Kettlebells vs. Running - What's Better?

Paul S. Chun • Tuesday, July 28, 2020 • Tokyo, Japan

So... How Do You Even Compare Kettlebells and Running?

How do kettlebells and running fare against each other? I try to answer this question and any interpretations it might have, based on information I found from experts on the subject matter.

Before I dive in, though, I should clarify the obvious: kettlebells and running are not enemies, and kettlebell exercises and running are obviously able to be enjoyed together to increase the fitness and wellbeing of its practitioners. To emphasize this, when people compare kettlebell exercises to running, they tend to think about the incredibly popular kettlebell swing and nothing else. While it's understandable that swings in particular would be compared to running - they are both intense cardiovascular exercises and can therefore be seen as interchangeable - there are a lot of ways you can use a kettlebell anaerobically, and that wouldn't make running its direct competitor in the least bit.

This of course brings us to the question: what exactly is being answered when someone compares kettlebells to running anyway? It of course comes down to the goals that an individual has in mind and how these exercises might be able to get them there, so let's list some possibilities:

  • Endurance
  • Burning fat
  • Weight loss
  • Building muscle
  • Getting stronger
  • Injury prevention
  • Fun!

I'll be investigating how experts who have attempted to compare and contrast the two methods fared in each of these categories.

Rick Rockwell - Owner and Trainer, Rockwell Fitness

In his 2011 written piece on SportsRec, Kettlebell vs. Running, Rick does his best to take a neutral approach to the battle between kettlebells and running. Specifically, he iterates over the positives and negatives of each form of exercise, which can be summarized as follows:

Kettlebell Advantages

  • Little joint impact and risk of injury
  • Activates the core
  • Engages the cardiovascular system
  • Promotes weight loss via elevation of metabolism

Running Advantages

  • Great for reducing calories and burning body fat
  • One of the best cardio activities

Paul's Interpretation of This Post

Goal Preference Explanation
Endurance Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Burning Fat Kettlebells In addition to the cardiovascular benefits of kettlebells, Rockwell says it also helps burn fat via elevated metabolism
Weight Loss Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Building Muscle Kettlebells Their ability to employ a wide assortment of muscles (and therefore implying muscle growth) make them the winner here
Getting Stronger Kettlebells Rockwell states that kettlebells strengthen all muscles of the body
Injury Prevention Kettlebells While Rockwell states kettlebells' potential to cause muscle injury, the bone erosion and ligament weakness he associates with running sounds much worse
Fun Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal

Amanda Perry - Personal Trainer and Co-Owner, Skill of Strength

With a headline like Kettlebells Are Better Than Running, Amanda makes a clear statement about her preference between these two forms of exercise. She goes on to talk about running’s lesser bang-for-the-buck return on time spent, and apologizes to her knees for the roughness she’s put on them during her time as a runner. Importantly, especially for the junkies out there, she also says that the high she gets from accomplishing kettlebell-related goals is better than a runner’s high. At the end of the day, however, she talks about how kettlebells should be just another tool in your arsenal to stay fit.

Paul's Interpretation of This Post

Goal Preference Explanation
Endurance Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Burning Fat Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Weight Loss Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Building Muscle Uncertain Perry feared that weights would make her bulky (in her own eyes), but it seems to not have happened
Getting Stronger Kettlebells Perry states that, while she thought she was strong during her runner phrase, she claims now to see that she wasn't as strong as she thought
Injury Prevention Kettlebells The wear and tear that Perry put on her body while running was expressed with regret
Fun Kettlebells Perry's a bigger fan of the kettlebell high than the runner's high

Pat Flynn - Fitness Coach and Owner, Chronicles of Strength

View this post on Instagram

🤔 I’m not sure I’ve ever done a #FridayIntroduction before, in which case, here’s a radically concise summary of my existence up to July, 2020. 👇 ... Academic background: economics and philosophy. ... How I got into fitness: Chubby kid growing up, eventually became tired of it. Tae Kwon Do was my introduction to fitness which led to kettlebells. Dug them so much I began making YouTube videos. ... First book: Paleo Workouts for Dummies. Dan John called this “a terrific book with a terrible title.” : ) ... Most recent book: How to Be Better at (Almost) Everything. It’s about skill stacking and being a generalist. ... Interests: philosophy (metaphysics and ethics, primarily), theology, guitar (been playing since 2nd grade), economics, weight training, reading/researching, improving as a husband and father. Also video games (I’m on PS4) and the TV show Monk. ... My 2020 goals: Get better at handstands and piano. Finish my next book. Record some new guitar tracks. Attend daily mass with my family. ... Favorite love-to-hate exercise: Bulgarian split squats. BY FAR. ... That’s me in a nutshell, but feel free to ask whatever questions you want. If they’re cool I’ll answer them : ) ... ALSO tell me YOUR favorite love-to-hate exercise in the comments 💪 👇

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Pat starts his article, Are Kettlebells Better Than Running?, off with the importance of specifying your goals before you start comparing methods of exercise, which I wholeheartedly second. He then talks about how running makes you a better runner and how kettlebells, while able to build endurance, won’t help you run a marathon. However, aside from sprints, Flynn seems to be a huge proponent of kettlebells.

