Are Dumbbells Or Barbells Better?
Dumbbells or barbells. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each and which one to use when. And maybe we can also look at whether dumbbells or barbells are better – and when. That is assuming I don’t get lynched for implying 1 might be better than the other in some circumstances.
The Advantages Of Dumbbells
When we’re looking at dumbbells, there are some specific advantages over barbells.
They can be more practical if you have limited space because you don’t have this big inflexible bar to move around without worrying about hitting things.
For the same reason, you can also get a better range of motion on some movements. Think about bench press – you can’t get the bar to get lower than a certain point – but you can go for a slightly deeper range with dumbbells.
Likewise, because you don’t have a single fixed bar, you need to work harder to stabilise the weight – that in itself is a challenge that can add to your workout.
It also means you have access to some exercises you won’t be able to do with a barbell – lateral raises, chest flies, and the Arnold press are great examples.
And because you don’t have as much of a fixed load, you can adapt movements more easily to your body and training history. It is for example, common for people with a history of shoulder issues to find dumbbell bench press easier on the joints than using the barbell.
Dumbbells can – depending on weight and quality – also be cheaper.
You have a lighter starting weight. With barbells, you have to start from 15 or 20kg depending on the size of the bar. You don’t have that limitation with dumbbells and can start lighter if you need to.
And of course, from a safety point of view, it can be easier to get out of an exercise if you hit the point of failure. Imagine doing a barbell bench press – if you fail, and you don’t have a spotter, it can be tricky to get out of. With a dumbbell bench press, you can safely let the dumbbells come down on your sides without issue.
Disadvantages Of Dumbbells
While I mentioned that dumbbells can be more practical, unless you either have adjustable dumbbells or a lot of them, you are much more restricted on being able to progress or regress exercises.
It’s also less stable which means that you won’t be lifting quite as much.
There will also be some limitations on the exercises you can do. Barbell back squats for example can’t really be replicated that effectively with dumbbells. There are dumbbell squat variations of course, but if you want to back squat, it’s a bit tricky with dumbbells.
Advantages Of Barbells
Most of the advantages of barbells overlap with the disadvantages of dumbbells.
First of all, you can lift heavier loads. The bar is strong and stable so you can focus more on the actual load you’re lifting and not have to worry as much about keeping the weight stable.
That also means you can do some more powerful or explosive moves. Olympic lifts, like the snatch and clean & jerk are much more suited to bars. You can do these with dumbbells too technically, but it’s much harder to get technique right and professionals stick to barbells for a reason.
It’s also easier to move between weights to progress or regress your workout. You can slide weight or take them off, and weight plates are easier to store and keep than loads of dumbbells.
Disadvantages Of Barbells
First of all, you do need space. If you are training at home especially, the likelihood of being able to set up a barbell with plates on it and have a free space to train in where you’re not going to hit anything is low.
I already mentioned one of the advantages of dumbbells is you can go for a lighter starting weight – barbells start from 15kg for a 6-foot bar or 20kg for an Olympic bar.
If you fail, you are a bit stuck – without a spotter. As you gain experience you will of course learn how to get yourself safely out of failed reps, but that can take a lot of skill, practice, and experience.
And also it becomes a lot easier for your dominant side to take over.
When I first started doing bench press my arms would be pressing up at different rates. So my right arm would get to the top and then my left arm would have to catch up and I sorta like twist and then just try and really shrug my shoulder up to try and equalize the weight.
And that’s because my right arm was dominant and it was taking over the movement.
So Are Dumbbells Or Barbells Better?
There isn’t really a downside to either, if you have both make use of both. I see no reason why not.
If you do have both then I’d say for power, strength and going heavy – barbell. For range and probably technique – dumbbells.
As long as you’re sticking to safe and effective exercises, you don’t really need to choose one or the other.
If you’re training at home and do have the floor space so you don’t have to worry about hitting anything else then I would personally have a preference for barbells, assuming it’s practical for you.
But like I said, there isn’t necessarily a downside to one or the other. It’s just a case of using the resources you have available.