Kettlebells Vs. Free Weights – Which Should You Choose?

Posted on November 20th, 2013 at 5:05 pm by


If you’re here then you’ve probably caught wind of the new trend gaining momentum in the fitness world; kettlebells.  Naturally, trendy things gain more and more attention until people begin to wonder why they gained so much popularity and whether they should also make the switch.  Well, before you replace all the dumbbells in your house, make sure you understand the differences between these two methods of weight training.  Ultimately, as in most cases, which is better comes down to a matter of preference, but there is specific criteria that can help inform your decision.


KettlebellIf you know nothing else, you probably know this: kettlebells are ‘in’ and have sparked a lot of talk in the fitness world.  So what are they?  Resembling a kettle (hence the name…), they are made from cast iron in the shape of a ball with a handle on top.  They are often used during ballistic training in which you explosively lift weights smoothly and in a controlled manner, rather than lifting at a constant speed.  The centre of gravity shifts as they are swung and this creates a functional form of fitness.  They raise your heart rate at a much faster and constant rate than dumbbells do, in this way it combines cardio with weight lifting.  Kettlebell workouts are momentum-based and incorporate a wider variety of muscle groups than traditional workouts employing free weights.

Free Weights

Free WeightsDumbbells and barbells are the traditional weight training tools and despite the increasing popularity of kettlebells, they aren’t going anywhere.  They seem to be favoured by the fitness community for strength-building, partly because you can load as much weight on them as you need and by adding more weight build more strength; this was proved in a study conducted by the California State University.

What Does the Research Say?

Researchers asked 30 men to train with either kettlebells or traditional weights.  They would train twice a week and following 6 weeks of this training, they would come together and compare results.  What the researchers found was that the traditional-weight training group had boosted their squat max by 14 percent—an average of 18 pounds—compared to just 4 percent (5 pounds) among the kettlebell lifters.  The gains were similar when the researchers tested for upper-body strength improvements.  This seems to be pretty definitive proof that free weights are better for pure strength-building.

The Verdict

You can’t really evaluate these two weight training techniques as they don’t seek to accomplish the same thing.  Kettlebell training seeks to include cardio as well as strength training and is great for women who only focus on cardio.  Women are recommended at least two days of full-body, moderate- or high-intensity muscle strengthening.  This is a great way to combine muscle strengthening and cardio and may be the answer for ladies who don’t want to hit the squat rack just yet.

In the end, it really depends on what you’re seeking to accomplish when deciding what weights to train with.  There’s also an upside to traditional weights since they allow you to add more weight as you progress.  Which one is better? That’s up to you.

About the Author

Adrian Rodriguez is a freelance writer and fitness enthusiast.  He uses both dumbbells and kettlebells when training at his local Fitness First gym.

Images courtesy of Filippo Fantolini (private) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and

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