dumbbell and barbell

Dumbbells vs. Barbells

Ronaldo vs. Messi

Mars vs. Snickers

Lion vs. Tiger

Batman vs. Robin

DBFC vs. Michael Scott’s Tots vs. FC Sly Dawgs

These topics are the subject of passionate debate up and down the country.

However, there is one debate that eclipses them all:

Dumbbells vs. Barbells…

A flip of the coin, tails never fails and dumbbells are up first…

Dumbbells, Why You?

Dumbbells Expose and Improve Strength and Stability Imbalances

Moving dumbbells over your head is a totally different feeling to that of a barbell. When using dumbbells, each shoulder/arm has to move and stabilise the same amount of weight; if one side is stronger, or more stable, it can’t cover for the other side like it can when using a barbell.

Dumbbells Allow for Greater Range of Motion

When using a barbell for a stiff-legged deadlift, the weight plates eventually hit the floor and thus don’t allow you to lower the weight any further.

Dumbbells are smaller, so they don’t hit the floor as early in the movement. This allows you to continue lowering the weight towards the ground, which produces a bigger stretch on your glutes and hamstrings and works your muscles through a larger range of motion.

Dumbbells Allow you to Use a Neutral Grip

In my experience, a neutral grip (palms facing each other) for exercises such as presses, rows, pull-ups and push-ups leads to:

  • Less strain on the shoulder joint
  • More comfortable movement, and
  • More triceps activation (for pressing exercises)

With a barbell you have to use either a pronated grip (palms facing away from you — the way they would be when high-fiving after a particularly solid point in this great debate) or a supinated grip (palms facing you — the way they would be if you had your head in your hands after yet again being defeated at chess). 

Pronated and supinated grips aren’t a problem (and are the preferred grips for many exercises) but, when a neutral grip is possible, I tend to encourage it. 

Dumbbells Allow for Single-Arm Training

With dumbbells you can perform single-arm and single-side exercises such as one-arm rows, one-arm overhead presses and suitcase carries. These all engage the trunk muscles and combine functional movement patterns such as pushing, pulling and carrying with anti-motion core training.

Sure, with barbells you can load one side slightly heavier than the other, but, in my opinion, that doesn’t quite match up to the effects of single-side dumbbell exercises.

Time up. Thank you dumbbells.

Barbells, it’s your chance to shine — Why You?

Barbells are a Great Introduction to Strength Training

In my experience, the more stable nature of the barbell (compared to dumbbells) makes it easier for beginners to learn the fundamental movement patterns. Barbells reduce the effects of any stability issues a person might have and facilitate a feeling of balance and confidence when performing what might have been shaky movements with a dumbbell.

Barbells Allow More Weight to be Used

When it comes to the amount of weight that can be used, barbells are the literal heavyweight in this metaphorical contest. More weight requires more force to be produced and more muscle to be recruited, which means…

Barbells are Number 1 for Building Strength and Muscle

Barbell training has long been seen as one of the best ways to build strength and muscle. Barbell exercises such as deadlifts, squats, bent-over rows and overhead presses are compound exercises; they recruit lots of muscle mass and train the whole body which leads to gains in strength and muscle. 

Barbells are Better for Power Training

Exercises such as cleans, snatches and high pulls are best performed with a barbell. Sure, you can mimic these movements with dumbbells, but using a barbell allows for a smoother, more balanced and more easily guided bar path.

Time up, time out, time in and time for the verdict…

I’ll go with: Ronaldo, Snickers, Lion, The Batmobile, and (for fear of upsetting all of my footballing pals) let’s combine all three five-a-side teams to form one unstoppable 11-a-side squadron. (I’m happy for Rob Kettle to be omitted though.)

As for the biggest debate of them all…

Both barbells and dumbbells have their place (fence sitter). One shouldn’t be used exclusively over the other. Depending on the goal and requirements of the individual there will be situations and exercises where one is preferable. What is important is that dumbbells aren’t ignored, as they often are due to more weight being used with the barbell.

The Final Verdict

This metaphorical town is big enough for both barbells and dumbbells.

Want to Learn to Use Dumbbells and Barbells?

If you are wanting to learn how to use dumbbells/barbells or require a fence sitter for a dumbbell related debate, get in touch at jon.reid@panthera-performance.co.uk or use the get started application form to sign up for technique sessions.