Should you buy Dumbbells or Kettlebells?
… can be as important as cardio on our overall health and fitness, but what’s the best type of equipment to use in your home gym?
A very good starting place is to get some simple weights and the choice then comes down to dumbbells or kettlebells. Barbells are also great for building muscle but probably not the best starting point for use at home in preference to dumbbells or kettlebells. There are some hand held dumbbell bars which can be joined to form a longer bar, but more about that later.
So should you buy dumbbells or kettlebells, and why?
Do they do the same thing or are there different exercises for each?
And, once you’ve decided, are there any recommendations for good ones to buy?
(See this page to jump straight to which actual weights to buy.)
Read on to find the answers.
When to use kettlebells or dumbbells
While, to some extent and for some applications, it may be argued that weights are weights, the fact is that kettlebells and dumbbells are intended to be used in different ways. However, there is disagreement among experts as to how much overlap there is.
Mens Health (menshealth.com) quote Dan John, a national masters champion in Olympic lifting: “you can use kettlebells or dumbbells interchangeably for some exercises, such as bicep curls or lateral raises”. Conversely, Breaking Muscle (breakingmuscle.com) reckons “if you’re using kettlebells for triceps extensions, curls, or lateral raises you’re doing it wrong.”
Personally, I don’t see why you shouldn’t do some exercises on either if it’s comfortable (i.e. you’re not straining something you shouldn’t) to do so. To that extent, a weight is a weight (but if you feel differently, I’d be interested to know your reasoning.) One thing to bear in mind is that kettlebells are generally dearer so if you want to do exercises with both arms together, its cheaper with a pair of dumbbells than having to buy two kettlebells.
Nonetheless, the fundamental difference is that dumbbells are intended for relatively slow moving exercises focussing on one muscle group. Kettlebells are better when used for more dynamic exercises using several muscle groups.
The general consensus, which seems to be borne out by the results of experiments, is that for pure strength training, dumbbells will generate greater results in a shorter period of time than kettlebells will.
Conversely, if you’re training for sports which use more explosive movements, for general improvement of multiple muscle groups, including hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae muscles, for weight loss and additional cardio benefits, kettlebells are the way to go.
Other pros and cons of dumbbells vs kettlebells
Because the kettlebell uses mainly dynamic exercises, some experts recommend a session with a personal trainer before using them and that dumbbells, being simpler, are therefore safer and more recommended for beginners.
However, there are plenty of resources, both offline and online, which demonstrate kettle bell exercises so, providing you’re sensible, I don’t see why beginners shouldn’t use kettlebells if they’re better for what they want. (You might not be surprised to hear that Bear Grylls is a big fan of kettlebells. For a guide to the kettle bell exercises he uses, check out his fitness book: Your Life – Train For It)
Another benefit of dumbbells, particularly for beginners, is that they tend to be cheaper. You can get a decent set of weights for the price of a single kettlebell, and that makes them quite versatile in the fact that you can add weights in small increments.
One possible option is, if you already have some dumbell weights, you can buy an adjustable kettlebell bar.
For ultimate strength building using heavy weights, it’s the fact that a bar can take so much more weight that gives it a unique advantage. However, for home use, dumbbells or kettlebells are certainly the choice to start with.
Summary of Pros and Cons
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Types of dumbbell and kettlebell
Fixed weight dumbbells
These are each self-contained units, not separate weights which slide onto a bar. They’re easy to use, convenient and, for a single pair at one weight, they’re relatively cheap. However, you’ll have to buy more for each weight and that can end up being more expensive and space-consuming.
Standard Adjustable dumbbells
These are what most people think of when you mention dumbbells – separate disc-shaped weights slide onto each end and held in place with a nut.
They often come as a set so you have a range of different weights from the start.
Some sets have a connector which joins two handheld dumbbell bar into a single long bar.
Selectorised Adjustable dumbbells
They’re expensive but so-called Selectorised dumbbells are a great time-saver compared to the normal weights you add to a dumbbell bar. Instead of having to unscrew the nut, slide weights on or off the bar, screw the nut and then do the same on the other side, you just dial the desired weight – which locks in the necessary weights – and lift the dumbbell, leaving the unused weights behind.
Fixed weight kettlebells
Most kettlebells are self-contained fixed weights in a traditional round kettle bell shape.
With these, if you want a range of different weights you’ll have several different kettlebells.
You can get a adjustable kettlebells which work in a variety of different ways.
Arguably the simplest, is the type which is similar to a standard adjustable dumbbell in that it has a bar onto which you slide standard weights.
Another type has slots which weights fits into.
There is also a selectorised type such as the Kettleblock.
See here for examples.
Conclusion – Should you buy dumbbells or kettlebells?
As we’ve seen, kettlebells and dumbbells really do different jobs so, ideally, you’d want both.
If that’s not possible, it really depends on whether your aiming to gain muscle mass in particular areas such as biceps or shoulders, in which case dumbbells are what you want, or whether you’re interested in general improvements in body strength and dynamic movements, in which you should get a kettle bell or two.
If you see yourself getting a selection of both eventually, take a look at the adjustable versions which will save space and cash in the long run.
To look at which specific weights to buy, go to this page.