Working Class Fitness: Are Kettlebells, Barbells, Dumbbells and Sandbags Interchangeable?

Working Class Fitness LogoQuite often, I get or see a question that looks something along the lines of the following:

“I’m about to start *insert specific workout here*.  Instead of using *this implement*, I was wondering if I could use *that implement* instead?”

For example, instead of using a barbell for Overhead Presses, could someone use kettlebells? Or instead of using kettlebells, can someone use dumbbells? Or could sandbags be used instead?

And so on.

Now I obviously can’t speak for others who design programs, they might have specific reasons for using a particular implement.  But for my own programs (and just as a general rule), the answer is usually “yes.”

While there will be some difference between an Overhead Press using a barbell, dumbbells, and kettlebells; the difference generally isn’t enough that it should mean that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.  The musculature being used is the same, the range of motion is usually pretty much the same, the execution is generally pretty much the same… in all, the effect from one implement to another should be similar enough that there shouldn’t be any problem switching from one implement to another.

For instance, if you had a program consisting of kettlebell Push Presses, kettlebell Snatches, Chins, and kettlebell Swings, you could get pretty much the same response and results from doing the same workout with dumbbells.  While there would be some difference, the results being derived are from the programming and workout design, not the implement itself being used.

That said, there is one major caveat that must be mentioned:

The implement you want to use in place of what was originally prescribed MUST allow you to still perform the workout how it was originally intended.

For instance, if the workout calls for you to build up to a 5RM on a big exercise like the Deadlift, you’re going to need a barbell.  If you’re of decent strength, dumbbells or kettlebells won’t provide sufficient resistance.  Also, they won’t allow you to incrementally increase the load like a barbell will.

If the workout calls for you to do Overhead Presses for heavy sets of 6, and you only have access to dumbbells that weigh 30 pounds, yet you can put 200 pounds overhead without much trouble, then those dumbbells won’t be heavy enough.  You’re going to have to go with a different option.

See what I mean?

Certain tools can provide an excellent workout and great benefits, and can many times be swapped out for other tools in your workouts.  But only swap them out if it won’t alter how the workout was meant to be performed in the first place.

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Before you go to the gym again, you owe it to yourself to find out what kind of MMA workout pro fighters, boxers, recreational MMAists, or just the “regular guy” who wants to be in shape like his favorite fighter *should* be doing.  (HINT – it’s not the crap you see in the magazines.)

To discover the truth, hit up Wiggy at, on Facebook at, and follow him on Twitter @WiggyWCF.

(Physical exercise can sometimes lead to injury. and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or fitness advice. Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program, and never substitute the information on this site for any professional medical advice or treatment you may receive or the assistance of a fitness professional.)