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Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells: Which Is Better

You Asked: Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells

Dear Fit,
I've always used dumbbells and weight machines for strength training exercises, but at the gym recently, I saw some people using kettlebells. Are they better than dumbbells and why should I use them? Should I switch completely?
— Confused about Kettlebells

This is such a great question. Both kettlebells and dumbbells are great tools for strength training, but they're used in different ways. To find out if one is better than the other, read more.

Dumbbells are inexpensive and can be used to tone just about every muscle in your body. They're used for basic lifting movements such as bicep curls, Lying Pec Flies, or Tricep Kickbacks, and are perfect for isolating one muscle group at a time. They are also great for adding weight to basic moves like lunges and squats.

Kettlebells are used primarily for swinging movements, so they end up combining strength training and cardio in one workout. Since they tone your muscles and burn calories, some think kettlebells give you more bang for your buck. Kettlebell exercises utilize a greater range of motion, so they also increase flexibility and tone your core, which is one reason I really like using them.

If you're just looking to tone up, dumbbells will do the job, but I think it is good to try new ways of working to avoid boredom. If you're an athlete and want to develop overall strength and flexibility, then you may want to incorporate some kettlebell exercises into your routine. Have someone at your gym show you how to use kettlebells correctly to avoid injuring yourself. The video below contains great shots of the kettlebells in action.

If you love kettlebells, tell me all about it in the comment section below.

