All Bells Were Not Created Equal

Originally published February 26, 2019


by Susanne Alberto, NSCA-CPT, TPI-CGFI/FP3


The focus of this article will be on bells that can be held with one hand (unilateral). The advantage of unilateral work is that a less-dominant body part can be brought up to its full potential, and structural asymmetries can be accommodated.

A quick Google search of the words clubbells (and Indian Clubstheir smaller/lighter cousins), dumbbells and kettlebells came up with comments and articles written by people who seemingly have not studied and used these tools appropriately. While they have similarities, the beauty of each lies in their differences.



In The Big Book of Clubbell Training (2nd ed), Scott Sonnon writes, “The most ancient weapon, the club, evolved over millennia into a devastatingly effective martial arts tool … utilized … not just for combat but for restorative health, joint strength, grip development, and specific physical preparedness.”

Clubbells have a fixed center of gravity controlled by the hand. The bottom 3 fingers grip it, while the thumb and index fingers remain looser, so the hand and wrist can accommodate a long lever. A long lever makes a lighter weight feel much heavier, and challenges the joints, muscles and soft tissue in their end ranges of motion. This enables a greater degree of flexibility and mobility. Clubbells can be used for grind (static) movements, but they are excellent for ballistic (dynamic), full-body movements.



The most popular and recognizable of the bells is the dumbbell. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding says, “At the end of the 19th century a new interest in muscle-building arose, not just muscle as a means of survival or of defending oneself, but a return to the Greek ideal – muscular development as a celebration of the human body.”

To that end, a dumbbell was developed to have a fixed center of gravity controlled by all fingers gripping it. While some ballistic movements can be performed with a dumbbell, its strength (no pun intended) is that it can be used to achieve hypertrophy by isolating a muscle with a grind movement.



Wikipedia tells us that, “The Russian girya … was a type of metal weight, primarily used to weigh crops in the 18th century…. They began to be used for recreational and competition strength athletics in Russia and Europe in the late 19th century. The birth of competitive kettlebell lifting (girevoy sport) … is dated to 1885.”

Unlike dumbbells and clubbells, a kettlebell’s center of gravity constantly changes within the grip, thereby challenging the user to constantly adapt to it. Because of this, there are over 25 grips. In addition, there are 4 basic styles: hardstyle, CrossFit and juggling, as well as girevoy (sport). An additional difference is that sport bells are all the same size, but vary in weight. This enables competitors to increase bell weight as their abilities increase, without having an unfair size advantage.

So, hire a professional qualified in the use of each of these tools and rock your bell! Contact Susanne today!