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May 16, 2021
One of the great things about kettlebell training is that all you need is a single kettlebell to get started. It’s not like dumbbells where you need to buy them in pairs or a barbell where you need a set of plates. This makes kettlebell training a lot more affordable. It also goes to show just how versatile kettlebell training is. Rather than buying a range of kettlebell sizes in pairs, you can buy just one kettlebell, or single kettlebells at various weights, because with just one kettlebell, you can still do tons of kettlebell exercise and get into fantastic shape, improving strength, building muscle, and burning fat...
Nevertheless, the question remains, are double kettlebell exercises (which means you are using two kettlebells of the same size at the same time) better than single kettlebell exercises?
Well, we have the answer for you, along with any other questions you might have regarding single and double kettlebell training. Below is an in-depth comparison of single vs double kettlebell training. After reading this, you will know whether single or double kettlebell training is right for you...or, better yet, when double kettlebell exercises should be implemented into your kettlebell training journey, as single and double kettlebell exercise don't have to be mutually exclusive.
The simple answer is NO. Working with just a single kettlebell can provide you fantastic results for strength, hypertrophy, and fat loss.
With a single kettlebell, you can perform almost any kettlebell exercise. In fact, there are certain kettlebell exercises that require you to only use one kettlebell, like the Turkish Get Up or Windmill. As for the classic kettlebell exercises, they can all be done with a single kettlebell, and most people would argue they are best when done with just one kettlebell.
The average trainee could spend up to a year using the same kettlebell weight, doing just single kettlebell exercises, and still continually make improvements. With progression exercises and progressive overload (there are many ways to progressive overload without increasing weight load), a single kettlebell, and we mean a single kettlebell of just one weight, can keep you busy for a long time.
Be that as it may, ideally, you’d want a few different sizes of kettlebells. But they don’t have to be pairs.
Now, all that said, double kettlebell exercises are great and they surely have their place, especially as you become more experienced with kettlebell training. At some point, you will want to start implementing double kettlebell exercises into your training as they are as effective, if not more, for certain training goals and exercises, which we will get into more below.
All in all, to answer the question in another manner, the general sentiment to single vs double kettlebell exercises is this - beginners should always start with single kettlebell training, and once they master the exercises and can perform them efficiently, then they can start to do double kettlebell training, which will help propel them to a greater level of strength, overall fitness, and kettlebell mastery.
Note: Even at advanced levels, you will still be doing single kettlebell exercises. You will likely have a mix of single and double kb exercises in your workout routine. Obviously, this all depends on your goals and other types of implements you use (i.e. are you doing barbell exercises along with kettlebells?), as that will determine your kettlebell programming...
As a beginner, it’s always recommend that you start with one kettlebell. Once you master the basics, you can start implementing two kettlebells (double kettlebell exercises). It’s always better to learn and perfect exercises with just one kettlebell. And while you will make some great gains with single kettlebell exercises, the transition to two kettlebell for certain exercises will allow you to take your gains (strength and muscle mass) to another level.
One hand kettlebell exercises are asymmetrical, so they are great for core stability and rotation and fixing muscle imbalances. Most exercises are also easier with a single kettlebell, so it makes learning new exercises more approachable and perfecting movements faster, especially when it comes to ballistic exercises like swings, snatches, jerks, and cleans. What’s more, single kettlebell exercises are great for working on speed power, which can help sports performance (i.e. boxing).
Double kettlebell exercises are great for force production, because, typically speaking, when using two kettlebells, the total load on your body is greater. Double kettlebells can also help you to focus on muscle groups better as core stability won't be as great of a factor. For example, if you are doing front loaded squats with two 50lb kettlebells, you have a total load of 100lbs. With a single kettlebell, you can also do front squats, but if you use a 50lb kettlebell, you only have a total load of 50lbs, which is obviously not as effective for building muscle and strength in your legs and glutes. If you were to use a 100lb kettlebell, to get the same total load, you probably wouldn't be able to perform the exercise because core stability would be such a huge factor, and if you could, you'd be placing too much emphasis on core stability, thus taking away from the purpose of a squat, your legs! Furthermore, total load aside, with double kettlebells, you can do the same amount of work as single kettlebell training in half the time as you are working both sides at the same time. So, double kettlebell training makes for more efficient workouts.
These are not all of the reasons for using single or double kettlebells, but they give you the general idea. As we continue, we will outline all of the pros and cons and the when’s, where’s and why’s of single and double kettlebell training.
