Kettlebell vs Dumbbell – Choose the Right Tool for Your Goals

Two of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment for weightlifting are kettlebells and dumbbells. Although they are somewhat similar in size, kettlebells and dumbbells are two very different things.

A kettlebell is made out of a solid cast iron or steel piece and almost resembles a farmer’s tool. It has a handle at the top with an attached ball shape with a flat bottom. This means all the weight is directly below the handle, which allows you to do a unique selection of power and speed-based movements and exercises.

A dumbbell is simply a small bar or handle with enough space to fit just one of your hands, with weight plates on either side. The amount of weight can vary, and they can either be fixed or adjustable weight plates.

Depending on your desired fitness goals, settling on a kettlebell vs dumbbell is something you should be thinking about before heading out to a gym or even buying equipment for your home gym. Either way, it is a good idea to have a fitness routine and goals set in place and knowing which equipment to use for which exercises beforehand will help you achieve those goals.

While you can do a lot of the same exercises with both – for example, a kettlebell deadlift vs dumbbell deadlift or kettlebell overhead squat vs a dumbbell overhead squat – there are some things to keep in mind. Today we will go over the benefits of kettlebell vs dumbbell, the main differences, which one to use depending on your fitness goals, and more. Keep reading further so you can figure out which one is best for you.

Benefits of a Dumbbell

Benefits of a Dumbbell

There are a lot of reasons dumbbells are so popular in the weightlifting community. Just about anyone can use them because they are easy on our joints and connective tissue. Whether you have an injury or are a professional weightlifter, dumbbells are a great choice.

Dumbbells are also known to prevent overcompensation issues, which can lead to severe injuries down the road. This is when a stronger muscle begins to take over for a weaker muscle; using a dumbbell forces you to lift equal weight on both sides, making this much less likely to happen. This is called unilateral training, when each side of your body must do the work itself, which helps prevent overcompensation problems.

Lastly, research shows that dumbbells are better at increasing muscle activation in specific muscles than other popular fitness equipment such as barbells. This would be helpful if you wanted to focus on a certain area for that particular workout.

Benefits of a Kettlebell

Benefits of a Kettlebell

Now let’s talk about some of the benefits you receive when you choose to work out with a kettlebell. They are one of the most highly used fitness tools for wanting to improve your power and strength. You have to use your whole body and all your power to force that cast iron or steel ball into the air, depending on the kettlebell exercise you are doing. Even just lifting it requires a lot of strength, so using a kettlebell is a great way to help you achieve your top fitness goals.

Kettlebells also make you use your hips, which can often be forgotten about when working out. Exercises such as the kettlebell swing force your body to use and strengthen your hips, which happens to be a part of your body prone to overcompensation issues.

Since most kettlebell movements involve some sort of swinging motion, they are also a great tool to build up your back muscles. Going back to the kettlebell swing, you will feel your muscles working from your back to your calves.

Kettlebell vs Dumbbell: Main Differences

Now that we know the main benefits of using a kettlebell vs dumbbell, let’s go over the key differences of both pieces of equipment. This will help you decide which one will be better for your routine, whether you go to the gym or work out at home and need to purchase one.

Weight distribution: One of the fundamental differences between kettlebells vs dumbbells is where the weight is placed. All the kettlebell weight is directly under the handle, which makes it better for two-handed exercise like the kettlebell swing. The dumbbell, however, has the weight evenly distributed on either side.

Some dumbbells are made with adjustable weight plates, meaning you can increase or decrease the amount of weight you are lifting. However, there is only one weight option available with a kettlebell, unless you have multiple different-sized kettlebells.

Material and construction: Another key difference is the material; kettlebells are made of either cast iron or steel. They are tough and heavy and would hurt quite severely if you dropped one on your toe. Dumbbells are also usually made of cast iron, with some sort of neoprene rubber protection on the ends of the weight. You can find cheaper makes of both kettlebells and dumbbells, but they won’t be nearly as good as the real deals.

Cost: Lastly, kettlebells are usually more expensive than dumbbells just because of their unique design. This is especially the case when you invest in a good quality cast iron or steel kettlebell. No matter which you choose, it is crucial to take good care of your gym equipment.

Kettlebell vs Dumbbell: Which to Use Depending on Your Fitness Goals

Kettlebell vs Dumbbell

Considering the previously discussed differences, we will now go over which one would be best to use depending on your fitness goals.

Weight Loss

If weight loss is your desired fitness goal, kettlebells and dumbbells will work equally well. It just depends on what type of exercises and workouts you are looking to do. Kettlebells are great for high-intensity workouts, which are useful for burning a ton of calories in a short amount of time. If you are looking for something less intense, then going with dumbbells is a great choice. You can get a solid workout in, but at a slower pace that works for you.

Muscle Building

Dumbbells will be the ones you are going to want to use if you are looking to build up more muscle. Not only do you have the option on some dumbbells to change the amount of weight, but you also have more control. Doing a bench press or bicep curl, for example, would be awkward to achieve using a kettlebell. There are simply more muscle-building exercises that allow you to work on unilateral movement with a kettlebell vs dumbbell.

Athletic Movements

Since two of the most crucial elements for athletic training and competitions are stability and core strength, the kettlebell is slightly better for improving your athletic movements. Kettlebells focus on those factors, making them designed for that type of training. Whereas dumbbells still provide you with a good workout, more sports-focused workouts and training can be used.

Power and Strength

Similar to the weight loss goal, the kettlebell and dumbbell are tied when it comes to wanting to improve your overall power and strength. It depends on what type of workouts you enjoy more.

If you prefer CrossFit, intense style training, and workouts, we recommend going with the kettlebell. They are designed for explosive movements with a lot of power and force.

If you are more interested in bodybuilding and the traditional weightlifting style of working out, we recommend going with dumbbells. They are efficient, and the even weight distribution allows you to do a lot more exercises without the awkward handling of a kettlebell.

Kettlebell Exercises

  • Kettlebell swing – Bend your knees slightly and hold the kettlebell between your legs. Then thrust the kettlebell up into the air with all your force and power, pushing your hips forward as you raise it in the air. 
  • Kettlebell Russian Twist – Sit on the floor with your legs bent in front of you. Hold the kettlebell comfortably and repeatedly swing it over your abdomen, twisting as you take the kettlebell from side to side.
  • Single-arm kettlebell row – Hold the kettlebell with one hand and turn to the side. With a bent knee, repeatedly lower the kettlebell and raise it again in a rowing motion; you will instantly feel the burn.
  • Sumo squat – Place your feet further apart than a normal squat and hold the kettlebell between your legs. Repeatedly squat down while holding the kettlebell close to the floor. There are also a ton of other great kettlebell squat variations.

Dumbbell Exercises

  • Bicep curl – Hold the weights in front of you, and curl them up towards your chest, bending your elbows. This is one of the most popular exercises done with dumbbells.
  • Lateral raise – Hold the dumbbells at your sides and lift the weights out to the side. Repeat this process for as many reps as you would like.
  • Dumbbell bench press – Lay on a flat elevated surface and hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest with your arms extended. Bend your elbows and push up again.
  • Front raise – Simply hold the dumbbells and extend your arms out in front of you, then release them back down at your sides. Repeat this process for however many desired reps, and you do not need a lot of weight for this exercise to be effective.