Barbells VS Dumbbells – Which One’s Better?


In the modern-day world, training your body usually happens in the gym, where you have a variety of dumbbell, barbell and machine exercises.

In the context of free weight however, there has been one question floating around – What’s better, barbells or dumbbells?

If you’ve asked yourself this, keep reading because in this article we’ll underline the differences and benefits of both barbells and dumbbells, to help you create your perfect workout plan.

The Specifics

One of the main rules of weight training is to use a variety of equipment, angles and types of grip.

The reason why this is important, is because even a slight change in the grip or angle of a given exercise, changes the specifics of that same exercise.

 What this means is that a different type of equipment or a different angle/grip will shift the tension towards different muscles/zones of the worked muscle group.

For instance, the flat bench press will mainly engage your mid and lower chest, while also engaging the triceps and shoulders.

However, an incline bench press will put more tension on the upper portion of the chest, along with increased tension for the shoulders.

From this information, we can conclude that both barbells and dumbbells have their application and there really isn’t a “better” one.

The point is to use each type of equipment for its designated purposes, in accordance with what your goal is.

The Benefits Of Barbells

Barbells are without a doubt one of the most effective ways to stimulate the musculature, whether we’re talking about muscle growth or training during the fat loss phase.

Here’s why:

Barbells allow you to lift heavier weights

Because there is generally a fixed point between the working limbs, barbells allow you to lift heavier weights in general.

This is also perhaps because barbell exercises are more stabilised by nature, thus allowing your body to activate more of your fast-twitch muscle fibres.

You can check this for yourself – If you’re barbell bench pressing 80 kg for reps, the odds are that you won’t be able to dumbbell press 40 kg on each hand as easily.

Easier Realisation Of Training Principles

When it comes to muscular development, there is one fundamental principle to consider.

That is namely progressive overload, which implies that you should, over time, progressively increase the demand upon the musculature (i.e. increasing weight, reps, sets, etc.)

Because barbells allow you to lift heavier weights with more stability, increasing your workload is an easy task with barbells instead of dumbbells.

These benefits allow for greater working volume overall, which means that barbells are perfect during periods of gaining muscle mass.

The Benefits Of Dumbbells

Though barbells have many benefits for muscular development, that doesn’t mean dumbbells should be excluded.

Here are the main benefits of dumbbells:

Bringing up weaker muscle groups

Because dumbbells inevitably make you use each side of your body separately, they can be one of your best picks when you’re trying to bring up your weaker side.

The individual load on each side doesn’t allow your stronger side to overtake the movement, thus creating sufficient stimulation on the side that creates asymmetry.

Muscle Unit Activation

One of the most crucial factors for lifting heavy weights is muscle unit (muscle fibre) activation.

With barbells, movements are generally fixed in a shorter range of motion, while dumbbells allow for more significant movement of the arms.

This, therefore, grants increased muscle activation, even on fundamental exercises like the bench press

Take Home Message

In the context of better overall development, there isn’t a winner in the fight between barbells vs. dumbbells…

Both have their benefits, which is why you should instead rely on a mix of the two in your workout regimen.

Use barbells when you want to target progressive overload and lift the heaviest weight possible.

Use dumbbells when you want to bring up your weaker side and work more on joint stability rather than maximum strength.

Tell us your favourite barbell/dumbbell exercises in the comment section below!

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