Kettlebell Vs Barbell (Compared For Home Strength Training)

Building and strengthening muscles in your garage gym requires the right equipment to achieve your goals. The kettlebell vs barbell debate is hotly contested because barbells and kettlebells are both popular choices for garage gym equipment.

This guide will explore the similarities and differences between the two to help you decide which best suits your needs.

A kettlebell consists of a mass of weight with a grip at the top, resembling a cannonball with a handle. The material can vary but is often cast iron or steel. Cast-iron kettlebells tend to be more durable and of higher quality. Most kettlebells get bigger the heavier they are, but competition kettlebells are built to standardized dimensions.

The key difference when comparing kettlebells vs barbells is that the kettlebell's center of mass is directly below the point of contact and not on either side as with barbells.

This pendulum shape means that the weight of the kettlebell is not distributed evenly, which makes it practical for swinging exercises and ballistic training. So you have to choose carefully between barbells and kettlebells depending on workout purposes. 

Kettlebells can be included in exercise programs to improve muscle strength, endurance, and power. They are also an effective way to burn calories quickly and eliminate excess body fat, according to a study by the American Council on Exercise. But mixing kettlebells and barbells into a single kettlebell and barbell routine yields even more positive results. 

If you're ready to invest in a new kettlebell, check out our review of the best kettlebells for home gyms!

What We Like 

  • Great for burning fat 
  • Improve VO2 max 
  • Increased mobility vs barbell exercises 
  • Build endurance 
  • Swinging exercises useful for training explosive power 

Things We Don’t 

  • Not adjustable - need 1 kettlebell for each weight 
  • Harder to grip in some exercises 
  • No possibility for wide grip 
  • Can’t load as heavy 
man exercising on a track with kettlebells

Barbells (Overview + Pros & Cons) 

The barbell is a long bar with weights loaded on either end and is gripped in the middle section. Barbells are versatile and popular; they are used in Olympic weightlifting. In addition, the barbell is the most commonly used piece of strength training equipment for exercises such as squats, shoulder presses, bench presses, and deadlifts.

The user can adjust the weight by adding or removing weights. An unloaded Olympic bar weighs 20kg (44lbs), and most bars can withstand loads of up to 500lbs. Barbell plates are usually made of cast iron but may be rubber-coated and can vary in size according to weight or can be constructed to a standard circumference, as in Olympic bumper plates.  

So a barbell routine is a great way to build strength and muscle, but studies show it is also one of the best ways to burn fat. So whether to use a kettlebell or barbell depends on whether weight loss is a priority.

If you want to know more about the different types of barbells for at home strength training, review our guide for more info!

What We Like 

  • Adjustable resistance from removable weights 
  • Wide, medium, and narrow grip options 
  • Huge range of exercises 
  • More spatially efficient 

Things We Don’t 

  • Requires extra equipment, e.g., rack, plates, etc. 
  • Cannot be swung for explosive power training
  • Width of load can negatively affect balance in some exercises 
woman lifting barbell

Kettlebell Vs Barbell: Which Is Better For Your Home Workouts?

Weight Range

Most kettlebell sets begin at 5lbs and go up to 100lbs. If you want to increase muscle mass with heavy deadlifts and squats, this may not provide sufficient resistance. Barbells are ideal for high resistance compound exercises such as these because you can load up the bar well beyond 100lbs. For an intense strength training workout near your 1 rep max., you will find barbells better than kettlebells. 

We should also consider the weight increments for kettlebell vs barbell weights. As part of a progressive strength training routine, you may wish to add 2.5lbs to your bicep curl, or go for a new max., deadlift by adding 2lbs to your previous record.

As kettlebells have a fixed weight, which increases by set increments, they’re less suited for this. You could find that you move up to the next biggest kettlebell and struggle to perform the exercise. 

The weight range of barbell exercises depends on the Olympic plates you have available. If you need more weight plates, take a look at our favorite Olympic weight sets.

