Dumbbells better than barbells?

Dumbbells better than barbells?

If you’ve ever worked out with me,  or seen me around the gym, you’ll know that I rarely ever use the barbell. For all of my free weights exercises, I usually only use the dumbbell, with the exception of dead lifts, squats and rows, where barbells are usually better. It’s not that dumbbells are better than barbells, don’t get me wrong. But personally, the one reason why I love using dumbbells for exercises is that it allows me to move in a free range and natural motion, and it also prevents strength and muscular imbalances.

Now if you’re just starting out a weight lifting routine, you may feel that barbells are a little weird to use. The reason being is that you may or may not be used to both of your arms working in unison. I remember the first time I did the bench press. It was when I was in grade 9 during gym class. We were doing some sort of fitness level test to see who the strongest one was in the class, who had the highest endurance and cardio etc.  We were all crowded around the bench press and it was my turn, so I hopped on. Now this was the first time I had ever laid down on a bench, let alone press any weight.

My teacher loaded up a measly 5 pound plate on each side of the Olympic bar and I preceded to un-rack the weight and lower it. Lowering the weight wasn’t that hard, it was the coming up part that got me. My arms were not used to pressing anything and so when I came up, my right arm (being the stronger one) took over and the bar came up at a sharp angle.

What I’m trying to get at is: with barbells, it is pretty easy for your dominant side to naturally take over without you realizing it. If you perform these exercises too often without noticing, you can develop and often worsen your muscle and strength imbalances.

Take myself for example. When I’m performing barbell rows or cable rows, I have to be VERY careful to use slow and strict form while performing the exercise. The reason being, is that my right arm (being the stronger one) can tend to get a little too excited and carry most of the workload. This is why I usually opt for single arm dumbbell rows or work one side at a time, to make sure each side actually lifts the same amount of weight, gets the same amount of stimulation and progresses in size evenly.

Another reason why I prefer dumbbells over barbells is that they allow for a natural range of motion. This allows your body to make adjustments to ensure that your movements are as comfortable as possible. Back in 2009, I injured my wrist during a friendly wrestling match with a friend and my wrist was never the same again. This made bench pressing a horrible exercise for me to do without irritating my wrist. I swapped over to dumbbells and the pain was gone. The reason being, is that with dumbbell pressing it allows mobility of the wrist, therefore minimizing the tension and stress  that my wrists were on. I wouldn’t have been able to make the adjustment with the barbell because lets face it, i’d have to physically bend the bar.

So to end this article, it actually comes down to personal preference. Some exercises are meant to be performed with dumbbells and some are better off with barbells. There actually isn’t a real answer to which one is better.


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John considers himself as a fitness enthusiast who loves to do anything to keep the body in peak physical performance (much like a highly tuned machine). He mainly focuses on sports nutrition and supplement research, but is also highly knowledgeable in relation to muscle growth and fat loss. He's helped numerous people over the years achieve the body that they've always wanted and hopes his information will guide you to the goals you want.

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