Join The Conversation
mschelley mschelley 7 years
I love kettlebells. Have been training with them for about a year or so now and they are the best. In fact, I should go use mine now! The video is not representative of the traditional kettlebell workout. You can go to to check it out. Missy is my trainer and she's certified by Dragon Door. She's got a couple videos which are great to do at home. This workout is not very time consuming. I can get one in in 20 minutes. And Eric K's comments are soooo true. You will totally get out of it what you put in.
Eric-Kenyon-RKC Eric-Kenyon-RKC 8 years
Don't look at that video, everything about it is wrong. Nicholas has got the real deal. Using kettlebells takes a bit of work and attention. Either see a trainer certified by Pavel Tsatsouline or Valery Federenko, and really learn the right techniques, or leave kettlebells alone. If you are really good at following directions you could get started with "Enter the Kettlebell," the book or video, by Tsatsouline. Your results will proportional to the quality of your effort. - E
nicholasj nicholasj 8 years
Jan 06, 2009 – Chicago, IL (USA) Kettlebells vs. Traditional Resistance -by Nicholas Schodtler The reason for so much debate and confusion in my professional opinion, as to why kettlebells are a superior form of training, is too many people attempt to use kettlebells with little or no expert instruction. Because of this they make the CRITICAL MISTAKE of attempting to use kettlebells like traditional weights. Traditional weight lifting is what is called "Single-Plane Static" -Meaning your body is in a fixed position while pressing weight towards and away from you in a linear manner, (direct line of applied force) while attempting not to use momentum targeting an isolated muscle or muscle group. Even the muscle building is different. Traditional bodybuilding targets “Muscle Hypertrophy” –an increase in muscle size. Most people associate size with strength. What most people do not know is that 50-70-percent of hypertrophy size is from fluid called “Sarcoplasm.” Sarcoplasmic Volume accounts for 50-70 percent of muscle gain/size incurred through traditional weight lifting –contributing very little to direct strength. In “Real-Life-Activities” the human body moves constantly through three plains of motion at all times –Be it your job, daily tasks, sports …anything and everything! These planes are called:  Sagittal Plane  Frontal Plane  Transverse Plane Resistance Machines Traditional Weight-Lifting Resistance Bands ... All target Sagittal Plane movement from fixed positions. Again this is called “Single-Plane-Static.” All the so-called “Tried and True” methods of exercise listed above ignore two very necessary planes of motion critical to human performance and function. FACT …70% of ALL injuries will occur in the Transverse Plane. Resistance Machines Traditional Weight-Lifting Resistance Bands ... Do Not Promote Natural Movement ! This is what gives Kettlebell and Clubbell Training it’s distinct advantage over so-called “traditional methods” of training. So what’s the difference? Kettlebell training is the antithesis of traditional weight lifting –using all (3) Planes of Motion simultaneously –heavily targeting the Transverse Plane …Again this is where 70-percent of all injuries typically occur. Kettlebell training is based upon generating momentum and then perpetuating, redirecting and decelerating that momentum. Almost every kettlebell and Clubbell exercise engages literally hundreds of muscles at once. Most expert level kettlebell enthusiasts have profound functional strength without bulky size. This is because the very nature of kettlebell training triggers greater "Myofibril Density” and a higher "Rate of Synchronized Motor Units" Myofibrils are contractile organisms within the muscle that are directly related to strength –So muscles become incredibly dense (strong) without bulky size. A motor unit is a single α-motor neuron and all of the corresponding muscle fibers it innervates. When a motor unit is activated, all of its fibers contract. Groups of motor units are designed by Nature to work together to coordinate the contractions of a single muscle; so in theory the higher rate of motor unit synchronization the greater the contractile force. There is no substituting a kettlebell or a clubbell. Even if you were to attempt basic kettlebell movements with a dumbbell –like the “Kettlebell Swing” for example, it still would not even come close. Whether holding the dumbbell with one-hand or both hands, either by the handle or the dumbbell head, there is still a direct line of applied force –And the dumbbell itself is still balanced in design. The kettlebell is asymmetrical in design -Just the act of picking the kettlebell up into the "Rack" position triggers engagement of all 38-core muscles. KettleBell and Clubbell Training focus on Multi-Planar, (all 3-planes of motion) and Circular Training -Utilizing what is called MetCon Training (Metabolic Conditioning). MetCon Training works all four major body systems, Nervous System, Cardio-Vascular, Muscular and Skeletal … Simultaneously ! Look at it this way… You can run on a flat even surface. You can run up a steep uphill rugged terrain. Both involve running, and running no matter on what surface visually looks the same…But one is a HELL of a lot harder! This is the simple major contrast between traditional weightlifting and proper kettlebell training. Nicholas James Schodtler Master Personal Trainer Sports Enhancement Training National Academy of Sports Medicine, C.P.T. MetCon Training / Reality Fitness / Nutrition / Supplementation
letijay letijay 8 years
I really enjoy kettlebells. It started training with them in group classes at my gym, and I loved that you could get in a killer total body workout in just half and hour. I also have bells at home, which is really convenient when I'm pinched for time. I've trained with Steve Maxwell, whose site it Steve is amazing, and I highly recommend him if you're looking for a challenge. For something a little different, try My friend introduced me to this guy, and I love the DVDs. Lastly, if you're interested in kettlebells, I urge to take at least one private lesson with a certified instructor before you start training with them on your own. At my gym, they won't even allow you to take a group class without taking a private first. Form is really important, and it's worth taking the private to make sure you have a good foundation.
Scarlatina Scarlatina 8 years
I really like using a kettlebell for strength training. It makes me so much more sore than using regular dumbbells. Plus it's a lot more fun!
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 8 years
Wow...I went to
cdelaney cdelaney 8 years
I have been using kettlebells for over 3 years and love it. My husband was a top collegiate athlete and had been training with them for awhile, and recommended me to do so as well. I do not have a gym membership since the kettlebell is all I need. Truly. I workout at home following the workouts that my husband has created -- he is well versed in all areas of fitness, extensively researches, and trains. You can do any exercise with a kettlebell with equal to greater efficiency than a dumbbell. Before I started using kettlebells, I used dumbbells like everybody else. I did every exercise under the sun with 10-12 lb. weights for years, but never really saw any improvements or drastic changes. Within weeks of using the kettlebell, I noticed improvements in my body, as did many of my friends. It truly is a phenomenal workout and has improved my strength, agility, flexibility, cardio, balance, and endurance. It has toned me up and added lean muscle mass, not bulk. I am now using a 26 lb. kettlebell, and previously thought I'd never be capable to do so since I am 5'1" and 100 lbs. There is alot of information out there regarding kettlebells and their benefits. Be sure that is a reputable source and not a generic source trying to ride this as a trend. Please see the following links for more information:
greatscott200 greatscott200 8 years
My husband does Kettlebell training. There are alot of moves you can do and there are alot of books about kettlebells.
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 8 years
I considered getting a kettlebell but I don't use a trainer or go to a gym and it would be silly to use one just to learn how to use that. I guess I'll stick to dumbbells.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 8 years
why does it look like they're going to be slapping their butts with the kettle ball when they swing it between their legs? i've never tried a kettle ball. i'd be afraid of accidentally letting it go mid swing.
supercharger5150 supercharger5150 8 years
I do kettlebell swings with my trainer all the time. That's the only exercise I knew. I'm glag to see there are a lot more.
cupcakers cupcakers 8 years
Okay which one is better if you want to slim your arms and not bulk them? My arms are my trouble are and I really want to tone and trim them down. I use dumbells but I have difficulty doing some strength training because a few years ago I strained my tendon area on my left arm (the area on the other side of my elbow, I don't know what it's called!) and it hurts when I strength train. Would kettlebells be a good idea then?
kerry520 kerry520 8 years
I worked with kettlebells with my trainer. I actually just bought a five pounder this morning for home-use before reading this post... coincidence?????
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i've only seen people use kettlebells for one motion, so i'm always a bit partial to dumbells if i feel the need to use some type of weight in my workout
Tanya25 Tanya25 8 years
Personally I love the kettlebel workout..its so great and I have been doing it for about 2 months now 3 times a week and I am so much stronger, my obliques and more prominent and I just see more muscles definition anywhere. It's also a very fun workout
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
LOL at the screengrab that's shown of that video. It really looks like she's giving birth to the kettlebells (or something grosser).
PuppyEars PuppyEars 8 years
This video is not representative of what kettlebells can do for you, at all. There is tons of research and information out there. If you really want to learn about them, search around.
laellavita laellavita 8 years
I just recently started using kettlebells with my trainer, who I've been working with for months. Plus, I run 10ks so I figure I'm in pretty good shape. Kettlebells completely wiped me out! I was so sore to the point of taking tylenol for two days, and getting back in the gym on the third day was really difficult, but I did it. Now, we do them twice a week and it still hurts like crazy the day after, so I'll have three days of cardio, two kettlebell days with him, and two rest days immediately after each kettlebell day. I really noticed a difference in my body, especially my legs. Running is actually easier now, and I've upped my time.
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