The purpose of this article is to compare kettlebells and dumbbells as training tools. The similarities, the differences and which one you should be using. Let's kick things off by pointing out the things that both these tools have in common.
BOTH OFFER FORMS OF EXTERNAL RESISTANCE
Ok so this may seem pretty obvious but it should to be mentioned. Your muscles cannot differentiate between a dumbbell, kettlebell, bodyweight, medicine ball, barbell or any other form of resistance. All your muscles know is that there is an external load being applied to the body, which needs to be overcome to create movement. Different tools allow you to apply this external load in different positions and in differing intensities which is where the pro's and con's of different training tools come into play.
BOTH ALLOW YOU TO SLOWLY GET STRONGER
Dumbbells tend to come in 2.5kg increments whilst kettlebells tend to have slightly larger jumps in resistance (4kg or 8kg). Either way they both offer a simple means to progressively increase the challenge of your exercises.
BOTH OFFER UNILATERAL MOVEMENTS
Both kettlebells and dumbbells allow you to work your limbs independently. I am a big fan of unilateral training, it helps address muscle strength imbalances between limbs and increases the demands on your stabilising muscles.
BOTH OFFER NUMEROUS EXERCISES
With one kettlebell or one dumbbell you are able to perform a whole host of different movement patterns from pushes, pulls, squats, lunges etc. This makes them both extremely versatile training tools.
DUMBBELLS OFFER SMALL WEIGHT PROGRESSIONS
As mentioned above, dumbbells tend to have smaller weight progressions which in theory allows for more consistent progression in your training. Sometimes the leap from one kettlebell weight to the next can be just too far out of reach.
KETTLEBELL EXERCISES FLOW BETTER
When training with kettlebells you are able to seamlessly transfer from exercise to exercise. This creates great potential for flowing complex movement routines which work the entire body through a large range of different movements without ever needing to set the kettlebell down. For example you could perform a Turkish Get Up, Front Squat, Press, Snatch, Windmill, Hand to Hand Swing, Front Squat, Press, Snatch, Windmill, Turkish Get Up without putting the kettlebelld down once. This kind of flowing complex is just not possible with dumbbells.
KETTLEBELLS HAVE AN OFFSET CENTER OF GRAVITY
When you hold a dumbbell the center of gravity is in the center of your hand making it easy to balance and control. Not so with kettlebells, here the center of gravity is offset from the handle. This means your body has to work much harder to keep control of the kettlebell when training.
SOME MOVES ARE BETTER WITH KETTLEBELLS
Whilst many of the moves you do with a kettlebell can be replicated using a dumbbell the simple fact is some just do not work as well. For example the clean & press with a dumbbell is awkward. Not so with a kettlebell. Swinging a dumbbell is also no a match for swinging a kettlebell.
LIKEWISE SOME MOVES ARE BETTER WITH DUMBBELLS
Various muscle building exercises like chest presses, incline presses, bicep curls are better with dumbbells.
THE WINNER IS....
It depends. For muscle building probably the dumbbell. For conditioning probably the kettlebell. Both can do an effective job in either category. It is the movements that are important, the tool you use to overload these movements less so. As mentioned at the start of the article, your muscles cannot tell the difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell. So focus on creating strong movement patterns across the body, then apply external load to these movement patterns and no matter what tool you are using you will see great benefits in your strength and conditioning.