Venturing into weight lifting can be a daunting task when first starting out. Machines, plates, bars and dumbbells all thrown together can be intimidating as navigating through all possible exercises with each item and picking the best ones for your workout plan is no easy feat. Out of all the tools available, dumbbells and barbells are two most prevalent pieces of equipment for muscle building and it can be tricky to decide which is better. Here, we answer the question “Are barbells better than dumbbells?”
The Role They Play
Before diving into the comparison, it is important to note that both barbells and dumbbells are primarily designed for strength building and overall muscle growth. The act of executing repetitions with weights is to put the targeted muscle group in a state of hypertrophy when under stress. That’s right; in order to allow muscles to grow, they must be deliberately damaged in order to recover with higher density and strength.
Therefore, regardless of which one does it better, both of these styles of weightlifting were ultimately designed for the same goal. Barbells have a lot less flexibility in terms of exercise varieties as compared to dumbbells but excel in compound exercises that are made to tackle multiple major muscle groups. Dumbbells on the other hand, have more flexibility but have a far lower limit in terms of actual weight. Both tools will have various exercises that are unique to them that cannot be overlapped, but there are enough exercises that do overlap that have subjected the two types of weight into this debate, to begin with.
Compound Exercises For Both Barbells and Dumbbells
Otherwise known as military press, the two do not differ greatly when it comes to executing this exercise, but as the weights increase, balance starts resulting in safety concerns if unprepared. Unlike barbells, dumbbells force the user to ensure complete symmetry between both arms when raised overhead.
Barbells do require the same, but it is easier to execute this as both arms will be parallel with each other and keeping the bar straight becomes the only concern from a technical perspective. Dumbbells' flexibility shines in this exercise as users can choose to place the weights right next to the ears if necessary to ensure that the side deltoids also get activated, while this would be impossible for dumbbells (as you’d hit your head on the bar).
When it comes to the chest, both also don’t differ significantly, but the weight limits on your dumbbell racks will slowly become a concern the longer you’ve been training. The exercise commonly demands an incredible amount of weight compared to shoulder press and incline rows, which does naturally increase the risks of muscle tears and even dislocations if the weights are not placed down properly after a set. The bench press is equally viable on both dumbbells and barbells, but barbells tend to be favoured among competitive lifters due to the amount of weight that can be added on, while dumbbells are preset and commonly only go up to 50kg at your local gym. As a beginner and even intermediate weight lifter, both options are viable, but barbells will start to have a higher priority when your strength is too much for dumbbells.
Using an inclined bench, many have resorted to the dumbbell option of rows by tucking their knees into the far corner of the seat and resting the chest on the backrest. Although it may look a little odd to beginners and non-weightlifters - many have adopted this as an alternative to barbell rows. The back is a massive muscle group and dumbbells are not commonly used for compound back exercises as compared to barbells.
Isolated, single-arm rows while leaning forward yes, but not compound. One of the reasons for this is because of the weight limit like with the bench press; arguably, doing rows with dumbbells can open avenues for more injury if not done correctly on the bench. Barbells have safety racks below and allow for a wider range of motion due to not having any obstruction like the seat would have. Overall, barbells win in this exercise for safety, higher weight, and cleaner form.