Burpees vs Kettlebell Swings? (Which one is better?)


In this article, I will explain the difference between two great conditioning exercises. Burpees vs kettlebell swing. Let’s try to dive in to discover what are the benefits of one and another, and ultimately which one is more effective.

decision between burpees vs kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings will burn more calories comparing to burpees. The average person can burn about 10 to 15 calories per minute during burpees’ training. This equals 250 – 375 calories per 25-minute workout. Kettlebell swings can burn about 20 calories per minute of training. This equals 500 calories per 25-minute workout.

Just in case you’re interested, this data is based on the studies from the WebMD. But the problem with studies is that they aren’t always that accurate. This means we don’t really know all of the details.

Kettlebell swings vs burpees

I’m sitting here in my room trying to decide about my today’s workout. And the question that I have in my mind is about which exercise should I be doing today.

Burpees, or kettlebell swings.

The difference between kettlebell swings and burpees is in the movement. Burpee is basically a squat, pushup, and vertical jump combined into one seamless exercise.

  • This is a complex exercise that works mainly on muscles from the anterior chain (chest, shoulders, quadriceps).
  • On the one hand, the burpee exercise doesn’t require any equipment (which means it can be done anywhere).
  • On the other hand, it is a complicated exercise and without correct form, it can lead to faults like rounded back, neck extension, and more.

The kettlebell swing is a hip hinge movement that works mainly on posterior chain muscles (lower and upper back, glutes, hips, and hamstrings).

  • This exercise is a dynamic exercise, however, it does not require you to change position, compared to burpee.
  • You need to have a kettlebell or a dumbbell to do this exercise.

Related article: You can learn more about how to do a “kettlebell swing with a dumbbell” in my article here.

Advantages Of Kettlebell Swings

To be totally transparent with you here, I personally prefer kettlebell swings. However, I won’t get my ego in the way of reviewing those two exercises for you.

So I will keep the verdict totally neutral and help you decide on your own.

Related article: If you wanna know more details about my journey with kettlebell swings, and what were my results after doing “200 kettlebell swings every day“, go here.

It works on many muscle groups

  • The kettlebell swing is a hip hinge, full-body movement.
  • This exercise engages your lower back, hamstrings, glutes, arms, shoulders, and core.
  • Hip hinging means bending (breaking) your hips, and keeping the spine in the neutral position.

Just like you should pick up the box from the floor. A very similar exercise from the hip hinge family is deadlifting, which means lifting the bar from the floor.

So kettlebell swing is just the evolution of that.

Related article: Here you can learn more details about the differences between “kettlebell swings vs deadlifts“.

It builds tons of muscle

Depending on the weight of your kettlebell, it can build a crazy amount of muscle. Just follow the rules below.

  • To build muscles with kettlebell swings, you must progressively add more weight.
  • You can also see gains and get stronger by adding more reps and volume.

I’ve noticed that after doing 200 swings every day, my back, traps, and forearms got bigger and stronger.

That’s because this was a brand new movement. I was doing regular swings (and deadlifts) for years.

It improves strength and conditioning

There are many ways of doing kettlebell swings, specifically to target metabolic conditioning. For example, in the CrossFit world, you may have heard the term “finisher”. It describes the exercise that you do at the very end of your workout.

One of the most popular ways is doing the Tabata protocol.

  • Tabata is an interval workout.
  • 4 minutes. 8 rounds.
  • 20-second ON, 10-seconds OFF.

In the graph below you can see the result of the study published by Howard Fortner from the Delaware State University. They compared doing kettlebell swings in TAB (Tabata style) vs TRAD (traditional).

graph from the study done on doing kettlebell swings in tabata protocol
Image source: IJEC 2014

As you can see, Tabata demonstrated significantly better results.

It’s excellent for home workout

If you are like me, and you prefer to train at home, then a kettlebell is a great option. You can do your workouts, without wasting your time commuting to the gym.

I use a 24 kg (53 lb) kettlebell from the company called Kettlebell Kings (which I highly recommend) that is available on Amazon. Details here.

(if you buy through links on this page, I may earn a small commission).

Disadvantages of kettlebell swings

If we gonna go one step further and really split the hair, here are listed all the disadvantages of doing kettlebell swings over burpees.

