Have you ever thought about how actually kettlebells differ from dumbbells? Dumbbells and kettlebells are popular pieces of fitness equipment you’ll find in most gyms and workout facilities. Many people use them interchangeably since they are both free weights; however, they are quite different. Each is suited for different muscle groups and the type of movement. The question you should be asking isn’t, “Should I get a kettlebell or dumbbells?” But how can either tool help me achieve my goals? Therefore, the main purpose of this article is not to discourage you from using kettlebells over dumbbells or vice versa. The main goal is to point out some facts to consider when employing kettlebells and dumbbells in your training program.
The main differences between kettlebells and dumbbells
There are many significant differences between a kettlebell and a dumbbell. Most of these differences are resulting from the shape of the kettlebell which is totally different than those of a standard dumbbell.
Shape & distance between the handle and the weight ball
The center of mass of the weight ball extends well beyond the hand, whereas with a dumbbell, the weight is in the hand, not in front. This spacing between the center of load and the kettlebell handle allows for swinging movements and movements that release and catch the kettlebell.
This is the main reason why you’ll never be able to perform some of the key kettlebell exercises with other weight training implements. For example, a barbell or dumbbell clean is different from the kettlebell clean in many important ways. This is mainly because of the shape of the kettlebell and the distance between the handle and the weight ball.
Different leverage to the loads
The design also allows the kettlebell to sit against the arm or body in almost every exercise. This gives greater leverage to the loads, with more parts of the body in contact with the kettlebell. The position of the handle allows the grip, wrist, arm, shoulder, legs, and core to strengthen all in one line.
Different impact on cramping or bending of the wrist
Because you can insert your hand deeply into the handle, there is no cramping or bending of the wrist when you hold the kettlebell, and the hand and forearm can be in neutral alignment. This gives your arm much greater endurance compared with holding a dumbbell, where the hand and wrist are crooked backward, putting great strain on the forearm muscles. Remember, if your forearms and grip give out early, then you can’t hold it, and if you can’t hold it, you can’t swing it!
The ability to perform higher repetitions
When it comes to progressively higher repetitions, in particular with the ballistic or fast lifts, the ability to keep your wrist, hand, forearm, and fingers neutral and relaxed opens up the possibility of being able to work until systemic exhaustion.
This is a key distinction between doing any lift with a dumbbell versus a kettlebell. If you look at movements such as the swing, snatch, clean and jerk, press, push press, or squat, you can see a big difference in the alignment of the hand and grip when holding dumbbells and when holding a kettlebell.
For any of these exercises, a person with equal training in technique will be able to do far more repetitions with a kettlebell compared with the same load in a dumbbell.
Different center of the mass
The dumbbell necessitates a cramped wrist. No matter how strong and conditioned you are, you will reach a point where your forearm, wrist, and hand will fatigue and you will not be able to hold onto the dumbbell any longer.
Doing the same exercise with a kettlebell (if that is possible) of an equal load, you can insert your hand deep into the handle, and the center of the bell is lower on your forearm (instead of in the hand as with a dumbbell), which means the load is closer to your center of mass.
In other words, the handle creates an additional joint on your arm, producing a variable center of gravity depending upon how you swing, push or pull it. The kettlebell’s weight is displaced beyond the center of the hand. This is challenging the user to control its movements while simultaneously counter-balancing its resistance through large range of motion.
This closer relationship between your center of mass and that of the kettlebell gives you greater control over the kettlebell.
|DUMBBELL FEATURES||KETTLEBELL FEATURES|
|Handle sitting in the middle of two spheres||Spherical shape with a handle extending from the top|
|Centered in the palm, allowing only two-dimensional |
|Handle creates variable three-dimensional |
|Unnaturally even distribution of weight||Round shape – uneven weight distribution|
|Horizontal plane||Vertical center of gravity (enhances natural|
|Traction on handles||Smooth handles|
The advantages of using kettlebells over dumbbells
- Unlike traditional gym workouts, kettlebells are producing dynamic movements – the use of three-dimensional movements that simultaneously work muscles throughout your entire body and train both strength and cardio endurance at the same time. They target almost every aspect of fitness, including strength, agility, balance, and endurance. They are, therefore, best suited for full-body workouts, executing power moves, building core strength, and for ballistic exercises.
