Woman with dumbbells

Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells: How to Vary Your Workout

When you visit the gym, you likely have a set amount of time to get in, complete your workout, and get back to your busy schedule. The variety of strength training machines, free weights, functional training areas, cardio machines, and group fitness classes can make it hard to choose, especially when you have limited workout time. 

It’s great to vary your workout and switch up your workout routine regularly to get better results and stay motivated toward reaching your fitness goals. If you’re typically focused on weights or strength training, adding cardio into your workout schedule can help increase endurance and heart health. If you’re a die-hard cardio lover, adding or incorporating a strength day or two per week can really help your overall health and boost your lean muscle mass.

When it comes to free weights, it can be just as tricky figuring out which weight levels to choose and which types of weights. You’re probably already familiar with dumbbells—after all, most gyms have rows and rows of racks filled with various assortments. And you’ve probably heard about kettlebells. Raved about by fitness professionals and athletes alike, they’ve amassed quite a following and are well-known for the challenging workouts they can provide.

Read on to learn more about the differences between dumbbells and kettlebells, what kinds of exercises each is great for, and how to vary your workout using dumbbells or kettlebells to get better results in the gym.

The Differences Between Dumbbells and Kettlebells

While dumbbells and kettlebells can be used interchangeably on a lot of different exercises, there are some major differences between these two types of free weights.

The first difference you’ll notice between dumbbells and kettlebells is their shape. A kettlebell has one large handle with the weight below it, while a dumbbell has its handle in the center with weight on either side. Because of the shapes of these weights, the weight displacement is different when you’re lifting. If you’re used to dumbbells, it may take an adjustment period to get used to the difference. 

Dumbbells accommodate one hand per weight—there’s really no room on the handle to hold one with two hands—whereas kettlebells have the handle space for one or two hands. This makes kettlebells slightly more versatile when you’re doing particular exercises. 

Another difference between dumbbells and kettlebells is the construction. Kettlebells are commonly made from cast iron and sometimes coated with vinyl or neoprene on the weight portion. Dumbbells are made from various materials like stainless steel, cast iron, or even concrete, and can sometimes be coated over the entire weight including the handle, or just the weight portion on both ends.

There are also adjustable forms of dumbbells, allowing you to add or remove weight plates for different exercises. Kettlebells don’t have that flexibility as they are one solid piece. 

Which is Better—Dumbbells or Kettlebells?

It’s been a long-debated question in the fitness world—are dumbbells or kettlebells better? And the answer is…it depends on the move. Both weights have their advantages, but generally, dumbbells are easier to use and are more easily accessible, meaning you’re likely to find them in more places, like the stocked weight racks at EōS Fitness. 

Vary Your Workout 

Whether you’ve always preferred dumbbells or kettlebells exclusively, you can still expand the flexibility in your workout routine and add some variety to keep your muscles—and your mind—challenged. Switching out a dumbbell exercise here and there for kettlebells, and vice versa, is a good start to keeping you on your toes, while substituting an entire workout for the other type of weights can have even better results. Challenge yourself however much you’d like! Keep in mind, though, that there are some exercises that just work better with one or the other.

Below are some exercises in which you can use dumbbells and kettlebells interchangeably. This is not an exhaustive list, just some ideas to get you started in varying your workout routine.

Bicep Curls

Bicep curls can be very effective with both dumbbells and kettlebells. When you substitute kettlebells in, the weight distribution is a little different and it’s best to let the handle shift in your palm as you curl, letting the kettlebell roll as you curl upward. With a dumbbell, this would not be necessary as the weight is evenly distributed to each side of your hand.

Shoulder Press

You’ve likely tried the shoulder press and perhaps variations like the Arnold press, military press, and seated dumbbell press, but the kettlebell press can challenge your muscles differently. When holding the kettlebell for a press, you’ll have to stabilize the weight against the back of your arm, forcing you to counteract the weight of the bell during the upward and downward motions of the shoulder press.


Your upper body or back day routine probably includes some sort of rows, whether it’s bent over rows, lawnmower pulls, incline bench rows, one-arm rows, or plank rows. Guess what? You can do all of the row exercises with both dumbbells and kettlebells


Make your squat routine more challenging by either holding one weight with both hands at the center of your body while squatting (goblet squat), or by holding a weight in each hand at the shoulders. Holding the weight at chest-height or at the shoulders will add an additional challenge for your core and upper back as you work to keep the weight in place while completing the squats.


There are all different kinds of lunges that you may have already incorporated into your workout routine, but adding dumbbells and kettlebells is a great way to further improve your leg and glute strength. Plus, this will give your heart a great cardio workout! Whether you’re doing reverse lunges, forward lunges, side lunges, or other variations, you can add either type of weights to make your workout more challenging. 


Need more inspiration? Try these five full-body kettlebell workouts. For more dumbbell and kettlebell workouts, stop by EōS Fitness and start working on your fitness goals with a Complimentary 7-Day Pass.

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