It requires perfect technique

To be honest, every exercise must be done in a good form. But, there are some movements, like walking, that you may get away with some bad habits. But in kettlebell swings, you don’t want to gamble.

The form here is critical. And, if you’re new to swings, you will probably make some mistakes.

And this is hard to know without some supervision. Because you don’t want to swing for a month or two and all of a sudden realize that your lower back hurts.

So, before you decide, make sure to consult with a trainer. The form is strongly determined by your flexibility, which leads us to the second disadvantage.

It requires good hamstring flexibility

This means that if you can’t touch your toes, you probably shouldn’t do kettlebell swings.

To perform hip hinge exercises in the correct form, you must have some level of flexibility.

That’s the only way to stay in a “neutral spine” position, without bending your lower back. And this is the most common problem that I see with people who are starting to do kettlebell swings.

Usually, people who sit most of the day (desktop warriors, and dashboard warriors) have stiff hamstrings. In that case, I would recommend working on the flexibility first, before attacking the swings.

It’s difficult when traveling

Obviously, you need access to the kettlebell for your workouts.

And, if you’re traveling a lot, then this option is out of the way. Unless you organize access to a gym, then you will be fine.

Otherwise, not recommended.

It doesn’t build up your chest muscles

This is also important to mention. Keep in mind that kettlebell swings won’t work on your chest muscles.

So you may want to add some to your routine. So if your goal is to develop strong pecs here’s where burpees come in handy.

Advantages of burpees

To make a bit of a counter-balance for my preferences about kettlebell swings, let me just mention here that I used to do burpees (a lot).

I’ve been a huge fan of Shaun T, P90x, and all Beachbody workouts. So I know that they can be really effective. Let’s see what are the pros and cons.

It’s a full-body exercise

Burpee, it’s really a combination of different movements. A thrust, a push-up, and a jump.

See the picture below.

me doing burpee
Burpee is a complex exercise that includes multiple movements.
  • A thrust is a phase when you go down from the standing position into the full plank position. It requires a lot of energy to kick back the whole body and stay straight on your arms.
  • The push-up is when you lower yourself down to the ground and back up. This works your shoulders, arms, and core.
  • The double jump. The first starts from the plank position as you go back up, and the second jump is simply the vertical jump. This will work on your legs like no tomorrow.

There are many variations of burpees

If you scroll through Youtube, you can find almost a hundred different ways to do a burpee.

  • Full burpee
  • Single-arm burpee
  • Single-leg burpee
  • Half burpee
  • and much more

There are endless ways to embed burpees into your routine. Plus, there are an additional hundred ways to combine burpee, together with other exercises. This means you end up doing several exercises, back to back.

For example.

  • You can mix and match burpees with squat jumps, planks, walking planks, pike-ups, back-to burpees, sit-ups, and so on.

So it’s a long set. The best part about it? It’s hard to get bored!

It builds up your conditioning

Burpees are great for conditioning. And with so many different variations and opportunities to progress, you can always be on top of your conditioning.

Similar to the kettlebell swings, you can use that as the main workout, or as a “finisher” at the end.

The more burpees you do, the more you will feel the heart rate going up extremely high. This makes it a great cardio exercise.

It can be done anywhere

Seriously. You can do burpees everywhere. At the hotel room, in the parking lot, on the beach, you name it.

It’s simple to do and doesn’t require carrying any equipment. This is a huge advantage. Burpees are a brilliant alternative.

Especially at the beginning of the year (January) when the gym was packed with new years resolution people.

And every piece of equipment was taken, burpees saved my ass several times.

So it just proves that not having access to the gym isn’t an excuse really.

Disadvantages of burpees

Here is the list of cons.

It must be done in a correct form

I know I may sound like a broken record. But. If you’ve ever heard about knee pain or back pain from doing burpees then pay attention. Let’s think about it for a moment.

The more complex the movement is, and the more multiple movements you do back to back, there is so much more room for error.

I will dissect each phase for you, so you may have a better understanding of what I mean.

  • Thrust – when you do the thrust, you must pay attention to keep your shoulders externally rotated, and butt squeezed at the end of the jump.
  • Push-up – during the push-up, also your shoulders want to be externally rotated, core tight and butt squeezed.
  • Vertical Jump – with jumping, you start from the hip hinge position, then explosive jump up, and softly land on your feet.