- Due to the design of the kettlebell and the uneven distribution of weight, your body will be working to stabilize and counterbalance during your entire routine, so your core will be getting a killer workout as well.
- There is less of a need to continually add more kettlebell weights in small increments like is necessary with dumbbells and free-weights. Kettlebell training methodology makes it possible for you to safely make larger leaps between sizes and to continue using the lighter weights by incorporating more challenging exercises with them even after you have graduated to heavier kettlebells for some of your other moves.
- Highly functional, multi-joint movements like the ones performed in the kettlebells exercises in this section will net you amazing results for your body, including: weight loss, strength gain, greater fat burn, improved posture, more core development, increased joint mobility, better balance and coordination, more stamina and endurance, and increased speed.
- Training with kettlebells mimics the same natural motions that your body does in real life each day. This is why it is referred to as a functional workout. They allow you to train multiple muscle groups at the same time and force those muscle groups to work together. The result is an excellent whole-body workout.
The advantages of using dumbbells over kettlebells
- Dumbbells are superior for isolating muscles and training them separately. Most traditional weight training workouts that use dumbbells, free weights, or machines focus in on just one or two muscle groups at a time. That way you can focus better on a specific muscle or muscle group forcing them to grow. That is exactly what most bodybuilders are seeking for. With typical kettlebell exercises you work your entire body at the same time, not making enough intensity on an individual muscle (or muscle group) that is the subject of training.
- Many weight training exercises are simply not suited for the use of kettlebells (and vice versa). You will often see a YouTube video or article about “kettlebell training” when the exercises shown are simple exercises that could just as easily be done with a dumbbell (or other training modality). In other words, claiming the exercise is a “kettlbell exercise” when it’s not. That’s NOT kettlebell training, not even close (for example, a video showing biceps curls with a kettlebell is NOT kettlebell training). You shouldn’t swing a dumbbell (because you can’t swing it effectively) and you shouldn’t curl a kettlebell.
- With dumbbells, you get an evenly distributed weight and more stability. Dumbbells allow for heavier weights, which helps you achieve a bulky mass of muscle. When you use kettlebells, you gain an overall toning of your muscles.
|KETTLEBELL ONLY (these are “preferred” with a kettlebells)||DUMBBELL ONLY (these are “preferred” with a dumbbells)||DEALER’S CHOICE (could be done with either, matter of preference)|
|Swing||Biceps curls||Farmer’s walks|
|Snatch||Concentration curls||One arm rows on bench|
|Clean||Preacher curls||Single leg DL (deadlift)|
|Press||Hammer curls||Stiff leg DL|
|Goblet squat||Triceps kickbacks||And, there’s probably a few more we’re not thinking of right now|
|Front squat (racked squat)||Overhead triceps extension|
|Racked lunges||Forearm work (flexion/extension)|
|Deadlift (to learn the DL pattern)||Lateral shoulder raises|
|Racked carries||Rear deltoid work (reverse fly)|
|Turkish get up||Front raises for anterior deltoids|
|Windmill||Bilateral chest press on bench (flat, incline, decline)|
|Renegade rows||Chest flys (flat, incline, decline)|
|Russian twist||Seated DB pres|
|Kettlebell halo||Arnold press|
|Single kettlebell chest press on bench|
|Bottom’s up work (which cannot be done with a dumbbell)|
|Double kettlebell work needs to be mentioned here|
Closing thoughts: Dumbbells versus Kettlebells
Because all forms of strength training equipment offer different advantages and are limited by different disadvantages, it is best to use a variety of training equipment in your strength training program. It is a common belief in the gym that free weights (barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells) are more effective than machines. This is simply not true. The most effective way to make progress is to use machines whenever they are more appropriate than free weights, and free weights whenever they are more appropriate than machines. The same logic applies to the use of dumbbells and kettlebells – use dumbbells whenever they are more appropriate than kettlebells, and kettlebells whenever they are more appropriate than dumbbells. In other words, mix them up!
Kettlebells are extremely effective training tools, we all know that. So are dumbbells. The key is to know which tool is the right tool for the task, the right tool for what it is you want. While dumbbells and barbells should be in the focus of every bodybuilder’s workout, kettlebells are indeed another great way to add variety to any strength-training repertoire. But if you’re not interested in bodybuilding and if you have some other fitness goals, kettlebells may be your first choice. In fact, in almost all other scenarios, you can get much more out of kettlebells with the right form and guidance.