Kettlebell Swings Vs. Running

At first glance, you might think that kettlebell swings and running have nothing in common. One targets the posterior chain, and the other targets the anterior chain; one involves not moving your feet, while the other is, in essence, moving your feet. However, the two exercises have more in common than you think. For starters, both involve swinging your arms, and both make you better at sex.  

Let’s compare the two exercises based on three categories: cost, strength gains, and effective weight loss.


Running may seem like the lowest-cost exercise there is. All you need to do is go outside. Depending on the terrain, you might not even need shoes, though this is admittedly quite unlikely. On top of that, you might live in a place where winter will inevitably come.

I live in Chicago. When winter comes, running is not always the easiest. So, people turn to indoor options like purchasing a treadmill ($900 on the low end) or going to the gym ($20–100 monthly). If you become a serious runner, you’ll have to buy new shoes at leastevery six months ($100). So, even if you run outside year-round with minimal gear, your cost will be around $200 a year.

Kettlebells are not the cheapest toys, and as you get stronger they get more expensive. Generally speaking, a kettlebell costs around $1.25 per pound. I’d recommend starting with both a 35-pounder and a 52-pounder. If that seems too heavy for your current strength level, start with a lower weight and work your way up.  All in all, your starter kettlebells should run you about $140—I threw in an extra $30 for shipping and some chalk, because those things are heavy and your hands might get sweaty. That’s it, though. You don’t have to do any maintenance, and you don’t need any other gear, not even weightlifting shoes. (In fact, I’d prefer you go without them when doing swings.) The only additional one-time purchases will be heavier kettlebells or matching ones for two-bell exercises.

So, in five years of exercising at home, you could spend $700 and have a rack with 8–12 kettlebells, depending on the weights, or you could spend $1000 on running shoes and have a pair of shoes that will be good for six more months.

Winner: Kettlebell Swings

Strength Gainz

Contrary to many fitness preachers’ sermons, running does build strength. It strengthens the muscles in your calves, quads, and glutes.  It also makes you much better at an incredibly practical skill and burns tons of calories. But, even though it does certainly build strength, running won’t give you the strength aesthetic, power, or mobility you gain from strength training.

There is a very clichéd picture that I feel compelled to show that illustrates this point perfectly. Which body would you rather have?


Since you likely chose the sprinter, let’s talk about what kettlebells can do for your strength gainz. Kettlebell swings are one of the single best exercises a person can do for multiple reasons:

1.     It drills the hinge pattern, one of the best ways to improve your ability to pick things up off the floor.

2.     It can be done for an aerobic or anaerobic workout, meaning it totally counts as cardio and lifting. (However, just because you can do something as cardio doesn’t mean you should. Walking is far more enjoyable than lightweight kettlebell swings.)

3.     It is a better core exercise than a sit-up. When done properly, the kettlebell swing teaches you how to brace and forces you to do many short interval planks.

4.     It works your whole posterior chain, specifically targeting your hamstrings and glutes, but it even gets your lats firing.

5.     It looks badass. 

When it comes to strength gainz, there’s a clear victor.

Winner: Kettlebell swings

Weight Loss

This is where it gets a little hairy. Figuring out the number of calories burned is far easier to do for running than it is for kettlebell swings.  Besides, if you performed as many swings as you took steps while running, you’d probably pass out. So, let’s take a broader view.

Both running and kettlebell swings are incredibly effective calorie burning exercises. Minute for minute, kettlebell swings burn more calories, but obviously you cannot swing for as long as you can run.

I think it’s fair to say that performing light to moderate weight kettlebell swings for 15 minutes burns roughly the same amount of calories as a 40-minute jog.  That gap widens when you make the kettlebell swings heavy, though. While the calories burned will only change slightly, the heavy resistance training will have a gradual effect on your resting metabolic rate (i.e., calories burned throughout the day when not exercising). That makes a difference.

In a study that observed the changes strength training had on RMR in men ages 50–65, researchers found that after 16 weeks of heavy-resistance strength training, RMR increased by an average of 7.7 percent.[1]

What does that mean in practice, though? Let’s say you are a 5’10, 180-pound, 60-year-old man. Your RMR is estimated at about 1,850 calories per day. Then you do a 16-week heavy-resistance strength training program, and boom: your RMR is now 7 calories short of 2,000 (an increase of 142.45).

With that same information, we can estimate that you would burn about 137 calories as a 5’10, 180-pound, 60-year-old man running a respectable nine-minute mile pace. So theoretically, thanks to weightlifting, your body burns additional calories equivalent to running an extra mile every day. 

Although kettlebell swings are not the same type of simple resistance training used in the study, it is safe to say that performing them routinely will also lead to an increase in RMR. And because there is nothing better than burning more calories sitting on the couch, this category has to go the way of the previous ones.

Winner: Kettlebell Swings

Overall, kettlebell swings dominate running in the categories that most people are concerned with. But running is still champion in a number of sub-categories:

·      Best for improving running skill

·      Best for mental health

·      Best for lowering heart resting heart rate

When it comes down to it, the best exercise is always the one you do. But if your goal is to get the most efficient workout with the least amount of equipment, you can’t beat the kettlebell swing.


[1] 1. Pratley R, Nicklas B, Rubin M, et al. (1994.) Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. J Appl Physiol.  1994;76(1):133-137.

Jake Dermer