barbell vs dumbbell

Strength Training plays an integral part of any strength and conditioning training program. But when you walk into the gym, there are many choices to choose from. On one wall there’s a dumbbell rack and on the other there’s a barbell rack. Both dumbbells and barbells allow you train for a wide variety of exercises.

Training with free weights (Barbells and Dumbbells) compared to the machines in your gym are undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to build both your strength and lean muscle mass. But when it comes to using free weights, does it make sense to focus more on barbells than dumbbells or vice versa? Or perhaps a mixture of both? There is a constant debate among the fitness industry which is best.

But there are many questions I get frequently asked every day!

  • How do I use them?
  • What’s the best exercises?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What’s better?
  • What’s best for me?
  • What’s the difference?

Firstly Barbell Training!

When growing up, my first exposure of the gym life and lifting weights was related to lifting and using the Barbell. We think of Arnold squatting huge amount of weights in Golds Gym or Dean Lukin lifting for gold in the Olympic Games. Barbell Training is more suitable to the big compound movements (Multi-Joint exercises).

Some Examples of Barbell Training.

  1. Squats > Back Squats and Front Squats
  2. Deadlift > Romanian Deadlifts and Stiff Leg Deadlifts
  3. Bench Press > Flat Bench, Incline Bench and Decline Bench
  4. Bent Over Row > Neutral Grip and Wide Grip
  5. Lunges > Static Lunges ,Walking Lunges, Side Lunges and Reverse Lunges
  6. Overhead Press > Military Press and Z Press
  7. Bicep Curls > Straight Bar or E-Z Curl Bar
  8. Triceps > Tricep Press or Tricep Extension (Skull Crushers)

There are many great benefits with training with Barbells.

  1. Most people can lift 20% more with a barbell, compared to the combined weight of 2 dumbbells on the same exercises. Because with a barbell, you’re using fewer stabilizing muscles compared to dumbbells, which allows you to lift more weight. So having the ability to increase your strength.
  2. Have the ability to lift your 1RM ( One Rep Max )
  3. Utilize more Muscle groups in the one lift. (Full Body)
  4. Improve Athletic Performance ( Explosive Movements )
  5. Very Versatile
  6. Affordable
  7. Save Time, especially if you focus on the Big 4 ( Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Overhead Press)

Barbell Training can be used in a variety of disciplines.

  1. Strength Training ( Rep Range from 1-6 Reps )
  2. Hypertrophy Training ( Rep Range from 6-15 Reps )
  3. Powerlifting  ( Squats / Deadlifts / Bench Press )
  4. Weightlifting ( Snatch / Clean and Jerk / Clean and Press )
  5. Strength and Conditioning ( CrossFit and Sport Specific Training)

So if you want to lift big, build lean muscle and become stronger, you can’t go passed barbells!

Dumbbell Training!

Over my time as a trainer, I’ve seen a lot people enter the gym and head straight to the dumbbell rack and punch out a few bicep curls, put it back down and walk away. But there is more dumbbell training then a few bicep curls. With dumbbell training, there is even more variety of exercises compared to the barbell.  As per the barbell, you can train the big compound movements as previous mentioned. But with dumbbells, you can work muscles more in isolations (Single-Joint Exercises)

The benefits are many!

  1. Build lean muscle mass ( Help with burning body fat )
  2. Improve Sport and Athletic performance ( Dumbbells has been used in any plane of movement )
  3. Increase Coordination and Correct muscle imbalances ( E.G Training movements unilateral, E.G working one limb at a time )
  4. Improved strength ( Able adjust weights equipment)
  5. A Improvement in overall strength and conditioning ( The ability to perform multiple exercises in a short period time )
  6. Dumbbells can be simulate many kettlebell movements, because of its versatility.
  7. Dumbbells can give you greater flexibility and variety compared to using barbells
  8. Save Time
  9. More Affordable
  10. Space saver
  11. Safer when training alone

Dumbbell Training can be used in a variety of disciplines.

  1. Strength Training ( Rep Range from 1-6 Reps )
  2. Hypertrophy Training ( Rep Range from 6-15 Reps )
  3. Weightlifting ( Snatch / Clean and Jerk / Clean and Press )
  4. Strength and Conditioning ( CrossFit, Circuit Training and Sport Specific Training)

Some Exercises

  1. Legs > Squats / Deadlifts / Variety of Lunges E.G Bulgarian Split Squat
  2. Chest > Chest Press > Chest Flyes > Incline Press > Incline Flyes either Bilateral or Unilaterally
  3. Back > Single Arm Rows or Bilateral Rows
  4. Shoulder > Shoulder Press > Lateral Raises > Shrugs > Bent Over Flyes either standing of sitting.
  5. Biceps > Bilateral Curls > Unilateral Curls > Concentration Curls
  6. Triceps > Kickbacks > Overhead Extension > Skull Crushers
  7. Strength & Conditioning > Clean & Press > Snatch > Renegade Rows  > Get Ups

Conclusion

In summary, there is no straight answer to the question, dumbbells vs barbells and what is best? It’s far more complicated than saying one is better than the other.

For me, I like to use a variety of both of them in my own training.  This is ideal for me and it optimises both for helping me build lean muscle and strength, as well as function. There is no better option for you.

If you are training for more strength, muscle mass and functionality, then barbells are your go.

If you want greater variety in exercises and movement, go with dumbbells.

Both dumbbells and barbells can both help you reach your training goals, no matter what you’re trying to achieve. If unsure, speak to your trainer in regards to exercise technique and prescription.

Any form of strength training is good, but technique is King!

About Dave

Dave gets satisfaction from creating great interpersonal connections within the gym in East Malvern which he manages, to build a culture of community and friendship. I have an exceptional understanding of the human body and the fitness industry. I’ve been a Personal Trainer and Strength and Conditioning coach for many years. Now I continue to grow more passionate about the Health and Fitness industry every day. Reaching your goals will not be easy for you, in fact it will be one of the most challenging things you’ve ever faced. But I believe in you and I have the outmost confidence we can reach your goal together. “Adapt and Overcome" Please enquire to receive a complimentary health consult!

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