There are many tools available when it comes to selecting how you want to train your body. Some of the more common ones we use with Functional Patterns are exercise machines like pulleys, macebells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Each of the tools have various features which make them more appropriate for certain uses over others. Functional Patterns is concerned with getting you sustainable results that will allow you to develop and maintain hydrated muscles for the long term. In order to accomplish this, we will examine kettlebells more closely to find out how they differ from dumbbells and how those differences affect training. Another point we will cover is if kettlebell workouts are more effective than dumbbell exercises. These are a couple of the topics we will explore to help determine if full body kettlebell workouts are fit for you and your goals.
What makes Kettlebells different from Dumbbells
The most notable differences between dumbbells and kettlebells are in how the weight is distributed in each tool. Dumbbells have the weight dispersed on both sides of the handle and will have the center of mass in your hand as a result. Kettlebells on the other hand have more of a triangular shape. They will typically have a handle fixed on top of a sphere or bell which contains most of the weight. Due to this shape of a kettlebell, the center of mass will not be in the handle like with the dumbbell, but it will be closer to the body (bell) where the majority of the weight is. Due to this shape kettlebell workouts may be more challenging to balance the kettlebell in a bottom-up position for an overhead press, or even for something like a bicep curl since the load is not centered in the hand. This shape also allows kettlebells to develop momentum a bit easier than a dumbbell because there is more centripetal force when it moves with the center of mass outside of the hand.
Centripetal force can be visualized if you have ever spun keys on a lanyard around your fingers or swung a hammer. Anything that has some form of lighter handle or attachment to a heavier end piece like a yo-yo, keychain, hammer, or grocery bag will have similar effects with momentum. When most of the weight of an object favors the opposite end of where it is being held and motion is applied, there will be a tendency to spin around the point where you are gripping the object. This feature makes the kettlebell an ideal tool for kettlebell swings. Kettlebell workouts that make use of this momentum usually also challenge stabilizing muscles in the core as well as the prime movers in the kettlebell swing like the lats and glutes.
Are Kettlebells Effective Tools for Workouts
Kettlebell workouts can be similar to dumbbells, although there are some movements that are more practical with either tool. When considering whether dumbbells are a more effective tool than kettlebells, it is important to determine what the use is intended for. Both dumbbells and kettlebells are easy to travel with as they do not take up a large amount of space so you can workout almost anywhere. The main differences to consider when deciding which tool is better for a specific exercise comes down to how you intend to move the load. Kettlebell swings for example, can be done with a dumbbell. However, because the dumbbell places the center of mass in your hand, the amount of momentum developed in the swing will be reduced by shortening the lever of the swinging arm. So when it comes to kettlebell swings or kettlebell workouts where developing stability is one of the goals, the kettlebell may be the better tool for the job in these instances.
For individuals new to kettlebell training, intentions are a key factor to consider, but possibly even more important is assessing your posture and movement to determine if you have any imbalances or injuries that can cause compensations during exercise. The effectiveness of the tool will be determined by how efficient the body is moving it. Most other methods of training outside of Functional Patterns seem to be neglecting the fundamental premise of how humans developed muscles in the first place. This study Evolution of the human hip. Part 2: muscling the double extension - PMC (nih.gov) discusses how human hips evolved their specific shape and muscles due to moving upright on our legs. These variables seem to be some of the most crucial ones to consider when developing sustainable training for humans.
Form and Function
Many influencers in the fitness industry have certain ideas of what proper form for a kettlebell swing or full body kettlebell workout may be, but it seems like the methods used outside of Functional Patterns are neglecting a critical variable when it comes to training humans sustainably. This crucial missing variable is specificity.
Full body kettlebell workouts most of the time have an emphasis on getting multiple joints moving and working large muscle groups together like the legs and upper body. While this may sound beneficial at first, the level of specificity these exercises are performed with is a much greater factor for long-term fitness gains than simply burning more calories by including multiple joints. To illustrate more clearly how we recommend humans train full body kettlebell workouts, here is a video demonstrating a kettlebell swing and overhead press variation.
For these exercises a dumbbell can be used, but it may be better to stick with a kettlebell to get more momentum with the kettlebell swings and a greater stability challenge on the core and shoulder for the overhead press exercise. If you feel you benefit from these exercises, please feel free to checkout other kettlebell workouts and tutorials on the main Functional Patterns YouTube channel functionalpatterns - YouTube and continue to “Train intentionally, not habitually.”