Barbell vs. Dumbbell: The Benefits of Barbells Compared to Benefits of Dumbbells

2023-03-23 16:19:18 By : Mr. David Chen

Now that the benefits of strength training are getting the attention they deserve, companies are releasing more and more tools and gear to help you add weight to your workouts — ankle weights, monkeyfeet, and wrist weights, to name just a few. But none of these 'grammable new gym gadgets beat the weight room classics: barbells and dumbbells.

"Weight training with either barbells or dumbbells can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve body composition, support weight loss, increase bone density, support mental health, and more," explains Rachel Straub, C.S.C.S., Ph.D., co-author of Weight Training Without Injury. These devices can also help you put on muscle mass, accelerate fat loss, and improve athletic performance, she says.

But are there instances when training with one type of weight would be better than training with the other? Actually, yes. Sometimes, the barbell is preferable to the dumbbell, and vice versa. Ahead, strength and conditioning specialists compare and contrast the dumbbell vs. the barbell. Here, you'll learn the specific training benefits of each, and when you should opt for one over the other.

If you've ever watched a powerlifting or Olympic lifting meet, you know what a barbell is. Ditto if you've ever seen rows upon rows of metal rods on the wall of your gym or big-box fitness franchise.

But just in case, here's a definition: Barbells are long metal bars that are designed to hold weight plates on either end, which are secured by sturdy clips known as collars. Available in a wide variety of weights — the most common of which are 15-, 35-, and 45-pounds — this piece of equipment allows people to complete a variety of strength exercises, such as barbell deadlift, barbell back squat, barbell clean and jerk, and barbell snatch, to name just a few.

Barbells are also a piece of equipment used in a variety of strength sports such as CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, Strongman, and more.

Need some convincing to add this new tool to your workout repertoire? Read on. Once you learn about the full-body, muscle-building, and sport-specific benefits of barbells, you'll be convinced to add barbells to your strength routine asap.

Sure, some gyms have 100-pound dumbbells lying around. And if you're strong-strong, maybe you're someone who slings them around (kudos). But broadly speaking, barbells allow folks to lift more than dumbbells do.

"The design of the barbell makes it easier to lift more weight," explains Jake Harcoff, C.S.C.S., head coach and owner of AIM Athletic. "Rather than having to buy a new set of dumbbells, you can simply add additional weight plates to the bar."

It's important to be able to continuously lift more weight because you need to challenge your muscles, says Harcoff. Your muscle fibers adapt to what you throw at them, so if you want to continue to make gains, you have to continue to lift more weight. (FWIW: This is known as the progressive overload principle).

Most of the exercises that you're going to do with barbells are compound exercises (think: deadlift, squat, bench press, press, etc) that engage multiple muscle groups at once. These multitasking barbell movements "create greater functional strength, force, and power, and [you] get a bigger bang for your buck in the gym," trainer and physical therapist Bill Kelley, D.P.T., A.T.C, C.S.C.S., owner of Aeries Physical Therapy in South Florida, previously told Shape.

Maybe you're a retired college athlete looking for a new athletic pursuit. Maybe you're searching for a healthy outlet for channeling your competitive energy. Maybe you're intrigued after catching a lifting meet on ESPN.

Whatever the reason, if you're interested in a sport such as Olympic lifting or powerlifting, you need a barbell. After all, trying to excel at either of these sports without a barbell would be like trying to excel at swimming without a pool.

A piece of equipment most gyms have (yes, even apartment and hotel gyms!), odds are you've seen a dumbbell if you've ever stepped a sneaker-clad toe into a gym. Dumbells area strength-training tool that features a short handle that's sandwiched between two weights.

The benefits of dumbbells go way beyond the fact that they are available at most gyms. Here, learn why dumbbells are a great option for people working to improve their mobility, injury-proof their bodies, and upgrade their home gym.

By design, dumbbells allow individuals to move through greater ranges and planes of motion than barbells do, says Harcoff. "Dumbbells are not connected in the middle by a bar, which offers more degrees of freedom," he says.

The greater the range of motion you move a weight through, the greater the number of muscle fibers that get called into play. The result? Greater strength gains post-recovery.