We’ve already done a quick comparison of single vs double kettlebell training, but we want to go more in-depth. So, below we are going to outline all of the benefits of single kettlebell training and the benefits of double kettlebell training, and then we are going to look at using one or two kettlebells for specific exercises, like kettlebell swings and presses.
Note: You also need to factor in the weight of the kettlebell when comparing single vs double kettlebell exercises, as a pair of 40lb kettlebells vs a single 40lb kettlebell is obviously a completely different beast considering the weight load is double! So, we will address both single and double kettlebell training in a general sense and from a weight load perspective.
First of all, you can do practically every kettlebell exercise with just one kettlebell. You’ll just have to do make sure you are working both sides evenly by doing the same amount of reps/sets/volume.
As a matter of fact, there are certain kettlebell exercises that you must only do with one kettlebell, such as the Turkish Get Up, Windmill, Halos, Around the Body Stalls.
This means that with just one kettlebell, you can achieve all your fitness goals if you know what you are doing. It also means, you can save yourself some money as you don’t need to get kettlebells in pairs. Even if you do decide to get certain sizes in pairs, the kettlebell sizes that you have just one of will still be perfectly useful and effective, of course.
Besides being able to get a great workout in with just one kettlebell, using one kettlebell lends itself to some specific benefits, which will will bulletize for the sake of keeping this article easy to consume.
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And again, choosing to do a single kettlebell workout program, at least to start, will save you money, AND, your workouts will still be versatile and a lot of fun.
Some of our favorite exercises to do with single kettlebells even if we have doubles available:
...and really any ballistic exercise, which would make this list much longer.
Then you also have exercises that are made for one kettlebell: Halo, Around the Body, Around the Body Stall, TGU, Windmill, Staggered Stance Swings/Cleans/Snatches...to name a few.
Related: 50 Best Single Kettlebell Exercises
Note: Just because an exercise involves a single kettlebell doesn’t mean it is asymmetrical. For example Two Handed Kettlebell Swings, Goblet Squats, RDLs, and Deadlifts, to name a few, are symmetrical single kettlebell exercises that can make your workouts more efficient.
When you are ready, getting certain sizes of kettlebells in pairs is definitely worth it, even if you need to break the bank a little.
Double kettlebells are great for grinds, which are slow controlled exercises made for building muscle and strength...i.e. bent over rows, squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.
Double kettlebells will allow you to build even more strength and muscle! Moreover, as you get stronger with double kettlebell exercises, you will also see strength improvements in the same exercise using one kettlebell (yet the same is not true in reverse). This is because double kettlebell training is generally more physically and mentally demanding, even if the kettlebells are of a lower weight.
Remember 2x26lbs is significantly heavier than one 33lbs kettlebell. Even if there is less weight per arm, the total load will make the 2x26lbs feel a lot heavier and it places more stress on your body.
Again, to keep the benefits easy to consume, let us bulletize the main ones...
Some of our favorite exercises to do with double kettlebells even if we have doubles available:
...and really any non-ballistic exercise (aka grinds), as with doubles you can really maximize strength and muscle growth.
Related: How to build muscle with kettlebells
There are also exercises that can only be done with doubles, like Seesaw Press, Renegade Row, and Kettlebell Anyhow.
PLUS, if you have two kettlebells, then you have one, so you can always do single kettlebell exercises (of course, if the weight is too light for singles, that isn’t ideal). But, this means you can get a pair or two pairs at specific weights and singles at certain higher weights and get the best of both worlds!
When it comes to swings, if you have a heavy kettlebell, doubles are not really necessary. i.e. a two handed single kettlebell swing with a 50lb kettlebell will have the same efficient and total load as a double kettlebell swing with two 25lb kettlebells. The biggest difference is, with a single kettlebell, it’s not as awkward.
Double kettlebell swings are awkward and they require a wider stance, which creates a shallower hinge. A shallower hinge is not as effective for the posterior chain, which is what the kettlebell swing is all about.
That said, if you like more of a challenge and to work on your control, a double kettlebell swing is good in that sense. It’s definitely harder to do a double kettlebell swing than a single arm kettlebell swing or a two handed single kettlebell swing.
The good thing about single kettlebell swings is they allow for a deeper hinge and more explosiveness. You also get a high degree of anti-twist work, as you need to resist rotation.
What’s more, single kettlebell swings offer more versatility, such as rotational swings, alternating hands, and you can also incorporate complex movements easier.
