Which is better?
Normally when comparing aspects of weight training, everyone splits the line between free weights and machinery.
However, there isn’t much going on about the differences between free weight methods themselves, so I’m gonna tackle that, starting off with:
Dumbbells allow for a more natural flow of movement
Being two smaller objects to hold, rather than a giant 45lb bar that would make a great poll vault for The Mountain of Game of Thrones.
Dumbbells offer a greater range of motion and wider variety of workouts. Some things you can do with dumbbells specifically is a rear delt fly. Which is great for your upper back and shoulders.
Also, by allowing your body to workout within it’s natural movements. You prevent injuries that may occur using a barbell with specific exercises, such as a shoulder press or incline chest press.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that naturally moves around a lot. So having a heavy object restrict it’s natural movement while applying pressure and cause some muscles to overwork and tear.
With dumbbells there wouldn’t be anything fighting against your natural movement.
Dumbbells are much easier to use
Anyone who has worked out with both understands how much easier it is to simply pick up a dumbbell and go about your way.
Using a barbell is a completely different story as it takes time to change the plates, make sure they are tight and that you have enough room to perform the exercise without skewering someone.
Personally, I have had dumbbells at home which allow you to convert the weight, but even then it was much easier in comparison to switch than with a heavy barbell.
Dumbbells are better for fixing muscle imbalances
With a barbell, initiating the exercise can often favour your stronger side. Personally I notice this whenever I do a bench press that my right hand starts of slightly earlier than my left. This can cause an imbalance over time.
Using dumbbells though, each weight is exactly the same and completely separate from one another. You may notice that your weaker side may not be able to do the same amount of reps as your stronger initially.
Don’t let that let you down though, just keep at it and the gap will eventually decrease. As your weaker side strengthens, so too will the size gap in your muscle mass.
If you need a new set of barbells or simply want to upgrade, have a look at the pair below. They are easy to switch out which saves you a lot of time and go up to over 50lbs each.
Progression with a barbell is much easier
Anyone who weight trains knows that they key to it is constant progression, made in small increments over time.So no jumping from 100lbs to 250lbs overnight, you’ll hurt yourself.
The main difference between barbells and dumbbells when it comes to progression, are the variety of plates on offer.
In a gym, dumbbells tend to go up at a rate of 5lbs each, so each time you progress you’ll be adding a total of 10lbs minimum which a big jump for beginners.
Imagine you are just starting out and you’re used to 15lb weights, 30lbs total. The next step is 20lb weights or 40lbs total. That is a 33% increase, that is MASSIVE! It’s more advisable to go at rates of about 5-10%.
Barbells allow that with a much wider range of plates you can use, which go as small as 2.5lbs. This allows for gentle progression and diminishes your risk of injury.
Barbells are much easier to control with heavy weights
Ever tried picking up a 200lb dumbbell? I have, it’s not fun and extremely awkward. Ever done a 200lb deadlift? Most people who weight train have and can tell you it’s pretty easy.
Can knock out 4 sets of 8 no problem.
Because the weights are more balanced along a bar that’s much easier to grip and allows both hands to distribute the weight, a barbell is much easier to handle than a heavy dumbbell.
You will only see the most swole, Herculian men handling 200lb dumbbells and to them. Well done, not for me though, I like my deadlifts.
Barbells are more practical
In the end, if you are planning to go for a heavier workout routine, then a barbell is the way to go.
Trying to squat with 100lb dumbbells is just awkward and you’re like to hurt yourself somehow. With a barbell just slap it across the back of your shoulders and squat no problem, no fuss and minimal stress.
If practicality and heavy lifting is your go to method, I picked out a barbell set that might just suit you, going up to 300lbs and having a comfortable grip on the weights so you don't smash your fingers.
Which one is for you?
Well that depends on your preference and ultimate goal, but ultimately the best workout incorporates both of them.
Barbell being used for primary, larger compound movements and dumbbells for small, compound movements and isolation exercises.
They both have their strengths and weaknesses, so both can be used to balance each other out.