What’s better dumbbells or barbells?

When it comes to building strength and/or sculpting a physique dumbbells and barbells should be at the top of your equipment list. However, not everyone has the budget or space to purchase both so before making your decision on which to purchase let me try to explain what’s better dumbbells or barbells.


When it comes to building some old school maximal strength then you can’t go far wrong with an Olympic barbell set. Maximal strength is your ability to exert maximal force measured typically in Kg’s or Newtons. The more you practice pushing, pressing, pulling, squatting and picking up heavy loads the greater your maximal strength becomes.



  • Olympic bars can tolerate extremely heavy loads which makes them the best for maximal strength development.
  • You can train the entire body with one bar and some plates.
  • After a moderate investment, they should last forever.


  • Difficulty to train unilaterally so the stronger side can overcompensate.
  • Olympic bars are 7ft long so take up a lot of space.
  • Limited on exercise selection in comparison to a full set of dumbbells.



A full set of dumbells can be utilised to achieve a huge number of goals. Muscular endurance, muscular strength, hypertrophy, and even cardiovascular fitness. They are also perfect for training unilaterally which means you can address muscular imbalances which can help correct postural deviations such as scoliosis.


  • A full set of dumbells allow you to train every muscle/movement pattern just by selecting the correct pair of dumbbells without having to adjust the weights.
  • Having multiple sets of dumbbells allow you to train alongside a friend without having to wait for them to finish their set.
  • With multiple sets of dumbbells, you can create a circuit a fun mini circuit.


  • A full set of dumbbells and rack will cost you more than a barbell and plates.
  • The increments between dumbbells are often too great making progressions on smaller muscles too big a jump.
  • Even the heaviest dumbbells won’t equal a heavy barbell and plates so will limit maximal strength development.

So what’s better dumbbells or barbells?

As much as I love throwing a barbell around and working on my Powerlifts and Olympic lifts, for me the variety and practicality of a set of dumbbells set them ahead of the barbell.

However, if you’re more of a minimalist, then I’d go with the barbell set 💪

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