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What’s the Difference Between Dumbbells and Kettlebells?

A dumbbell and kettlebell sitting on a table.
Vladimir Sukhachev/Shutterstock.com

If you work out or go to a gym regularly, you’ve probably used dumbbells before, but what about a kettlebell? You’ve likely seen those around, too, but if you’ve never used one and are curious how it differs from your trusty set of weights, we’re about to solve the mystery for you!

Both kettle- and dumbells are used during workout routines, but each is better suited for certain exercises. Let’s compare and explore the two, so you can decide which is best for your workout routine.

What Are Dumbbells and Kettlebells?

A person adding weight to their dumbbell before a workout.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com

Before you decide which weights are best for you, let’s talk about the differences between dumbbells and kettlebells.

A dumbbell is a free weight used for muscle-building and exercise. The short bar has weights on both ends, so when you lift it, it strengthens and tones your muscles. Dumbbells come in fixed weights, or you can get a set with adjustable weights.

Amazon Basics Neoprene Coated Dumbells

The neoprene coating makes these easy to grip, and you can select which weight is suitable for you.

A kettlebell is a spherical cast-iron free weight with a top handle. It’s shaped like a tea kettle, hence the name. Because the weight sits below the handle, it works different muscle groups than dumbbells. You also lift it with either one or both hands.

Kettlebells are most often used for grip strength training and various endurance exercises to help build muscle and improve core strength.

Amazon Basics Cast Iron Kettlebell

Enamel-finished cast-iron, and just what you need for home resistance training.

After holding both a dumb- and kettlebell, you’ll notice right away that the weight is balanced differently in each. Dumbbells have a better center of gravity and better grips, while kettlebells can be a bit harder to grip. You’ll often use both dumbbells during a workout, but only one kettlebell is normally used during a routine.

Which Is Better for Your Workout?

A person using a kettlebell in their home for a workout routine.

Rather than looking at dumb- and kettlebells as competitive tools, it actually makes more sense to view them as complementary. Each has its advantages, but choosing between the two comes down to preference and the type of exercises you’re doing.

Dumbells are great for beginners because they’re easy to hold, relatively cheap, and work best for basic movements. They also provide stability and are an easy tool to use for working both sides of your body simultaneously.

These timeless accessories are especially good for upper body strength training, and they’re handy to have at home for those times when you can’t hit the gym. You can find loads of excellent dumbbell exercises to do on YouTube, like the upper-body workout with Maddie Lymburger below.  Just remember to maintain your form and take it slow at first.

Working with kettlebells takes a bit more practice because using them correctly is vital to ensure your safety. They’re great for improving functional strength, which will come in handy even in everyday situations.

If you’re looking to add some variety to your daily workout, kettlebells are a fantastic place to start. Just like dumbells, you can get a lot of use out of a kettlebell at home, so grab one and try Maddie’s 15-minute full-body workout.

Can You Use Them Interchangeably?

A dumbbell and a kettle bell placed next to one another on a wooden background.

You can use kettle- and dumbells interchangeably for most exercises, but it might feel a bit awkward at first. After all, a kettlebell is shaped very differently than your dumbbells. Generally, kettlebells are used for swinging exercises, so if you use a dumbbell instead, it’ll likely feel pretty strange due to the difference in shape and center of mass.

The center of mass is the area in which all (or most) of the weight is located in an object. Remember, when you’re using dumbells, the weight is centered in your hands, but when you use a kettlebell, the center of mass is a few inches below the handle.

Due to their unique shapes and weight distributions, it’s best to use each of these free weights to perform the exercises for which they were designed. This will help you avoid lapsing into improper form, or dropping a weight and injuring yourself.

Dumbbells and kettlebells are both common fitness tools you’ll find at any gym and in many homes. Now that you have a better idea of how to use them, order both and start tracking your fitness to meet those new year’s goals!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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