Kettlebells look like cannon balls with handles and, despite being a current exercise trend, they are far from new. Hailing from Russia, kettlebells have been used for centuries and have recently reemerged as an fun and effective alternative to traditional dumbbells and barbells. Most kettlebell exercises are performed in a standing position so the shoes you choose to wear can have a big impact on your safety and exercise performance.
Running shoes have thick heels that are designed to absorb shock as your foot hits the ground. This can help reduce foot pain and the chance of suffering a foot, knee, hip or back injury. However, this elevated heel also pushes your center of gravity forward onto your toes. This is not so good when you are straining to complete another rep of kettlebell swings. Flat heeled shoes are preferable so that you can keep your weight on your heels and sit back into your kettlebell exercises. This increases hamstring and gluteus maximus involvement.
The thicker the sole of your shoe, the more unstable you will be. Imagine trying to perform kettlebell snatches in 1970's-style platforms. It's a recipe for disaster. Thin-soled shoes will ensure your feet are as grounded and stable as possible, which will help you to keep your ankles, knees, hips and pelvis properly aligned. This will increase the effectiveness of the exercises you are performing, help you save energy by eliminating extraneous movement and make your workout safer.
Compressing your feet, as when you are lifting heavy kettlebells, can cause them to roll inward or outward. In running terms, inward rolling is called pronation while outward rolling is called supination. Ideally, your feet should remain neutral when performing kettlebell exercises so a shoe with lateral support can be beneficial. Olympic weightlifting shoes are often equipped with metatarsal straps to hold your foot securely in place and while these shoes, because of their elevated heels, might not be ideal for general kettlebell training, some manufacturers have incorporated this idea into their athletic shoes. If you find your ankles roll in or out during your kettlebell workouts, seek out shoes with increased lateral support.
In the absence of suitable shoes, some kettlebell practitioners prefer to workout barefoot. Being barefoot allows you to be very grounded and stable and provides great feedback on how your weight is being distributed. On the downside, not all gyms allow barefoot training and will often quote hygiene and safety regulations as the reason. While these concerns are legitimate, from a safety point of view, barefoot training is probably safer than wearing spongy running shoes. Even the best running shoe will not stop you from hurting yourself if you inadvertently drop a weight on your toes.
There are specialist shoes that you can buy for kettlebell training but other types of shoe are also suitable. Flat sneakers are a good option, as are classic tennis shoes. Both of these options are affordable and readily available from sporting goods stores and other retailers. For kettlebell training, the flatter the shoe and the thinner the sole, the better. Shoes with lots of cushioning are really not suitable.
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.