Barbells VS Dumbbells: Which Are Better?

Barbells VS Dumbbells

Since the dawn of time, people have been wanting to know the best way to do things. This is natural and obviously, helps us be better at whatever it is we’re doing, as well as be more efficient. As long as there have been gyms, people have always been weighing the merits of the squat against the merits of the leg press. One of the biggest comparisons I hear people debating in not just my gym, but virtually every gym I’ve ever been to over my 22 years as a South Austin personal trainer, is barbells vs dumbbells, which is better?

Unfortunately, the question of which are better, the barbells vs dumbbells edition, cannot be answered so simply and matter-of-factly, just as asking are squats better than leg press without knowing if the trainee has any corrective imbalances or postural distortions which would prevent them from moving through the exercise and employing a full range of motion, or them lacking the ability to recruit all of the available muscle fibers in the antagonist muscle group. Barbells vs. Dumbbells is much the same in that we need to understand why the training chooses one or the other. Do they lack the stability required to handle dumbbells because of a previous injury? Do they have tightness in imbalances that need to be addressed first before working with either barbells or dumbbells? Do they simply not understand the differences between the two? What goal are they training towards? Etc, etc.

For the sake of example, let’s just suppose that the trainee is a 30 year old male in good health who wants to add some muscle to his pectorals. This is where the barbells versus dumbbells debate could surely rage. Which is better in order to build mass as well as strength barbells are dumbbells? My answer, assuming there are no postural and balances, distortions, or weaknesses with connective tissue, I would say absolutely both as opposed to one or the other. For example, he could perform a flat bench press with the barbell, followed by incline dumbbell flyes. The point of this is that each hand stabilizes the other on the barbell. Yes, this is better than a Smith machine or a machine press, in that the bars free to move fore-and-aft, but the bar does not afford the trainee anywhere near the amount of freedom of movement as a set of dumbbells will. Therefore, with my Advanced clients, if we were working on pectorals, we would definitely employ some form of barbell bench press as well as some form of dumbbell work targeting the same muscle group.

If we are examining barbells vs dumbbells in a different case scenario, one wherein our fictitious trainee is working biceps, but has a tight levator scapulae on the left side, I would be much more inclined to go with a barbell curl, since it would be far easier for them to resist the shrugging of the shoulders and further exacerbating their tightness and subsequent imbalance.

Barbells vs dumbbells isn’t really much of a comparison, as they’re 2 different things. Yes, they may be used towards a common end, but how they work is where the difference lies. With dumbbells, the trainee is providing the stability throughout the range of motion. With barbells however, the other hand/side of the body is doing that. That’s not to say that dumbbells are superior, or barbells are superior. They’re simply different, and the more you can evolve your training to incorporate different movements and approaches, the quicker you will reach your goal and the stronger and more stable you will be as a result.

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My name is Andy Bruchey and I founded Complete Fitness Design over 20 years ago. I specialize in weight loss/gain, including the addition of quality, lean muscle mass, corrective flexibility, post injury rehabilitation, nutrition and sports specific training.
Barbells VS Dumbbells: Which Are Better?
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Barbells VS Dumbbells: Which Are Better?
Longtime South Austin personal trainer and gym owner Andy Bruchey weighs in on the barbells vs dumbbells debate.
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Andy Bruchey- Complete Fitness Design
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About Andy

My name is Andy Bruchey and I am a longtime Austin personal trainer having founded Complete Fitness Design over 20 years ago. I specialize in weight loss/gain, including the addition of quality, lean muscle mass, corrective flexibility, post injury rehabilitation, nutrition, and sports specific training for professionals. Contact me today to see how I can help you!
3100 W Slaughter Ln Austin , Texas 78748 512-484-2270