Weightlifting may be one of the most effective ways to build muscle mass rapidly, but it can also be the most intimidating for beginners.
Knowing the correct forms and ideal weight intervals is crucial, especially if you are planning to workout from your own home gym but the difference between barbells and dumbbells can be tricky to learn.
Read on for our guide on barbell vs dumbbell benefits for beginners.
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Different Types of Barbells Explained
A long steel bar with room on either end for additional weight plates, barbells are commonly used in powerlifting and CrossFit. The textured crosshatch pattern along the center of the grip allows for better grip, and the bar can range from 4 - 8 feet.
To make a barbell last longer, it's important to know how to clean and maintain one. Olympic barbells can have a capacity of 600 or even 1,500lbs.
Different Types of Dumbbells Explained
Like barbells, dumbbells are traditionally steel poles with rubber weights or metal weight plates on either end. Comparing barbell vs. dumbbell, the compact handheld size of dumbbells makes them a space-saving alternative for home gyms and a far less daunting option for beginners.
Barbells Vs Dumbbells: 6 Major Differences Explained
1. Physical Appearance
Barbells are much longer than dumbbells, averaging 4 - 8 feet long as compared to 1ft or less for handheld dumbbells. Barbells are more adaptable than dumbbells, as the single-pole can carry a variety of weights while only adjustable dumbbells can do the same. Sets of fixed dumbbells can take up far more space, but they’re also easier to grab different weights at a glance.
2. Size & Weight Comparison
Barbells take up more space than dumbbells due in part to their length, weight, and the size of their weight plates. A standard barbell, sans weights, weighs 15 - 25 pounds, while an Olympic barbell weighs 45 lbs. Dumbbells are much more compact and can weigh as little as 1 - 5 pounds or as much as 50 - 150 lbs.
3. Benefits to Weightlifters
When it comes to gains, exercising with barbells will generate 20% more strength gains than doing the same with dumbbells. Barbells also have higher max weights, allowing for one-rep max attempts. However, dumbbells are safer for less experienced lifters, minimize joint strain, and offer a wider range of motions with better weight stabilization. Dumbbells are safer for beginners, whereas barbells are best for challenging personal gains.
4. Quality & Durability
Barbells may be pricier with stainless steel handles, but they rely on iron-weight plates that are susceptible to hairline cracks and fractures over time. Rubberized dumbbells or those with urethane weights have better shock absorption to prevent this, but rubber can also crack or dry if regularly used outside. Ultimately, the durability depends on how much you’re willing to spend and which weight suits you best.
Standard dumbbells are often cheaper than barbells, thanks in part to the fewer materials required. But the price of rubber-edged or adjustable dumbbells can be close to affordable barbells. However, Olympic barbells will regularly run upwards of $500. The quality and design of either weight is the most significant factor in the cost for either
6. Most Common Uses
3 Quality Barbell Exercises to Try
Bent over row dumbbell vs. barbell rows have been certified by the American Council on Exercise as one of the best exercises for overall muscle activation, and this variation by coach Glenn Pendlay is even better for gains. Standing shoulder-width apart, place the middle of your feet directly beneath the bar.
Bend your torso until parallel with the ground, and grab the bar with a medium grip. Hinging your hips back, contract your back muscles to lift the barbell to your chest while still bent. Hold for two seconds, squeezing your shoulder blades, and lower the bar to the floor. Aim for three sets of 7 - 12 reps.
Offset Overhead Press
With offset exercises, gripping just one end puts the barbell’s weight and your center of gravity at odds, making for a unique upper-body exercise. Set a small weight (or no weight, for beginners) on one side of the bar. Place the bar on a rack, with the weighted end furthest away.
Grip the opposite end of the bar with both hands, and step back into a standard strict press position. Slowly press, attempting to keep the bar straight at all times. Push with the closest arm and pull with the furthest arm. Repeat 5 times on both sides, 3 reps.
A dumbbell deadlift vs. barbell deadlift better activates your hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but barbell deadlifts can cause injury at higher weights. Load a barbell with a lighter weight and, with feet shoulder-width apart, bend at your hips and knees to grab the bar with an overhand grip.
Your hands should be just wider than your shoulders, outside your legs. Lifting by thrusting your hips forward with a flat back, pulling your torso upwards, and keeping the bar as close to your body as possible. Lower the bar steadily, with control. This is one rep: Aim for 3 - 5.
3 Quality Dumbbell Exercises to Try
Arnold Schwarzenegger's patented move, the Arnold barbell vs. dumbbell shoulder press, uses the dumbbell's greater range of movement to strengthen all the sections of your deltoids. Start with a lighter weight until you’re comfortable with the form.
With a dumbbell in either hand, bend your arms with palms facing inwards as though at the top of a bicep curl. Pivot your arms on either side, twisting so palms face outwards. Lift the weights above your head, with biceps close to your ears, and briefly hold before pivoting back downwards. Aim for four sets of 8 - 12 reps, with 30-second breaks between.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts activate your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, as well as your core and stabilizing muscles. With feet shoulder-width apart, hold the dumbbells with your palms facing inward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and engage your core.
Then, slightly bending your knees, hinge downwards at the waist with a straight back. Lower the dumbbells towards the ground, sinking into your hips until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Reverse the motion by engaging your glutes to resume a standing position. Aim for 3 - 4 sets of 10 - 12 reps to start.
Dumbbell Bench Press
A dumbbell bench press vs barbell bench press tends to engage the shoulders more than upright presses. With the bench at a 30 - 45° angle, sit back with your feet pressed flat. With palms facing forwards, breathe in and lift the dumbbells to about chest height.
Breathing out, push the dumbbells upwards until your arms are fully extended, being mindful of your elbow joints. Use your pecs to drive the momentum, and don’t allow either weight to touch in the center. Pause at the top, then slowly control the weights down while inhaling.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Can you build muscles with just a barbell?
Absolutely! We recommend devising a workout plan with gradually increasing sets of barbell weights, helping you build muscle over time with just a barbell.
Which is better for biceps, dumbbells or barbells?
Although both weights will improve bicep gains, a barbell bicep curl vs. dumbbell has a limited range of motion. Dumbbells activate a wider range of muscles in the shoulders and arms.
Which is better for biceps, dumbbells or barbells?
Although both weights will improve bicep gains, a barbell bicep curl vs. dumbbell has a limited range of motion. Dumbbells activate a wider range of muscles in the shoulders and arms and are great exercises to do at home.
Is it okay to do biceps every day?
To prevent hypertrophy, muscle strain, or uneven gains, it’s important to give muscle groups 36 - 48 hours to recover. Try cycling through different muscle groups in between.
Can dumbbells help to build abs?
Yes! Dumbbells activate your core for stability even when exercising other muscle groups, and exercises such as Russian twists and weighted crunches can go even further.
When comparing dumbbells vs. barbells for strength training, dumbbells are quieter, compact, and a beginner-friendly workout. Barbells are larger and more limited but offer greater gains for experienced bodybuilders.
Choosing between the two may seem difficult at first glance, but both will undoubtedly upgrade your reps and improve your gains.