Bar vs Dumbbell – The great debate. Should you pick one over the other? Unless you have an injury or a medical condition preventing your use of an equipment – train with both. The cumulative benefits achieved when training with both the bar and dumbbells will far outweigh training with one just method alone.
When it comes to training for mass, barbells are your best bet. With a bar, you can lift heavier weights and incorporate progressive overload much more easily than training solely with dumbbells. On average you can lift roughly 20% more with a bar, then compared to the combined weight of 2 dumbbells. Heavy lifting can recruit and engage more of the type II muscle fibers, which are generally responsible for the size and definition of a muscle. And progressive overload, that is slowly increasing your weights overtime, is one of the best ways to beat muscle plateau and induce muscle growth. It’s also more convenient to increase weights using a barbell then dumbbells. Take bench press for example, if you were to do a bench press with a dumbbell, a good chunk of your strength is wasted in just lifting the dumbbell off the ground and getting in the pushing position. Considering all these benefits, you will grow much faster with a bar. Bars are the most popular option when it comes to big compound movements where you need every ounce of strength you can produce such as a squat, deadlift or shoulder press. The downside is that the bar carries a higher risk of injury and have limited range of motion. You really must make the mind muscle connection and focus on keeping a good form every rep to avoid injuries.
Dumbbells, on the other hand, are much safer and easier to use. And like the bar they too can also be used for compound exercises. The disadvantage of using a dumbbell is the limitation on lifting heavy weights. This is because you are using more stabilizer muscles when you train with dumbbells which limits the amount of weight you can lift. On the flip side, this means you train more stabilizer muscles with dumbbells than with the bar. Moreover, as your movements are unilateral you improve your form, muscle symmetry and correct muscle imbalances. But where they really shine is in providing full range of motion and training the muscle in isolation. Training in a full range of motion translates into more micro-damage and more stretch leading to muscle mass and strength gains. And when it comes to training the full range of motion, nothing beats the dumbbell. Another advantage of using dumbbells is that you can you can really focus in on a target muscle – or train the muscle in isolation. You can work on proper technique and can induce muscle exhaustion on just the target muscle alone far better with a dumbbell than with a bar.
Pros and cons of Barbell:
- You can lift heavier weights with a bar
- Easier to manage progressive overload
- Convenient to use
- Better suited for building mass and training big compound movements
- Limited range of motion
- More prone to injury
Pros and cons of Dumbells:
- Safer and easier to use
- Recruits more stabilizer muscles
- Movements are unilateral so you will improve your form, muscle symmetry and correct muscle imbalances
- Train in full range of motion
- Better suited for exhausting the muscle by training the target muscle in isolation
- You cannot lift as heavy using dumbbell then you could with a bar
- Inconvenient to use for some movements
- Progressive overload may become difficult to manage on some exercises
Each equipment has its own pros and cons. An ideal training routine will incorporate both. A typical way to incorporate both methods is to start off with the bar and finish with dumbbells. Since the bar is a more demanding when it comes to strength, you should do it first in your training routine. Train with a bar for the first 2-3 sets of your training. Then switch to dumbbells to work the target muscle in isolation. The cumulative advantages of training with both equipment will be far superior then sticking with just one alone.