Barbell vs Dumbbells: Which One is Best For You

Barbell or Dumbbells? Weighing Your Options

There are countless options you can use when it comes to developing your muscles. Some people prefer to lift with a Barbell while others prefer the versatility of dumbbells.

Health and wellness websites heavily promote the use of barbell lifts for back strength and dumbbells in their training exercises, but have you ever wondered where this equipment came from?


Which came first – barbells or dumbbells?

The first dumbbells were introduced in the 17th century when the clappers of old church bells were repurposed as exercise equipment. It was used by Greeks and Indians for lightweight training to correct posture problems and improve dexterity.

The modern heavy barbell was introduced in the 1870s in Munich’s old Turner gymnasiums. It was a long rod with a globe on each end with tiny openings for pouring sand to increase its weight. With this innovation and the introduction of public gymnasiums, people were inspired to lift heavier weights building more strength and muscle. By then there was money and motivation for heavy training. This paved the way for competitive weightlifting from the Olympics to powerlifting and all sorts of bodybuilding programs.

Garage Gym Setup
Garage Gym Setup (source: Dr. Ronny Veljanovski)  


A pound for pound comparison of barbells and dumbbells

Barbells and dumbbells come in various forms, weights, and materials.

Bar Form: The barbell is made of a long bar ranging from 4 ft (1.2 m) to over 8 ft (2.4 m) long with weights affixed on each end. Some barbels have a curved or hexagon-shaped rod to make it easier to grip and lift. You need to use both hands to hold it correctly.

Dumbbells are shorter forms of free weights that can be used separately or as a pair. This means you can use one or both hands to lift each dumbbell. There are models with contoured or straight handles.

Weight Loads: Both dumbbells and barbells come in fixed and adjustable weight loads. There are barbells that have permanently attached fixed weights to the bar that cannot be modified. Likewise, some dumbbells have rounded or hexagonal ends in fixed weights that you can purchase individually or as part of a set. These types will require a lot of storage space if you need to use various weights.

The adjustable types vary between dumbbells and barbells. Barbells are typically heavy and could weigh up to 50 pounds. The weights are adjusted by rotating and replacing the sleeves on each side. Adjustable dumbbells have two types. The modern adjustable dumbbell used a click and lock mechanism when adjusting weights. With the bar and plate type, you will have to manually add and remove the plates.

You can learn more about the different types of adjustable dumbbells here.

Types of Adjustable Dumbbells
Types of Adjustable Dumbbells (source: Strong Homegym)


What you gain in using Barbells and Dumbbells

Though most exercises can be performed using both barbells and dumbbells, there are some that are designed exclusively for barbells. If you plan to compete or lift heavy weights, then it is better to train with barbells. Olympic barbells are preferred when performing deadlifts, squats, and bench press instead of using different kinds of machines. Barbells can tolerate heavier weights and are safer to use because it requires the use of two hands to lift.

Make sure to check out the Barbell Jack for safely loading or offloading weight plates on the barbell.

Changing Weight Plates
Changing Weight Plates (source: Anytime Fitness)


Incorporating a barbell routine into your regimen makes you focus on making your muscles work together. By improving your technique, your neuromuscular connection strengthens resulting in significant strength gains. You learn balance and coordination which you don’t get in using machines.

Dumbbells, on the other hand, are used in resistance training to help in burning calories and increasing resting metabolic rate. Regular use of dumbbells activates and strengthens the bones, connective tissue, and muscles. It improves flexibility and muscle form and promotes the stability and coordination of joints and muscles. The size and flexibility of the dumbbell make it ideal to use in a variety of exercises which you can do at home. Aside from strengthening muscles and preventing injuries, resistance training helps in the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Deadlifting outdoors
Deadlifting outdoors (source: The Barbell Jack)

The final weigh-in

There are so many types of barbells and dumbbells that it could be daunting to choose the right one for you. By knowing the form and function of each type, you may be able to select the right weightlifting equipment for your exercise regimen.

Working with barbells helps you achieve your weight goals faster because it focuses on developing a group of muscles in larger areas of your body. Barbells have a wider variety of make and models to choose from that you will find one that will suit your workout program.

Dumbbells on the other hand may be smaller and convenient to use. Though it offers a wider range of motion when performing exercises, it works on specific areas of your body a day at a time.

While each approach has its own benefits, in our opinion, barbell lifts have some key advantages over dumbbells.



Fitness Tips Shared by: Principle Four Osteopathy

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