The 2020 Kettlebell Shortage Explained

Kettlebell exercises

I don’t know about you, but since this whole COVID-19 situation entered full swing, I have been trying desperately to get my hands on some gym equipment I can use at home.

In fact, what I really want is some kettlebells.

I mean, there is not piece of equipment more versatile than a kettlebell. It offers one of the few tools you can integrate into your training that can improve your strength, power, aerobic fitness, and endurance.

The kicker?  They cannot be found anywhere.

Which begs the question – what the hell is going on?

Supply shortage of weights in the US

Man lifting weights

The most obvious thing here is the fact that with gyms shutting down, people have realized that their only option is to work out at home. This has increased equipment demand beyond what would be considered ‘normal’, leading to a national shortage.

In fact, since gyms shut down, US retailers have reported spikes of up to 625% in home exercise equipment sales, which is an absurd statistic.

However, that is not the only thing going on here – especially with kettlebells.

Supply chain issues with kettlebells and weights 

What many people fail to realize is that a whopping 65% of exercise equipment here in the USA are made and imported from foundries in China – which have, unfortunately, had production stall since January 2020 due to the global coronavirus crisis.

Consequently, it is not only the fact that people are buying more kettlebells, but also our ability to import them has seen a drastic decline.

This is one of the main reasons we are seeing a serious weight shortage across the country.

Difficulty of making kettlebells 

Now, I know what you are thinking – why don’t we just make more of our own?

But the thing is, making kettlebells is not as easy as you may think.

See, here in the United States, there are only a small number of foundries that have the facilities required to forge kettlebells – and even then, it is slow going.

In fact, one of the biggest foundries in the country (found in Rhode Island, for those of you who are interested) can only forge about 45 per day.

As I am sure you can imagine, this is nowhere near enough to meet demand, leading to the serious kettlebell shortage we have on our hands today.

Weight replacements you can find at home

At home workout

Through a little bit of experimentation, I did come to a bit of a conclusion – while you may not be able to buy any at home workout equipment in the current climate, you can make your own,

All with simple household items, for that matter.

Detergent or oil jugs

I know this may sound like a ridiculous option but hear me out for a second.

Both detergent and oil containers are large in size, which means you can load them up with an appreciable amount of weight. Their handles also sit on top of the container, rather than to the side, closely replicating a kettlebell.

And to make things even better, they have nice thick handle that is easy to hold onto.

In short, they are arguably the perfect home kettlebell alternative.


Speaking of things that have handles on top, what about a cheap backpack?

Not only are they the right shape, but they can be easily loaded up with things like bricks, water bottles, cans of food, and even sand. As a bonus, because they are generally made of fabric, if you do happen to drop them there is minimal chance of damaging anything.

Finally, you can always throw the backpack on and add some load to movements like squats, lunges, and push ups – talk about versatile.

Tote bags

Ok, so you do not have a full on backpack at home, and you would rather not buy one – I get it.

But surely you have an old tote bag lying around?

Like the backpack, these can be easily loaded with household objects, and have a top handle making them perfect for swings, presses, and farmers carriers. Oh, and because they are generally pretty cheap, it doesn’t really matter if you damage them (just think of it as a necessary sacrifice…).

Paint cans

This last option is not necessarily a great kettlebell replacement because of their skinny handle, but they do make the perfect replacement for a dumbbell.

Because of their small size and large diameter handle (which also happens to pivot), they are perfect for things like presses, rows, bicep curls, and tricep extensions.

Additionally, you can simply fill them with water to add load (just make sure the lid is on tight…).

Body weight exercises to replace weight training exercises 

push up

In addition to the tools mentioned above, it is important to note that you can absolutely get a great workout in using nothing but your bodyweight alone.

In fact, there are a few bodyweight exercises that offer seriously effective replacements for traditional gym exercises.

Push up

An old favorite, the push up is the perfect substitute for the bench press exercise.

