Dumbbells vs Barbells: Which one’s the Best for You?
- Dumbbells vs Barbells: Which one’s the Best for You?
- What are Dumbbells?
- Benefits of Dumbbell Exercises
- Drawbacks of Dumbbell Exercises
- Types of Dumbbell Exercises
- Why you should do Dumbbell Exercises
- What are Barbells?
- Benefits of Barbell Exercises
- Drawbacks of Barbell Exercises
- Types of Barbell Exercises
- Why you should do Barbell Exercises
No matter which gym you go to, you’ll always find people preaching about how dumbbells or barbells are better than the other; this is an age-old debate. Each piece of equipment has its role and it is important to discuss its pros and cons so you know when to use one and when to use the other.
The key to any sound training program should be based on your current fitness goals and accordingly, the appropriate exercises should be recommended.
In this article, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of both dumbbells and barbells and will also look into different types of exercises.
What are Dumbbells?
Dumbbells are a widely used and versatile piece of lifting equipment that can be used for both compound and isolation exercises; these range from bench and shoulder presses, bicep curls, lunges and many more. They come in different shapes and sizes and consist of either fixed or removable weights.
Benefits of Dumbbell Exercises
Here are a number of reasons why dumbbells are hugely beneficial and are worth including in your workouts.
Freedom of Movement
Dumbbells allow you to have more freedom of movement in your exercises which frees up your hands and wrists and allow you to find the best path for your arms and legs to lift the weight.
This is what makes them optimal for injury prevention, rehabilitation, and joint-friendly strength training.
Range of Motion
With dumbbells, you can increase the range of motion (ROM), say for example, on a bench press where you are not limited to the bar touching the chest.
Using dumbbells allows you to get a greater range of motion on exercises that elongates and strengthen your muscles.
Doing exercises with an increased ROM is recommended for athletes and casual gym-goers alike to improve overall joint mobility and muscle health.
Identify & Fix Muscular Imbalances
Dumbbells help in addressing muscular imbalances in your body and also lagging muscle groups.
This will help you to identify a weaker part of your body eg. your left bicep, so you can focus on making it stronger through unilateral exercises and achieve muscle symmetry.
Dumbbell exercises are unilateral in nature and help to strengthen your weaker side (usually your non-dominant side).
Getting stronger on your weaker side will benefit you when doing bilateral movements e.g., getting stronger at dumbbell bench press will definitely improve your barbell bench press.
Target Muscles through Isolation Movements
Several isolation movements such as lateral shoulder raise, triceps kickbacks, chest flyes, etc. are done using dumbbells and not necessarily barbells.
These are a great way to target specific muscle groups and can have a positive role in improving performance and resistance to injury. In other words, dumbbells can target muscles in ways you simply can’t with barbells.
Can you build muscle by only using Dumbbells?
Yes, if all you have are dumbbells for training, you’ll still be able to build muscle if you focus on the right strategy. This includes increasing weights over time, focusing on a moderate rep range and varying your exercises.
Increase Weights Overtime
In order for muscles to grow, you will need to progressively overload by increasing the weights over time. If you are doing dumbbell bench press, after your warmup, start your 1st set by lifting a comfortable weight, eg. 10 KG dumbbell in each hand.
Do 2-3 more sets, wherein each set you are lifting more than the previous set, eg.
- Set 1 – 10 KG (each)
- Set 2 – 12.5 KG (each)
- Set 3 – 15 KG (each)
On each set, you should aim for 12-15 solid reps with the correct technique.
Focus on 12-15 Rep Range
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re only doing dumbbell exercises, you will be limited by the amount of weight you can lift. So, a shorter rep range (3-6) won’t be feasible on most dumbbell exercises.
Lifting in a higher rep range (more than 15) won’t recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres required for muscle growth.
Training in a moderate rep range (8-15) is considered the best way to build muscle when coupled with challenging weights. Perform exercises at a cadence of 2 seconds on the concentric (lifting) part and 2-3 seconds on the eccentric part (lowering).
