Kettlebells and dumbbells are two of the most popular types of equipment for resistance training and while they both serve the same end goal -- to make you stronger, healthier and more fit -- they go about it in some distinctly different ways. This is what we're going to discuss here: the differences between kettlebells and dumbbells.
However, before we get into that, let's get one thing straight: one is not better than the other. As you will learn momentarily, their differences make them equally good, in different ways, for different types of training. Debating the merits of one over the other is akin to trying to decide whether a hammer is superior to a screwdriver. It’s impossible and futile. They are both tools and they are tools used to achieve different ends. You can't access their worth using the same scale.
Got it? Good. Now, let's move on.
Kettlebell vs. Dumbbell: The Differences
Your dumbbell has equal amounts of weight on either end, whereas a kettlebell is unbalanced, with the ball of the weight weighing much more than the handle. This is what makes kettlebells ideal for functional training. After all, the things we lift in everyday life aren't balanced. Be it lifting bags, boxes, furniture or loved ones, the things we lift on the day-to-day are far from balanced. Hence why kettlebell training prepares us functionality for real life.
Dumbbells have rough handles to help you better grip the weight. This is perfect for dumbbell training, since many of the exercises you do with dumbbells are isolation moves, like presses, curls, flyes and raises. Once you grip the weight, your grip doesn't usually change. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (like with dumbbell snatches), but for the most part, your grip stays consistent.
Kettlebells, on the other hand, are made for ballistic movement, which require propulsion and controlled force. We're talking cleans, swings and snatches. Your grip needs to be able to transition with the movement, which is why kettlebells have smoother handles. There is a little grit, just so there's a bit of traction, but it's nothing like the texture you'll find with dumbbells.
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As we've already mentioned, kettlebells are made to be gripped in different ways. It's part of the design, which features a curved handle. This facilitates variety, allowing you to use pistol grip (bottom of bell up), rack grip (the transition grip between the clean and press), side handle grip, palm grip and a bunch of two-handed grips.
When it comes to moving up or down weight, you'll discover the kettlebells have fewer increment options than dumbbells. Whereas you can jump up or down by a couple pounds with dumbbells, kettlebell jumps are more drastic. Most land around the 10lb mark.
While dumbbells can be (and usually are) round, kettlebells are always round in shape. More specifically, they’re spherical. The natural balance and symmetry of this shape makes them ideally suited to the ‘whipping’ movement of many of the exercises, like Figure 8s and swings.
Use as Intended
Dumbbells aren’t designed to facilitate ballistic movements. They can do them, but it is not as effective or safe as doing ballistics with a kettlebell. Dumbbells are phenomenal for exercises that are isolated and/or follow one plane of motion, but once you start getting into multiple planes, it’s time to call in the kettlebells.
So use both types of equipment, but use them as intended. This will keep you safe, injury free, and reaping the rewards of a vigorous and varied exercise regime.