Barbells vs. Dumbbells: Which is better for Workout, Strength, and Muscle Growth?

Venturing into weight lifting can be a daunting task when first starting out. Machines, plates, bars and dumbbells all thrown together can be intimidating as navigating through all possible exercises with each item and picking the best ones for your workout plan is no easy feat. Out of all the tools available, dumbbells and barbells are two most prevalent pieces of equipment for muscle building and it can be tricky to decide which is better. Here, we answer the question “Are barbells better than dumbbells?”

The Role They Play

Before diving into the comparison, it is important to note that both barbells and dumbbells are primarily designed for strength building and overall muscle growth. The act of executing repetitions with weights is to put the targeted muscle group in a state of hypertrophy when under stress. That’s right; in order to allow muscles to grow, they must be deliberately damaged in order to recover with higher density and strength.

Therefore, regardless of which one does it better, both of these styles of weightlifting were ultimately designed for the same goal. Barbells have a lot less flexibility in terms of exercise varieties as compared to dumbbells but excel in compound exercises that are made to tackle multiple major muscle groups. Dumbbells on the other hand, have more flexibility but have a far lower limit in terms of actual weight. Both tools will have various exercises that are unique to them that cannot be overlapped, but there are enough exercises that do overlap that have subjected the two types of weight into this debate, to begin with.

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Compound Exercises For Both Barbells and Dumbbells

Shoulder Press

Otherwise known as military press, the two do not differ greatly when it comes to executing this exercise, but as the weights increase, balance starts resulting in safety concerns if unprepared. Unlike barbells, dumbbells force the user to ensure complete symmetry between both arms when raised overhead.

Barbells do require the same, but it is easier to execute this as both arms will be parallel with each other and keeping the bar straight becomes the only concern from a technical perspective. Dumbbells' flexibility shines in this exercise as users can choose to place the weights right next to the ears if necessary to ensure that the side deltoids also get activated, while this would be impossible for dumbbells (as you’d hit your head on the bar).

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Bench/Incline Press

When it comes to the chest, both also don’t differ significantly, but the weight limits on your dumbbell racks will slowly become a concern the longer you’ve been training. The exercise commonly demands an incredible amount of weight compared to shoulder press and incline rows, which does naturally increase the risks of muscle tears and even dislocations if the weights are not placed down properly after a set. The bench press is equally viable on both dumbbells and barbells, but barbells tend to be favoured among competitive lifters due to the amount of weight that can be added on, while dumbbells are preset and commonly only go up to 50kg at your local gym. As a beginner and even intermediate weight lifter, both options are viable, but barbells will start to have a higher priority when your strength is too much for dumbbells.


Using an inclined bench, many have resorted to the dumbbell option of rows by tucking their knees into the far corner of the seat and resting the chest on the backrest. Although it may look a little odd to beginners and non-weightlifters - many have adopted this as an alternative to barbell rows. The back is a massive muscle group and dumbbells are not commonly used for compound back exercises as compared to barbells.

Isolated, single-arm rows while leaning forward yes, but not compound. One of the reasons for this is because of the weight limit like with the bench press; arguably, doing rows with dumbbells can open avenues for more injury if not done correctly on the bench. Barbells have safety racks below and allow for a wider range of motion due to not having any obstruction like the seat would have. Overall, barbells win in this exercise for safety, higher weight, and cleaner form.

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Barbell fitness training exercises

Barbell fitness training exercises

Barbell Exercises That Cannot Be Done With Dumbbells

Barbell excels in compound exercises for the previously stated reasons, and the big three compound exercises; deadlifts, squats, and bench press are testaments of this. With the demand for extremely heavyweights, the demand for heavier weights is a must.

Compound exercises work for various muscle groups despite it being catered to one body part, therefore the demand for heavier weights is warranted. Deadlifts and squats can’t be done traditionally on barbells - although some variations have been formed to compromise, it is not nearly as effective.

Isolated Exercises

If barbells are the hammer, then dumbbells can arguably be seen as the scalpel. An isolation exercise is primarily designed more for definition and dumbbells win at this easily. Exercises like flies, front raises, lunges, curls, and more are incredibly specific to one muscle group, even if it is a small one.

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Because of this, the need for insane amounts of weight is moot and the limits of your rack will be more than enough to see your exercises through. Since barbells don’t allow nearly as much range of movement, they are locked behind the compound exercise role primarily, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Granted, Single-Arm Landmine Press and Landmine Rainbow are exercises that can be deemed as isolated exercises, but they are exceptions that are rather a niche.

Dumbbells muscle building training

Dumbbells training for fitness and muscle building


Barbells are king when it comes to high-intensity compound exercises, although it can be done with dumbbells, you are going to hit a limit once you become more experienced with weightlifting. If your goal is to build insane amounts of strength like a powerlifter, then the barbell is the obvious choice. However, if bodybuilding is more aligned to your goals, barbells will not be enough as this goal will require compound, isolated exercises and cardio. All in all, barbells beat dumbbells in compound movements but are not effective in isolation-based exercises. The two work well together and are optimal when both are used for weightlifting.

Source: United News of Bangladesh