Dumbbells vs Barbells - Which is Better?

If you are doing a bit of free weight lifting, then you are going to have a decision to make. Do you go for barbells or dumbbells

Obviously, each of them has their own pros and cons, and you may even want to try out both during your workout routines as one type of weight may fit your style a little bit better. 

On this page, I want to take a little look at whether barbells or dumbbells are going to be a better option for you. I am going to swing heavily one way. However, do bear in mind that this is my opinion only. 

Read what I have written… 
Take it on board…

If, at the end of the day, you have a different opinion to me then that is 100% fine. 

#1 Your Options

On this website, we have mostly written about dumbbells. This means that you will already know that there are several different types of dumbbell on the market.

This includes:

  • Fixed dumbbells: the weight is fixed. You can’t change it at all. Which means that you will need a set of dumbbells if you wish to lift multiple weights. These can come in round or hex form. The weight is the same. It just changes how they move about on the floor.
  • Adjustable dumbbells: you can change the weight of the dumbbell by twisting a little knob on the handle. However, they are a lot heavier to carry about.
  • Dumbbell plate set: the same as adjustable dumbbells i.e. you can change the weight of the same dumbbell. However, you will have to do it manually. Cheaper, but takes a bit longer to use.

There are several types of barbell available on the market too. However, they tend not to come in fixed weights. 

The main difference between the types of barbell (other than the material the weights are made out of) will be the handle. There are a lot of different options, and I won’t get into them on this page as it will take far too long. 

Each of the options will serve a different purpose, though i.e. some are going to be better for squatting. Some will be better for power lifting etc.

#2 The Pros and Cons of Barbells and Dumbbells

I am now going to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of barbells and dumbbells. 

I am not really going to split it up into ‘pros and cons’, though. This would encourage you to skip certain sections, and I don’t want that! 

If you read through each of the sections dedicated to dumbbells and barbells, you will see that not only do I highlight the pros of that particular weight, but I also bring up the cons of the other type of weight. 

This will help you to see what those cons actually mean ‘in context’.

Why Dumbbells?

dark-dumbbells-equipment-13893

I am going to be leaning heavily towards dumbbells here, because I genuinely believe that they are a lot more versatile. 

Not only are those dumbbells going to take up a lot less space in your home, but if you fancy doing a bit of weight lifting in the park on a particularly warm day, then you can pick up your dumbbells and head there. 

This is not something that you will be able to do quite so easily with a set of barbells. You have to think about moving that large pole around for a start.

If you use dumbbells, then the movement is going to be a lot more natural than if you were using a barbell. When you use a barbell, you are going to be forced into a fixed position, which can cause issues. 

If you use dumbbells, then the movement is going to be a lot more natural than if you were using a barbell.
When you use a barbell, you are going to be forced into a fixed position, which can cause issues. 

Dumbbells mean that you will be able to control each hand individually, which means that you can do all sorts of crazy exercises with them.

If you are doing leg exercises, then you will find that dumbbells are a lot safer than using barbells. 

Sure, you can get specific barbells which are made for doing exercises like squats and the like, but unless you have a lot of practice, then it is going to be tough to balance with them. 

This means that you are a whole lot more likely to end up injuring yourself when you are doing your exercises, and nobody really wants that. 

With dumbbells, providing that you always use the weight that is right for you, you won’t be sent toppling over when you are trying to balance on one leg or something like that.

Finally; it is a lot easier to give both your arms a decent workout with dumbbells. If you are using a barbell, you would think that the weight is spread evenly over your two arms. It is not.

You have a dominant arm, and that dominant arm is going to take a lot of the weight. You won’t realize it, but I promise you that this is something which is happening. 

With dumbbells, that doesn’t happen. Since each of your hands is carrying its own individual weight, there is no splitting of the weight across two arms. 

You are forcing your weaker hand to carry the same weight as the stronger hand. It is going to be a bit tougher at first, but you will be giving your arms equal workouts and that is exactly what you want to happen.

Why Barbells?

barbell photo

Barbells do have their own pros, though… 

For example; the weight increments on barbells tend to be a little bit better. 

If you are using a dumbbell, if you purchase a cheap dumbbell (not recommended!), it is likely that the weight increments are in 5lbs. On even cheap barbells, the weight increment will be around the 2.5lb mark. 

This means that total you are adding 5lbs minimum to your weight each time. If you have a dumbbell, then you are adding 10lbs total across your two arms each time. It may not seem like a huge difference, but it is.

When you start to get to the heavier weights, then you will often find that the barbells are going to be a bit easier to manage due to the weight spread. 

When you start to get to the heavier weights,
then you will often find that the barbells are going to be a bit easier
to manage due to the weight spread. 

However, most people are aware of this already. 

Barbells are going to be fantastic for strength training, but dumbbells are going to be a whole lot better for those people who want a bit more general exercise.

#3 Which Option To Go For?

In my opinion, you should always try to do a mix of dumbbell and barbell exercises. After all, the key to decent exercise is variety.

The only way I would ever recommend just barbells is if you are doing pure strength training. If you are forgetting about exercising the rest of your body, then go down that route.

You will be able to lift heavier weights, but you are going to be losing a lot when it comes to versatility.

The Best Dumbbell

When it comes to dumbbells, there are a lot of different options on the market.

The one I have come to prefer is BowFlex SelectTech 552.  This is an adjustable set of weights. You get a pair of them.

BowFlex_SelectTech_552

This is actually one of a few sets on the market which allows you to increase the weight on each hand in 2.5lb increments, which already eliminates one of the ‘cons’ of using dumbbells. 

With these, you can actually go all the way from 5lbs to 52.5lbs with ease. They are also immensely durable.

While they  are going to be a little bit more than the vast majority of people would expect to pay for dumbbells, they are worth the price.

Plus, you are getting fifteen weights rolled into one, which certainly isn’t too shabby

The Best Barbell

As with dumbbells, there are a lot of different barbell options on the market. So many that it actually makes it difficult to choose one that is absolutely ‘perfect’.

The one that I do see people raving about a lot, even if it is not wildly popular in gyms, is the XMark Deadlift Vodoo.

The reason why I have included it here is because if feels absolutely fantastic in the hands, and it comes in a variety of different weight sets, which means you can choose the option that is right for you.

Providing you give it a good spray down with some cleaner every so often, I have absolutely no issues in saying that this is something which is going to give you years and years of happy use.

Since this is an Olympic bar, it is going to be perfect for those who are into power lifting.

In fact, combine this with a BowFlex set of adjustable dumbbells, and you are well on your way towards starting a proper home gym.

#4 Verdict

In the vast majority of cases, the best route to go down will be the dumbbells. They are more versatile when it comes to the exercises that you can do with them.

They are going to be a whole lot easier for you to ferry from one location to another too, which means when you want to work out outside, you can.

They do have their failings, though. They are not going to be as brilliant for powerlifting, and in those cases you are probably going to want to go down the route of barbells.

However, for most people, dumbbells are going to be the way to go.

Picture of DAniel

Article by:

Daniel DeMoss

I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.  

Get in touch: [email protected]