‘bare’ cast iron but usually have a hard coating or finish like enamel or powder coating.
The cheaper versions often have enamel, powder coating ones cost a bit more but the difference isn’t too big.
What are the pros and cons of a hard finish on a kettlebell?
- Durable: enamel or powder coating is very durable and hard wearing. It can scratch, especially when used on hard floors. However, if you use them with a rubber or foam flooring/mat, this is unlikely.
- Easy to clean: It’s super easy to clean a kettlebell with hard finish. Just a damp rag with a gentle detergent will take care of anything you would find on there.
- Less comfortable: If the kettlebell hits your body, there is nothing to soften the impact. This can be less comfortable to work out with.
- Noisy: Dropping a metal ball on the floor is going to be noisy. Of course you can use a rubber or foam mat to mitigate this. Lowering the kettlebell slowly is also going to reduce the noise.
- Can damage flooring: If you have tiles or another type of hard flooring, dropping or even just placing it at any speed can cause damage to your floor.
Vinyl (or otherwise) covered kettlebells
Next up is the soft coated kettlebell. Usually the covering is a type of vinyl but can be made of other materials as well.
What are the pros and cons of a soft finish on a kettlebell?
- Quieter: Putting down something with a soft layer around it is going to create less noise than something hard. Kettlebells are no different. Especially if you have hard flooring, it makes a huge difference. Not only for you but also for any neighbors.
- Protects you floor: The most important pro of a soft cover kettlebell is the fact that it’s much better for you floor. If you have any type of hard flooring in the space you work out, putting it down with any force can do some decent damage. A soft coat dampens this impact and therefore lessens the damage of your floor.
- More comfortable (Depends on exercise though): On exercises where the kettlebell touches you, a soft coating can dampen the impact a little bit. This can make you a less reserved during workouts because you’re afraid of the kettlebell hitting your body. However, there is one exception; a vinyl coating can stick to your skin a little. So on exercises where the kettlebell drags across your skin, it can be a little less comfortable.
- More difficult to keep clean: Vinyl can be a bit more difficult to keep clean.
- Vinyl can wear/tear: Metal is more durable than vinyl. Shocking I know… The vinyl cover can start wearing down and tear in certain places. This will make the kettlebell look pretty messy although it doesn’t impact the usability. However, if the cover is gone, obviously the benefits disappear as well.
What’s the same?
Above you can see the pros and cons of both types of kettlebells. But what are the similarities between the two. There are a few and they are actually pretty important.
Cost: There isn’t much difference in price between the two types. It’s more about the overall quality (and some branding as well). Both types of kettlebell can be bought for $1.80 to $2 per pound with lighter ones being a bit more expensive per pound.
Effectiveness of exercises/workouts: As long as both kettlebells have the same weight and you do the same workout with them, they will have the same effect. The outside of the kettlebell doesn’t have any impact on how much muscle you build or how many calories you burn.
Durability: Both types will last about the same amount of time (which is a very long time). Yes, the soft coating might tear and get nasty over time. But when it gets too bad you just take it off and guess what you’re left with? Yup, a cast iron kettlebell. It’ll still be perfectly usable. (It might be slightly lighter though.)
Looks (personal): Some people like the look of a hard finish, other’s prefer vinyl. Looks are personal. I’m personally a fan of a matte powder coated finish. Matte powder coat is nice because It feels nice to touch and looks good.
As you can see, the most important things about kettlebells are still the same between the two types. If you take one kettlebell of each type and use them in the same way, they’re going to be just as effective in your workout. So in that regard, the difference isn’t going to be very big.
What’s the best type of kettlebell for you?
So what’s best for you? That depends how important the pros and cons listed above are.
For most people that buy kettlebells to use at home, it will come down to one important thing; do you want to put down something that protects the floor everytime you use the kettlebells? This can be a yoga mat, floor mat, etc. Anything you can put it down on safely will do the trick. Even a piece of cardboard will work in a pinch. However, it’s easier to get a kettlebell with soft coating.
The soft coating will basically take over the work of the rubber mat which makes it much easier, quieter and more comfortable to do a quick workout in any spot you like.
Of course if you’ve got a fully equipped home gym with gym flooring, this is not a concern, it’s there already. The flooring will do most of the work the soft coating would otherwise.
If you want less noise and want to protect your floor and kettlebell, a vinyl coated one is a good choice. If you already have gym flooring where you work out, a cast iron one is more suitable.