SteelBells alternative to popular kettlebell

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WASHINGTON — Funny thing about the TRX/Kettlebell Boot Camp classes held 12 times a week at Washington's Reformation Fitness: They don't use a single kettlebell.

Instead, instructor Bo Hickey has his students heave around neoprene discs stuffed with steel shot.

These pancake-shaped weights called SteelBells don't much resemble kettlebells — which look like cannonballs with a handle attached — but they can do all the same tricks and more, Hickey says.

It took some lobbying to get Reformation owner Mike Huling to buy a set for his studio earlier this year. But after feeling how the steel shot shifts inside the discs, forcing muscles to react with every movement, Huling was sold.

Plus, the SteelBells stack neatly, and they haven't nicked up the wood floors even after countless slams to the ground. "We've abused the heck out of them," marvels Huling, who has kept ordering the weights in more sizes.

Hickey, a graduate student in George Washington University's exercise science program, discovered the weights at school. Picking one up, he immediately had all sorts of ideas for how to use it — grip it at the edge and swing it like a kettlebell, toss it to a partner, throw it on the floor and use it in place of a gliding disc. One of his toughest moves is the crocodile walk: Do a pushup, shove the SteelBell in front of you, then walk in plank position up to the weight and repeat.

"I started using them as cones. If you plant on it, you won't twist your ankle," Hickey says.

Reformation client Stephanie Covello, 26, says the only downside is that they can be tough to hold on to. Hickey, however, views improved grip and forearm strength as a plus.

SandBells, made by the same manufacturer, are neoprene stuffed with sand instead of shot. "They look cute, but they become quite heavy to move around," says trainer local Jennifer Auchterlonie, who has found that when you're too tired to lift them, you can use them as an elbow cushion during plank.