photo credit: d_vdm
Kettlebells can be expensive and depending on your location, hard to find. So why go to all the trouble and fork out your hard earned cash for a kettlebell? After all, free weights such as dumbbells are relatively cheap and available virtually everywhere. Can’t you just do traditional kettlebell movements such as swings with a dumbbell anyway?
I have writen about my kettlebells workouts and the question of whether traditional cardio is necessary for fat loss. As a result I’ve been asked questions such as those above recently and while I personally know from experience that there is a huge difference I didn’t have a good explanation for the person beyond just my word for it. In a world where every time I open my mouth someone wants references instead of doing their own independent research I knew such an explanation would not cut it.
So I did a little digging and talked to those far more knowledgeable and experienced in the areas of biomechanics, strength and conditioning training and injury rehabilitation then I will ever be. The answers I found really explain why many people such as top level competitive fighters, firemen, special forces and so forth use kettlebells.
A Quick Lesson in Biomechanics
There are as many as 640 skeletal muscles in the human body that are recruited for locomotion. Of these muscles 63 percent are Stabilizers, Decelerators and Synergists. Otherwise known as balance and stabilizer muscles.
When it comes to traditional weight lifting such as with a dumbbell these balance and stabilizer muscles are not utilized very effectively. Traditional weights work in just one plane of motion and rely on leverage and static fixed positions. While in normal life our bodies move in three planes of motion. They are the Sagittal Plane, the Frontal Plane and the Transverse Plane.
To give you a clear idea of what this all means consider that 90% of all traditional weight lifting such as with dumbbells is a Sagittal Plane movement only. Now consider that 70 percent of all injuries occur in the Transverse Plane. A plane of movement that traditional lifting does not target.
When you lift a dumbbell the handle is directly in line with the wrist, which is the first point of axis. In other words there is a direct line of what is called “Applied Force.” This is because the dumbbell is symmetrical as a result of its balanced grip.
A kettlebell on the other hand is highly unstable and unbalanced because its design is asymmetrical. There is no direct line of applied force. The moment you pick up a kettlebell it triggers instability, which engages all 38-core muscles. When used correctly Kettlebells also engage all four major body systems - Nervous, Cardiovascular, Muscular and Skeletal.
Working correctly with a kettlebell is the simultaneous equivalent of a jogging or sprinting heart rate (cardiovascular), fast ballistic multi-tasking movement (nervous system), fast ballistic movement (muscular), and extreme deceleration forces (skeletal) all at once! Apparently this is called Metabolic Conditioning.
Why the Confusion Between Kettlebells and Dumbells
In the professional opinion of one person who I was reading the confusion on the subject of kettlebells vs. dumbbells comes from a lack of proper instruction regarding how to practice with kettlebells. As a direct result many people make the critical mistake of attempting to use kettlebells as if they were traditional weights.
Traditional weight lifting is what is single-plane static. This refers to how your body is in a fixed position while moving weight towards and away from you in a linear manner through a direct line of applied force. All the while attempting not to use any momentum and targeting an isolated muscle or muscle group.
What’s more traditional weight lifting builds muscles differently. Generally speaking the goal of bodybuilding is muscle hypertrophy meaning an increase in muscle size. Unfortunately most people associate size with strength. What most people do not know is that 50-70-percent of hypertrophy size is from fluid called Sarcoplasm. Sarcoplasmic Volume accounts for 50-70 percent of muscle gain/size incurred through traditional weight lifting. It is a fluid and not muscle fiber, which means it contributes very little to direct strength.
Kettlebell training is the antithesis of traditional weight lifting. Working with kettlebells is to use all three planes of motion simultaneously. The Transverse Plane is heavily targeted. You will remember that this is where 70 percent of all injuries occur. Kettlebell training is based upon generating momentum and then perpetuating, redirecting and decelerating that momentum.
Almost every kettlebell exercise engages literally hundreds of muscles at once. Most expert level kettlebell lifters have profound functional strength without bulky size. This is because the very nature of kettlebell training triggers greater Myofibril density. Myofibrils are contractile organisms within the muscle that are directly related to strength
So kettlebells produce muscle that is incredibly dense and strong without bulky size. Even if you were to attempt basic kettlebell movements such as a kettlebell swing with a dumbbell it still does not even come close. However you may attempt to hold the dumbbell there is still a direct line of applied force and the dumbbell itself is still balanced in design.
The Bottom Line
A kettlebell lifter can do whatever a traditional weightlifter can do. On the other hand the traditional weightlifter cannot do what a Kettlebell user can do. In addition the Kettlebell user has real world strength that applies to real world situations, everyday tasks and obstacles.
If you’re interested in kettlebells but don’t know which kettlebell to start with check out my buyer’s guide for kettlebell beginners. I also personally recommend the kettlebells and instructional material from Pavel over at Dragon Door:
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