Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells: Which Free Weights Should You Use for Your Workouts?

Kettlebell vs. Dumbbell, Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Kettlebell Swing
/ Sep 13, 2022

If you walk into a gym, you'll likely find two types of free weights: dumbbells and kettlebells. Both training tools have devotees and merits, but the kettlebell vs. dumbbell debate often persists: When it comes to weight training and getting results, is working out with one better than the other?

There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut winner. And in most cases, this is because one type of weight doesn't necessarily reign supreme. However, there are exercises and scenarios where a kettlebell might be a better pick than a dumbbell and vice-versa.

Dumbbells are undoubtedly the most well-recognized pieces of exercise gear, and everybody, from beginners to personal trainers, knows how to utilize them to construct muscular tissue and power.

Kettlebells are usually cited as an easy method to practice resistance training and cardio simultaneously.

If you're still not sure which types of weights would be best for you, keep reading to get a better understanding of how they could help you improve your strength.

Benefits of Dumbbells

What is so appealing about dumbbells? They're commonly used for biceps curls and gains, but if your experience with them stops there, you're missing out. You can train your lower body and get a full cardio workout with them as well.

Here are a few benefits to incorporating dumbbells into your workouts.

Ease of Use

Dumbbell exercises are widely recognized even by those who wouldn't consider themselves fitness enthusiasts. Maybe this is because they've been around so long — history suggests that they originated from an exercise apparatus that was common throughout the 1700s.

While dumbbells have evolved over the centuries (and their appearance has varied), their purpose hasn’t changed. People still use them to build muscle to look bigger and get stronger. Dumbbells have always been a staple of popular culture. They're used in nearly every introductory fitness class, and there are actually dumbbell baby toy products that allow babies to exercise their arms before speaking.

So if you give someone with no experience lifting weights a 10-pound dumbbell, they might be able to use it correctly. It may be necessary to modify their form slightly, but they’ll catch on quickly, which isn't true for most other weightlifting tools (including kettlebells).

Some people shy away from exercise because they're intimidated by the equipment and unsure how to use it properly. The easy usability of a dumbbell can help break down barriers and make weightlifting more accessible to everyone.

Recruit More Muscles

Dumbbells have long been used for isolation exercises—moves to target a specific muscle group. However, some dumbbell exercises are also great for simultaneously hitting several different muscle groups.

Did you know that chest presses with dumbbells actually recruit more muscles than a Smith machine bench press or barbell bench press?

Researchers conducted electromyographic tests on people who performed all three moves and found that they activated more muscle fibers when doing a dumbbell chest press. Using dumbbells, the lifters could perform more reps, which leads to more bicep activity and, subsequently, more muscle.


Your arms work harder to hold the weights during a dumbbell chest press because the weight isn't as evenly distributed as the weight of a barbell. This is why powerlifters often target weak spots in their arm with dumbbells. Once they've strengthened these stabilizer muscles, they'll be able to lift heavier weights for longer.

Less Risk of Injury

While you can injure yourself while exercising with any equipment, you're less likely to suffer from an injury when using dumbbells.

Let's talk about the differences between a chest press with dumbbells and a bench press with a barbell.

If you're performing a bench press and struggling to get the weight up, you risk dropping the barbell. If you don't have a spotter (you always should), you could get severely injured.

The weights aren't directly above your face when you're using dumbbells for a chest press. If you can't perform a complete rep, you can simply drop the weights and let them fall to the ground. Another pro of using dumbbells is that they can strengthen your stabilizing muscles and help decrease strength imbalances. For example, when doing a bicep curl you can target one bicep that is not as strong as the other, reducing your risk of injury.

It is also possible to achieve all of these things with kettlebell movements.

Benefits of Kettlebells

Kettlebell training offers many of the same advantages as dumbbell training: They help strengthen stabilizers, correct muscle imbalance, and make you strong enough to lift heavier weights. With these versatile free weights, you can perform many more exercises than just kettlebell swings.

With kettlebells continuing to increase in popularity, let’s look at some of the reasons why they're so beneficial.


Kettlebell workouts are ideal for busy people who want a quick full-body exercise routine. They're also perfect if you don't have enough room to set up an entire gym at home. Russian strongmen invented these weights to help them improve their strength, stamina, and overall fitness.

But just how effective are kettlebells at doing all these jobs? You can burn 20 calories per minute with a kettlebell workout consisting of snatches and swings. You'll also produce a similar heart rate and use as much oxygen as running.

Kettlebells introduce resistance training to cardio (something you can't get from a run) while their uneven weight distribution helps you develop balance and flexibility.

Kettlebell training is also a great way to get a full-body workout since many of the complex movements, like the goblet squat or Turkish get-up, require a full range of motion and for you to use your upper body and lower body simultaneously.

Full-body workouts are ideal because you can shorten the length of your workouts and how often you exercise during the week since you’re hitting more muscle groups in one go.

While you can also use dumbbells for metabolic conditioning, their design makes it a little difficult to perform some of the explosive movements you can do with a kettlebell.

