What difference does it make for my training if I don't use a barbell, but have two kettlebells (or two dumbbells)?

To restrict possible answers, imagine a comparison for deadlifts, squats or bench presses. Deadlifts specially interest me.

I'd be using the weight training as a complement for bodyweight exercises. Specially the deadlifts seems difficult to substitute for some bodyweight exercise. I can't think of any bodyweight exercise that engages so many back muscles.

In summary, does it really matter whether the weights are connected by a bar or disconnected from each other?

  • How do you perform a deadlift or back squat with kettlebells? Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 19:35
  • google.ca/… and google.ca/… Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 19:42
  • You're kidding, right? Try deadlifting two 100 lbs kettlebells and see the difference. As for the squat image, that's not a back squat :p Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


Kettlebells are a great way to supplement bodyweight work and to start to move into external resistance training. But they don't really work as a substitute for a barbell. You must take the kettlebell on its own terms.

How is a kettlebell different from a barbell? Well, you can't get as heavy a resistance out of a kettlebell. I've heard of hundred-pound 'bells sold as novelties or sources of bragging rights in an overstocked gym, but a barbell setup even in a small home gym cheaply and easily loads to 300 pounds. Second, a barbell can be easily loaded onto the back, even from a standing position, for exercises like back squats. There are many more differences in programming and form and exercise selection, but suffice to say that they're just not good substitutes for each other. If you want the training effect of one tool, use that tool; otherwise use the other. (If lots of muscle recruitment in the deadlift is your goal, then the tool you need is a barbell and a few hundred pounds of weights. A kettlebell can get you a strong back but it takes a lot more exercises and reps than the simple approach of a barbell deadlift.)

Gray Cook has good material on the kettlebell deadlift and perhaps other lifts. Pavel Tsatsouline has good material on the kettlebell front squat, swing, clean-and-jerk, and snatch. I would start with those resources to supply training form and programming.


I think you're referring to the suitcase deadlift.

enter image description here

They are different, for a few reasons.

  • You'll never get to real barbell deadlift weights, unless you use two barbells (one in each hand). For someone working up a 500lb deadlift, even adjusting a bit, you're not going to be able to find 200lb kettlebells or 200lb dumbells anywhere short of a specialty arrangement.

  • The weight tracks different. Suitcase deadlifts (with a weight in each hand), tracks very similar to a trap / hex bar deadlift. With a conventional barbell deadlift, you are pushing through your heels as the weight is ahead of you. With suitcase and trapbear deadlifts, the weight is basically directly inline with your center of gravity.

So yes, it does matter, especially if your goal is to get into the higher spectrum of strength. If you don't have a barbell around and have to pick between suitcase or nothing, rock those suitcase deadlifts.

  • Suitcase deadlifts are done one side at a time ...
    – Alex L
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 17:46
  • @AlexL I've done them with kb's doing left, then right, then both, then left, etc, etc. There's no particular rule I'm aware of.
    – Eric
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 18:07

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