Performance 

Because of their difference in weight distribution and shape, there are different advantages to kettlebell vs barbell training. For example, the kettlebell lends itself well to swinging exercises that can be used to work on power and balance. On the other hand, the barbell requires a steady, solid base to be used safely and is less useful for balance training.

Another area where a home gym user will find kettlebells better than barbells is when using drop sets and supersets as part of a workout program. If supersetting 60lb bent over rows and 70lb shoulder presses, you simply need 2 kettlebells at the ready. To do the same thing with barbells, you would either need to have 2 set up and ready to go, or rack the weight, add 10lbs, and un-rack it again. 

For drop-sets, kettlebells are more convenient. You can shoulder press 80lbs to failure and then pick up your 20lb kettlebell to squeeze out a few more reps. With barbells, this becomes inconvenient as you have to remove plates. 

It’s also worth remembering you shouldn’t drop kettlebells or barbells as they can easily damage flooring and sometimes smaller parts can snap or break.

Related Articles - Benefits Of Kettlebell Swings

Safety 

There are different safety issues to consider depending on how you use your kettlebells and barbells. As kettlebells tend to only go up to 100lbs, you are unlikely to need a spotter for most exercises. However, when loading up the barbell for a new max squat, it is sensible to have a spotter. 

Review our guide on exercises that require a spotter to make sure you stay safe in the gym.

Because kettlebells are often used in a swinging motion, this can present a safety concern for the user. Poor form could lead to injury because if you lose your balance, the kettlebell's momentum can pull you over.

It is also harder to grip a swinging weight, so a kettlebell is more likely to fly out of your grip than a barbell, which could cause damage or injury. A swinging cannonball is an obvious potential hazard. 

Gym users often ask, 'are kettlebells safer than barbells?'. The answer depends on how they're used. Good form is essential whether using barbells or kettlebells, but kettlebells present risks such as slippage and balance issues that gym-goers should be aware of before beginning a kettlebell program. 

spotter helping a man with barbell bench press

Footprint 

Your home gym's size and floor plan may require you to think about the most efficient way to use the space available to you. If you compare kettlebell and barbell sets for their space, you need to consider the optional extras that a barbell workout may require. You may need a squat rack and other accessories. 

You may decide to have fewer kettlebells to save space, but then your kettlebell set will have large jumps in weight from one to the next, which might make progressive training difficult.

With a complete set of kettlebells, it will be easier to fine-tune the weight, but you’ll sacrifice space. Kettlebell exercises may also require more floor space if you are swinging the weight in front of you. 

A home kettlebell rack has a footprint of around 10 square feet. Its dimensions will be around 60”W x 25”D. A basic barbell set, including weight plates and a squat rack, will take up double the space of a kettlebell set. But it could also be a highly versatile and efficient use of space, depending on the user's needs. 

Grip Variety 

A barbell allows the user to adjust their grip and fine-tune the exercise to work specific muscles. The wide-grip bench press will call on different muscles and fibers within the muscles as opposed to the close-grip bench press.

The weight of a barbell is distributed over an extended plane, which makes the barbell suitable for exercises like squatting and deadlifts, where the most efficient posture is with the arms descending directly down from the shoulders. 

The weight distribution of the kettlebell, with its center of mass below the gripping point, can cause problems when lifting near your maximum weight. For exercises like the bench press and shoulder press, it can cause stress on the forearm, wrist, and elbow joints which is easier to avoid with a barbell.

Kettlebells allow for one-handed exercises that are not possible with a barbell (such as single arm bicep curls) but fall short on versatility in two-handed exercises such as the bench press unless you use a pair of kettlebells.  

Kettlebell Vs Barbell for Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great way to train almost the entire body in one movement. They are used frequently to increase strength and muscle mass. Barbell deadlifts have the advantage of increased weight up to hundreds of pounds, and the barbell better suits the posture and form required for deadlifts.

