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Are Barbells And Dumbbells Superior To Kettlebells?

By Russ Howe

If you were to put kettlebells vs dumbbells into a fight to see which training method returned the best overall strength gains, who do you think would come out on top? This is a popular gym argument which has raged for many years, and today we will use the latest science to teach you the answer.

Before we do that, it is important to point out that using both approaches is always going to be far superior to limiting yourself to just one style. You will often hear people swearing by the use of just one protocol, all this does is limit your ability on the gym floor as each style comes with it's own plus points and negatives, therefore a combination of the two styles alongside other forms of training, such as yoga, interval training and body weight movements, would be optimal for achieving the goals set by most individuals.

However, a recent study pitted the kettlebell against free weights in a study to determine which method would return the greatest strength gains overall. The results were quite profound.

First of all, we had one study group performing a six week program of kettlebell swings, goblet squats and accelerated swings with a 16 kg weight in a bid to improve squat strength, power clean strength and vertical leap power.

Group B, on the other hand, were made to follow a six week program using roughly 80% of their one repetition maximum on squat, power clean and high pulls using a barbell.

The results clearly showed that the free weight group enjoyed much greater gains in strength than the kettlebell group. First of all, the barbell/dumbbell group noticed a massive increase in their squat strength of 15%, as well as an increase in power clean strength of 10% and a vertical leap boost of 4%.

The other group, meanwhile, only enjoyed a 5% increase in squat strength, with a 4% boost to their power clean and, somewhat surprisingly, only a 1% increase in their vertical leap strength. The last statistic in particular is quite interesting, given that this piece of kit is often touted as the superior method for increasing explosive movements, such as vertical leaping...

So if the results of this study from California State University, Fullerton are to be used as evidence in ending this popular argument then free weights certainly won the war hands down.

Of course, it would be very silly to take this study on face value and insist that you are only going to train with barbells and dumbbells from now on. Just because they were shown to be superior across the board for strength gains does not mean that any other form of training is useless. For example, body weight jump squats have been shown to recruit 40% more muscle fibers than barbell squats, does this mean you should never squat with a barbell again? No, of course not.

While free weights have now been shown to trump other equipment in the strength category, that doesn't mean they are the only method you should use. For instance, there are a number of exercises which can be performed using a kettlebell which are simply more functional than using conventional dumbbells and barbells. The swing is a perfect example of that.

So, who wins the battle of kettlebells vs dumbbells? If the latest scientific research is to be used as a barometer to end the argument then you have to jump on the side of free weights.

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