All in all, most would agree that single kettlebell swings are preferable. With a single heavy kettlebell, you can do higher volume (with a deeper hinge too) and have the same total load as doubles that are half the weight.
For grind exercises like strict presses, deadlift, squats, lunges, rows, and so on, double kettlebell exercises reign supreme. Doubles are much more effective for building muscle and strength when it comes to grinds. The weight is balanced and you can really hone in on the muscles you are targeting, whereas with single kettlebell grind exercises like presses, you have to focus more on your core and balance. MOREOVER, it’s easier to “cheat” with single kettlebell grinds, as you can recruit additional muscles to help out.
To top it all off, you can be a lot more efficient with doubles as you can do the same work in half the time.
Now, when it comes to presses vs squats, single kettlebell presses make more sense than single kettlebell squats because the total load is the same on the shoulders. For example, if you do double presses with 25lb kettlebells or single presses with a 25lb kettlebell, each shoulder is still pressing 25lbs. Just the doubles will feel more challenging as you can’t cheat as easily and your body is dealing with a greater total load. Not to mention, when doing a single kb press, you have more focus on core stability, which takes away from the focus on your shoulders.
As for squats, if you are use a single 50lb kettlebell, you have 50lbs on your legs, whereas with doubles using 50lb kettlebells, you have 100lbs. The same goes for any leg exercise. A higher load is obviously more effective for building up your legs.
Overall, both single and double kettlebell grinds are effective, but doubles offer more force production, which is good for building muscle and strength. However, if you are a beginner, you should start with single kb grind exercises or go light with doubles as this will allow you to learn and master the movement easier.
If you do barbell lifts like squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, and so on, then double kettlebell exercises become less important because you are already building that strength and power from your barbell lifts, albeit, it is different consider a barbell is a single tool that you hold onto with both hands. Regardless, if you do a lot of barbell (or dumbbell) work, then it could make more sense to do single kettlebell grinds to fill the gaps and hone in on muscle and strength imbalances.
It’s definitely recommend to start with a single kettlebell for ballistics as these movements take a lot more practice to master than grinds and a single kettlebell will make the process of learning the mechanics a lot simpler. Double kettlebell ballistics are harder and more awkward.
Once mastered, then both doubles and single kb ballistics are great.
With single kb ballistics, you can work more on speed and endurance, doing faster and higher repetitions. With double kb ballistics, you can work on power and explosiveness, while also speeding up your total workout time.
If you plan on getting into kettlebell sport, make sure you focus on single kettlebell exercises first as improving your technique is of utmost importance. With single kettlebell training, you can do that best. Once you get technique and set times down pat, then you can start implementing double kettlebells.
It may seem weird if you are not familiar with kettlebell training, but if you want to try double kettlebell exercises and you only have single kettlebells, you can pair up kettlebells of different weights. For example, you could squat with a 26lb kettlebell in your left hand and a 33lb kettlebell in your right hand. Just switch sides each set and do an even number of sets. This is common practice in the kettlebell world. Not only will you have a greater load and get used to doubles, but you also get the added benefit of unbalanced loads.
Single and double kettlebell training is not mutually exclusive. There are tremendous benefits of doing both single and double kettlebell exercises. However, double kettlebell training is not for beginners. You won’t be able to reap the benefits of double kettlebell training until you’ve first mastered single kettlebell training. Once you have perfected your one arm kettlebell training game, then you can move on to double kettlebell training. It’s that simple.
When you are finally ready to do double kettlebell work, guess what? You will still be employing single kettlebell exercises, as some of the most classic kettlebell exercises are meant to be done with one kettlebell. Moreover, it’s great to switch up your training.
When buying kettlebells as a beginner, don’t buy pairs, buy single kettlebells at different weights.
For example, get a light, medium and heavy kettlebell.
What’s light, medium and heavy will depend on your foundation of strength.
For the average man, that will look something like an 18-26lb, 33-40lb, and 50+lb kettlebell.
For the average woman, that’ll look like a 12lb, 24lb, and a 33lb kettlebell.
Overall, it makes a lot more sense to grow the collection heavier before going for pairs. Then, when you are ready for doubles, you can get another single kettlebell for one of the sizes you already have.
If you want to learn more about what kettlebells to buy, read our What Size Kettlebell Should I Buy, or our post that covers the Best Kettlebells on the market.
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June 08, 2023
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