Let's consider the dumbbell vs. barbell bench press as an example. When you're benching with a barbell, you can only lower the bar until it reaches the chest. With dumbbells, however, a lifter will be able to bring their elbows lower, past their body, explains Harcoff. Being able to lower the dumbbells further allows for a greater breakdown of the full pectoral muscle fiber, which makes the dumbbell variation more effective at strengthening the entire chest musculature, he says.

Don't hate the messenger, but you've probably got one leg that's stronger than the other leg, as well as one arm that's stronger than the other arm.

Most people have a dominant foot that they take off with when walking or running, as well as a dominant arm (and hand) that they lean on when opening doors or picking things up off the ground, says Straub. While some strength differences between limbs are normal, too much of a gap can exacerbate your risk for overuse injury and keep you out of the gym — or worse, make your everyday tasks that much more difficult.

Training with dumbbells can help expose these muscle imbalances, as well as help individuals solve them, she says. When you're using dumbbells to do exercises such as the single-leg Romanian deadlift, the dumbbell overhead press, the dumbbell bench press, and dumbbell biceps curls, it will become apparent which side is weaker. Continuing to train both sides using a weight and rep scheme the weak side can handle will help close the strength gap, says Straub.

On the flip side, "during the barbell variation [of these movements], the stronger side can compensate for taking on more weight than the weak side, which won't actually fix the imbalance between sides," she says.

If you're one of those lucky people with a whole basement or carport you can outfit into a garage gym, this does not apply. However, most people can't fit a barbell, set of weight plates, or squat rack in their home. "Dumbbells are more accessible to the population of people who exercise from home, as the space and equipment requirements are less than barbells," says Straub.

Need some help figuring out which strength training tool is best for you? Here's some advice.

Stepping into a weight room can be intimidating no matter what your fitness level. But even more intimidating can be stepping into the squat cage in the weight room and figuring out what to do while inside it.

To be clear: Every person of every experience level belongs in the weight room and in the section of the weight room they want to be! However, barbells require a little savvy to use safely, since it's possible to injure yourself if you're not schooled on the proper form and body awareness needed to lift the heavy equipment. To keep safety as the top priority, Harcoff recommends that beginners hire a personal trainer who can show them the barbell ropes. Or, stick to dumbbells for the time being.

If you're mainly focused on major muscle growth and the strength that comes with those gains (insert flexed-arm emoji here), the barbell is the best weight-room accessory there is. "Because you can lift more weight with a barbell than with dumbbells, the barbell is the best choice for muscle hypertrophy," says Straub.

For most people, a barbell on its own won't offer many benefits. "If you buy a barbell, you'll also need weight plates and probably a rack or squat rig as well," says Straub. This is NBD if you have unlimited funds, but can be a real wallet drain on folks with a budget. That's why she recommends dumbbells for individuals with a lower spending ceiling.

By now most runners have heard that in order to achieve their running goals, they need to do strength training. Well, it's true.

Strength training helps runners strengthen their connective tissues, which prevents injuries, says Harcoff. It also helps you improve their overall power output, which can help you sprint faster.

The barbell is a better implement for improving power output, because it allows you to practice explosive movements such as the clean, snatch, and jerk, which strengthen your fast twitch muscles. Over time, this can improve the speed with which you haul ass to the finish line, says Harcoff. Plus, because barbells are easier to add weight to, they can have a greater impact on your muscle fibers, as well as your other connective tissues.

That said, there are a few times when a runner will benefit more from dumbbells. A runner who is new to weight training, for instance, should stick with dumbbells. That's mainly because, for these newbie lifters, a standard 45-pound barbell may be too heavy, he says, while the 5-, 10-, or 15-pound dumbbells available at their gym are just right.

Dumbbells are also optimal for runners who have pronounced muscle imbalances between their two legs. Again, dumbbells are better at fixing imbalances than barbells.

At the end of the day, it's impossible to award either the barbell or the dumbbell the Best Strength Training Tool medal because they both deserve gold. That said, your experience level, fitness goals, and space requirements may make one of the implements better for you personally when compared to the other. The barbell is best for strength sport athletes and those looking to make major strength gains, while dumbbells are more optimal for strength training beginners, people looking to reduce their risk of injury, and those who exercise at home.

Still, assuming you have access to both strength tools, try to incorporate both. "Both the dumbbells and barbells have their advantages, which is why the most well-rounded program incorporates both," concludes Harcoff.

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