In most cases, dumbbells are just as good. Here are five examples.
Kettlebells are exactly like the ketogenic diet. They’re useful tools, but their usefulness and “specialness” have been blown way out of proportion.
If one of your coworkers raves about his new keto diet, in a matter of weeks the whole office will be piling avocados down their throats, acting like their assumed state of ketosis makes them superior. But tell your coworkers that you’re eating a nutrient dense, well-balanced diet that doesn’t cut out an entire macronutrient and all of sudden people think you’re a freak.
Same thing with kettlebells. While they’ve been around for a while, they’re still considered the new kid on the block when compared to dumbbells. As with anything new in fitness, bandwagon riders are quick to jump on and “cult-ify” it.
It’s gotten to the point where we have kettlebell certifications and workshops. Let that sink in for a moment – pricey certifications and workshops teaching you about one piece of equipment. Imagine someone doing a dumbbell workshop? Yeah, if you’re lucky you’d get a few crickets to show up.
Kettlebells, barbells, and dumbbells are tools to place resistance in slightly different ways, but that doesn’t mean one is superior just because it’s newer and has a lot of hype surrounding it. The way the weight is distributed on a tool comes with both benefits and drawbacks.
The kettlebell has uneven distribution of weight. While this has its benefit for smooth pendulum-related exercises like the kettlebell swing, it also comes with a host of drawbacks. Being unbalanced makes it inferior to the dumbbell from a strength and hypertrophy perspective.
With a balanced distribution of weight, you can generate more force, use more load, and maintain more control. This is why the dumbbell has stood the test of time and is used far more than the kettlebell in bodybuilding and powerlifting.
The kettlebell also has much smoother handles. Again, this is great for explosive swinging exercises where it needs to move within your grip, but also disadvantageous for strict exercises like presses and curls where the weight needs to be firmly gripped.
Kettlebells also don’t have as consistent of a progression as dumbbells at most gyms. They jump up quickly in weights instead of progressing in 5 pound increments. This could be problematic when it comes to progressive overload.
Besides the weird behavior of enthusiasts training exclusively with kettlebells, the glaring issue with kettlebell hype is this: there are exercises that the Kettlebell Kult has claimed as its own.
A lot of kettlebell workshops will teach these exercises as if they can’t be done with a dumbbell. It’s become extremely taboo to do these same exercises with a dumbbell. And some people even feel compelled to go out and buy kettlebells when they have plenty of dumbbells already.
Look up the Turkish get-up. It’s a great full-body exercise regardless of the equipment you use, yet an overwhelming majority of video demonstrations show it using a kettlebell even though more people have access to dumbbells. If you’re a kettlebell enthusiast, I hate to break it to you, but a dumbbell works just as good.
Want to do the Olympic lifts without having to set up on a platform? You don’t have to use a kettlebell. Here’s T Nation contributor Eric Bach performing the clean, squat, and press. Using a kettlebell isn’t your only option.
Snatches and front squats are the same. You’ll hit the exact same muscles.
Windmills are also perfectly fine to do without a kettlebell.
Now, the kettlebell swing and the bottoms-up press can’t be replicated by dumbbells, but pretty much every other kettlebell exercise can be done with a dumbbell. You’ll get generally the same training effect.
It’s easy to take things out of perspective when something is newer, flashier, or “requires” certifications to use it, but a kettlebell is still just another weight. The difference in shape doesn’t create a ton of new, exclusive exercises. It’s just another tool inside the endless toolbox.
Let’s treat tools like tools and not worship them like a cult.