The kettlebell is undoubtedly the most versatile training tool ever invented. With just one piece of equipment, you can train for endurance, strength, mobility, and muscular development.
Because of their small size, kettlebells are also a perfect option for people who prefer to workout from the comfort of their homes.
Even if you have a small one-bedroom flat, like me, you can set up a small home gym with a few kettlebells.
However, you will likely have some questions when you start your kettlebell journey.
Questions like “What weights should I start with? “, “Which exercises should I start with?” or “Should I train with one or two kettlebells?”
I have answered the first two questions in my in-depth guide “Kettlebell Training for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide.” The article you are reading right now answers whether to train with one or two kettlebells.
If you are new to kettlebell training, use one kettlebell.
Beginners should always start with using one kettlebell. Due to its unique shape with an offset center of mass, kettlebells challenge your body differently than barbells or dumbbells.
Once you have mastered the fundamentals, you can incorporate double kettlebell exercises. However, avoid jumping into double kettlebell workouts too soon.
You have a plethora of single kettlebell exercises to choose from. With the proper progressions, many people could train for up to a year with a single bell and still make progress – especially those who are entirely new to any kind of strength training.
A significant benefit of training with just one bell is that you are primarily utilizing asymmetrical exercises.
During one-arm military presses or one-arm swings, your core has to work hard to remain stable and not rotate. This is great for developing a solid core and for fixing any muscle imbalances you might have.
However, not all exercises with a single kettlebell are asymmetrical. The goblet squat or two-arm swing are two movements where you’d use one kettlebell but that don’t have the anti-rotation training benefit.
If you want maximum strength and muscle development, use two kettlebells.
Once you understand the basic kettlebell exercises – squat, clean, press, swing, Turkish get-up, and snatch- you can include double kettlebell exercises.
Adding double kettlebell training to your program will allow you to develop greater strength and more muscle.
However, there are a few caveats to these two statements.
First of all, despite what other coaches suggest, I don’t think you must master all of the “big six” fundamental kettlebell exercises first before starting to incorporate double kettlebell training.
The definition of a “fundamental” kettlebell exercise also depends on who you are asking. Students of the “hardstyle” school of strength will promote other exercises as “fundamental” than kettlebell sports practitioners.
I personally don’t think everybody needs to snatch. And I also don’t think everybody needs to become proficient in the Turkish get-up. I rarely include the Turkish get-up in my training anymore, and I can’t say it has hurt my ability to move well or get stronger.
Plus, you can get started with double kettlebell front squats and double military presses before you have mastered the single-arm snatch (for example).
A huge benefit of including double kettlebell training is that you can more effectively build muscle and strength while significantly decreasing your workout time.
Grinding movements with doubles, like the press and the squat, are more effective for muscle and strength gains than their single kettlebell counterparts because you can overload your target muscles better without worrying about core stability and balance as the limiting factors.
For example, let’s take the kettlebell front squat.
When you do a double kettlebell front squat with two 24 kg kettlebells, you have a total load of 48 kg. If you use only one 24 kg kettlebell, the workout will be less effective for building muscle in your legs and glutes.
Use a 48 kg kettlebell and do a single front squat, and you might either not be able to perform the exercise or have to focus so much on stabilizing your core that it takes the focus away from training your legs.
Exercise selection also plays a role.
As you progress in your kettlebell journey, you might gravitate towards single or double kettlebell training.
Unless they work with a coach or follow a structured training program that includes single and double kettlebell training, most people will select the exercises they like more often and include those they don’t like less often.
And as some exercises are meant to be done with a single kettlebell and others with a pair of kettlebells, you might “accidentally” focus more on single or double kettlebell work.
For example, if you love the Turkish get-up and one-arm swings (or follow the prominent “Simple and Sinister” program), you will have more (or only) single kettlebell exercises in your training.
If, on the other hand, you are like me and enjoy those exercises that fall under the category of “grinds” (presses, squats, rows), you might gravitate more towards double kettlebell training.
Generally speaking, the ballistic exercises (swing, snatch, clean) are more challenging to learn for most people than the grinding exercises (e.g., press, squat, row).
You might also find that you might need longer to transition to using doubles in the ballistic exercises than you need for using doubles in the grinding exercises.
This is totally okay and to be expected.
You can start using doubles for grinds before mastering all the ballistics.
For example, I hadn’t mastered the clean when I wanted to start doing double military presses and double front squats.
However, the kettlebell clean is the exercise that gets the bells from the ground into the rack position, the starting point for the press and the squat. So what did I do? I put my two kettlebells on my desk, cheat-cleaned them into the rack position, and was ready to execute my squats and presses.
This is not what most kettlebell coaches would recommend.
However, in Frank Sinatra’s spirit, “I did it my way.” 😁
Then you have the various kettlebell “training styles” that could all influence your choice of using one bell versus two bells.
For example, Suppose you are interested in kettlebell sport. In that case, the discipline you choose to compete in will determine whether you will mainly train with one kettlebell or two.
If you compete in various disciplines, and the snatch is one of them, your training will look different than if you’d only compete in the long cycle with two bells.
And if you want to get into kettlebell juggling, you will almost work with one kettlebell 😉.
Single kettlebell training and double kettlebell training are not mutually exclusive.
If you are still reading and wondering if single or double kettlebell training is better, let me give you a clear answer: do both.
Ideally, vary periods where you focus primarily on single kettlebell training with periods where you focus mainly on double kettlebell training.
If you are training more than three times per week, an alternative is to focus on exercises using one bell only in specific workouts during the week and on exercises using two bells in other workouts.
Transitioning from using only one kettlebell to using two kettlebells will depend on your ability to learn new skills and on the chosen exercise.
However, you don’t necessarily need to buy a second bell of the same weight when you start experimenting with double kettlebell training.
If you have bells of varying sizes, you could simply choose two different weights. This will give you the benefit of not having to buy another kettlebell while still benefiting from incorporating double kettlebell training into your routine.
Using offset loads also has the advantage of refining your technique in the grinds and teaching you how to control your power in the ballistic exercises.
When you have to handle two uneven loads, you will quickly find out where your weak links are.
However, you should get a second bell of specific sizes at some point.
Only when you combine single and double kettlebell exercises will you reap the full benefits of kettlebell training.