Can You Do Kettlebell Swings With A Dumbbell?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 9, 2022

Despite the relative popularity of the kettlebell in recent years, many exercisers may find that they do not have access to one despite the presence of kettlebell swings in their training program.

Apart from simply substituting the kettlebell swing with an exercise of similar effect, one may instead seek out another piece of fitness equipment that can act as an alternative to the kettlebell; that being the dumbbell.

Yes, it is entirely possible to perform a kettlebell swing with the use of a dumbbell. 

However, certain alterations in form, exercise mechanics and expectations will be required, as the weight distribution, momentum and even manner of gripping the dumbbell will differ somewhat from that of a kettlebell.

What are Kettlebell Swings?

As a refresher - the kettlebell swing is an explosive compound exercise that involves standing straight before dipping a kettlebell behind the legs and subsequently thrusting it upwards alongside the upper torso, eventually ending with the kettlebell and the arms fully extended overhead.

the kettlebell single arm swing

The kettlebell swing is most often part of a training circuit or athletic workout meant to induce power and strength developments within the lifter.

Differences Between a Kettlebell and Dumbbell

Even from an entirely external point of view, one can see that the dumbbell and kettlebell are in fact quite different in terms of form and usage.

The kettlebell features a handle atop the weight, placing the most dense part at the immediate center of the object and thereby several inches below or above the wrist when an individual is holding it aloft.

kettlebell

Comparatively, the dumbbell instead features two individual weights placed at both ends of the handle - of which is featured in the immediate center of the object, placing the center of the weight immediately atop the wrist when held by the exerciser.

dumbbell

This change in the center of mass of either equipment will alter how it acts when force is applied to it. 

In fitness terms, this refers to how the weight will move when lifted, especially in an explosive or less controlled manner such as in the kettlebell swing’s movement.

In addition to handle placement and center of mass, kettlebells and dumbbells will also differ in terms of how their shape functions when used for the kettlebell swing, as swinging a dumbbell from its actual handle at the center is quite difficult.

This will limit exactly how heavy or what sort of dumbbell can be used for kettlebell swings, with dumbbells coming in a variety of shapes and materials that may make holding them in the correct position otherwise impossible.

Grip Positioning Needed for Kettlebell Swings

Most kettlebell swings are performed with the use of a single or double overhand grip so as to allow maximum range of motion and reduce the risk of the weight slipping from the lifter’s hands.

To allow this, kettlebells are specifically shaped so that the weight beneath the handle does not come into contact with the exerciser’s hands or forearms unless they are held in an entirely vertical position overhead.

Clearly, this is not possible with a dumbbell, as the weight plates of a dumbbell surround the handle and greatly reduce the range of motion when held in such a position - especially in a double overhand or double underhand grip.

Momentum and Weight Distribution Needed for Kettlebell Swings

Though kettlebell swings are generally performed in a controlled manner (like all resistance exercises), there is a distinct explosiveness in its movement that takes from momentum and the weight distribution of the kettlebell in order to maximize.

As the exerciser swings the kettlebell behind their legs and subsequently pulls their hips and torso forward, force is carried from hands into the handle. 

This force will then multiply due to the distance between the weight beneath the handle and the handle itself.

This multiplication of force is what is known as momentum, and is otherwise difficult to produce with dumbbells because of the fact that the handle is not above the weight but immediately between them, altering how the force may be distributed and therefore reducing the creation of momentum.

Unless, of course, the dumbbell is held from one end instead of the handle itself.

How to Use a Dumbbell for Kettlebell Swings

The first step to using a dumbbell for kettlebell swings is to select one with a reasonably thin and flat pair of weights at either end - dumbbells with circular or hexagonal weights, or those that possess plates too thick to properly grip with both hands are dangerous to use in such a manner.

dumbbell swings

Once selected, the exerciser will grip the dumbbell between both (or one) hand in a double overhand grip. 

If done properly, the weight should hang awkwardly when held in a horizontal plane, with one end dipping downwards as the exerciser holds the other plate in their hands. This distribution of mass is where the momentum required in a kettlebell swing will come from.

Executing the Dumbbell-based Kettlebell Swing

In order to perform the kettlebell swing with the use of a dumbbell, the exerciser must first assume the standard kettlebell swing stance by standing with their feet shoulder width apart and the dumbbell gripped from one end between their hands.

Ideally, the palms will be placed flush against the outer portion of the weight with only their fingertips wrapped around the lip or inner portion of the weight, allowing a more neutral wrist and shoulder position to be maintained.

dumbbell swing muscles

The exerciser will then bend slightly at the hips and knees, drawing the dumbbell behind their legs - all the while maintaining a braced core and straight lower back.

Once several inches behind the legs, the exerciser will then hinge at the hip and knees, thereby thrusting their thorax and lower body forward as the arms carry the dumbbell upwards, aided by momentum.

As the dumbbell approaches shoulder or clavicle level, the exerciser will then engage the musculature of their deltoids and triceps to push it overhead, stopping just shy of full elbow extension. If performed correctly, the hips and knees should be at full extension and relatively straightened.

This completes the repetition, and all that is needed is to allow the dumbbell to return to the starting position in a slow and controlled arc downwards.

Things to Keep in Mind

Though the correct type of dumbbell may act as an excellent kettlebell substitute, there are still several changes in exercise form and the dumbbell itself that make the entire kettlebell swing somewhat less effective for its intended purpose.

In addition to this, the risk of injuring oneself or otherwise dropping the dumbbell is greater than if the exerciser were to simply use a kettlebell, as the dumbbell is not meant to be used in such a manner.

This is all the more applicable for adjustable dumbbells or those with removable plates - the momentum of the swing may cause the weights of said adjustable dumbbell to detach, presenting a significant risk factor. It is our advice that the lifter avoid using these types of dumbbells for the kettlebell swing.

Furthermore, the distribution of weight and center of mass of a dumbbell will lead to the exerciser’s body automatically compensating for the difference during a kettlebell swing, leading to injury unless the exerciser pays extra attention to proper form and core bracing.

In conclusion, though a dumbbell can indeed be used for kettlebell swings, it is our advice that lifters only do so as a temporary solution, as there is no true substitute for a kettlebell in its namesake swing exercise.

References

1. Duncan, Michael J., Rosanna Gibbard, Leanne M. Raymond, and Peter Mundy. 2015. "The Effect of Kettlebell Swing Load and Cadence on Physiological, Perceptual and Mechanical Variables" Sports 3, no. 3: 202-208. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports3030202

2. Nicholas A. Levine, Mohammad B. Hasan, Marco A. Avalos, Sangwoo Lee, Brandon R. Rigby & Young-Hoo Kwon (2020) Effects of kettlebell mass on lower-body joint kinetics during a kettlebell swing exercise, Sports Biomechanics, DOI: 10.1080/14763141.2020.1726442

3. Murphy, Myatt. Men's Health Ultimate Dumbbell Guide: More than 21,000 Moves Designed to Build Muscle, Increase Strength, and Burn Fat. New York: Rodale, 2007.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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