Barbells VS Dumbbells: Which is better?

A common question we are asked by our customers is whether barbells are better than dumbbells (and vice versa). Whilst they both fall into the free weights category, these pieces of equipment are distinctly different and each have a number of unique benefits.

For starters, the most obvious difference is in their size. A standard barbell is generally 4 - 7 feet long, and weighs around 15-20kg. Dumbbells however, are much smaller and are designed to be used hand-in-hand. There is also no standard weight for dumbbells, as they can vary anywhere from 0.5kg to upwards of 50kg.

Irrespective of their physical features, the most important factors to consider when comparing barbells and dumbbells, is the level of impact they will have on your training and progression. Below we have highlighted what we consider to be the three most important factors when comparing these two pieces of fitness equipment.

 

1. Range of motion:

This refers to the total distance the weight travels during each repetition of an exercise. Range of motion is extremely important during strength training, as the bigger the range of motion, the greater the results. This is because a larger range of motion allows you to recruit more muscle fibres, which in turn, increases your muscle mass. Therefore, from this perspective, dumbbells are better for achieving a wider range of motion, as they allow you to perform movements more freely. 

Winner for this category = dumbbells

 

dumbbells

2. Maximum Weight:

If your goal is to increase your overall mass, then barbells are the way to go. This is because it is typically much easier to lift heavier loads using a barbell than it is with dumbbells. In fact, research has shown that both males and females can typically lift 20% more weight using a barbell compared to dumbbells, when performing the same exercise. This makes adding progressive overload into your training program much easier, which will allow you to get those gains.

Winner for this category = barbells

 

3. Muscle Symmetry

Whether you're predominantly right handed or left handed, it is common knowledge that your dominant side is typically much stronger and more coordinated. Therefore, if your goal is to even the playing field between both sides of your body, then you should definitely be choosing dumbbells over barbells. This is because when we are using barbells to perform a specific exercise, our dominant side tends to do most of the work. By switching to dumbbells, we are forcing our weaker side to recruit the same amount of strength and energy as our dominant side, which helps us to achieve muscle symmetry. 

Winner for this category = dumbbells

muscle symmetry

So, when making a decision between barbells and dumbbells it is best to think about what it is you’re trying to achieve and which piece of equipment will best help you reach that goal.

We hope this has helped answer some of your questions related to the differences in barbells & dumbbells, and as always, if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in contact with our expert team!


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