Paul's Interpretation of This Post

Goal Preference Explanation
Endurance Depends/Uncertain If you want to run a marathon, running is better practice than kettlebell training. Otherwise, it’s not specified
Burning Fat Depends Sprinting is a great way to burn fat, but if you aren’t going to sprint, kettlebell training is more effective
Weight Loss Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Building Muscle Kettlebells Flynn states it clearly: “You can’t really build muscle jogging”
Getting Stronger Uncertain Kettlebells seem to be implied but I won’t force an opinion unless there is enough evidence
Injury Prevention Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Fun Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal

Chris Lopez, CSCS, CTT - Personal Trainer and Creator, #AlphaDad Project

Chris takes a neutral stance in his 2009 article's title, Kettlebells vs. Sprints, but lets readers know early on that he made the switch from sprints to kettlebells, and goes on to discuss his reasoning for doing so. His main reasoning is that kettlebells just get it right when it comes to his post-weight training and fat loss interval work. His main arguments are that kettlebells save a lot of time, are easier on the body and more convenient (having a piece of iron at home is much more convenient than finding a stretch of land to sprint on, or even rarer depending on where you live, a hill).

Paul's Interpretation of This Post

Goal Preference Explanation
Endurance Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Burning Fat Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Weight Loss Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Building Muscle Kettlebells Lopez claims that kettlebell swings work on the muscles that give us power and strength
Getting Stronger Kettlebells Lopez claims that kettlebell swings work on the muscles that give us power and strength
Injury Prevention Kettlebells Lopez says it straight out: when he sprints, "I get hurt"
Fun Uncertain Lopez states his distaste of treadmills, but doesn't actually use the word fun in the context of any direction

Jake Dermer - Personal Trainer and Owner, Do it at your Desk

Jake begins his clearly opinionated article, Why kettlebell swings are better than running, by describing how kettlebells and running might not seem to have a lot in common. He then compares the two activities across a few important categories: cost, strength gains and weight loss. In the cost category, kettlebells are a surprising winner due to their durability compared to running equiment. The other two I’ll list below.

Paul's Interpretation of This Post

Goal Preference Explanation
Endurance Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Burning Fat Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Weight Loss Kettlebells Dermer says it plainly: kettlebells are the winner
Building Muscle Kettlebells Dermer's section on comparing kettlebell training to running also seems to imply that kettlebell training will help pack on muscle
Getting Stronger Kettlebells Dermer says it plainly here too: kettlebell training is the clear victor
Injury Prevention Uncertain No information specifying a better solution for this goal
Fun Uncertain Dermer's stance that walking is far more enjoyable than lightweight swings isn't enough to convince me that he might lean towards running as more fun

Summing Them Up & Main Take-Aways

Let’s be realistic – at this moment in 2020, running is still a far more widespread and common form of exercise than kettlebell workouts, and the fact that people sounding off on the benefits of kettlebell when compared to running should prove its position as the de facto mode of cardio, if not exercise in general.

That said, we can tally up the results for each category:

Goal Kettlebell Score Running Score Summary
Endurance 0 0 No strong opinions of kettlebells being better for endurance make me think that running is probably the way to go for it
Burning Fat 2 1 It's neck-and-neck, but the metabolism increasing ability of kettlebell training makes it a better bet in my opinion
Weight Loss 1 0 The one opinion that kettlebells are better for weight loss was a strong one, but would muscle gained from the anaerobic benefits of kettlebell training offset fat loss? I'd think so.
Building Muscle 4 0 We have a clear winner in the muscle-building category: kettlebells
Getting Stronger 4 0 Kettlebells take another clear victory lap over running
Injury Prevention 3 0 Seems like it's clear: your knees will thank you for the low-impact nature of kettlebell training
Fun 1 0 Kind of surprising that just one trainer talked about how much they enjoy kettlebells. You don't get beautiful backdrops, but with music, the focus that I personally get when long cycling is honestly rather fun.

The story that these numbers tell me is that kettlebell training is effective cardio, but more than that, it’s effective cardio that will help you build muscles, get stronger and stay injury-free. But obviously, the only way that you can reap these benefits is by doing them at a regular interval, which is up to you! Consider finding a certified kettlebell trainer, or if your form is good enough to know how to do these exercises without the help of a professional, consider tracking your progress on Elbower.