dumbbells vs kettlebells


Did you ever see Clash of the Titans?

Krakens… Medusa… Zeus… it was an old-school battle of epic proportions.

And today I bring you a clash of the GYM titans, as I compare dumbbells vs kettlebells to discover which is better for building muscle. This post originated after website member Rachel emailed this question:

“Hi Russ!

My goal is to build muscle and a personal trainer at my gym told me that using kettlebells will result in significantly better results than using barbells and dumbbells. Is this true? If you had to compare the two, are kettlebells as superior as he’s claiming?”

– Rachel, UK.

kettlebells vs dumbbells for building muscle


Let me start this piece by saying BOTH of these pieces of equipment are awesome. I use them both.

A lot of people falsely presume kettlebell training is some sort of new ‘fad’. It most certainly is NOT. The last twenty years have seen them make a bit of a ‘comeback’ in terms of popularity, but they are by no means ‘new’. They originated in Eastern Europe and, just like dumbbells and barbells, have been a firm favorite of top class athletes for a very long time.

Kettlebell training really shines when the goal is to increase EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH.

For example, the fierce nature of a power move like kettlebell snatches make it a very effective training tool for athletes in almost every kind of sport.

But this is where things get tricky…

Kettlebell enthusiasts often proclaim that this explosiveness will lead to greater muscle growth and strength than any other kind of training, and it’s just not true. Hypertrophy will certainly occur, as it would with any other form of resistance training, but it is NOT the primary function.

Ultimately greater strength comes from handling heavier loads, and that’s where barbells and dumbbells come into their own.

Don’t just take my word for it, of course, let’s look at some science on this topic!

Back in 2011 a team of researchers from California State University, Fullerton, performed a trial which actually compared kettlebells vs dumbbells for pure strength gains.

That’s perfect for this article, right?

During the trial, a group of trainees followed a training plan consisting of goblet squats, accelerated swings and kettlebell swings using a 16kg kettlebell while another group performed a routine consisting of high pulls, squats and power cleans using a combination of barbells and dumbbells of around 80% of their max.

(As you can probably see, these exercises were selected due to their similarity.)

The results were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research the following year, and showed that the trainees who used barbells and dumbbells gained significantly more muscle and strength. (1)

This included a 15% increase in their squat one rep max compared to the other group’s 5% increase, as well as a 10% strength increase and 4% vertical leap improvement via power cleans, compared to the other group’s improvement of 4% and 1%.

kettlebells vs dumbbells


Now we’ve got that out of the way, I want to give you a bit of advice:

I do NOT want you to commit to using only one type of training.

Sure, dumbbells might be superior for packing on muscle, but does that mean you should ditch kettlebells? Absolutely not!

In fact, any trainer telling you to only perform one type of training is full of s**t. I personally use dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, battle ropes, even the much maligned Smith machine in my own training because at the end of the day they are just TOOLS; each has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and they can combine to give you a great overall arsenal with which you can build your best body.

Make sense?


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  1. Otto, W. H., et al. Effects Of Weightlifting Vs. Kettlebell Training On Vertical Jump, Strength, And Body Composition. J Strength Cond Res. (2012)

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