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Dumbbell vs. Kettlebell? It’s a Knock-Out -||--||-

Dec 19, 2012  |  Category: Training

If you’ve been into fitness for a while, you must have noticed that kettlebell training has secured a massive following in the recent years. Kettlebell fans claim it trumps free-weight training with traditional dumbbells and barbells. Even some strength and conditioning coaches are training athletes exclusively with kettlebells.

What makes a kettlebell different from a dumbbell? The main difference is that because of the way the handle loops over the weight, and is not centered in the middle of the load, it offsets the center of gravity and therefore requires more stability at the shoulder while performing different movements. Another benefit is that the weight doesn’t get in the way when performing certain exercises. When doing a swing while using a heavy dumbbell, you’d have to modify your stance and your movement pattern, so that it doesn’t hit your legs.

The question is: would kettlebells lead to better overall strength and performance? Which in turn would lead to better body composition i.e. less body fat. Let’s have a look at this study. Researchers from California State University had subjects follow a six-week strength-training programme using either just kettlebells or barbells. They matched exercises for each group, for example, for legs the barbell group did the back squat while the kettlebell group performed goblet squats (holding it close to your chest). They reported in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that the group using typical free-weight barbells increased their strength significantly more than the group using kettlebells.

Kettlebells are a form of free weights, and it makes little sense to limit yourself, when free weights allow for more weight. To increase pure muscle strength it is tough to beat the barbell. To prevent strength imbalances between the left and right side of the body, dumbbells are the tools of choice. It’s not that kettlebells don’t have a place in a well-structured fitness programme, I’m not trying to say that at all. For example, kettlebell swing is a great way to combine cardio with free weights. It’s another tool in your toolbox. However, limiting yourself to one tool is like a carpenter performing all his work with just a hammer. Sure, it’s great for hammering nails, but would you be able to cut wood with it?


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