Can I Use a Dumbbell for Kettlebell Exercises?

For most exercises, the dumbbell and kettlebell are interchangeable.
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Kettlebells are pretty common now in home gyms and public fitness studios. But when they aren't available, you may wonder if you can use a dumbbell for a kettlebell exercise.

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"Dumbbells can easily be interchangeable with kettlebells in most cases, although historically, kettlebells have been used for more swinging-type exercises," says Jake Harcoff, CSCS, a certified kinesiologist and owner of AIM Athletic.

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"While you can certainly swing a dumbbell just like a kettlebell, it can sometimes feel a little awkward based on the shape," he says. After all, dumbbells (especially heavy ones) are much wider than a kettlebell of the same weight.

Here's your guide to when you can swap a kettlebell for a dumbbell and a few pointers to make the transition easier.

Should You Use the Same Weight for Kettlebells and Dumbbells?

Whether or not you can use the same weight when switching between kettlebells and dumbbells will depend on the exercise you're doing and how you intend to load that exercise.

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"If you are doing a goblet squat with one kettlebell being held in both hands, it is a simple switch to use a dumbbell," Harcoff says. "If the exercise requires you to hold a weight in each hand, like in a chest or shoulder press, you could potentially increase the weight [when using dumbbells]."

That's because, moving kettlebells requires more shoulder stability than moving dumbbells. When you use dumbbells, the weight is centered in your hands. But with kettlebells, their center of gravity sits a few inches behind your forearms.

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When Not to Use a Dumbbell

"The only time I really wouldn't want to swap a dumbbell for a kettlebell, is when doing a standard two-handed kettlebell swing or a single-arm kettlebell swing at heavier weights," Harcoff says.

First, dumbbells aren't designed for you to hold with two hands at the same time — and trying to do so can risk poor form or even dropping the weight.

"Additionally, heavy dumbbells have a much wider profile [than kettlebells]," he says. So to swing a heavy dumbbell between your legs, you'd likely have to set up with an excessively wide stance. As a result, you'd throw off your movement patterns and risk additional aches and pains.

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So, if you're into kettlebell swings and want to try them with dumbbells, stick with single-arm versions using small dumbbells (roughly 25 pounds or less). If you're used to using heavier weights, up your rep count to keep your body challenged.

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