How to Decide Between Dumbbell vs. Kettlebell for a Workout

If you are ready to do a round or two of heavy goblet squats and single-arm chest presses in a packed gym, you may decide to grab whatever weight is available. You might find yourself using the same weight for all your workouts, even if you’re working out from home.

Is it really important to choose the right weight for your strength-building exercises? Fitness professionals break down the key differences between kettlebells and dumbbells. This includes when each type is most beneficial and when you can mix them.

The Differences between Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells

Kettlebell or dumbbell? Weight distribution

Because of their different shapes, dumbbells, as well as kettlebells, can have different weight distributions. Allison Tenney is a certified strength & conditioning specialist with an RKC-Kettlebell certification in Austin. A kettlebell features a bell-like shape with a ball at one end and a curved handle at the other. This allows the weight to be distributed under the handle. Tenney explains that a dumbbell is a straight handle, with two equally-sized weights at both ends. The weight is evenly distributed. The kettlebell has less stability than a dumbbell so it requires more effort from you to keep it steady.

Tenney says that kettlebells have a distinct design advantage when it comes to stability. ICYDK is about the control of a joint’s movement or position. According to the American Council on Exercise information, your stability may be limited. You might need to compensate for your form by performing complex exercises. This can increase your risk of injury, or muscular imbalances.

A shoulder press can be described as: If you are using a kettlebell for this exercise, you will position yourself in a racked position. Your elbow will be tucked behind your head and the handle at your shoulder. Pushing the kettlebell towards the ceiling will cause your arm to move away from you. To maintain good form and joint stability, your core muscles and arm muscles will need to be doubled down, Prentiss Rhodes, a NASM certified personal trainer and performance enhancement specialist told Shape. Tenney says that your stabilizer muscles will be used to hold your wrist in a neutral position during the entire movement. She explains that a dumbbell’s evenly distributed weight makes it more stable than a standard kettlebell. As a result, you can get more reps done with less effort from your stabilizer muscle.

Workout with Dumbbells

Dumbbell vs. Kettlebell. Handle Shapes and Range Of Motion

A key difference between kettlebells and dumbbells is the handles. This describes how their shape affects your movement patterns. Tenney says that kettlebells can hold two hands, as their handle is higher than the weight. (Think: placing your hands between the bell handle and the handle). A dumbbell, however, has only one hand space.

These differences are crucial when it comes to the power of certain exercises and the range of motion they can produce. Tenney states that the kettlebell’s handle, combined with its uneven weight distribution, makes it ideal to perform ballistic exercises such as kettlebell swings and cleaning. Research published in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy is showing that a kettlebell swing requires you to use only one or two hands to swing the weight from the floor to your eyes. This increases power and helps with strength. Gravity is responsible for the weight falling back to the original position. Your core and lower body muscles will contract to slow down the descent. This makes the glue-building exercise a complete-body move.

Although you can still swing with a dumbbell, this may not work as well or be as comfortable due to its equal weight distribution and straight hand, according to NAJSPT research. According to Tim Kim, C.P.T., who is a certified functional strength coach as well as Equinox Tier 3+ Trainer, the shape and weight distribution in the kettlebell will make it easier and safer for most cases.

Workout with Kettlebell

Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells for Workouts

Tenney suggests first focusing on the purpose of the exercise: Are you looking to build strength or stability?

You can build strength with kettlebells. However, the dumbbell is better for that purpose than a kettlebell. Although dumbbells are great for building strength and performing ballistic exercises like powerlifting, they can also be used to build muscle and increase your mobility …[because of the way you can grip the handle and move more. Tenney suggests that you think about which muscles you want to target. A kettlebell might be the best choice if you’re trying to target stabilizer muscle. (Related: 9 Best Kettlebell Exercises For Your Upcoming Workouts.

Kim suggests that you may be able to choose the best tool for your strength training by looking back at your experience. According to Kim, as a trainer, a dumbbell’s weight distribution is more difficult than a kettlebell. Tenney also says that kettlebells are a good choice for clients who want to learn how to use them if they’re interested in to Olympic weightlifting, or similar training methods that require a barbell. “When it comes down to traditional power exercises like snatches, cleans, and more, I prefer to start with kettlebells first so you can really understand the mechanics before you move into Olympic weightlifting,” Tenney says. “It is a lot harder to understand the mechanics if you are using a dumbbell.”

The takeaway on Kettlebells and Dumbbells

There’s no winner in the dumbbell or kettlebell debate. Kim states that “you can do all the same exercises using either one of them (yes, it’s possible to still swing a dumbbell),”. With the proper training knowledge and an understanding of exercise selection, both can be done. Tenney says that you could hold the dumbbell weight with one hand and grip the straight handle to perform a kettlebell swing without a kettlebell.

Tenney also suggests that you incorporate dumbbells as well as kettlebells in your strength-training program. “If our program is all about kettlebells, how do we infuse the dumbbell in there ….?” You can have the best of both! She continues. “The more tools you have, the more fun it is to train.”

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