This Strangely Unavailable Item Has People in a Panic

High demand for fitness equipment has manufacturers scrambling to keep up with consumers.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, there was so much uncertainty about what was happening and how bad things were going to get that a palpable feeling of panic swept over the entire country. It was this anxiety that led people to stock up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, food, and other essentials. But those weren't the only products that suddenly became hard to come by. When gyms closed, fitness-focused consumers began mass-purchasing exercise equipment. And one particular item became especially scarce, seemingly overnight, and remains so even today: Right now, there is a kettlebell shortage in this country.

According to The New York Times, a study of consumer interests conducted by Yelp in April found that interest in fitness equipment had risen by 500 percent in the U.S. since March—when lockdown officially went into effect. A variety of weights and training tools suddenly became hard to come by, whether you were shopping online at a local or national sporting good retailer or trying your luck on Amazon. But it was kettlebells that proved particularly elusive. In May, The New York Times reported that Dick's Sporting Goods, one of the country's largest sporting goods chains, even stated on its website that there wasn't a single kettlebell available within 100 miles of New York City.

Man holding kettlebells at the gym

What's so special about these weighted, iron balls with handles? For one, they are favorite among fitness enthusiasts both at the gym and at home because they don't take up any space and are incredibly versatile—providing those who use them with the opportunity to get a full-body workout with a single, simple piece of equipment. At the root of the current shortage, however, is a manufacturing and supply chain management problem.

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When you consider that 65 percent of the fitness equipment imported into the U.S. comes from China, it's easy to see why coronavirus was the catalyst of the shortage. Gyms closed, demand increased, and the supply chain from the main manufacturing source was indefinitely stalled. As such, U.S. fitness companies have had to turn to a handful of smaller American foundries to manufacture kettlebells. According to reporting by GQ in April, that includes Rhode Island's Cumberland Foundry, a small mom-and-pop operation that can only produce about 40 to 50 kettlebells per day.

"These huge companies are turning to a little mom and pop-type shops like us to get this product made because there's no one else left in the U.S. who can do it," Cumberland president, Tom Lucchetti, told GQ. "At this time, it seems mutually beneficial to make the kettlebells, but it's not something we're looking to base our business on moving forward."

And until there is a long-term solution, consumers will either have to be patient or seek other ways of acquiring the equipment. In New York City that may mean enlisting the services of The Kettlebell Guy—a 40-year-old gym owner named Marc Miller, who has been using his connections, as well as his own supply of equipment, to keep things financially afloat during lockdown by delivering kettlebells to local residents willing to pay top dollar to stay in shape. And for more workout-related tips to consider now that reopening is under way, This Is the Worst Thing You Can Touch at the Gym, the CDC Says.

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