Kettlebells have become extremely popular over the past few years, endorsed by sports teams, celebrities, personal trainers and rehabilitation specialists.
But how do kettlebells compare with the good old tradition dumbbell?
Let’s take a look at Kettlebells vs Dumbbells.
What exercises are best with the kettlebell vs dumbbell?
Both the kettlebell and the dumbbell offer you 100’s of different exercise options and most can be performed with either piece of equipment.
However there are a few exercises that feel more natural with the kettlebell and some which feel better with the dumbbell.
The kettlebell’s weight hangs underneath the handle whereas the dumbbell has it’s weight to the side of handle.
The main benefit for the kettlebell here is that it can naturally be swung between the legs and the weight follows the perfect line of the wrist and arm.
The dumbbell on the other hand loads the wrist laterally adding more strain to the wrist and requiring good stability and balance.
Swinging a dumbbell between the legs feels awkward and unnatural compared to the kettlebell.
The kettlebell swing is the cornerstone of all kettlebell training and targets most of the muscles in the body as well as quickly improving cardio without the need to move the feet.
Here’s the kettlebell swing in action:
Here’s the Kettlebell High Pull
and also the Kettlebell Snatch:
These dynamic, more flowing based exercises, make kettlebell training a joy to perform.
There’s a fun feeling that you get from kettlebell training that makes it very addictive.
Here’s a video demonstrating what I mean by this fun flow:
These swinging based exercises increase force production predominately through the hips which makes them an excellent option for sports teams and athletes.
Finally, as the kettlebell weight is offset from the handle they do offer an instability that is great for rehabilitation.
Exercises where the kettlebell is bottoms-up demonstrate this instability:
The dumbbell isn’t great for all these dynamic flowing based exercises above but it does come into its own when performing more isolation based exercises.
As the weights sit to the sides of the handle exercises including the Bicep Curl, Tricep Extensions, Lateral Raises etc. feel more comfortable.
It is also important to note that some dumbbell handles rotate when performing exercises whereas the kettlebell does not so it is common for regular kettlebell users to develop blisters and calluses on the hands.
The dumbbell can also feel like the safer option for beginners because the more dynamic exercises using the kettlebell do require some coaching to get right.
What weight options are there for kettlebells and dumbbells?
The kettlebell and dumbbell are available in a vast range of weight sizes. Here are how the weight options for both compare.
The kettlebell traditionally comes as standard in 8kg, 12kg (25lbs), 16kg (35lbs), 24kg, and 32kg.
There are manufactures who are now producing other weight sizes to reduce the leap from one kettlebell weight to the next but the range is limited.
The dumbbell on the other hand comes in a huge range of weight sizes and if you purchase a dumbbell with removable weight plates then you can increase weight sizes very gradually.
So here dumbbells are very versatile and weights can be increased very gradually to avoid overloading certain muscle groups and causing injury.
However, it is important to realise here that kettlebells are programmed very differently to dumbbells.
Traditional kettlebell training is based around full body movements using hundreds of muscles at a time so progressing from say a 12kg kettlebell to a 16kg kettlebell makes more sense.
Dumbbells on the other hand are traditionally focused on fewer muscles so much more gradual progress is necessary.
How do the designs compare?
There are a few important differences in the design of the kettlebell and the dumbbell that are worth mentioning.
The kettlebell has a thicker handle than the standard dumbbell which puts added strain onto the grip of the user.
The benefits here are improved grip strength especially as kettlebells tend to be swung which increases the demands on the grip even further.
Kettlebell exercises also tend to involve rolling and rotating the kettlebell handle through the hand. As the kettlebell moves through the hand it is very common for blisters and calluses to occur from frequent use.
As the weight hangs below the handle of the kettlebell performing holding based exercises at the sides of the body feels comfortable.
For example: holding one kettlebell in each hand by your sides and performing lunges feels very natural as do farmers walks.
Also, the kettlebell can be held up in the racked position as shown here:
The racked position provides a comfortable home for the kettlebell enabling you to perform many exercises including: squats, lunges, step ups etc.
From the racked position the kettlebell can be pressed overhead and with the wrist in a locked position it provides an excellent platform for the exercise.
Finally, as the kettlebell sits on the floor the handle stands up nicely making it excellent for picking up and putting down.
Exercises including the single arm and single leg deadlift make the kettlebell very convenient to perform.
Here’s the kettlebell single leg deadlift:
The only downside of using kettlebells in this way is that the range of movement can be limited compared with the dumbbell that sits much closer to the floor.
The dumbbell has a much thinner diameter handle than the kettlebell making it more comfortable to hold especially for ladies.
If you are using dumbbells that have removable disc plates then you will also find that the handle will rotate in your hand making certain exercises more comfortable.
Dumbbells also allow full rotation of the wrists for a more diverse focus on certain muscle groups during movement.
Conclusion: Should You Use a Kettlebell or Dumbbell?
It is important to understand your goals before choosing any type of exercise equipment.
Both the kettlebell and dumbbell offer you a huge multitude of exercise options.
The kettlebell is better for more dynamic and ultimately more explosive based exercises including the kettlebell swing, high pull and snatch exercises.
The dumbbell feels more natural for certain isolation based exercises including the bicep curl, tricep extension and shoulder raises etc. they also offer a lot more diversity with wrist positions.
The weight of Dumbbells can be increased gradually whereas the kettlebell involves larger leaps between weights.
The main downside to kettlebells are they do take some good coaching to get right so for beginners dumbbells are a safer option.
To see more posts about general kettlebells workouts and advice, go here.
What are your thoughts on the kettlebell vs dumbbell? Let me know below…