Kettlebells vs Dumbbells…How Do I Choose Which Is Best For Me?





When it came to weight training, there used to be two choices…barbells (plates attached to a bar for bench presses or curls, e.g.) or dumbbells.  Now, we have a third choice…kettlebells.  So let’s focus on barbells and kettlebells and, specifically, the benefits of each.  Is one of these better than the other for getting results?  Let’s take a look…



workout-upper-body-5If you’re looking to perform basic movements, then dumbbells would be more advantageous, since they are great for a little bit of everything.  Start with the very basics…chest press, shoulder press, rows, or squats, holding the dumbbells at the shoulders.  Since you are not swinging the weight around (as you would do in a swing or snatch), it makes the movement a little more straightforward.





greatist-22-kettlebells-exercisesLooking to perform dynamic movements that are more physical and explosive?  Then kettlebells are your choice, according to research.  Some of these exercises would consist of the kettlebell swing, cleans, snatches, windmills, and the Turkish getups.  As an added benefit to performing kettlebell swings is the fact that you get an elevated heart rate, providing cardiovascular as well as strength benefits.  And unlike a simple dumbbell curl or press, kettlebell swings activate your entire posterior chain of muscles, including your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles.




New to strength training?  Then stick to dumbbells.  Unless you have received specific training and instruction in using kettlebells, your best choice is to stick with the basics.



istock_000012622541xsmallWant to improve grip strength?  Then go with kettlebells.  Since the handle (called the horn) of the kettlebell is often thicker than a dumbbell, they can be ideal for increasing grip strength.  So doing an exercise like a bent-over row using a kettlebell can strengthen your grip and help prepare you for more challenging exercises such as pull-ups.




Just looking for general fitness?  There is research out there that shows that basic weightlifting exercises (using dumbbells) led to greater improvements in strength over a 6-week period.  So, if you’re just looking to improve general strength and fitness, then there’s probably no real advantage to using kettlebells.


b00jpie6k8Looking to progress in weights?  Then dumbbells are the choice to make your workouts more challenging.  Kettlebells don’t often come in small size increments like dumbbells do.  And if you go to the gym to workout, most gyms readily stack dumbbells at 5 lb increments, making them ideal for moving up in weight gradually.






single-arm-kettlebell-snatch-juicebar2Want to add an extra challenge?  Then go with kettlebells. Whereas dumbbells provide more stability, kettlebells take the center of gravity about 6-8″ away from your hand.  So now not only do you have to lift the kettlebell in certain exercises, but you also have to stabilize it as well (or else it will topple over and hit your arm).  Adding in that instability factor, kettlebells are like those unbalanced objects you pick up every day.




Bottom line as to which is more beneficial?  As stated above…it depends!  If you’re new to weight training or are just looking for general health benefits, then dumbbells should be your choice.  If you’re into things like CrossFit and do explosive moves, then grab a kettlebell.  It really all comes down to choosing the weight that fits with your type of exercise plan and level of fitness.


Do you or someone you know have questions on how to get started with a strength training program? Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!