Change up your Workouts
Don’t just stick to the plain vanilla, up and down motion of exercises. Trying out different variations will give your muscle a new stimulus for growth and makes your workouts fun.
For example, when doing bicep curls, change your hand position and grips. A supinated grip is the most commonly used grip for bicep curls, a pronated grip will target your forearms and a neutral grip also known as Hammer curl) targets the long head of the bicep and brachioradialis (a forearm muscle).
Change the tempo or speed of exercises and rest periods to also bring about change in your workouts.
Drawbacks of Dumbbell Exercises
Difficult to lift Heavy Weights
One disadvantage with dumbbells is they have a limit on how heavy you will be able to lift.
Lifting heavy dumbbells starts becoming riskier as you need more balance and stabilization just to even hold them which is hard to achieve for most gym-goers.
Finding a heavy dumbbell, usually, over 50 kg is also quite rare in most commercial gyms.
Not great for lower body exercises
Even though dumbbells are a great way for beginners to do leg exercises initially.
If you want to get stronger, they won’t be effective in building more strength in the long run.
Doing a squat or deadlift with a heavy dumbbell is challenging as your grip strength will be a limiting factor and the swaying of dumbbells back and forth will also be an issue.
Is it bad to do dumbbells exercises every day?
If you plan on exercising every day, dumbbells can be the perfect equipment to do weight training as they offer several advantages such as; easier on the joints, quick set up time, don’t require a lot of space. You can perform a wide variety of exercises that target both the upper body and lower body muscle groups and these will help you to improve your overall fitness level.
One thing to keep in mind is to have recovery days so you can recover after your high-intensity training sessions.
Types of Dumbbell Exercises
Dumbbell exercises are great for beginners and advanced lifters alike. They are much more accessible to a wide variety of gym-goers and can get you started much more quickly.
Lateral & Rear Shoulder Raises
These two exercises specifically target the mid-delts and the rear delts, which form the shoulder muscles, and don’t often get enough attention on your standard shoulder and bench presses.
They are perfect for giving you those nice, round capped delts and you should definitely include them in your upper body workouts.
Lunges are another great way of strengthening your legs and are better at building balance and stability in your lower body than normal squats.
They are also not as time-consuming as barbell squats and are a safe exercise to do on your own, without the need of a spotter.
Dumbbell Bicep Curl
The dumbbell bicep curl allows you to focus more on how you lift than how much you lift by keeping the weight on the lighter side.
You’ll be much in tune with the muscle lengthening and shortening process which will greatly benefit your mind-muscle connection.
Single-leg Romanian Deadlift
A fantastic exercise to improve your stability, balance and mobility at the hips and also strengthen your posterior chain.
The dumbbell version is a great way to start doing this exercise before moving on to the barbell version.
Why you should do Dumbbell Exercises
Dumbbells are ideal for new gym-goers as they are easy to use and help you get started on compound exercises quickly.
They improve muscle symmetry and imbalances by targeting lagging and weaker muscles through unilateral training.
If you are looking to build an aesthetic and a muscular physique, definitely include dumbbell exercises in your workouts.
What are Barbells?
Barbells are an effective piece of equipment that is used for most strength exercises as they help in lifting heavier weights on exercises such as the deadlift and squat.
They consist of a long bar with weights attached to it and come in different types such as Standard bars, Deadlift bars, EZ bars, Hex (trap) bars and many more.
Benefits of Barbell Exercises
Lift Heavier Weights
Barbell exercises offer one major benefit which is almost impossible to replicate in dumbbell and bodyweight exercises and that is the ability to load weight for maximal strength output which demands an increase in force generation.
Examples of such barbell lifts are Deadlifts, Back Squats, Bench Press, Overhead Shoulder Press, where both upper and lower bodies work in unison to lift as much weight as possible.
This is the reason why most displays of pure strength and power, such as Weightlifting and Powerlifting, use barbells rather than dumbbells to test out an athlete’s maximum capability.
