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Dumbbells and Barbells: Pros and Cons of Each

Check out our guide to why you should add barbells and kettlebells to your workout setup, as we lay out the pros and cons of each. Plus, find out why you should consider using kettlebells too.

Dumbbells and Barbells: Pros and Cons of Each


When you work out in the gym, there are two key groups of weights: machines and free weights. If you want to explore free weights, you have a lot of options, and two of the most popular are dumbbells and barbells. Here we take a look at some of the key pros and cons of both to help you decide which is the best option for your workout.


Barbells Overview

Barbells are the long straight bars with weights at each end – the sort of weights you see being lifted in the Olympics. There are lots of types, from standard bars to deadlift bars to Olympic bars.


Barbells Pros

Barbells are a great option if you want to focus primarily on gaining mass. You can lift more with barbells because they don’t engage as many stabiliser muscles, so they make it easier for you to lift heavier weights compared to dumbbells. As such, barbells are the best option for building maximum strength and helping you to meet your strength goals.

Barbells also provide more stability when you are working out by evenly distributing the weight.


Barbells Cons

One key disadvantage of barbells is that they can lead to muscle imbalances. Most of us have one dominant side, and when you use barbells you may find that this side does more of the work, so you don’t strengthen your weaker side as much as you might want to.

Another potential problem with barbells is the risk of overdoing it by adding too much load, leading to injuries. Less flexibility also means you can end up in more uncomfortable positions.


Dumbbells Overview

Dumbbells come in pairs, and each weight is held separately in one hand. They can be fixed-weight or adjustable. There are lots of types of dumbbells, including square, round and hex dumbbells.


Dumbbells Pros

The range of motion with dumbbells is better than with barbells, meaning you can move your arms with greater freedom. This can help you to work different muscles harder.

Dumbbells can also be used for unilateral movements where you can work on strength imbalances, so you can work on your weaker muscles.

You can also carry out a wide range of movements with dumbbells, including things like one-arm swings and goblet squats. You can enjoy a huge range of exercises using these weights.

Finally, they are also convenient. Dumbbells can be used almost anywhere, including at home as well as in the gym.


Dumbbells Cons

One potential drawback of dumbbells is that you might find you can’t lift as much weight as you can using a barbell.

You may also find that they take up more space in your home gym as you build up a large collection of weights. Make sure you get a rack to store them all safely.


Incorporate Both into Your Workout

When it comes to dumbbells and barbells, one is not ‘better’ than the other. They both have different advantages and disadvantages, so you should choose the one that works best for you to help you meet your goals. Even better, try to incorporate both into your routine and enjoy the combined benefits they provide.



As an alternative to barbells and dumbbells, another great free weights option is kettlebells. These can be used similarly to dumbbells, and are a particularly popular choice for people looking to perform swing movements. This is due to the increased stability required for exercises like kettlebell swings, as the weight is not evenly distributed like it is with dumbbells.

Author: Will Kirkpatrick