Like the bench press, it works the pecs, deltoids, and triceps. Importantly, it also helps improve core stability and can enhance shoulder heath and function – which may even make it superior.

Of course, one great positive associated with the push up is that it can easily be made easier by elevating your hands, or harder by elevating your legs. This makes it perfect for everyone.

Towel row

One type of weight training exercise that is normally very hard to replicate in home exercise settings are rows.

However, it can be done.

The towel row is the perfect option to strengthen all the muscles of your upper back, while enhancing your posture in the process. And as a positive, all you need is a towel and a doorframe to complete it properly.

A great introductory video can be found HERE which runs through the set up in a step by step process.

Bulgarian Split Squat

A Bulgarian split squat is simply a normal split squat movement, but instead of having your back foot planted on the ground, it is actually elevated on an object directly behind you (a couch is a great choice for this).

This makes the movement more challenging for the grounded leg, overloading the quads and glutes, while also increasing single leg stability to a greater degree than a traditional bilateral squat.

Bent knee hip lift

Last but not least, we have the bent knee hip lift.

This exercise is a lot like a glute bridge, but instead of performing it with your knees bet to 90 degrees, they are actually going to be performed at about 45 degrees (so they should be a lot straighter), and with your feet elevated on a surface (again, us a couch).

Then, when you thrust your hips into the air, you want to squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you possibly can.

This is the perfect exercise for strengthening your entire posterior chain without any equipment at all.

Are bodyweight exercises as beneficial as weight training

One common question that comes up as soon as you start to talk about bodyweight training sits around whether it is as effective as traditional weight training, or not.

And the answer is kind of boring – it depends.

See, the biggest benefit weight training has over bodyweight training comes down to its ability to increase load. This increase load increases the demand placed on the body, leading to greater gains in strength, power, and muscle growth.

However, that does not mean that the same cannot be accomplished with bodyweight training.

You can absolutely make bodyweight exercises more challenging by adding load in the form of backpacks, or simply holding onto something heavy. Moreover, you can also enhance their effectiveness by playing around with tempo.

In short, slowing an exercise down increases the time you place a muscle under tension, which is known to increase muscle growth.

So, I guess you could say that both can be as effective as one another, however you have to be a little bit more strategic with bodyweight exercises because it is not as easy as just ‘throwing more wight on the bar.’

Related Article: How to Incorporate HIIT in Every Workout

Tips for strength training and bodyweight exercises at home 

Woman doing at home workout

With all this information outlining how you can perform some exercises at home, I wanted to provide some of my top tips to making your home workouts as effective as possible.

  • Create a routine: one of the hardest things about working out at home is that it rarely ever feels like you are actually working out. This can ruin your motivation and stall progress. As a result, I would encourage you to make a consistent routine and stick to it. This means training at the same time, and on the same days, each week.
  • Focus on the movement: with all the exercises listed above, your ability to use heavy loads is somewhat limited. This means you will be well-served by slowing things down and really focusing on technique and control.
  • Add load when you can: once you feel you have adequate control of a bodyweight movement, now is the time to add load. This will make the exercise more challenging and improve your results.
  • Make sure to have breaks: even though you might have more time to work out than ever before, you still want to take some rest days because this is when your body recovers and adapts. I would encourage you try and perform your weight-based workouts 3 times per week, and then undertake some aerobic exercise or HIIT on the other days.
  • Try hitting some more reps: often in the gym it is easy to get stuck using the same old 8-10 rep range. Use this time to focus on some higher reps (like 15-25, for example) and make progress in different areas.

And there you have it – some simple tips to make your home workouts as effective as possible.

Related Article: How to Set Health Goals After COVID-19

Take Home Message

The COVID-19 situation we have suddenly found ourselves has stopped us going to the gym and made it near impossible to get any home exercise equipment – but that does not mean you are destined to lose fitness.

In fact, using some ingenuity and some great bodyweight exercises, you can come up with a home based exercise plan that will keep you progressing into isolation and beyond.

So why not grab a backpack and get started now?

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