It never goes wrong. Everyone always asks me the question, If you could only train with one for the rest of your life, which would you use: dumbbells or barbells”?
Okay, in my world I don’t have to pick, but in the great dumbbell vs barbells debate I will always give my answer. While both dumbbells and barbells have their own pros, I don’t think either one has a con. Both are excellent tools to use and both can help you achieve the results you desire whether you want to get lean and ripped, get stronger, or just add some lean muscle to your frame.
Now before I give you my answer as to which one is better than the other, let’s discuss the pros of each one first.
You can use more weight with barbell exercises. This is probably the biggest pro for training with a barbell. Let’s use the bench press as an example to prove this point. You may be able to bench press 225 pounds for five or so repetitions, but that doesn’t mean that you could handle the 100 pound dumbbells (let alone 110 pound dumbbells which is almost half of 225) for a set of dumbbell bench presses. Since you are using a barbell and only have to stabilize that one object, you are able to push more weight than you could with dumbbells.
The same goes for a squat or dead lift. It’s a lot easier to put a lot of weight on the bar for a back squat, but it gets difficult to wrestle heavy dumbbells on to your shoulders.
Some exercises with dumbbells are safer and easier to perform. For many people it is difficult to perform military presses with a barbell. Since their shoulders are forced into a certain position because of how they grip the bar, they may experience pain. Holding onto a barbell when pressing overhead only allows your hands and shoulders to be in a certain position. Now, have that same person do military presses with dumbbells where their hands be in a neutral grip (palms facing in) they may not have any pain as a result of this difference.
With dumbbell exercises you work your stabilizer muscles to a greater degree. Using the same bench press example from above, whenever you perform a set of dumbbell bench presses, the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders are activated to keep the weight, well, stable. This is great for improving strength and size since your working muscles to a greater extent than with their barbell counter parts.
In addition to working stabilizers more, dumbbell exercises can also help you work other muscles as well. With dumbbell bench presses you will work your serratus muscles; these muscles are responsible for moving your shoulder blades away from each other. It’s important to train these muscles because they are vital for shoulder health, and barbell bench presses don’t activate them as much, if at all.
So there you have it: the pros of barbells and dumbbells.
So which one is better? Well I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. But, if I had to choose one to use forever, it would definitely be dumbbells. I believe they are more versatile and can offer some benefits that barbells cannot.
In addition, if you train alone it may be safer to use dumbbells. For instance, if your muscles fail during a set of dumbbell bench presses, all you have to do is toss the dumbbells on the ground. If you are using a barbell and don’t have a spotter, you could be in some serious trouble.