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Barbell vs Dumbbell For Strength Training: Which Is Best?

When it comes to lifting weight and building muscle, you’ll likely find yourself faced with a choice: barbell or dumbbell. There are other valuable options like cables, kettlebells, and resistance bands too, but the kings of weight training are the dumbbell and the barbell.

So, barbell vs dumbbell—which one is better?

When debating between dumbbells vs barbells for strength training, your preference will depend on your personal goals. You’ll have to weigh your ultimate fitness goal, your experience level, and your current strengths and weaknesses. So, let’s break down both options so you’ll be better equipped to choose the tool best suited for your workout.

When Dumbbells Are the Better Weight

Do you remember the first time you stepped foot in a gym and tried lifting weights? There’s a good chance that the first thing you grabbed was a pair of dumbbells. And while that first session may not have been your greatest workout to date, there are several reasons why dumbbells, especially rubber-coated dumbbells and neoprene dumbbells, feel inviting to a beginner.

And regardless of your experience level, anyone can take advantage of the many benefits of dumbbells:1 

  • Beginner-friendly – Finding the right weight plates, loading the bar, clipping weights into place, potentially asking for a spotter or the assistance of a personal trainer… if you’re new to the gym, you may not feel ready to tackle everything that comes with performing a barbell exercise. Simply grabbing a couple of dumbbells and starting your workout routine is an easier point of entry.

  • Safety – Let’s say you’re working out alone. Oftentimes, to complete a barbell exercise, you’ll be under the bar, in a position that can be difficult to bail out from if you find yourself incapable of completing your lift. This can be dangerous and is the reason people lift with a spotter or certified personal trainer. Dumbbells are much easier to drop safely if you find yourself compromised.

  • Stability training – When performing a dumbbell exercise, each side of your body moves independently. This means your dominant side won’t be able to make up for your weaker side and you’ll become aware of and can start addressing a muscle imbalance. Without one side to stabilize the other like in a barbell lift, both sides of your body will have to work harder. Holding a dumbbell in each hand or even just using one dumbbell at a time promotes the use of your core to stabilize you during a lift.

  • Range of motion – Unless you can bend steel, your hands will be set in a fixed position when using a barbell. That limits your ability to extend the range of motion in a lift through adduction, for example. Less range of motion means less muscle activation which could mean less muscle growth.2

When Barbells Come Out On Top

Dumbbells have their advantages, but experienced lifters seem to be constantly using a weightlifting barbell and there must be a reason. In fact, there are quite a few reasons you may find yourself looking to the bar:3

  • Higher load – Probably the biggest advantage you’ll find with a barbell is your ability to load it up with heavier weight plates. Dumbbells tend to max out around 100 pounds. That’s a lot, but when it comes to using big, compound lifts to build strength, you may be looking at a heavy weight that can only be achieved by loading up a barbell.

  • Leg strengthening – There are some great leg exercises that use dumbbells, but when it comes to the foundational exercises like a squat or deadlift, you’ll want a bar. Once you really start building your strength, you’ll likely find that the weights you need to challenge your leg muscles are only going to be found with barbell squats and barbell deadlifts.

  • Competition – It’s okay if you aren’t a competitive powerlifter. Still, we can all benefit from testing our limits from time to time. Competitive lifts are all barbell-based as the bar provides a better test to see where your full-body limit is.

  • Stability – Wait, wasn’t this a dumbbell advantage? Yes, because dumbbells promote instability which engages your core as you fight against it. Barbells, on the other hand, help stabilize you so all your effort can be focused on the muscles you’re targeting. Either way can be useful depending on your goals.

 

Decide for Yourself with Tru Grit

So, which is best, dumbbell or barbell training? The answer is both.

The reality is that both are valuable tools for strength training. With so many effective exercises to do with dumbbells, you may start training with dumbbells then graduate to using mostly barbells, or you may pick up different equipment depending on if you’re targeting just your chest and arms or your whole body. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a place for both in your workout routine, as they allow for different physical benefits.

And if you’re building your home gym, we have high-quality dumbbells and barbells, not to mention all the accessories you’ll need to exercise safely. The truth is that the best equipment is the equipment you’ll use regularly, so whether that’s dumbbells, barbells, or both, our team at Tru Grit is here to set you up for success.


Sources:

Livestrong. Dumbbells vs. Barbells: Which Is Better for You? https://www.livestrong.com/article/388359-is-there-a-difference-between-dumbbells-barbells/ 

Barbend. Dumbbell Vs. Barbell Bench Press — Which Is Best For Strength, Size, And Performance? https://barbend.com/dumbbell-vs-barbell-bench-press-which-is-best-for-you/ 

Men’s Journal. Dumbbells Vs. Barbells. https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/dumbbells-vs-barbells/ 

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