Kettlebell vs Dumbbells: Which is Best for You

Kettlebells have found extreme popularity in recent years. They are used frequently for popular workouts like Crossfit and can be seen in any gym. If you are new to weight training, or are more accustomed to dumbbells you might be wondering why all the fuss about the kettlebells ​vs dumbbells ​when they’re pretty much the same thing.

While the two can be used for a lot of the same stuff, they are not the same weight. Ultimately, the two provide different workouts and you can benefit from both.

Whether you already have a strong preference for one, or you are still trying to decide which you like, we are here to help answer some of the most common questions about the kettlebell vs. dumbbell debate.

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What is the Difference between Kettlebells and Dumbbells?

There are many answers to that question! The most obvious answer is that they look different. A kettlebell looks like a cannonball with a handle attached. A dumbbell is a bar with a weight on each side.

One of the more significant differences is the way they are balanced. While dumbbells are weighted equally on both sides making them a balanced piece of equipment, kettlebells are weighted off center. This means that dumbbells offer more stability in your workout, which gives you the option for more controlled movements.

Man doing crunches while holding a kettlebell with both hands

A kettlebell offers more aerobic exercises because the off-center weight gives you more resistance. With a kettlebell, you have the option for cardiovascular and strength training workouts. Additionally, a kettlebell will activate the shoulder stabilizer muscles that are often ignored, especially for one handed workouts.

The difference between one handed workout is huge between kettlebells and dumbbells. For example; doing a one-handed chest press with a dumbbell is pretty straight forward because of the balanced weight.

Doing a one-handed chest press with a kettlebell will require not only the muscles of your arm and chest, but also the muscles needed to balance yourself on the bench. So overall, kettlebells tend to recruit more of your muscles than dumbbells.

Which will Make me Stronger?

There is no definite answer to this question. It depends! If you’re looking for pure amount of weight you can lift, you’ll find it easier to meet your goals with a dumbbell. They are designed to pump you up and be used for exercises that purely build strength. Plus, dumbbells and barbells can be made heavier than a kettlebell.

The absolute heaviest kettlebells you can find will only weigh about 230 pounds, but with dumbbells and barbells you can continually add plates to reach your desired weight. Additionally, finding the heaviest kettlebells is difficult as most gyms don’t carry kettlebells that heavy.

However, if you really want the option of kettlebell workouts but don’t have access to extremely heavy kettlebells, you can use a kettlebell handle designed for dumbbells such as the KettleClamp.

The KettleClamp is the handle of a kettlebell with the ability to attach to any dumbbell creating a kettlebell dumbbell hybrid. They claim to be able to handle up to 1000 pounds of weight. This handy device will allow you to perform classic kettlebell exercises, like swings, with a dumbbell.

Which Provides a More Effective Workout?

They provide two different types of workouts, both of which are effective. Generally, a kettlebell provides a more dynamic workout. Kettlebells allow for explosive movements, often called ballistic exercises.

This type of workout provides cardiovascular as well as strengthening benefits. Additionally, these ballistic movements, such as swings, cleans, or snatches, work multiple muscle groups at once. This includes muscle groups that are often forgotten when working with dumbbells, like the posterior chain.

That being said, dumbbells are great for your basic movements. Dumbbells work better for moves like chest presses, rows, and tricep extensions. Since you are really targeting specific muscles, they allow you to increase your weight quickly so you will see yourself making gains faster than you would with a kettlebell.

Can’t you Do the Same Moves with both Weights?

Woman lifting dumbbells with each hand

To a certain extent all weights serve pretty much the same purpose; however, there are some moves that are much better suited for kettlebells and some suited for dumbbells. For example, you would find it difficult to perform a swing or a Turkish get up with a dumbbell, simply because it would be too hard to grip correctly.

Additionally, you would not be getting the same workout doing ballistic moves with beginner dumbbells, because you wouldn’t be getting the benefit of the weight being off center. Yet, moves like any variation of a row can be awkward with a kettlebell so you would be better off with a dumbbell.

Nonetheless, there are many moves that allow for easy crossover, like squats. Just keep in mind that using kettlebells and using dumbbells provide for a different type of workout, so they are not totally interchangeable.

Should I Choose Dumbbells or Kettlebells?

You don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other. Both can provide an effective, high intensity workout. There are advantages and disadvantages to working with both.

With kettlebells you are looking at high rep and high intensity workouts in a short amount of time. These types of workouts are best for people who are looking for fat loss combined with overall strength training. Kettlebells are a great tool for increasing endurance as well.

Dumbbells are best for low rep, high weight exercises designed to gain muscle. If you want to target specific areas of your body, then dumbbells are the way to go.

There is no need to devote yourself to only one type of training, you can always mix it up! Learn new moves by getting a workout app or DVD. Some days you might need a quick high intensity work out with kettlebells and other days you might want to take a little more time and go with dumbbells. There is no universal weight training tool, but if you’re into the various kinds of exercises both tools can offer, we suggest looking into an adjustable kettlebell and an adjustable dumbbell as well.


Some people love kettlebells and some love dumbbells, but that doesn’t mean that one tool is better than the other. Both can provide great workouts. It all depends on what you want from your workout.

If your goals are fat loss, strength, and endurance then working with kettlebells will get you there most effectively. But, if your main goal is muscle gain and lifting more, dumbbells are a better tool for you.

Overall, the two provide different types of workouts but they have lots of opportunity for crossover. They have some big differences, but both will be effective in helping you meet your workout goals.

Robert Lemus has been a natural competitor for 6 years, starting in Men’s Physique, then Bodybuilding, and then into Classic Physique. He is the Orange County Bodybuilding champion in 2016 for the Musclemania Organization. In 2018, he received his Pro Card with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Classic Physique.