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Informational Guide

Comparing Barbells Vs Dumbbells

Want to start weightlifting to build muscle mass? Read our guide on barbell vs dumbbell benefits and compare both pieces of equipment for your fitness goals.

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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.

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.

  • Olympic Barbells 
    Olympic barbells are longer than standards, stretching 7.2 feet long to support thicker weight plates. Most have central knurling for improved grip, as the bars alone are 44 pounds and can only be used with Olympic weight plates. Shorter 5 - 6 feet Olympic, or hollow "technique" bars are a good starting point for beginners.
  • Standard Barbells 
    Standard barbells range from 5 to 6 feet but are typically 1” in diameter throughout, although the exact size can vary. Depending on the diameter in question, standard barbells have a load capacity of 100 to 200 pounds. Standard barbells also have central knurling to prevent slippage down the back during heavy lift squats.
  • The Trap Bar 
    Trap weight bars are hexagonal, hollowed in the center with handles on either side. A weightlifter steps “inside” and grabs the handles to lift. Trap bars require less hip mobility and make it easier to lift your max weight for longer periods, although we don’t recommend it for beginners.
  • The Safety Squat Bar 
    Perfect for powerlifting, the safety squat bar has a rollercoaster-style “pull over” handle that brackets the lifter’s shoulders. Popular for beginners in training, the design requires less shoulder mobility and naturally allows for a stronger, more-secure bracing position. These generally weigh between 44 to 70 pounds.
  • Deadlift Bar 
    Deadlift bars are named for their whip: They bend on either side with the weight, making it easier to pull upright with higher speed at the beginning of a deadlift. Deadlift bars also have more rugged knurling for improved grip and thinner diameters for an improved whip. However, rougher knurling can retain more sweat and tarnish rapidly, so be sure to clean your barbell properly.
  • Camber Bar 
    Camber bars are meant to have a built-in curve to the top, with some offering a full “table-top” silhouette. This specialty bar grants lifters a wider range of motion with less spinal pressure, and the separately-angled handles allow hands to go an inch or two deeper than standard barbells. Camber bars can be used for squats and bench presses.
  • Multi-Grip Bar 
    Also known as football or Swiss bars, multi-grip bars are interrupted by a section of slatted poles. The grips are typically slanted inwards and knurled for better friction. Some bars have vertical and diagonal grips, and the varying distances between grips allow weightlifters to tailor their lifts and techniques while training
Barbell

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.

  • Hex Iron Head Dumbbells  
    Also known as “fixed dumbbells,” hexagonal iron head dumbbells have fixed weights on each hexagonal cast iron end. The shape of the weights allows users to set them down without rolling away, and the dark-wash iron finish is rugged and long-lasting. Hex iron head dumbbells are affordable and beginner-friendly.
  • Pro-Style Dumbbells 
    With shorter handles and circular weights, the limited grip room on pro-style dumbbells offers greater control during exercises. Steel handles can be sold separately from weight plates, which are typically made of steel and occasionally rubberized for noise control and improved stability when not in use.
  • Watson Rotating Dumbbells 
    Designed with a thick grip, customizable endplates, and a 360° rotating handle, Watson rotating dumbbells combine style with substance. These sleek dumbbells are designed to eliminate wrist and elbow strain, as the revolving handles minimize repeated pressure on joints. We recommend these for experienced users and regular heavy-lifters.
  • Adjustable Dumbbells 
    Adjustable dumbbells can offer the best bang for your buck, compared to fixed-weight dumbbells that necessitate purchasing an entire set. But much like a barbell, you can add or remove plates between workouts to easily switch between weights. Adjustable dumbbells make for a cost-effective workout solution that also saves space

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.

5. Cost

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

  • Squat 
    Barbells’ over-the-shoulder design allows for easier lifting than dumbbell squat vs. barbell squat. Barbells are preferred for their higher max weights, and they engage the posterior chain in a way dumbbells cannot.
  • Curl 
    Barbell curls have easier setup and lift progression, and using both arms allows for higher weights. But, comparing barbell curl vs. dumbbell curl, dumbbells offer a greater range of motion and activate stabilizing muscles, which is better for overall conditioning.
  • Bench Press 
    Comparing dumbbell bench press vs. barbell bench press, barbells "trap" you beneath the lowered bar. For dumbbell vs. barbell bench press, dumbbells have a wider range of movement and allow you to squeeze pecs closer together, engaging more stabilizing muscles.
  • Shoulder Press 
    Much like squats, shoulder presses work better with the simultaneous movements and back-supported angle of barbells. However, a barbell versus dumbbell shoulder press is harder for beginners, who may prefer easy-to-drop dumbbells.
Dumbbells

3 Quality Barbell Exercises to Try

Pendlay Row

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.

Deadlift

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 Press

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.


Conclusion

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.

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