Adjustable Kettlebell & dumbbell side by side

How To Choose Between Kettlebells Vs Dumbbells

Regardless of your fitness level and how frequently you visit the gym, you’re likely familiar with dumbbells. They’re one of the more popular exercise equipment because of their ease-of-use and versatility. Kettlebells, on the other hand, are more of a mystery to people, mainly because of their structure and the range of motion they provide. Despite this, kettlebells are just as useful as dumbbells and can be preferable to dumbbells depending on the exercise.

So,when exactly do you use kettlebells as opposed to dumbbells, and what exactly are the differences between the two? To answer these questions and many more, we’ll shed some light on the two exercise equipment so that you’ll know which to use to get the most out of your workout.

The Difference Between Kettlebells and Dumbbells

There are 3 key differences between kettlebells and dumbbells: structural difference, weight distribution difference, and difference in range of motion:  

Structural Difference

The most obvious difference between kettlebells vs dumbbells is the shape. Structurally, dumbbells carry weights between a short handle in the middle white kettlebells are rounded weights with a handle in the shape of a bell.

Weight Distribution Difference

The difference in the weight distribution of both types of equipment affects how they perform and how you use them. When carrying a dumbbell, you’re holding the weight in the middle of your palm. On the other hand, when you hold a kettlebell by the handle, the weight is in the rounded part, which sits below the handle. 

Difference in Range of Motion 

In terms of the range in motion, the dumbbell allows for more controlled and isolated movement. Since the weight is on either side of the small bar, you’re able to start and stop at any point during the movement. Kettlebells will not respond as quickly to shifts in your movement. During a kettlebell swing, the weight moves according to the speed of the movement and how the bell moves around your hand. This difference alters how your muscles, fascia, and even nervous system adapt to the movement.

woman lifting up an adjustable dumbbell

Free Weight Exercises — Kettlebells or Dumbbells?

Now that we know the differences between kettlebells vs dumbbells here’s how to use them. Some movements are more easily performed using a kettlebell or dumbbell. In some cases, certain exercises require one or the other in order to achieve proper form. Below, we’ve compiled a list of various kinds of exercises and identified whether kettlebells or dumbbells are better suited. 

Pressing Exercises

If you’re looking to build strong, rounded shoulders, you’ve probably done press exercises of some kind. A military press, for example, where you hold weights at your shoulders and drive your arms upward, is a classic example of a press exercise. Done for strength training, military presses require core stability, shoulder power and mobility. 

It’s also an exercise that is better performed using a kettlebell. The main reason for this is that kettlebells provide better shoulder-blade stability and control. With press exercises, you are aiming for your shoulders to depress and retract. The kettlebell puts your shoulders in those precise positions naturally. This is not the case for dumbbells because the load is spread across two sides of the handle. Pressing with dumbbells can lead you to arch your back or press lightly in front of your torso, which may place unnecessary stress on your shoulder joints.   

Pulling Exercises

Grip strength is a necessary requirement for any pulling exercise, whether that’s pull ups or deadlifts. Although the kettlebell forces you to squeeze the handle tightly to control kettlebell swing, the dumbbell is the better choice for these types of exercises. This is because length of time under tension is the biggest factor when it comes to completing the exercises correctly and reducing risk of injury. Time under tension or TUT refers to the amount of time a muscle is held under tension or strain during an exercise set. In this case, your body will become more stable in the movement when gripping a dumbbell for a longer period of time, whether you lift heavier weights or lighter weights.   

Explosive Exercises

Explosive movements like cleans, snatches, and swings help to develop full-body strength. They also teach your muscles to work together, while elevating your heart rate, and allowing you to build power.

Kettlebell training allows you to be more explosive and powerful just by grabbing the handle and swinging. When you control the momentum of the kettlebell while it swings, you are using a number of muscles in your body, making it a total-body workout. Although you can perform fundamental kettlebell movements like snatches and swings with dumbbells as well, the benefits of power-based, dynamic movements are greater with kettlebell swings. Though you can complete some explosive exercises with dumbbells like dumbbell snatches, the structure of the kettlebell is ideal for explosive movements.  

Isolation Exercises

Bicep curls and tricep skull-crushers are examples of isolation exercises. These kinds of exercises are an excellent way to target specific areas. They work muscles by limiting the use of others. If one of your main fitness goals is improving the appearance of certain body parts, then isolation exercises should be a part of your workout. 

