Barbells vs. Dumbbells for Building Muscle Mass

Like with many pieces of fitness equipment, there is always a controversy as to which piece is best. With barbells and dumbbells both are good at what they do – building muscle mass. However the method in which each builds muscle mass is different. One uses just the muscles directly involved in the lift while the other one not only works muscle directly involved, but also employs muscles used to assist in the stabilization of the worked muscles.

To get the best muscle mass bang from your strength training workout buck, you should use both barbells and dumbbells and here is why.


Barbells – weighted plates on each end of a long bar – provide a more balanced approach to weight lifting. Usually the lifter is either lifting or pushing the bar straight up or gradually letting it straight down in a controlled manner. Because both hands are used and the direction is linear it is easier to control a barbell. Another advantage is the size of the plates available. As you are ready to add more weight to the bar, heavier plate weights are available for barbells, but not for dumbbells.


Dumbells on the other hand – smaller weighted plates on a bar just long enough to grip with one hand – tend to provide a more balanced workout muscle-wise because not only do you have linear movement, but also side-to-side, which not only employ the muscles being worked, but secondary muscles used to provide stabilization.

And certain exercises can only be done with dumbbells, such as the fly, tricep extension and lateral raise, just to name a few.

Barbells for Building Muscle Mass

A Guide to Good Form for Muscle Building Exercises

While dumbbells can be used individually, be sure to exercise each set of muscles equally in order to maintain a balance of size and strength. Inequality is an invite for injury which can sideline you for days if not weeks.


Regardless if you use just barbells or dumbbells – but preferably both – be sure to use good form and a varied routine. That is the best way to build muscle mass equally.

Workouts should consist of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, making sure to exercise both sides of your body equally. Alternately, you can train at a more vigorous rate for 20 minutes, three times per week. Between using varied routines and working both sides of your body, ultimately you may want to alternate weekly between the two types of strength training. Not only will it give you more variety in your workout, but it will introduce a variety in intensity, thus preventing your body from getting into a specified routine.

If you could only use one piece of workout equipment, which would it be; barbells, dumbbells or cables? In this video, I use one exercise to show you how all three are necessary to incorporate into a complete workout to build athletic muscle.

With the lunge overhead shoulder press, I perform the exercise with a barbell, dumbbells and cables. When done with a barbell I am able to lift more weight due to the fact that the stabilizer muscles in the shoulders are not as relied upon with the fixed bar as they are with individual dumbbells. This explains why 300 pound bench pressers are unlikely to lift 150 dumbbells.

In the next variation, I perform a dumbbell exercise. This dumbbell variation of the shoulder press could fit into any all dumbbell workout but is it the best? The db’s allow for the resistance to stay more centered as opposed to the barbell. This makes it easier on the core to perform the exercise and stabilize your trunk. The barbell challenges your frontal plane stability more because of this.

Finally, the cable version of the exercise adds in additional core challenge. With the cables representing the line of resistance you have to be sure to really contract your abs if you want to perform the exercise with cables without falling over backward. Obviously this is a challenge that is not present with either the dumbbells or the barbell.