Are Dumbbells Harder Than Barbells?

During the first couple of weeks of your fitness journey, you’ll be able to discover a lot of new and surprising things about the bodybuilding world. One of these things is the fact that the gym will always be divided into three types of people, the one that relies on barbells most of their workouts, others that focus only on using dumbbells, and finally people that mix all types of equipment during their training session. With that being said, you’re probably wondering which is better and if dumbbells are harder than barbells especially if you’ve never got the chance to try both at the same time to come up with a conclusion yourself. 

When it comes to dumbbells and barbells, deciding which one is going to be more difficult depends a lot on each type of person. But generally speaking, dumbbells are significantly harder than barbells since they require a lot more stability, allow for a wider more challenging range of motion, and need a better balance overall.

In this article, we’ll talk more in-depth about if dumbbells are harder than barbells, the reasons behind their difference in difficulty, and how to find a balance between the two.

Are Dumbbells Harder Than Barbells?

To answer this question more clearly, we need to compare the types of movements that can be done using both a dumbbell and a barbell at the same time. And to do that, let’s take a closer look at a dumbbell bench press and a barbell one. Imagine you’re going to perform both of these movements, which one do you think will require a lot more strength just based on the type of movement that you do? 

are dumbbells harder than barbells illustration

When it comes to a barbell bench press, you’re basically only lowering the bar to your chest and pushing it back up again. It’s pretty straightforward and only requires two specific actions. However, if you’re performing this type of movement using dumbbells, there are a lot of actions that you need to keep in mind, your hands need to be stable during the entirety of the exercise which requires a lot more strength.

In addition to that, you’re offered a wider range of motion since you’re able to go even lower than your chest because there is no bar limiting your movement, and that also requires more strength than a barbell. And lastly, dumbbells are the only types of equipment that highlight muscle unbalances. This means that if your right arm is stronger than your left, unlike the barbell, you won’t get away with performing the movement using your dominant hand mainly. 

And this doesn’t only apply to a bench press, this also includes bicep curls, shoulder presses, and so on, they’re a lot harder to perform using dumbbells compared to a barbell. 

However, there are some people that find it a lot easier to perform movements using dumbbells. So you shouldn’t make assumptions about your strength unless you try it for yourself and compare the two. 

Reasons Why Dumbbells Are Harder Than Barbells

man struggling to lift dumbbells

Now that we know that, generally speaking, dumbbells are a lot harder than barbells, let’s take a closer look at the reasons behind this difference in difficulty.

Dumbbells Require a lot More Stability

When you’re performing a movement using dumbbells, a dumbbell bench press for example, you’re not only thinking about lifting and lowering them, you’re taking into consideration the stability of your movement in order to prevent injury and to get the most out of the exercise. This extra stability will require a lot more strength and use more muscles compared to a basic barbell. In fact, dumbbells activate some muscles that can’t be activated using other types of equipment. And this is the main reason why they’re a lot harder but definitely worth it.

Dumbbells Give a Wider Range of Motion

Just like I explained earlier, dumbbells give a wider and much better range of motion compared to a barbell. Taking a look at the bench press example again, if you use dumbbells, you’ll be able to go down a lot lower which squeezes your muscles and promotes even more tension. Doing this will obviously make it a lot more challenging. And that’s one of the main reasons why you’re able to lift a lot more weight using a barbell.

Dumbbells Highlight Muscle Unbalances

If you can lift a lot more using a barbell compared to a dumbbell, then that probably means that your dominant hand is doing most of the work during your exercises. That’s because when you switch to a barbell, it’s pretty much a “free-for-all” and every hand works for itself so there is no room for unbalances. 

And with time, dumbbells actually work on fixing all sorts of unbalances which is why most people prefer them. If you rely too much on a barbell, your “dormant” hand won’t improve much compared to the dominant one. 

How To Balance Between a Dumbbell and a Barbell

If you can bench press 80 kg using a barbell, then you probably want to be able to lift 40 kg dumbbells on each side while doing the same movement. In order to achieve that, you need to find a balance between the two. The best way to do that is to switch between a barbell and a dumbbell on a regular basis during your workout sessions. 

The way I personally do it is by using a method I like to call “the three switches”. This method involves around alternating between a dumbbell and a barbell in the first and second week and mixing them up during the third one. To put this into perspective, during the first week, I mainly use dumbbells during my workout sessions no matter what type of muscle group I’m focusing on. During the second week, I switch completely to using a barbell in all my movements. And during the third one, I mix both of them up. This will constantly surprise your body which is essential for muscle building and will make you a lot stronger in both barbells and dumbbells. 


As you can see, for the majority of people dumbbells are significantly more challenging than barbells since they require a lot more stability, give a wider range of motion, and highlights muscle unbalances. And if you’d like to avoid focusing on a single type of equipment, I highly recommend following the “three switches method” I mentioned earlier and I guarantee you that after a month or two of doing it, dumbbells will be just as easy as barbells.

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