Dumbbells vs Barbells Which is Better for Your Workout Goals?

When it comes to reaching your workout and fitness goals, having the right piece of equipment to help you along on your journey is paramount.  For home gyms, this becomes even more important as size, space and price become big issues—you don’t have the time, money or space for trial and error buys.

That’s why when it comes down to choosing between dumbbells vs barbells, it’s vital that you make the right decision for your own personal goals, not what the wanna-be personal trainers on bodybuilding forums tell you.

Dumbbells vs Barbells—What’s the Difference?

For starters, it’s important to know the difference between barbells and dumbbells.

  • Barbells:  These are the long metal bars that have sleeves at either end in order to hold weight plates in place.  They require two hands to lift. Olympic-sized barbells are a bit over 1-inch thick in the middle of the 7-foot long straight bar and have 2-inch rotating sleeves.  They weigh 45 pounds and can hold over 800 pounds of weight.  Standard barbells are 1-inch thick the whole length of the bar (typically between 5 and 6 feet) and weigh between fifteen and thirty pounds.  They can hold up to 200 pounds.

  • Dumbbells:  Dumbbells are essentially shorter versions of barbells and are meant to be held in one hand.  They generally come in pairs and are available in standard and Olympic-sized as well. Standard dumbbells have 1-inch sleeves while Olympic dumbbells have 2-inch sleeves. The smaller the weight sleeve, the more weight you can hold on adjustable dumbbells.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Barbells and Dumbbells

By sheer design, dumbbells and barbells have some pretty heavily weighted advantages and disadvantages.  These will generally play into your choice, depending on what type of workout you’re looking for and your habits and preferences.

For example, dumbbells allow you to move each hand individually of each other, meaning that you have a much more free-range of motions.  This means you can make adjustments to your workout routine that target your problem areas.  You can also add other twists and additions with dumbbells that optimize your workout to include your full body.

Balance vs Power

This also allows you to be completely comfortable since dumbbells are more natural by nature.  Having a fixed, straight bar working on curved contours and muscles isn’t exactly an ergonomic design.  This also means that during certain exercises, dumbbells are safer since the bar won’t be draped across your back (e.g. leg lunges) or over your head (power lifts).

In general, when you want balance, you should go with dumbbells, but when you want pure power, you  might consider barbells. This goes for balance during the workout (i.e. staying upright) as well as muscular balance from the workout (i.e. having your right and left biceps equally large).

The Bottom Line on Dumbbells

  • Better for the beginner since balance and coordination is improved

  • Activates more muscle fibers for complete body workout

  • Gives you muscular balance

  • Much safer as compared to barbells

The Skinny on Barbells

  • Focuses more on power

  • Better for heavy lifting like deadlifts and squates

  • More comfortable for big power moves

  • Gives you killer explosiveness needed for cleans and snatches

The Final Verdict

When it comes to dumbbells vs barbells, the final decision is going to be based on your experience, your goals and your own requirements (e.g. price, space, etc.).  Ideally, alternating between the two each week will give you the best all-around results, but for some, that’s just not an option. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck by increasing the adjustability factor of both.

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