Dumbbells vs Barbells: Which Should You Use?
In this battle of dumbbells vs barbells, I should clarify quickly that no one wins this one. Both dumbbells and barbells should make space in your home gym.
And you should use both of them to get stronger and gain mass.
Using both of these tools with free weights is the greatest way to train quickly and effectively.
The chart below should help you with a quick glance if you have a shortage of time.
Dumbbells vs Barbells: What does this Chart mean?
The Dumbbell got 5 points and the Barbell got 3 points. But this does not dumbbells are superior to barbell.
Barbell completely outclasses dumbbells when it comes to developing strength and mass.
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What are the benefits of using dumbbells?
- Dumbbells are a great option for people who want to improve their mobility: Dumbbells give you a more natural range of motion, making them easier to move around.
- Dumbbells are much easier on the joints than a barbell. Less chance of injury as well.
- Dumbbells are safer than other weightlifting equipment: Dumbbells generally don’t require any racks or benches, meaning you can use them with minimal space.
- They offer better isolation of each side of the body: By using dumbbells, you get a better workout on each side of your body because it is more targeted and specific than using other types of weightlifting equipment like barbells or machine weights
- Dumbbell workouts use more stabilizer muscles, so you can train those neglected muscle groups with dumbbell workout training.
For one example, can be doing overhead presses with a dumbbell. You can then train both your arms separately to eliminate imbalances of muscle and strength.
This study in the journal of strength and conditioning says that doing unilateral trainings such as bench press can improve your core muscles as well.
- Dumbbell often provides more range of motion (ROM). For example, consider a curl. A barbell curl will stop at your hips or upper thighs. But with a dumbbell you can move past and also lift closer to your chest.
- Unilateral training with dumbbells will allow muscle symmetry.
- Some studies like this and this confirms that dumbbells can activate more muscles than a barbell. However, for compound lifts, it is advised to use a barbell to lift way more weight than a dumbbell can afford.
- Dumbbell unilateral trainings are frequently considered safer than barbell workouts. Without safety equipment like power rack, squat racks, you should be really careful around lifting heavy with a barbell.
With a dumbbell you can just drop the weight, you will not get crushed under the weight at all.
- Since dumbbell workouts can be done safely, you rarely need a spotter.
A barbell workout might need a spotter since it allows you to lift heavy and is more dangerous than a dumbbell workout.
- Dumbbells are less difficult to handle and store.
- Dumbbells are great if you want to isolate a muscle and work on it. For example, do front lateral raises or concentrated curls.
What are the benefits of using barbells?
- Barbells are the best way to duplicate brute strength: Barbells offer a more realistic form of strength training than dumbbells do.
- They don’t require stabilizers as much: This allows your bigger muscles to take center stage and work harder.
- You can work out at lower rep ranges but heavy with barbells. Increased weight means you can work out at lower rep ranges, which leads to growth in your muscles.
- Barbells are more efficient at gassing out your muscles: Dumbbells don’t provide the same level of muscle challenge as barbells.
- Barbell workouts are better for challenging your biggest muscle groups: Dumbbell workouts can only target a few specific muscles.
- They’re easy to use: Barbells are easy to use and can be stored without much effort.
- They take up less space: Barbells take up less space than dumbbells, which is an advantage if you have a small home gym.
- You can progressively overload exercises: With barbells, you can more easily overload certain exercises for better results.
- Barbells are a better choice to increase or detect your max strength or 1 rep max. You can easily add more weight to barbell easily compared to dumbbells.
- Barbell training is crucial for mass gain. Studies published in the Journal of Sports Science shows that you can increase at least 20% more weight than you could do with dumbbell while doing bench press.
- Barbell lifts are more stabilized than dumbbells. You will notice that you are moving less while doing something like bench press.
- Barbell workouts can be more explosive and these workouts are better done with barbells done dumbbells. Take example of all the Olympic lifts like snatch, clean, and press etc, almost all the trainers will advocate you to do them with a barbell. Barbell workouts are now a staple in Indian cricket team, so they can generate explosive power quickly.
Common Types of Dumbbells for your home gym
Fixed hex dumbbells
Fixed HEX dumbbells do not roll on the floor. I like them because you can do man maker, renegade rows etc with them. But these can be costly, and the weight is fixed, thus I often avoid them. However, those rubber coated hex dumbbells look dope.
Fixed rubber/chrome dumbbells
I do not like these dumbbells at all. They are round, and they often need a dumbbell rack to keep them. I usually keep the dumbbell on the floor, a dumbbell rack seems like a bad investment to me, at least.
But the chrome dumbbells are shiny and looks very premium.
Spin-lock adjustable dumbbells
I won 2 pairs of these dumbbells.
I really like the fact with the weights that I have I can make a dumbbell of 3kg, 5kg, 10 kg or more.
These rods are just around 150 rupees and weights plates around 55-60 INR per kg here. So this is best and cheap option for me.
Compact dumbbells (Bowflex, Powerlocks, etc.)
These adjustable dumbbells are awesome if you have the money and have a small home gym. They take very small place and are super easy to use.
Just a click and you can get a dumbbell from 1 kg to 50 kg for each hand.
Common Types of Barbells
These 28 mm bars are enough for a single person use in a home gym. Just get 28 mm plates, and you are good to go. These are low cost as well.
Deadlift bars are heavy barbells which are made for one single purpose. But for home gym use, you can simply skip them.
You can see these powerlifting barbells in commercial gyms. These are costly and can be used for a variety of exercises. You can really lift heavy with these bars because these bars are a lot stronger than usual 28 mm barbells.
Olympic barbells maintain the slandered of the weightlifting sports. And the 7 feet barbells are around 25 kgs. You will need 50 mm plates for this. You can happily skip this if you are not doing any Olympic lifts.
PS: These bars can be used for other workouts as well, thus many home gym builder make new gym with these barbells.
Ez barbells are used by bodybuilders who train their tricep and biceps heavily. These EZ bars reduce the chance of joint pain of your elbow and wrists.
Hex (trap) barbells
This Hex bar is great for doing deadlift and farmer walks. I reckon doing squats will be very easy to do with this Hex bar as well. Hex bars are somewhat costly and not really popular in gyms in India for now.
Favourite Barbell Exercises
- Overhead Press
- Pendlay Row
- Suitcase Deadlift
- Floor Bridge Press
Favourite Dumbbell Exercises
- Arnold Press
- Dumbbell Snatch
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbbell Bench Press
I tend to do dumbbell presses than barbell bench press. I feel that dumbbell is way easier on my joints. Also, a 2016 study says that a dumbbell press activates more pec muscles than a bench press.
I guess that is due to the fact that you can make your elbows go below your body.
However, doing only one type of exercise or using only dumbbell or barbell would not do good to your body. Thus, you should use both dumbbells and barbells for your workouts.
I know barbells are costly, but you should at least get 28 mm barbells for your home gym.
For dumbbells, use adjustable short rods. In my local area, they are around 150 each. Then just buy weight plates with 28 mm hole, and you are good to go.
You can use the same 28 mm weight on the 28 mm barbell and 28 mm dumbbell.
I use this same trick to minimize space used in my room, and it minimizes costs as well.
And you should try to do compound lifts with barbell only. Compound lifts are the ones where you are using multiple muscles together.
These workouts will increase your muscle growth and strength very quickly.
These barbells only workouts will be these—squat, overhead-press, bench press, deadlift.
Use dumbbells for workouts like curls, dumbbell presses, front lateral raises etc.
And if you are using barbells then on the safe side you should use a weight lifting belt to be on the safe side.