Swings are also great because they can spike your heart rate, providing cardiovascular as well as strength benefits, says Dell Poland, head coach at BRICK New York. Unlike a simple curl or press, the kettle bell swing activates your entire posterior chain of muscles—your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinal (back muscles), he explains.
Barnes adds that it’s easy to integrate kettle bells into a workout finisher—for example, 30 to 60 seconds of all-out effort swings to cap things off. In fact, all the experts we spoke with emphasized that dumbbells are the best choice for weight training unless you’ve specifically worked with a personal trainer on kettle bells.
General Fitness: Dumbbells One study showed that, compared to dynamic moves with kettle bells, basic weightlifting exercises (think power cleans and squats) led to significantly greater improvements in strength over a six-week period. Effects of weightlifting vs. kettle bell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition.
In other words, if your goal is general strength and fitness, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to dumbbells—and there’s probably not an advantage to using kettle bells. This makes moves like a bottoms-up kettle bell press especially challenging because you’re working to lift the weight and stabilize it—so the bell doesn’t topple over and hit your arm.
But with that added challenge, kettle bells do provide an unwelcome element of danger, so if you’re fairly new to exercising, stick with dumbbells. Newbies and those looking to perform basic strength movements at the gym should head toward the dumbbell rack, while Crossfires and people doing explosive moves should grab a kettle bell.
Choose which type of weight works with your exercise plan and fitness level, and never hesitate to consult a certified trainer for a personalized assessment if you have any questions. Whether you’re at the gym or buying weights for home fitness, it’s important to know the differences between kettle bells and dumbbells.
The weight is displaced evenly on either side of the handle and sits at the same level as your hand. In kettle bells, the weight sits behind your wrist and creates a slight torque in your joints.
The slight bend from kettle bells can exacerbate ongoing tendonitis or carpal tunnel in ways that wouldn’t happen with dumbbells. On the other hand, if you’re interested in building wrist and grip strength, a kettle bell is a great way to do so.
While the difference is slight, some fitness fanatics may find this relevant for their specific goals. Another big difference between kettle bells and dumbbells is that the location of the weight affects the movement and power you can generate with them.
There are a lot of dynamic exercises you can do with kettle bells that involve your ability to create and stop momentum. Kettle bell swings are a particularly popular exercise because the moving center of gravity activates your core as well as the intended shoulder and arm muscles.
It’s also easier to progressively increase the weight with dumbbells, as fewer muscles are involved. The lighter the weight, the less you’ll notice these slight differences in feel between kettle bells and dumbbells.
However, in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you may find kettle bells are slightly easier to pick up and use. The wider handle makes it easy to grab a kettle bell quickly and with both hands if the exercise requires it.
Lastly, as mentioned above, the weight location of kettle bells makes them slightly more challenging using. Because the added weight isn’t right at your hand, kettle bells throw off your center of gravity.
Kettle bells are a great way to bring a new element into your free weight exercises. Switching out dumbbells for kettle bells in your normal routine will engage your core and snap your muscles out of autopilot.
Some new weightlifters may also find it easier to feel the isolated muscles and understand the exercises better with dumbbells. Finding your way around your gym’s cardio machines is fairly foolproof.
Weights, though, aren’t as straightforward, which is why the question of when you should grab a kettle bell versus dumbbell to check off your strength training is often cause for confusion. When you hold a weight, the mass is on either side of your hand, while with a kettle bell it’s directly underneath with a space in the middle.
“With a kettle bell, there is a space between your hand and the actual load, and this added distance acts as an additional lever arm,” says Kelvin Gary, founder of NYC’s BodySpaceFitness. This, he explains can make the load feel either lighter or heavier, depending on its position in space.
“The added benefit here is that its more stimulus for your body to have to adapt to, thereby increasing the need for coordination and stability and ramping up the effort,” says Gary. Squats, lunges, rows, and presses can also all be done with both types of weight, but you may have an easier go using the kettle bell because of the grip.
If the answer is no, you should take things down a notch; if it’s yes, you’re on the right track (and if it’s yes, but you feel like you could do at least four more, grab something heavier). Dumbbells are easier to use than kettle bells, which makes them a great choice if you’re just getting started in the weight-training game.
Even if you’re an advanced lifter, JackieVick, CSS, a trainer at Gold’s Gym notes that dumbbells are usually the better choice for moves that require “pressing and pulling,” because dumbbells help you feel more stable. Renegade rows: In a high plank position with dumbbells in each hand, row one arm at a time, pulling your elbow toward your back and keeping your core engaged throughout the move.
Dumbbell push-press: Standing with your feet hips-width distance apart a set of dumbbells at your shoulders and your knees slightly bent, drive through your lower body to lift them straight over head. Farmer’s carry : Hold equally weighted dumbbells in either hand, and walk across the floor holding your shoulders back and keeping your core tight.
Bring them back down, stopping before your elbows drop below the bench. “Kettle bells offer a slight edge in design effectiveness and energy usage during functional movements,” says Pick, adding that they’re better for moves like swings, cleans and snatches because of the way the load is distributed.
However, they can be slightly harder to use than dumbbells, so if you’re new to weight training you may want to build up to kettle bell moves. Single arm swings: Standing with your feet hips-width distance apart, hold onto the kettle bell handle with one hand.
Bending your knees slightly and keeping your back straight, swing the bell in between your legs with control. Explode up, and use the momentum to lift the kettle bell to your shoulder and flip it over your wrist.
These help with hip extensions, and allow you to hit multiple planes in a single move, says Gary. Goblet squats : Hold a kettle bell by the “horns” (aka the side handles), and turn your feet out.
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Dumbbells and kettle bells distribute weight differently, according to Well+Good, so your body responds uniquely to each. Many exercises, including snatches, squat, lunges, rows, and presses can be performed with either piece of equipment.
For example, the kettle bell swing works large muscle groups in the legs and back, in addition to the arms, which increases heart rate. Kettle bell exercises are generally ballistic, involving explosive movements performed quickly.
Dumbbell exercises tend to be static, which lessens the chance of injury for those who are just starting out. Even if you're lifting primarily for size or weight, one goal of nearly everyone who works out is to improve functional strength.
That's best accomplished by incorporating many types of exercises, including both kettle bells and dumbbells into your regimen.