Which one should you use, a kettlebell or dumbbell?
Each tool has it’s uses.
There is a very popular article on this subject on the internet which knocks kettlebells hard, saying a dumbbell is superior for everything. Here is his comparison chart.
|Fixed weight; Expensive adjustable kettlebells are awkward, ungainly, and cause pinches and bruises||Easily and quickly adjustable|
|Thick, non-rotating handle causes blisters||Normal handle designed ergonomically|
|The off-center balance point strains the wrist during presses and “pushing” movements||Wrist naturally assumes ergonomically-proper orientation, no matter the exercise|
|Grip strength the limiting factor in “pulling” movements with thick-handled bells; no way around this drawback. Bells’ handles were designed by foundry foremen, not athletes.||Grip strength is rarely an issue. DB grips are thin and ergonomic, not thick and ungainly. If necessary, grip strength can either be addressed through training, or overcome with various time-tested techniques|
|Kettlebell training is synonymous with skill training. Often, strength gains come from neural adaptation and skill acquisition, not hypertrophy. It takes weeks to learn to clean a decent-sized bell without bruising yourself too much.||Dumbbells are a fitness and strength training tool, not an end in and of themselves. They deliver results immediately, regardless of the level of neural adaptation and skill. You can clean a dumbbell right the first time, and every time.|
|Repetitive-stress injuries are common and practically inevitable with the massively-hyped but impractical kettlebell movements. The movements are defined by the bell itself, not by the athletic benefit they confer.||Repetitive stress injuries are rare and avoidable because of lower reps and lack of ‘contortion’. Dumbbells lend themselves to all manner of athletic training, they don’t require you to learn special movement skills just to avoid injury.|
|Expensive and overpriced||Priced almost as a commodity; plus, the plates are fungible|
|Handles are cast iron instead of forged steel. This means they need to be thick and stubby to avoid breaking.||Forged handles are thinner and ergonomically designed|
|Limited number of movements, some highly contrived and impractical||Dumbbells are suited for many time-tested movements and exercises used by successful athletes|
|Cast iron handles must be painted or coated after manufacture to prevent rust. This means you need to remove coating and season the handle to do high-rep snatches.||Forged handles and knurled grips go a long way towards preventing blisters. No friction during power moves like snatches or cleans.|
|No way to get “under” the weight during heavy snatches, cleans, and presses. You can only ‘swing’ the weight into position. This means you can’t use kettlebells to develop power.||Dumbbells or barbells are used by every successful athlete during their formative years for power development (not to mention strength training)|
I’ll cover each one of these points in turn.
#1 – Yes most kettlebells come in fixed weights and the adjustable ones for the most part suck. The truth is many dumbbells are fixed in weight too, although there are many adjustable options here. Dumbbells do when on this point, though I will say you can do a lot with just one kettlebell, or a couple sizes, depending on your goals.
#2 – The thick handle of a kettlebell can cause blisters. True. But there is value in a thick handle for grip strength which normal dumbbells don’t build. You can get thick handled dumbbells or a pair of fat gripz to work this.
#3 – The off center mass strains the wrist. Only if you don’t know how to use a kettlebell.
#4 – Grip strength as a limiting factor for kettlebells. That means you need stronger hands. Grip strength can also be a limiting factor with some dumbbell movements, like one arm rows too.
#5 – Yes some skill is needed but not that much. Even then is having more body use and awareness skills a bad thing. This statement also presupposes that you can’t build strength with kettlebells which is simply not true. Dumbbells may be a little more user friendly, but the truth is even with those, the first couple weeks are neural adaptation, not strength building.
#6 – I suppose repetitive stress injuries may occur with kettlebells. I don’t have any. Most of my friends that train with them don’t either. Perhaps as a whole the “kettlebell community” might have more injuries then the general dumbbell and barbell population. I don’t know the answer to that.
#7 – Yes kettlebells usually cost more. But one kettlebell versus a dumbbell with a whole bunch of plates to make it adjustable will probably cost about the same. You can still have a great workout with either. The great thing is a quality kettlebell will last forever.
#8 – If you get a competition bell it’s handle is about the same size as a dumbbell. This point is moot.
#9 – Wrong. You can do as many movements with the kettlebell as the dumbbell, and probably even more. I suppose you could call these contrived but there are great benefits to them. Bottoms up pressing and kettlebell juggling come to mind.
#10 – First of all you can do dead hang, or from the ground snatches as an example, where you do get under the weight just like Olympic lifts. And can’t use kettlebells to develop power? Ask Donnie Thompson who used kettlebells to add to big poundages to his deadlifts.
There are a number of movements that are better suited to dumbbells. Curls are one, as well as other isolation movements like skull crushers.
Certain movements are basically the same either way. Deadlifts or presses would be here. Although the press groove is different for each, they’re about comparable in usefulness.
The kettlebell is superior for a number of moves. With windmills or getups the kettlebell’s offset center of mass can help your arm into a better position. Other then that it’s a pretty similar move to a dumbbell.
The ballistic moves like swings and snatches are better suited with kettlebells. Again the offset center of mass adds to this movement, for force and power. They’re also suited much better for repetition movements which are great for conditioning and strength-endurance.
I could go on and on about why I enjoy kettlebells, as well as dumbbells. For more check out this article on kettlebell training.
So which one should you use a kettlebell or dumbbell? It will depend on your goals and what you seek to get out of training. It also depends on what you enjoy doing. That’s a factor not address, but if someone has fun with kettlebells but didn’t with dumbbells and starts working out because of it, that means everything in the world when it comes to training.