Sandow Kettlebell Study

by Roger LaPointe

I am really excited about this topic. I have unearthed a “new” lift.

Traditional kettlebells offered by Atomic Athletic.

Did you see yesterday’s photo of that 1928 French gym with Prof. Desbonnet? Look at the equipment in the background and on the floor. I can pick out at least four different kinds of kettlebells. Each one has a slightly different shape and handle design.  Kettlebells are hot and trendy again. Fashion comes and goes. Because kettlebells are a great tool, I hope they don’t disappear again. Fifteen years ago you couldn’t get a kettlebell. Certain guys like myself were brought up training with old kettlebells, so they never really disappeared, but you certainly couldn’t buy a new one.  Forty years before that photo of Desbonnet was taken, Eugene Sandow did a serious study of kettlebell training. Kettlebell training was considered so essential that his anatomical and bio-mechanics illustrations were done all in relation to the kettlebell lift he considered the very most important.

Trust me, this is the type of research that gets me excited.


The lift is definitely a kettlebell overheard split, but, it is unclear if the study is of a split snatch, split swing or even a split jerk. The awesome part about this is that the study was done in the late 1880s, making it the earliest indication I can find of this type of lift with a ring weight type object done in the manner of a kettlebell. Variations of the study were printed in Sandow’s books.  Expanding on this, I have also found a direct link from this study to Mark Berry’s ABBM (Association of Bar Bell Men), as their membership medal featured the figure originally produced by the Sandow Study. Berry was the editor of “Strength” magazine and associated with Alan Calvert’s Milo Bar Bell Company, which was ultimately purchased by Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Company.


For these lifts, I prefer to use plate loading kettlebell handles. They work well for movements from the floor and have a fantastic upright position when overhead. The bio-mechanics of the design are outstanding for the shoulder and rotator cuff. Clearly, the kettlebell used in this early study was slightly different from most modern kettlebells.  Versatility is also a hallmark of the kettlebell handle, as you can easily make quick plate changes.

All the best, Roger LaPointe
“Today is a good day to lift.”