Functional Training Benefits

Most exercises exist as functional training that helps us perform daily tasks. Squats assist in developing the leg muscle groups used for sitting up and down, while the deadlift teaches you how to lift enormous weights properly. Because kettlebells’ shape and center of gravity are further from your hand than a dumbbell, they help teach proper lifting mechanics.

A simple kettlebell swing can address core strength and stabilization, lower-body extension, shoulder flexing, and scapula retraction—all basic and essential movement patterns we use throughout our lives.

Kettlebell swings hit all the muscle groups in your posterior chain, which includes the gluteus maximus, hamstring, calf, and spinal erectors. Strong posterior chains improve postural alignment and athletic performance and increase explosive power during dynamic movement.

Functional exercises are essential for everyone, but they're paramount for people who've had injuries or surgeries. Kettlebells can help athletes by targeting the muscles they often injure and strengthening them so they don't get injured again.

Increase Grip Strength

Think about everything you have to hold onto daily during basic movements—from juggling bags of groceries to bars with weights.

You can perform many kettlebell exercises to increase your grip strength, so you can rest assured you won't lose your grip when going for that next PR.

Kettlebell handles are thicker than a dumbbell, making them more challenging to hold onto when swinging or snatching. This is actually a good thing. In fitness, challenging yourself is the only way to improve over time.

The smooth texture of a kettlebell handle also helps increase your grip strength. This lack of texture is noticeable when you're used to the feel of barbells and dumbbells, which are knurled to increase the friction between the weight you're holding and your hands.

Knurling is important if your goal is to complete a heavy rep without dropping anything. However, you want a weight that won't do half the work for you if you want improved grip strength.

Of course, if you don't have a proper grip on your kettlebell, you risk the chance of hurling it across the gym. So don’t swing too close to others (or anything fragile) if you're hesitant about your grip.

Types of Dumbbells

There are three key differences between kettlebells and dumbbells:

  1. Dumbbells usually weigh less than kettlebells.
  2. Kettlebells are typically cast iron or steel, while dumbbells can be made of many different materials.
  3. Kettlebells come in sets ranging from four to 20, and dumbbells come in increments of five.

Fixed Dumbbells

When you imagine a dumbbell in your head, you likely see a fixed dumbbell. These are the most common dumbbells that feature two weights on either side of a handle. They're constructed of rubber, steel, chrome, or various other materials.

You'll see both fixed hex dumbbells (with a hexagonal head on either side of the handle) and fixed round dumbbells (where the weights are shaped like a circle).

Adjustable Dumbbells

Next up, there are adjustable dumbbells. These allow you to replace several pairs of dumbbells with a single piece of equipment—ideal for home gyms.

When you're in the market for adjustable dumbbells, pay attention to how heavy they get. Some adjustable dumbbells can increase in weight to 150 pounds, while others are capped at 50. Also, note what material they're made out of. If the casing is plastic, it can crack over time.

Lastly, read reviews or test them for ease of adjustment. You get what you pay for, and some lower-quality adjustable dumbbells have dials that are prone to jamming.

Loadable Dumbbells

Loadable dumbbells allow you to "load" weight into sleeves on either side of a small barbell. If you own weight plates already, you can create your own dumbbell that is as heavy as you want, depending on the handle's sleeve size.

Types of Kettlebells

A kettlebell resembles a cannonball with a round handle. While they may not look intimidating as a dumbbell, they provide a killer workout.

Kettlebells can help you gain muscle mass, increase stamina, enhance balance, develop better coordination, and become more flexible. Today, there are many different kinds of kettlebell weights available.

Standard Kettlebells

Standard kettlebells are just that—a regular kettlebell. Typically, they're made of steel or iron and are bare or coated in a substance to protect the weight (and everything that comes in contact with it).

Depending on the weight of the kettlebell, the size and handle of the kettlebell will change.

Adjustable Kettlebells

If you're interested in saving space, you may be curious about an adjustable kettlebell. However, they're not always recommended because the handles are usually plastic.

When you're sweating during a grueling kettlebell workout, the last thing you need to worry about is a slippery grip.

Competition Kettlebells

Competition kettlebells are always the same size regardless of weight. No matter how heavy the kettlebell you're using, it will always rest on your arm at the exact same spot. It ensures that your technique remains consistent regardless of which weights you're using.

Cast iron kettlebells become bigger as you add weight, and each size sits differently in the rack positions on your forearm.

With competition kettlebells, the size of the handle never changes, nor does the space inside the handles. This means that your hand placement on a competition kettlebell stays the same so you can focus more on technique.

Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells: The Verdict

The dumbbell and kettlebell are both solid options for building strength and pushing personal fitness further.

There isn't anything inherently better about dumbbells vs. kettlebells, but there may be situations where using dumbbells over kettlebells, or kettlebells over dumbbells, might be ideal. When designing your workout regimen or strength routine, pick exercises and equipment that are easy for you to perform safely and will be most effective at helping you achieve your fitness goals.

Ready to get started? Check out our selection of free weights you need to fit your routine.