For isolation exercises, you are better off using dumbbells. The reason for this comes down to the movements required. For instance, when completing biceps curls, your biceps have two responsibilities: flexing your arm at the elbow and keeping your palm facing upward toward the ceiling. When using a kettlebell to do a bicep curl, you will be able to flex your arm at the elbow as well as keep your palm facing upward. Keeping your palm facing upward using a kettlebell will be natural because of the placement of the handle. However, because of the structure of the dumbbell, it forces you to think about keeping your forearm and palm up in order to keep the dumbbell balanced as you curl upward. Being conscious of all movements means you can start and stop at different points in that movement.

Leg Exercises

Ask any gym-goer what day they look forward to least and most will answer leg day. However when it comes to weight training, resistance training, and even cardio, leg days are vital. Leg days also help build total-body muscle and promote burning fat. So which fitness equipment works better for training your legs? In this case, both dumbbells and kettlebells can be used but when you use them depends on a number of factors.

If you are a beginner, it is advised that you start with dumbbells. This is because dumbbells are easier to use and they are also more accessible. If one of your fitness goals is building muscle, dumbbells are the better option for time under tension and isometric moves, which are exercises that tighten specific muscles or muscle groups. Because dumbbells give you the ability to perform precise movements, they are better suited to sculpting specific areas like your arms and torso.

Conversely, reach for kettlebells if you are further along in your training and would consider yourself advanced. If your goal is athleticism and improving your aerobic performance, then kettlebells will give you the ability to develop explosive strength and leaping.

Are kettlebells better than dumbbells?

Kettlebells are neither better nor worse than dumbbells. It all depends on what you are using them for, and how advanced you are in your fitness journey. In some cases dumbbells may be preferable to kettlebells and vice versa. If you’re looking to build muscle and strength, dumbbells make it easier to perform strength-training exercises. On the other hand, if you’re focusing on conditioning and calorie-burning, you may find kettlebell workouts more suitable.

woman with hand on an adjustable kettlebell

What's the advantage of using kettlebells over dumbbells?

Kettlebell exercises can be great for amplifying your power output. Since exercises like cleans, snatches, and swings can’t be performed slowly, they develop a quality known as power-endurance, which is the ability to produce movement over an extended period of time. Kettlebell swings also train your body how to deal with a constantly changing center of gravity. This is why it’s more appropriate for advanced athletes.

Dumbbells, on the other hand, help to improve stabilization and muscle activation. As mentioned previously, dumbbells are great for isolation exercises. They can also help you identify muscle imbalances. When lifting dumbbells, you can  feel which side of your body is weaker than the other and then correct it by focusing more on one side than the other, until you have equal strength.

Can kettlebells replace dumbbells?

With some exercises, kettlebells and dumbbells are interchangeable. For instance, for many leg exercises, you can choose between kettlebells or dumbbells. The notable difference would be that kettlebells are classified as a more advanced type of fitness equipment. Not only do they use more than one muscle group at once, but their structure makes controlled movement more difficult than dumbbells. However, there are many exercises that are better performed using one or the other. For instance, kettlebell swings are best performed with a kettlebell, while a renegade row is best completed using dumbbells.

Are kettlebells or dumbbells better for building muscle?

You can certainly get a well-rounded workout from using either of these training tools, you just need to consider your goals and experience. If adding power to your workout is important for you, then kettlebells are the way to go. If you’re looking to grow muscle mass and you’re working on small muscle groups, you’re better off reaching for the dumbbells. 

The Takeaway

Whether you’re isolating specific muscles, focusing on strength or resistance training, or you’re new to the gym, you’ll be able to complete an effective workout using kettlebells or dumbbells. In the end, it all depends on what you’re looking for. Remember that just because you are new to the gym, it doesn’t mean that you should shy away from any equipment. Experimenting is important and it’s one of the joys of working out. As long as you’re safe and you choose a weight that you can handle, there’s no harm in testing things out and seeing what works best for you. One last tip, if you are unsure how to perform a certain exercise, it’s worthwhile to speak with a personal trainer, who can show your proper form so you can avoid injuries and get the most benefits from your workout routine. 

Ready to get lifting with high-quality weights? Shop Montreal Weights’ Dumbbells and Adjustable Kettlebells for your home gym.  

Related Posts:

Julien Méthot

Passionate about fitness from a young age, Julien co-founded Montreal Weights in 2020 with the vision of providing Canadians with all the necessary tools to workout & stay fit from home. 

Over the years, Julien has helped build a dynamic team that continuously strives to help create the best possible home gym setups for Montreal Weights customers across the nation. 

Back to blog