Easy.

But. Imagine if you’re doing that together with other exercises, back to back. Then it’s a problem.

Because we like competition.

And we live in a competitive and busy environment.

  • We like to get things done.
  • We like to run faster, jump higher, to lift more weight.

So we lose the eye of the ball and forget about the form.

And trust me, when you’re out of breath, the last thing you do is pay attention to the correct form.

You want to get done with it asap.

So, you forget to hip hinge when jumping. And to keep your knees in line. Or to keep your core sucked in. Or to squeeze your glutes. And guess what?

After doing 5-6 exercises, back to back, we’re just asking for trouble.

It requires a lot of training volume to build muscle

Even everyday volume. If you want to build muscle, and burpee is your weapon of choice, then you need to do it often, with a lot of reps.

The more volume you do in a week (reps + sets) the better the results.

It doesn’t work your back muscles

This is a great full-body workout, but with one tiny problem.

It doesn’t work your back muscles.

So, if you like burpees, make sure to add some pull-ups or rows into it.

Or why don’t you go completely bananas and combine burpees with kettlebell swings?

Calories

WebMD says that you burn more calories from kettlebell swings than with burpees. According to their article, 10 men and women between the ages of 29-46 managed to burn 20 calories per minute doing kettlebell swings.

I don’t think this is an accurate number and (most definitively) I don’t think anyone will get the same numbers.

Here’s why.

  • This calorie estimate doesn’t provide any information about how many swings need to be done in 60 seconds to burn this amount of calories. For example, doing 20 swings will burn fewer calories than 40 swings.
  • It doesn’t state how heavy were the kettlebells. For example, you’re more likely to burn more calories with a 24 kg kettlebell, compared to 8 kg.
  • It doesn’t say anything about the fitness level of people who did it (it does mention that all people were experienced with the use of kettlebells). For example, people who have more muscle mass are likely to burn more calories, compared to untrained people.

In other words, different people will have totally different numbers.

  • Doing 30 swings with a 25-pound kettlebell will have totally different results than doing 30 swings with a 75-pound kettlebell.

The same inaccurate data you can find online about calories burned while doing burpees. The energy expenditure from burpees will depend on a number of factors:

  • A number of burpees you can do in one minute. For example, the person who can do 10 burpees will burn fewer calories, compared to 40 burpees.
  • The burpee variation you are doing. For example, doing burpees with pushups requires more energy and burns more calories, compared to single-arm burpees.

Personal preferences

  • You should choose the exercise you want to do based on your personal preferences and abilities. For example, people who cannot get down on the floor should probably skip burpees.
  • You should not choose the exercise based on the number of calories it burns. For example, if a kettlebell swing burns more calories, but you have limited ROM and you cannot swing without rounding your back, I would skip kettlebell swings.

There is so much more to it than just the calories burned. The reality is that, as long as you like something, then you are much more likely to stick with it.

  • Your goal shouldn’t be what is the best form of exercise.
  • Your goal should be to do the exercise you like the most and allow you to be consistent.

My point is that if you train hard every day for one year, you will look like a savage. Doesn’t matter if you do swings or burpees.

Doing burpees and kettlebell swings together

This is where it gets interesting.

Because, for the best results, why don’t do both? This way you will stay balanced, and add some variety. You could mix and match those two workouts together.

For example.

20 kettlebell swings + 10 burpees

  • You simply perform one set of kettlebell swings (20 reps) and immediately after add on with 10 burpees (I guarantee this will put you out of breath).
  • Then, rest until you feel you can do it again (I like to take longer breaks. Even 3-4 minutes).

5 kettlebell swings + 5 Burpees

Here you can go back and forth from doing 5 of each. 5 swings followed by 5 burpees it’s one round.

See how many rounds you could do.

Conclusion

  • Kettlebell swings are more effective in building muscle, strength, and burning calories, compared to burpees.
  • Kettlebell swings require less movement, yet they still are difficult and need practice.
  • Burpees are effective bodyweight exercises, but are metabolically challenging and should not be done by untrained people.
  • The best way is to combine burpees and kettlebell swings together.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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