Kettlebell vs. dumbbell: Which one should you choose?

Everyone wants to maximize the time they spend at the gym. So when getting ready for weight training, seeing both dumbbells and kettlebells of the same weights can be confusing. Which is better? The answer depends on your goals.

Dumbbells and kettlebells distribute weight differently, according to Well+Good, so your body responds uniquely to each. Dumbbells have equal weight on each side of a bar, while kettlebell weight is positioned underneath the handle. Many exercises, including snatches, squats, lunges, rows, and presses can be performed with either piece of equipment.

Kettlebells shine when someone wants to get a cardio burst into their weight training. The standard exercises performed with kettlebells are designed for higher reps for longer periods, often a minute or longer, according to Men's Health. For example, the kettlebell swing works large muscle groups in the legs and back, in addition to the arms, which increases heart rate. Jason Brown, C.S.C.S., owner of Kettlebell Athletics in Philadelphia, told Men's Health, "If your goal is to burn fat, increase power endurance, and get strong, then kettlebells are a great tool."

Tools for each style of exercise

If, however, your training focuses on building strength, then dumbbells are the way to go. That's because you can lift much higher weight with dumbbells than what's available in kettlebells. Dumbbells are also great for beginners to get used to lifting weight, according to VeryWellFit. The grip on a kettlebell can take a little adjustment when you're new at it, whereas dumbbells are straightforward and comfortable.

Kettlebell 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. And for anyone, beginner or expert, nothing beats the dumbbell when it comes to equilateral lifting, like with bicep curls.

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 the ability to function during normal life needs, like lifting groceries or children, according to VeryWellFit. That's best accomplished by incorporating many different types of exercises, including both kettlebells and dumbbells into your regimen.