Should you buy that 48kg kettlebell or buy a second 24kg kettlebell? It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here I discuss several benefits of double kettlebell versus single kettlebell training.
After a while, even the most difficult kettlebell exercises will seem easy (if you train correctly of course). Your high rep sets of Kettlebell Snatches, Kettlebell Swings, and Kettlebell Cleans & Presses will start to seem mundane. If getting strong is your goal, your 16kg kettlebell won’t do much in the way of strength development, no matter how much you slow down your reps for Goblet Squats, Deadlifts, and Strict Presses. In all of these cases, you have two choices: upgrade to heavier kettlebell, or start working with two kettlebells of the same size.
Which option you choose is largely dependent on your programming, both types of training (double kettlebell training and heavy single kettlebell training) have their benefits. Here are three aspects of your training to consider before choosing one over the other. This is, of course, assuming that you have to choose one or the other for financial or space-saving reasons.
What people call their “core” is an extremely large portion of your body. I consider your core to encompass your body from just below your shoulders to just above your knees. This area of the body includes your chest, abdominals, back, hamstrings, and glutes (essentially the majority of your posterior and anterior chains). Given that this is such a large, strong group of muscles, developing solid strength will require a lot load. So, should you go with a single heavy kettlebell or double kettlebells to up your weight?
In terms of core strength development, a single heavy kettlebell will require a certain amount of core stabilization to control the weight, especially when it’s loaded on one side. If you’re performing a Kettlebell Front Squat, loading a single side with a 48kg kettlebell while leaving the other side free will require you to stabilize that side much more to maintain alignment. However, that assumes that your upper body is strong enough to maintain the rack position while descending into the squat, something that you may not have developed yet.
Conversely, if you use double kettlebells you can get the same amount of load onto your core with two 24kg kettlebells. It won’t require as much core stabilization (it will still require a lot of that too mind you), but it will allow you to maintain the rack position even if a single one of your arms isn’t strong enough to hold a 48kg kettlebell. In addition, rather than worrying about upper body and core stabilization, you’ll be able to focus more on lower body strength development, the reason you’re probably squatting in the first place.
One of the key benefits of kettlebell training is the ability to develop power through ballistic exercise. You can perform most ballistic kettlebell exercises, such as your Swings, Cleans, Snatches, and High Pulls, with either one or two kettlebells, but what you choose is dependent on your programming and your skill level.
Like your core strength development, using a single heavy kettlebell for ballistic exercise requires additional core stability in order to maintain alignment. However, if your form in any given exercise isn’t perfect, upping the weight of your kettlebell could be dangerous. During the down swing in each ballistic exercise you’ll be required to provide a counter rotation of your body to resist the pull of weight on one side. If you are not ready to counteract that pull, you could put your back dangerously out of alignment.
Conversely, double kettlebell ballistic exercises can help you build additional explosive power (especially through your hips) without as much risk of bad alignment. Since the weight is balanced, you will be required to counter rotate your body much less, assuming that your form is good and your timing with each rep is perfect. On the flip side of that argument is that if your timing is off, meaning that one kettlebell is rising or descending at a different time as the other kettlebell, you may again create a dangerous situation with your back.
The plus side is that you can always perfect your form with a lighter weight while still increasing your load slightly. Imagine that you want to perform heavier 1-Arm Kettlebell Swings in order to enhance hip explosiveness. You can either up your weight from 16kg to 24kg or use double 12kg weights. Both will increase your load, but one (the single heavy) will require much more grip and forearm strength to use.
There are literally hundreds of different movements that can be performed with both one kettlebell or double kettlebells, however, some exercises require that you use doubles. Some of these include the Kettlebell Anyhow, Seesaw Press, and Renegade Row. You can perform a variation of each exercise with a single kettlebell, but you won’t get the same benefits of the alternating loads that each exercise requires.
If you’re into perfecting the basics, namely Kettlebell Swings, Kettlebell Snatches, Turkish Get Ups, and Windmills, upping the weight on a single side could improve aspects of the exercise that double kettlebells would not allow. Part of this is due to the fact that you can perform more reps with a single kettlebell versus double kettlebells.
Like I said, it’s totally up to your goals, skills, and finances. Ideally, you would do both heavy single kettlebell training and double kettlebell training to reap the benefits of both. If I personally had to choose between a single heavy and a second kettlebell of a weight I already own, I would probably go with the second kettlebell of the same weight, simply because I prefer doing less reps of more technical exercises, but that’s just me.