Kettlebells aren't exactly new, having been used in Eastern Europe for over a century. In the past 50 years, free weights such as barbells and dumbbells have pushed kettlebells to the side of the gym. Now that kettlebells are making a comeback, you might want to give them a try, but what are the differences between kettlebells and dumbbells? Is one more effective than the other for your training purposes?
The physical design is where the differences between kettlebells and dumbbells start. Kettlebell instructor Mike Mahler describes a kettlebell as looking like a bowling ball with a suitcase handle. Like dumbbells, kettlebells come in graduating sizes, anywhere from 8 pounds up to over 100 pounds. The weight of a dumbbell is distributed evenly on the ends of the bar, but with a kettlebell, the weight is off-center from the handles. The handles, too, are different as they are thicker than dumbbells.
Kettlebells and dumbbells can be used for many of the same exercises, such as presses, curls, lateral raises and rows. In an article for "Men's Health," Markham Heid explains that the key difference with the kettlebell is in how you use it; they are very effective when used with higher reps performed faster and for at least a minute, sometimes more. Mike Mahler agrees, pointing out that even when targeting specific muscle groups, kettlebells force you to use stabilizer muscles more. With dumbbells, you can still work specific muscle groups, but you have to do fewer repetitions and use more weight, which means they don't provide a ballistic workout.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of equipment. The advantage that dumbells have over kettlebells is that their design makes them easier to control, making for an effective workout if you want to use high weight to build muscle. You also don't need as much room to use them. Many of the swinging exercises that you do with kettlebells require a good amount of space around the user. On the Idea Health and Fitness Association's website, Shannon Fable recommends an allowance of 35 square feet for comfort as well as safety reasons.
Advantages of kettlebell exercises include improved power and greater fat burning by activating more muscles, all while building muscle, too. This is because kettlebell workouts utilize momentum, allowing you to workout in less time, and they improve muscular strength and endurance. Kettlebell workouts have a cardio component to them and they help you gain better balance, posture and core strength, too.
So which piece of equipment should you chose? "Men's Health" points out that dumbbells and kettlebells each work better for different exercises, so your choice may depend on your fitness goals. When developing workouts for clients, personal trainer Matt Siaperas recommends using a variety of equipment and routines to prevent boredom and to keep workouts fresh. Using dumbbells and kettlebells interchangeably can help prevent plateaus that can halt or delay your progress. Incorporating both pieces of equipment into your workout will allow you to take advantage of the benefits of both while changing up your routine for something new.
- Ideafit; Kettlebell Comeback; Shannon Fable
- Matt Siaperas, personal trainer; Hardbodies Gym; Blackfoot, Idaho
- "Kettlebells: Strength Training for Power & Grace": Smith Vatel and Victoria D. Gray
- Mike Mahler: The Benefits of Kettlebell Training for Fat Loss, Strength Training, Explosive Power, and Muscle Building
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.