Barbells vs. Dumbbells - How to Decide Which One to Use

Barbells vs. Dumbbells - How to Decide Which One to Use

Alexandr Vaseltsov |

Image of man using prosourcefit barbell and woman training with prosourcefit neoprene dumbbells

Trying to choose between working out with barbells and dumbbells? Maybe you’re building a home gym and unsure of which to buy.  The most important thing to remember (besides how much space you have) is “what is your primary goal?” Are you looking to build muscle, reduce fat, or increase performance etc.?  This is what will determine barbells vs. dumbbells. 

Below you’ll learn:

  • The benefits and negatives of barbells vs. dumbbells
  • When to choose barbells over dumbbells
  • When to choose dumbbells over barbells

The benefits and negatives of barbells vs. dumbbells


Barbells Dumbbells
Range of Motion X
Max Weight X
Weight Stabilization X
Explosiveness X
Muscle Symmetry X
Progress Faster X
Easier on the Joints X
Compound Movements X X
Unilateral Movements X
May Require a Spotter X
Low Learning Curve X
Versatility  X


When to Choose Barbells Over Dumbbells

Prosourcefit multipurpose Olympic barbell suitable for men and women

Training for strength and functionality? Barbell exercises are more strength focused, allowing you to lift heavier weights and get bigger strength gains. 

Barbells work best for compound movements.  Some examples include squats, lunges, and deadlifts. They can be also used for isolation exercises such as barbell curls and lying triceps extensions. Barbell exercises engage fewer stabilizer muscles and can work more muscle groups at the same time.  With barbells, all you need is the single barbell and a few weight plates!

However, since you can lift larger loads (you can lift about 20% heavier with a barbell) and progress faster, there is a higher risk of injury. 

There are different types of barbells that you can use with each having its own function:

  • Standard bars - traditional power and strength exercises
  • Deadlift bars - handle heavier loads and have a longer shaft
  • Powerlifting bars - designed for massive loads and have little to no bend
  • Olympic bars - work best for power cleans and other dynamic exercises
  • EZ bars - used for arm exercises
  • Hex (trap) bars - puts less stress on the back and joints
  • Buffalo barbells - reduces rotational demand on your shoulders
  • Cambered barbells - used for squats
  • Swiss bars - great for injured wrists or shoulders sensitive to regular curling bars
  • Safety squat bars - great for performing squats and lunges.
  • Axle bars - For cross-training and focusing on improving grip strength.



When to Choose Dumbbells vs. Barbells

Prosourcefit neoprene dumbbells with comfortable grip for men and women

Training for muscle size and mass?  Dumbbell exercises are the better choice since they are more hypertrophy focused. Dumbbells allow for unilateral (single leg or single arm) movements which build muscle symmetry, making it easier to isolate specific muscles and also be used in compound movements.

Concerned with dumbbell weight limitations? Offset it by increasing repetitions.  Almost every barbell exercise can be done with a dumbbell too. The trick is finding ones that meet your needs.

The Types of Dumbbells:

  • Fixed hex dumbbells - lie flat on the floor and are typically made from cast iron.
  • Fixed rubber/urethane/chrome dumbbells - normally what you find on a rack.
  • Studio dumbbells - come in bright colors and weigh less than 20 pounds. Designed for aerobics classes and light workouts.
  • Spin-lock dumbbells (adjustable) - are weight adjustable and popular for home workouts.
  • Selectorized dumbbells - make it easy to increase or reduce the weight due to their advanced locking mechanisms. Their price point is a bit higher.  


Now you have this guide, simply determine your goals to find the piece of equipment that fits your needs the best. Just remember, you are never stuck using just one type of equipment!

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