Saturday, November 14, 2020

Barbells or Dumbbells - By Jim Duggan

      "For it is only by exercising with heavy weights that any man can hope to develop really great strength.....unless he sedulously carries out barbell and dumbbell exercises, he can never acquire really great physical powers." These words, from George Hackenschmidt in 1908, are as relevant today as they were over one hundred years ago.  To be perfectly honest, however, the very first thing I did when I first came upon this quote was to Google the word "sedulously." It is means diligently, or marked by persistence.  Words that any serious Lifter know all too well.  Interestingly, the importance of barbells and dumbbells was evident back at the turn of the 20th century.  And two decades into the 21st century, their importance is just as apparent today. 

      Recently, I came across an article which asked the question "Are dumbbells or barbells better for building muscle?"  In the article, the author lists the various advantages of each modality before coming to his conclusion.  And while most readers are aware of the benefits of barbells and dumbbells, it's a good idea to review some of the basics.  


    We can use heavy weights on the basic exercises. The so-called compound exercises that will build the most strength and size.  Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts, High Pulls, Military Presses.  These movements will build strength fro the entire body.  Experienced Lifters will be able to use heavy weights on the big movements.  Even beginning trainees will aspire to work up to the coveted 300-400-500 standard.  A Bench Press with 300 Lbs, a 400 Lb Squat, and a Deadlift of 500 Lbs are worthy goals for anyone who hoists the Iron.  Naturally ( pun intended) these numbers are geared towards drug-free Lifters.  I have no idea what a steroid-bloated druggie would strive for, nor do I really care. 

     Barbells allow you to do partial reps.  Most experienced trainees recognize the benefits of partial reps and power rack training.  Countless Powerlifters have used partials for the three competitive lifts.  However,  you don't have to be a Powerlifter to benefit from using a power rack.  Any person seeking to increase his/her strength can make enormous gains with a sensible power rack routine.  Incidentally, anyone who is contemplating entering a powerlifting or weightlifting meet must absolutely utilize a barbell.  There is no substitute for the competitive  lifts if you plan on competing.  


     Dumbbells have been around since the very first days of weight training.  The early Strongmen utilized various dumbbells to build a great portion of their strength.  Of course, there are other advantages of using dumbbells other than history.

     Dumbbells can isolate and thereby intensify the muscles being trained.  This will lead to greater gains in size and strength.  Dumbbells also allow for a greater range of motion, which will stimulate greater amounts of muscle fibers and cause an increase in the size of the muscles.  Bigger, stronger muscles.  Size and strength.  Call it what you wish, but most people reading these words all aspire to the same goal.  

     One disadvantage of using dumbbells is that, for the most part, dumbbells usually target the upper body.  There is, however, one notable exception.  Dumbbell Deadlifts.  The first time I experienced doing Dumbbell Deadlifts was at Iron Island Gym.  That should come as no surprise, since it was Dr. Ken Leistner who first wrote about this wonderful exercise in his magazine "The Steel Tip" ( February 1986).  High repetition dumbbell Deadlifts will absolutely punish your body like few other movements.  An all-out set of twenty - or even thirty - reps will leave you sore for days.  The greater range of motion, coupled with the high reps, will stimulate the muscles of your lower back, legs, hips, and grip like nothing else. 

     So, which is better, a Barbell or Dumbbells? In my opinion, it is a question that need not be answered.  In other words, why choose?  I recently watched an interview with one of my favorite strength athletes.  In it, he was asked if he was a "glass half-empty," or "glass half-full" type of person.  The answer he gave was priceless.  "Half-empty or half-full? They're both losers.  Who wants to live with half a glass? Fill the thing up!" 

     In other words,  don't choose between between the two.  Utilize BOTH barbells and dumbbells to build maximum strength. 

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