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Nimura

Dumbbells or Barbells?

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Simple question. What really is the difference between using dumbbells and using barbells? Are dumbbells meant as just precursors to barbells for beginners? Or do the exercises with them actually work different muscles? If they are meant usually for beginning stages of workouts, how do you tell when you should switch to barbells? If not, then when should we use dumbbells and when should we use barbells? 

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Barbells allow for better stability and control, you'll be able to lift more weight.  Dumbbells mean the load is equal on both sides, which is great to prevent/fix imbalances in strength.  Similar movements will differ slightly depending on which you use ; for instance barbell rows will only go as high as where the bar touches your body while your ROM may increase with dumbbells.

 

I wouldn't consider dumbbells the "beginner" version of the barbell, though they can certainly help build strength if the bar is too heavy to start with.

I see them as complementary. I use the barbell for my main lifts, and then accessory work will be either barbell, dumbbell or cable machine (or a combination) depending on what I want to achieve.

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Some people need to use dumbbells to build up to handling the weight of the barbell (ex. my 60+ y.o. mother who hasn't strength trained in multiple decades, if ever, probably couldn't bench or row an empty barbell, so she would need to start with very light dumbbells on a typical beginner strength program.

 

That being said, like @navis said, dumbbells have value for every level of trainee as they force you to stabilize with more muscles due to their inherent instability relative to a barbell. I typically use them for DB presses and DB benches at high reps (~12 per set) after a main workout that did the other of those two with a barbell (i.e. if I did barbell press, I bench with the DB's).

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Ok. So then basically, your main exercises should generally be done with barbells. Dumbbells should be used for accessory and support work or for building your strength up to barbell levels. Gotchya. Thanks guys. 

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I actually prefer dumbbells for the majority of movements - it forces additional work for stabilizing muscles (good for preventing injuries), improves individual motor control, like @navis mentioned it helps prevent/fix imbalances between sides, as well as protects joints from the potential pain/issues that can be caused by moving along a fixed movement path. I have shitty shoulder and thoracic mobility, so it's actually safer/more productive for me to use neutral grip in most lifts (horiz & vert press, deadlift, etc.). Same as I use TRX/rings for my pulls, for similar reasons. Plus, using a dumbbell for something like goblet squats actually helps learn the correct form faster/easier than jumping right into barbell work.

 

Also, because your dumbbell weights are typically lower than your barbell equivalent, IMO it's safer for training on your own when you don't have a spotter/partner. Just my 2c! :) I do use a barbell for hip thrusts though: since my lower body strength is much higher than upper body, I could get myself into trouble if I had to drag around the equivalent weight dumbbell. ;) 

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