The Dumbbell vs the Barbell

It’s more than likely on the first day you stepped into the gym, you went straight to the barbell bench press and proceeded to hammer out your first set. This exercise has become the benchmark of strength training and somewhat of a religious component of any training routine, and for good reason. Barbell bench pressing is easily one of the best mass builders for your chest and front delts.


It is important to understand, however, that while barbell movements have great benefits, they also have disadvantages. Whether it’s bench press, shoulder press or even bicep curls, using a barbell to complete these exercises limits your natural range of motion because the bar will not flex or bend to adjust to the movement of your limbs. This results in added stress to the joints as they maneuver the weight through the movement.

This is where dumbbells come in handy. Since each dumbbell is controlled freely and individually, you have a greater range of motion to work with when performing the exercise. Furthermore, training with dumbbells forces your stabiliser muscles to work a little harder since the weight would no be displaced as it would using a barbell. Stronger support muscles mean more overall strength.

This is not to say you should abandon barbell training altogether. Certain fundamental strength exercises require that you use a barbell to fully benefit from the movement. The same applies to barbell squats. It’s important to keep a variety of exercises in your repertoire to ensure your body doesn’t hit a stubborn plateau.

A good idea would be to split your training into barbell and dumbbell exercise. Over a four-week period, devote each week to training with one or the other. Then on the fifth week, combine the two to shock the body even more. Make sure you place enough emphasis on flexibility and mobility, to prevent injury when doing those barbell exercises.


Anthony Hill

When you put together the sum total of my 30 years of bodybuilding training, the contests, the vast array of diets I have experimented (tortured) myself with as well as the experiences I have been through with various training partners in the gyms I have trained in all over the world, it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to do lots of personal training for private clients alongside my day job. For a few years during my 30’s, I moved to Asia and worked as the Fitness Manager and head personal trainer at one of Thailand’s leading gyms in Bangkok. Learn More

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