The arms hang directly down and form two points of contact with the weight. They're kept shoulder-width apart, and all this forms a more efficient pulling mechanism than pointing your arms inward to grip a kettlebell handle. If you want to focus on deadlifting three-figure weights and increasing your pull strength, barbells are better suited to your needs.

Kettlebell Vs Barbell for Squats 

The compact shape of kettlebells means they’re helpful for certain squat types, such as goblet squats and Bulgarian split squats. One-leg squats are more practical with kettlebells as they’re easier to balance, and front squats are more beneficial with two kettlebells because they activate more muscles. 

Kettlebells are a great addition to a squat program because they significantly increase the squat variations you can do and enable you to shift the focus onto the quadriceps or glutes as required. Squatting while swinging the kettlebell is also great to increase power in the lower body.

However, to squat as heavy as possible as a strength training program requires you to, load the weight onto your back using a barbell. So for total strength, the barbell is essential.

man squatting with kettlebells

Kettlebell Vs Barbell for Presses 

The barbell is the standard piece of equipment for many popular exercises, such as the shoulder press and bench press. However, if you have the space to double up your kettlebells, they have an advantage over barbells as they’re free-weights – the two weights move independently of each other, and both require control.

This is less likely to lead to disparities in strength between your left and right sides, as both sides bear the exact load of the kettlebell. It is common in barbell workouts to rely on one side more than the other.  

So, the barbell retains its advantage in strength training because users can load heavy weights onto the bar to go for a 1 rep max or low-rep sets with high resistance.

The bar can be held in the rack between sets, whereas kettlebells need to be lifted off the floor and into the press position for each set, which is a problem if you are lifting heavy. But kettlebells are better for exercises with symmetrical rotation, like the Arnold press. 

Cardio and Calorie Burning 

The swinging movements that are possible with kettlebells make them a great way to burn calories quickly. They get the user out of breath and increase heart rate. Performing 100 kettlebell swings a day or for a set time (e.g., 12 minutes) is a great way to burn calories and exercise the cardiovascular system. In addition, it increases your VO2 max, as this study by Truman University shows. 

However, kettlebells are still weights. A kettlebell workout will provide the opportunity to improve cardiovascular fitness, burn fat, develop strength, and retain muscle mass with one piece of equipment. 

Barbell workouts tend to focus less on cardiovascular fitness, as sets are usually shorter and resistance is higher. Exercises also tend to be less ballistic or explosive. The explosive force required to accelerate the swing movement in kettlebell exercises increases the rate at which calories are burned. That’s why they’re optimal for cardio.

kettlebell vs barbell

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you get strong using just kettlebells? 

Kettlebell squats, deadlifts, and presses can undoubtedly be used as strength exercises and will give you a well-rounded and larger physique. So kettlebells are a great addition to a strength training program. We discussed this further in our guide to the best 12 Kettlebell Exercises For Building Muscle. However, to substantially increase strength, the key is to lift the most weight possible (close to your 1 rep max.) for short sets, which barbells are best for.

Can you replace kettlebells with barbells in your workout program? 

Barbells and kettlebells have different advantages and disadvantages. They are different tools that are used for different jobs. It is best to use both to achieve the variety that they both bring to the table.

Are barbells and kettlebells better than dumbbells? 

Dumbbells can be helpful alongside kettlebells for one-handed exercises and exercises that require rotation, such as dumbbell bicep curls. Dumbbells also have their own uses that can complement those of kettlebells and barbells in a training program. For more information, review our complete guides on kettlebells vs dumbbellls and barbells vs dumbbells!


Conclusion

Are kettlebells better than barbells? Are barbells better than kettlebells? It depends on your objectives. Kettlebells can help gym-goers improve their explosive strength and VO2 max while burning calories quickly, and barbells are best for increasing overall strength. Overall, both kettlebell and barbell workouts are a great way to improve your fitness.

Paul J

Last Updated on March 5, 2022