Free weights exercises play a major role in maximizing muscle growth and strength. And it further comes down to two forms of free weights; barbell and dumbells.
There are three main mechanisms involved in muscle growth: Mechanical tension, Metabolic Stress, and Muscle Damage. Of the three, mechanical tension is believed to be the primary driver of muscle growth, This mechanical tension can be maximized by performing heavy compound exercises and increasing the strength over time.
Barbells maximize mechanical tension to a larger extent when compared to dumbells. This is because, more weight can be lifted with barbells when compared to dumbells, as it requires less stabilization than dumbells. Also, progressive overload with barbells is more efficient than with dumbells. As barbell is supported by two hands, the stabilization of the weight becomes easy. Barbell exercises generate more explosiveness when compared to dumbells.
Many of the compound movements like squats, power cleans, snatches, deadlifts, military press, etc, are suggested to perform using a bar, rather than dumbells, as they can be more explosive when done with a bar, and for example, it literally makes no sense to squat with heavy weight dumbells on your shoulders. Lifters are stronger when they are lifting with a barbell rather than dumbells because of the stabilizing factor. All the 1RMs (one rep max) are tested with barbells.
Using dumbells can help in increased target muscle activation, which helps in muscle growth. Dumbells helps to move the weights in a natural path, which is comfortable for the individual, depending on the body structure, which is not possible in case of barbell exercises, as they have a restricted path to be followed.
Dumbells helps in minimizing muscle imbalances. Everyone has a dominant side and the weaker side can be strengthened and improved with the help of unilateral exercises, which is possible with dumbells. Dumbells have a good range of motion, which barbells lack. They don’t force your joints to move in the unnatural path. In case of injuries or joint mobility issues, dumbells exercises are safer and effective than barbells.
When it comes to the experience of the lifter, dumbells are beneficial and safer for beginners, as they can start with light weights, and the weights can be easily dropped on the floor easily when they cannot take the load, which is not possible with a bar. Advanced lifters find barbells beneficial, as they are more efficient than dumbells in progressive overloading.
Barbells Vs Dumbells: Which is Better for Muscle Growth and Strength
Considering all the above factors, neither of them can be considered superior to the other. A mix of both barbell and dumbells exercises will optimize muscle growth and helps in increasing strength.
Dumbells helps in muscle growth by prioritizing the target muscle activation and barbell exercises help in increasing the strength by helping in producing mechanical tension and by stabilizing the joints during progressive overload.
Incorporating heavyweight compound movements with the barbell first, with low rep range and then adding dumbells exercises with high rep range can actually improve the workout quality.