The basics? A kettlebell is a metal ball, much like a cannonball with a handle. Both the Scottish and Russians claim the rights to kettlebell history. As I say: Who cares? They're great in 2008. I don't care too much who used them in the 1800's. They come in various sizes and options (such as color, rubber coated, handle design, variable weight AKA kettlestack).
The hype? Are kettlebells over-hyped? Yes and No. Yes, because they cost WAY more than they should. Cast metal at $2 per pound plus delivery is unsettling. No, because the benefits of combining weighted resistance training with anaerobic conditioning with full-body movements is terribly needed in modern fitness models. The ergonomic KB design allows for safe and sure handling.
What the heck is a POOD? Kettlebell weights are denoted in several units of measurement: pounds (lbs or #), kilograms (kg), and poods. While most of us can figure out (or find out) the conversion between English and metric units, the "pood" is somewhat of an anachronism. The origins of "the pood" aren't nearly as necessary to remember as it is to know this:
one pood = 36 pounds (or 35 for those with +5lb increment KBs)
1.5 pood = 50 to 55 pounds
two poods = 70 pounds
Many hipsters like to cling to a sense of "old school" by referring to their KB weights by pood, rather than something a little more familiar. I guess there's something ultra-cool about saying, "Grab that one-pood, will ya?" Some trainers and workout material list poods. Remember the conversion.
What size? Most men begin with 35#, but I've heard a few stories of my friends returning to the fitness store to get a 25# after struggling with the weight. Men can usually work up to a 50# pretty easily, and a 75# with considerable work. Women start much lighter. I recommend most women get two KBs: a 15# and a 25#. The spread in weight allows for better control in the more difficult movements, and a heavier workload in the easier leg exercises. I haven't seen many women go beyond a 35#, but the elitist ladies are out there!!
What exercises? Check out internet sites like YouTube for a library of KB videos. I personally like Anthony DiLuglio and Jeff Martone. They've got some great resources. There's virtually no need to spend any money on videos or books. The free materials online are more than enough to get going. Here's some starter movements that I recommend:
Deadlifts (or Squats)
Swings (Russian or American style...doesn't matter)
Turkish Getups (abbreviated TGUs. Go light, go slow.)