dumbbells vs barbell: What’s Better For You?

When I was a beginner, I was confused about which equipment should I prioritize for muscles building: machine, barbell or dumbbells? Then someone told me you should use free weights workouts. But when it comes to deciding the choice of free weight equipment, you mainly left with two options; Dumbbells Vs Barbell.

That’s why I searched on the web like what’s the difference between dumbbell and barbell exercises? and Barbell vs Dumbbells: Which is better to maximize muscle growth.

But I did not find the exact answer that could solve my query. So I decided to incorporate both barbell and dumbbell exercises in my overall workout routine. It’s been one and a half year since I’m working out consistently using both barbells and the dumbbells. I realised that both are important and different from each other. The barbell is better for mechanical tension, whereas the dumbbells are better for muscles activation.

This is only my experience but what does anatomical science say about the role of dumbbells and the barbells in the bodybuilding. Below I’ve shared some important points.

Having knowledge of this specific query help you achieve your fitness goal faster. That is why in this article, I’m going to share an analysis between the barbell and the dumbbell workouts that help you choose the right exercise for muscle growth and physique development.

Here we take a look at the list of content that you’re going to learn in this post.

  • Dumbbells vs Barbells: A Comparison
  • Dumbbell Types and Major Dumbbell Exercises
  • Barbell Types and Major Barbell Exercises
Dumbbells Vs Barbells

Barbell vs Dumbbells: The Differences


1. Range of Motion

When it comes to the range of motion, dumbbells are better than barbells. Dumbbells allow a greater range of motion and stabilize and engage different muscles at once. The better the range motion and the more your muscles contract.

Let’s take the dumbbell curl, for example. Dumbbells allow a greater range of motion and restrict excess movement. Additionally, it engages more stabilizing muscles, leading to improved balanced and overall conditioning.

On the other hand, the barbell limits the range of motion, and disbalance the position of your wrists while curling that may cause pain and increase the risk of injury.

Better range of motion improves the movement of a specific joint as well as enhance your flexibility. If you have just recently injured then you can use light dumbbells for rehabilitation from an injury.

2. Stabilizers and the primary movers Muscles

Barbells are great for engaging primary movers muscles while the dumbbell exercises engage more stabilizer muscles than the barbell workouts.

The primary movers are muscles which are highly engaged throughout the lifting, curling, pushing, pulling and rowing and they do the majority of the work such as they help you move the weight. And primary movers are the muscles where you feel the maximum effect of the exercises.

On the other hand, stabilizer muscles aren’t directly involved in moving the weights. They maintain the parts of the body stable and steady so the primary movers can work efficiently.

For example, the delts can be considered as the stabilizer muscle because they rarely work as the primary movers. To understand this in a better way, let’s take an example of a bench press.

When you do the bench press the pectoralis major and the triceps work as the primary movers and move the load. While your delts work as the stabilizer muscles that support the primary movers. And help you control and perform the bench press efficiently.

Stabilizer muscles are important for the training because the weak stabiliser muscles increase the risk of injuries and the efficiency of the workout. And to strengthen the stabilizer muscles, dumbbell exercises would be an ideal choice.

3. Lifting Capacity

You can lift more weight using the barbell compared to dumbbells.

A study published in 2011 by the National Library of the Medicine, demonstrated that barbells lift 20 per cent more loads in the bench press compared to the dumbbell press.

Another study published in 2011 showed that barbells lift approximately 10 per cent more weights in the military press compared to the dumbbell overhead press.

When you lift the weight, your both hands work simultaneously that allow you to lift heavier loads. This can be practically understood by doing bench press, deadlifts, military press or the barbell squats.

4. Muscle Growth

When it comes to muscle growth barbell exercises are more effective than dumbbells counterparts. I’m sure you heard multiple times, “Lift Heavier and Gain More” something like this. And this is true in most cases.

Here are the couple of reasons why barbell would be a first choice for the mass gain.

  1. Barbells help you lift heavier weights and incorporate progressive overload into your workout training easily. And as you know, the heavier you lift the bigger you get.
  2. Barbell also maximizes mechanical tension more than the dumbbells. Because using progressively heavier weight is the simplest and most effective way to increase the amount of mechanical tension. So, exercising with heavier weights in a controlled manner, through a full range of motion increases mass gains.

Barbells are crucial for muscle growth but we can not skip dumbbell exercises. Some movements you only perform with dumbbells such as dumbbell press, dumbbell rowing and lateral raises. These exercises are important for muscle gain.

5. Muscle Activation

When it comes to the muscles activation, dumbbells work better than barbells.

In a study published in 2018 by Human kinetics Journal; 19 active males were assigned to perform 10 repetitions of a squat; using different pieces of equipment such as a barbell, dumbbell, loaded vest and kettlebell. And 10 repetitions of lunges under four conditions: unloaded, barbell, dumbbell, and loaded vest.

The study demonstrated that muscle activation in the weighted squat and lunges was significantly higher than that in bodyweight movements.

In comparison between dumbbell and barbell, there was no major difference found between them.

Another study has shown that dumbbells allow greater muscle activation in the seated and standing overhead press. But there were not many differences between them in overall training.

If you just want to maintain your current fitness level you can use light dumbbells and machines. But if your goal is muscle gain focus on lifting heavier weights.

Muscle Imbalances

Better balance during the movements increase muscle growth and reduce the risk of injuries.

In general, the dumbbell gives better balance than the barbell. But that’s not always true, because you can also correct your imbalances using the barbell as well.

However, using dumbbells gives you more advantages. For example, if you have one side strong and the other side weak, you can use dumbbells to balance your strength.

Dumbbells are absolutely free to use both sides equally, one by one. But with barbells, your stronger side may dominate the poorer side.

So if you think you’ve any strength problem or your one side stronger than the other, then dumbbell helps you target your weaker section more efficiently.


Dumbbell Types and Major Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbell Types:

  • Spin-lock dumbbells
  • Hex dumbbells
  • Studio dumbbells

Major Dumbbell Exercises:

  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Rowing
  • Lateral Raises
  • Dumbell Bicep Curls
  • Dumbbell Fly
  • Overhead Dumbbell Extension

Barbell Types and Major Barbell Exercises

Barbell Types

  • Standard bars 
  • Deadlift bars
  • Powerlifting bars
  • The EZ bar

Major Barbell Exercises

  • Bench Press
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell Curl
  • Preacher Curl
  • Barbell Squat

This was a simple comparison between dumbbells vs barbell. The choice is yours if you think dumbbell is the best pick for you then train with dumbbells. But if you desperately want to build muscles then go with barbells. Both are the best types of equipment and help you achieve your fitness goal.

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