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Kettlebell Exercises vs. Weightlifting

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author image Michael Shiva Best
Michael Shiva Best is a writer with Bachelor of Arts degrees from Eckerd College. He lives and works in Orlando, Fla.. and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.
Kettlebell Exercises vs. Weightlifting
Weightlifting increases muscular force while kettlebells develop explosive power. Photo Credit Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Weightlifting is a general term that can refer to any kind of resistance training designed to improve muscular strength, power, size or stamina. Most commonly, weightlifting means using dumbbells or barbells, but also includes the use of guided-exercise machines, cable machines, body weight exercises and miscellaneous weights like medicine balls. In contrast, kettlebells are less popular for weightlifting because they are designed to be more difficult to control. However, kettlebells have also been shown to effectively increase muscular fitness in all categories.

Kettlebell Strength and Power

Using kettlebells has been shown to produce significant gains in muscular strength and explosive power equivalent to similar gains with standard weightlifting. While this makes kettlebells a viable option for any resistance training program, they are especially useful for challenging your coordination, timing and balance. Because kettlebells are awkward to handle, exercises like kettlebell swings require a larger amount of mechanical work to control than weightlifting movements like back squats. However, it is important to understand that, while kettlebell exercises do increase strength, weightlifting movements like power cleans will produce greater increases in maximal force.

Total Training

Another advantage to using kettlebells is that they rarely isolate muscle groups. In standard weightlifting, exercises like preacher curls and guided leg extensions target certain muscles and ignore others. Almost all kettlebell movements involve compound, multi-joint movements like snatches, clean-and-presses and threaded lunges. This makes kettlebells great tools for functional training with gains that will transfer to standard weightlifting, everyday activities and sports. Kettlebell exercises have also been shown to improve the postural coordination in people who do activities that commonly result in musculoskeletal pain and discomfort, which may help to prevent injury.

Weightlifting Advantages

One of the prime advantages that standard weightlifting has over kettlebells is variety. There are many types of equipment to choose from, including barbells, dumbbells and machines, which have a wider weight variety, allowing you to tailor a training program to your personal needs. For instance, bodybuilders are likely to prefer weightlifting to kettlebell exercises because they rely on isolation movements like bicep curls and leg presses to build and define muscles. Also, because standard weightlifting creates higher force and requires less mechanical demand than kettlebell exercises, it is easier to progress to higher weights and increase maximal strength.

Form and Function

The most intimidating feature of kettlebell exercises is the necessity for proper form. While bad form during any type of workout can lead to injury, kettlebell exercises are especially difficult to master and may require special supervised training. Despite this, kettlebells are a useful addition to any weightlifting program that seeks to improve balance, coordination and explosive power as well as muscle size and maximal strength. Perhaps most importantly, kettlebells can be an excellent way to add challenges and variety to your general fitness routine.

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