Dumbbells vs. Barbells vs. Kettlebells: Which is Best for Women?

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We know for that sexy, toned look women have to lift weights. And they have three options available: dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. But which one, if any, are the best for women?


While not as heavy as barbells, they do allow for a wider variety of exercises, especially out to the side, such as with flys. Lunges, squats, deadlifts, rows and tricep overhead extensions are all good exercises to do with dumbbells. While dumbbells come in the 2 to 45-pound range, most women start in the low and work up to mid-range. Different exercises use different amount of weight. For example, bicep curls use 5 to 8 pounds in each hand whereas upright rows use only 2 to 5 pounds in each hand.


Barbells are more restrictive as far as the variety of exercises that can be done with them. And most of the exercises done with them are performed in a linear fashion. Push the bar up and control it coming down. Get the bar too far in front of you or too far behind and it is easy to lose control and possibly suffer an injury to yourself or someone else. Hence the value of using a spotter when applicable.

However, neither the dumbbell or kettlebell can match a barbell as far as the amount of weight that can be lifted. Plates usually come from 5 to 45-pounds in 5 pound increments. You are only limited by the length of the bar as far as how many it will hold. The beauty is it is very versatile – just change plates.


Often referred to as a cannonball with a handle, kettlebells are the latest fitness piece of equipment. And they do what the barbell and dumbbells can’t – allow for exercises that use swinging of the weight.

Kettlebells come in a variety of sizes from the small 4kg to 80kg in 4kg increments. Most women usually start out at the 8kg weight – 12 kg for the more muscular types.

The swing is a favorite beginner movement as it not only works the back, abs, core, glutes, hamstrings and calves, but the upper body as well as some added in cardio. It is perhaps an ideal exercise. Just Google “kettlebell swing” to see the starting position and how it is done.

As shown each type of weight equipment has its own use. As far as which one is best for women, the ideal program would incorporate all of them as that would be a strength training routine that would be the most balanced and work the most muscles.

Understanding Macronutrients to Get the Most Out of Your Strength Training Workouts

Our body’s need the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats. The key is learning at what percentages of each to get the maximum effect from our strength training efforts. To figure this out, we must first decide on these three factors.

Fitness Goal

Is your goal to lose fat or gain muscle? When first starting out, it is best not to try and do both; that will come later as you figure out which combination works best for these three factors.

For bodybuilding, a good starting point is:

  • 40% to 60% carbs
  • 25% to 35% protein
  • 15% to 25% fat

However, if your goal is to burn off fat, then a ratio of the following works better:

  • 10% to 30% carbs
  • 40% to 50% protein
  • 30% to 40% fat

If you are happy were you are at and just want to maintain, then go for a ratio of:

  • 30% to 50% carb
  • 25% to 35% protein
  • 25% to 35% fat.

Body Type

Once you have your ratio figured out based on your fitness goal, it is time to tweak it based on the type of body you have. There are generally three types: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. Without getting into a lot of detail, they can generally be classified as slender, muscular and soft (think pear shaped).

Ectomorphs have a hard time putting on weight due to having a fast metabolism, so they will want to get 30% to 60% of their calories from carbohydrates. Mesomorphs on the other hand have an easier time putting on muscle and fat, so their carbs should be 20% to 50% of their total calories. Finally, endomorphs have a higher propensity to taking on fat so their carb intake should be in the 10% to 40% range.

These starting recommendation work well with fitness goals. For example, if a skinny girl (ectomorph) wants to build her body, the 30% to 60% carb recommendation fits in with the 40% to 60% recommended for bodybuilding under fitness goals.


Women are more efficient at burning fat stored than burning glycogen stored in muscle. Because of this physiological phenomenon, they do better with a lower carb intake, but higher in fat. A carb intake around 30% is a good place to start. Keep the protein percentage the same and adjust the fats accordingly.

All of these recommendations are starting positions and because each body is different, they will need to be tweaked up or down until the right combination is found for you. After making a change, give your body time to react before making another change.

Of course diet is only half of the equation; exercise is the other half. Without exercise getting the lean sexy body you desire will only be a figment of your imagination. But taking your nutrition and fitness seriously, and putting in time working out, will get you closer to goal than either one alone.

Understanding the Role of Testosterone in Weight Lifting for Women

Testosterone is one of the least understood hormones in women due to the limited studies done as far as its effect in women in general, but especially on women that practice weight lifting. Let’s take a look at what we do know about testosterone and how it affects this group of women.

The Bulking Up Myth

It is true that testosterone in men is one of the main reasons they can grow such large muscles. But this won’t happen in women due to the fact they naturally have eight to 10 times less testosterone then a man. So lift away and rest assured you will not develop muscle mass like men or even bulk up at all for that matter. What you will notice is a toning up or firming of the muscles you have helping to give you that sexy lean look.

Testosterone in men is produced in the testes. But in women, half of their testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands and the other half converted from androstenodione – a naturally occurring androgenic steroid produced by the body and broken down into estrogen and testosterone once in the bloodstream.

One study found that females, who exercised ten hours or more per week, had increased testosterone levels and lower body mass indexes. However, the study also found that more is not necessarily better. Too much exercise lowered testosterone levels.

To get the most testosterone produced from your workout, be sure to:

  • Focus on exercises that work the large muscle groups, such as bench presses, back rows and squats.
  • Include days into your weight lifting routine that include heavier weights, even at the expense of doing fewer reps per set.
  • For the exercises you do, make sure to do at least three sets of each one.
  • Give your body at least one day (and preferably two) between weightlifting workouts, especially if you are doing the same routine each time.
  • Eat the right food to support your workout, including adequate amounts of protein, carbs and healthy fats.

Low T Causes

If you are a female into weight lifting and are experiencing low sexual drive, having sleep issues, losing muscle mass and are in a depressed mood, you could be suffering from low T. In weight lifting women, three causes of low T could be:

1) Overtraining

Look at your level of training. If you are training significantly over ten hours per week, and experiencing any of the low T signs, drop back your training time week and see if any of the low T signs change for the better.

2) Birth Control Pills

If you are taking this type of contraception, it could be inhibiting your testosterone production. It decreases the amount of testosterone production in the ovaries by significantly increasing a chemical called steroid hormone binding globulin or SHBG. And its effects can be lasting. In a study of 125 young women, they showed SHBG levels that were seven times higher after being off the pill for one year than women never having taken the pill.

3) Diet

What you eat can play a big part in the amount of testosterone you have in your body. One of the big T killers is soy milk. The isoflavones in it alter hormone levels of which one lowered is testosterone. If you are using soy milk in your protein shakes, switch to a different kind of non-dairy milk like almond and see if anything changes.

To get the most from your weight lifting workouts you want to max out on testosterone. Taking the suggestions into consideration can help increase T levels. If you are still having low T signs, see your doctor as they may be able to help with prescribed T supplementation.

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