Barbells Save Time
If you are short on time, doing barbell exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press and rows will be a time saver as they make up for a full-body workout with just 2 or 3 exercises.
Since they are compound movements, they target pretty much all your major muscle groups with one major movement.
For eg., It is better to do barbell squats than leg presses and leg extensions as not only will you work your lower body but also several upper body muscles and stabilizers.
Improves Overall Athletic Performance
There is a reason why most displays of pure strength and power, such as Weightlifting and Powerlifting, use barbells to test out an athlete’s maximum capability.
Barbell exercises are highly functional as they train your body to use all of your muscles together in unison to lift weights efficiently.
This helps improve your neuromuscular connection and carries over to other sports such as sprinting, rugby and wrestling.
Drawbacks of Barbell Exercises
Covers up Strength imbalances
When performing a barbell exercise, your dominant arm or leg, say for example in a bench press or squat, will try to compensate for your weaker side.
Even though this helps to get the weight up, it will further worsen the imbalances you already have and could potentially lead to injuries.
Steeper Learning Curve
It is common for beginners to initially struggle with doing barbell exercises as moving your body in unison to lift weights requires some basic coordination and balance.
This requires you to focus more on getting down the proper technique before moving any considerable weight.
Lifting heavy weights with an incorrect technique will lead to injuries and that is not something you would want.
Types of Barbell Exercises
The deadlift is considered “the exercise” to maximize overall muscle mass and is a tried and tested way to gauge your total body strength.
It is great in strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, hips, upper traps and grip.
The fact that you lift a dead weight with minimal momentum straight up makes this exercise the ultimate muscle builder.
If you are serious about building strength and muscle mass in your lower body, you cannot miss out on this exercise.
There are several versions of the barbell squat such as the front squat, but we want to focus on the back squat as it targets more of the lower body like the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Don’t forget to include the back squat, the king of lower body movements, in your workouts.
The ultimate gym bro exercise, the bench press targets the main show muscles i.e., pecs (chest), triceps, and shoulders.
It comes with several variations to target different parts of the chest like the Incline press (upper chest) and Decline press (lower chest).
So, if you want to build an impressive upper body this exercise is a must-have.
The overhead press, also known as the military press or strict press, is a true test of upper-body strength.
In order to lift weight overhead, you not only require strength and balance but also mobility and stability in your shoulders.
This exercise mainly targets the deltoids, triceps and upper traps and even strengthens your abdominals (core).
Why you should do Barbell Exercises
Barbell exercises are a great way to increase the weight being lifted for muscle growth and strength.
They are highly functional which helps to improve your athletic performance and carries over to other strength sports.
Definitely include barbell exercises if your goals are to get stronger, increase muscle mass and improve overall fitness.
Are dumbbells exercises harder than barbell exercises?
Dumbbell exercises are actually easier and safer for beginners and a wide variety of people to do because of the following reasons: –
- They are less restrictive and give more freedom in movement
- Requires minimal setup which saves time
- Don’t need assistance from spotters for most exercises
Where dumbbell exercises can become more difficult than barbell exercises are when you are increasing weight.
This increases the demand to stabilize them which becomes harder to achieve when lifting heavy dumbbells. This is why barbells are a better approach to lifting heavier weights.
Both dumbbells and barbells are highly effective for achieving your fitness goals be it building strength, muscle mass, body toning or fat loss.
Each type of equipment has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Barbell exercises are perfect for lifting heavier weights and improving overall strength output. This also means they carry a higher risk for injuries.
Dumbbells allow for more freedom in movement, are easy to use and help in injury prevention. Their drawbacks are that they only go up to a certain weight and are not optimal for lower body exercises.
Understanding their benefits and drawbacks is important as it will help you to make better decisions on when to use them so you can get the best out of your training and accomplish your fitness goals.
To explore the different pros and cons of barbells, dumbbells, and machines, along with some of their popular exercises and also about which training style is best suited for your goals, do check out our YouTube video for the same.