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Kettlebells vs Dumbbells: Which One Gets You the Most Gains?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: June 27, 2023

As a fitness and exercise coach, I always have to laugh when I hear people at the gym have a kettlebell vs dumbbell debate.

Yes, there are obvious differences.

But they are intended for completely different uses, and you shouldn’t be trying to argue that one is better than the other.

What I do hear a lot, though, is that people buy the wrong type of equipment for the types of fitness and strength exercises they intend to do.

So, before you make the same mistake, let me start with some basics.

Quick Summary

  • The choice between the two depends on your exercise goals: kettlebells are better for compound exercises, while dumbbells are ideal for targeted strength training.
  • Kettlebells, unbalanced by design, are great for full-body movements and compound exercises, providing varied muscle engagement.
  • Dumbbells, balanced weights used in pairs, are ideal for targeted training and provide greater stability and range of motion.

What Are Kettlebells?

kettlebell thumb

Kettlebells are a type of free weights that resemble a cannonball with a flat bottom and a D-shaped handle.

You’ll find them in a wide range of weights from as little as two pounds to over 100 pounds.

Yes, our gym has some 100-pound kettlebells, and it’s impressive to see what people do with them.

In most cases, they are made from steel or concrete, which is then covered in plastic or rubber. This covering is designed to avoid damage to floors and also to make them less harsh on your hands during strength training.

Related Article: Best Kettlebell Back Exercises

What Are Dumbbells?

dumbell thumb

I know people sometimes get confused with dumbbells and barbells, so this section hopefully clears the difference out.

Dumbbells are a very common type of free weights that usually come in pairs of the same weight. The design is generally a short handle with equal bulging weight at each end.

In some cases, they are made as a standalone unit, but you can also get some that you can change the weight at each end of the bar.

You’ll see these on racks at your gym, and full sets can be quite expensive as you would want to have the same weight for each hand.

However, there are some adjustable dumbbell options available as well, which might be more practical for use at home.

Here are some of our favorites:

  1. BowFlex adjustable dumbbells review
  2. PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells review

Or read our comparison articles:

  1. IronMaster dumbbells vs Powerblocks
  2. BowFlex vs PowerBlock dumbbells

How Does The Physical Shape Influence Exercise?

As you look at a kettlebell next to a dumbbell, you’ll notice that they are very different indeed. Their shape will influence how you hold them in your hand and what kind of movements you can do with them.

Kettlebells are generally more suitable for full-body movements designed as strength exercises. You’re more likely to hit compound exercises [1] that target multiple muscles at the same time.

Many people find dumbbells easier to grip, and you could use two of them unilaterally for power lifting, squat movements, curls, and even for a bench press.

Let’s take a closer look at individual advantages.

Advantages of Kettlebells

man using kettlebell

Here are the main advantages of using kettlebells for your exercises:

1 - Smooth Grips

A kettlebell pretty much always has a smooth surface that may be less severe when you hold them tight. A lot of dumbbells are metal and even have a rough surface.

2 - Multi-Hand Grip

There are many kettlebell exercises that might require you to get both hands on the grip and start a swinging motion from a squat position. This would be quite difficult with dumbbells.

3 - Unbalanced Design

Kettlebells are not balanced like dumbbells are and therefore require you to use them very differently. However, this is generally seen as an advantage as it would trigger different muscles to counteract that unbalanced design.

4 - Higher Increments In Weights

When you move from one kettlebell to the next, you’ll notice that the weight increases a lot. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see each step up be 8 pounds. With dumbbells, that increment is often down to 2 or 4 pounds.

Read More: Best Adjustable Kettlebells

Advantages of Dumbbells

Now, let’s take a closer look at dumbbells:

1 - Increased Stability

What most people like about them is the way they balance in your hand. You can grab them in the middle, and the weight is evenly distributed. Because of the bell shape of kettlebells, that’s not possible.

2 - Better Safety

The balance mentioned above comes with another bonus for strength training and that safety. Basically, the more you bench press, the more in control you have to be over the way your arms move.

Also, with certain types of squat exercises, you could do damage to your back if you’re constantly off-balance during the workout [2].

3 - Target Specific Muscles

Professional bodybuilders will predominantly work with dumbbells over kettlebells. The reason is that they need to be able to target very specific muscles during strength training. Once your body has bulked up enough, you might like that kind of control as well.

4 - More Range Of Motion

Like the previous advantage, the balance of a dumbbell might give your body a lot more range of motion than a kettlebell. This might be helpful in a workout when you’re aiming for maximum power and strength.

Read More:

One of the reasons why people choose dumbbells over weight machines is because of the free range of motion that they allow the lifter.


What’s The Better Choice

So, if you’ve been debating whether to invest in dumbbells vs kettlebells, then check your planned workout sheet first. If there are plenty of compound moves, then a kettlebell might just do the job.

A kettlebell set would likely also not cost as much.

But, if you’ve moved onto a lot more targeted training, then I would suggest dumbbells over a kettlebell any day.

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