Why Kettlebells Are Better than Barbells: Value

KB's vs. Free Weights

The debate: Which is better?

Today I finish up a three-parter on kettlebells and barbells/free weights. The title alone gives my conclusion, but does not offer all of my reasons. For that, you have to read the posts themselves. That’s the idea, anyway.

If you didn’t catch part 1, you can read it here. Part 2 is here. Perhaps you’d do well to read those for sake of review.

Now I wrap up the discussion with what may be the most compelling reason of all for some people: Value.

Now, I could provide examples and various scenarios to illustrate the point, but here’s my case in a nutshell:

Kettlebells are of better value than free weights.

Now, let’s start with an example workout and the equipment needed to perform said workout.

Let’s imagine I’d like to work my lower back, core and legs. Well, there’s nothing like the deadlift for that…except the kettlebell swing! As I’ve mentioned many times before, the swing is like a higher-rep cousin to the deadlift. So, let’s say I’m planning to do five sets of five reps on the deadlift. To do so, I’d probably put on about 245 pounds of weight to do so. Let’s break that down:

1 – 45# Olympic bar ($100)
4 – 45# Plates (Let’s say I find them for a steal and get my weights used for a buck a pound. My four plates cost about $180)
2 – 10# Plates ($20)

Let’s say the collars were free. I’m out a cool $300 for my free weights…for that workout alone.

Now to get a similar workout to my deadlifting example above, I’d probably use double 53# bells. For $180, I could drive to Play It Again Sports and pick up two new, good-quality, 53# kettlebells. Do some shopping and you can beat that price.

(NOTE: Do everything in your power to find your kettlebells in a store or someplace where you can pick them up.  Shipping costs border on extortion when it comes to shipping solid iron.  I usually get mine for $1 per pound new; if you live in Western Washington, shoot me an email or leave a comment if you want to know where to get them.)

Anyway, we’ve already saved about $120 by using kettlebells rather than free weights for our workout. But I’m just getting started.

One of the biggest selling point of free weights is that they allow you to add weight incrementally. That’s something you definitely cannot do with kettlebells; you have to use a whole different bell. But adding incremental weight requires having more weights. A more serviceable set is going to additionally include something like this:

2 – 35# Plates
2 – 25# Plates
2 – additional 10# Plates
4 – 5# Plates
4 – 2.5# Plates

Obviously you can get by with less than that, but we’re talking about a fair comparison, right? Again, let’s say that we found our weights used for $1 per pound (in reality, it’s commonly more expensive than this – often by a long shot). To outfit our home gym, we’re now out the initial $300 for the deadlift set mentioned above, plus another $170. That’s $470.

Now, we get the luxury of shopping for a bench, which will set us back about another $150-$500. Let’s opt for the $150.

So, $600 later, we have a serviceable free weight set that we have gotten for a real bargain. With that set, you can do deadlifts, bench press, curls, french curls, shoulder press (and its variations), snatches, front squats and more. No back squats. And you’d best have a spotter.

Let’s return to my kettlebells. With the same two 53# kettlebells which fit in a corner of my home office in less than two square feet, I can do swings, snatches, Turkish get-ups, cleans, presses and front squats. And really, that’s all I need to do. Throw in a pull-up bar (mine was about $25 at Walmart), and my home gym is more than serviceable. Now, for men who want to get strong, a pair of 2-pood (70#) kettlebells is a must. That’s another $250 or so.

So for a pair of 53# bells and a pair of 70# bells we’ll spend about $430. For a good used weight set, we’ve figured about $600. Still think kettlebells are prohibitively expensive? Then so are free weights.

Sure you get a lot of stuff for your money when you buy free weights, while you only get four bells for your money. But there’s no question which I would rather have: minimal equipment and zero setup is better than lots of stuff and lots of setup…for similar results.

Considering it from a different perspective…

Imagine we have a $500 to outfit our gym.

Option A: FREE WEIGHTS! (all purchased used and at an amazing bargain price):

Weight bench ($150)
(4) 45# Plates ($180)
(2) 25# Plates ($50)
(8) 10# Plates ($80)
(6) 5# Plates ($30)
(4) 2.5# Plates ($10)
Total: $500


(2) 53# KB’s ($180)
(2) 70# KB’s ($240)
(1) Pull-up bar ($30) (I know, it’s not a kettlebell, but I had some money left over, so yeah. Why not?)
Total: $450

So no matter how you cut it, kettlebells beat free weights in terms of value.

Remember: this comparison presupposes similar fitness goals for the athlete. If you want to be a bodybuilder, lift free weights. If you want to be fit, healthy, well-conditioned and strong, both can work, but I’ve tried to make the case that kettlebells hold the edge in a variety of ways.

Okay. You’ve read my take. What’s yours? Think my comparison is unfair? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. cliff says

    I’m surprised you have not been bashed more by the starting strength gurus who believe nothing is better than the barbell. Nice post and good explanation of the value of a KB.

    • says


      Thanks for the comment.

      For starters, we don’t have a gargantuan readership, so many of the gurus read elsewhere. Beyond that, I’m trying to be fair without sounding like a hater of barbells, because I’m really not. I just believe that KB’s present a better value. I appreciate your encouragement and your stopping by the site.


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