Where the Dumbbell Is Way Better Than The Barbell (We Said It)

While barbells are an amazing tool that centers our program, we must we must realize that the barbell is just one variable in the equation and contains some glaring inefficiencies. Like any equation, there are other variables to it that make it all click and generate the right outcome.

Here’s where we lean on dumbbells to do just that.

Lateral Core Training
One-arm DB snatches, presses, get-ups, and jerks are highly effective at training the obliques in a way that two-arm movements fail. By loading just one side of the body, it forces the body to have to brace and create an opposite side launch pad of sorts, from which we yield power. The obliques don’t get love unless we deliberately elect to provide it, and that’s not always in the form of twisting and rotating.

Shoulder Joint Stability
The shoulder is the most unstable joint in the body, and also the most mobile. We’re going to say that one more time. The shoulder is the most unstable joint in the body, and also the most mobile. Terrible combo. Thanks, God. The rub is that the barbell does little to improve its stability. With both arms holding the weight, it means the weight is the total body is supporting it which means there are dozens of ways you could compensate for poor shoulder mobility (hello, low back!) By removing one hand and instead holding a single dumbbell, your shoulder can move free and achieve a much better position that both trains stability better, and keeps it healthier, longer.

Strength Litmus Test
Are you strong, or are you just really good at compensating? A barbell is mechanically designed for balance as we just explained. This makes it “easy” to lift in spite of any mobility deficiencies or weak links that may exist in our pattern. The Central Nervous System can take over on a lot of things, and proper movement is atop the list. The dumbbell, however, wants our balance and proprioceptors challenged and activated. It wants our movement flaws eliminated. When you active the same proprioceptors over and over again, you activate the same muscles, in the same path. That’s not really training yourself to be human, that’s transforming yourself into a task-specific robot.

Because the arms are not locked into place of a two-hand grip, the joints can more more freely in their articulations, and mobility can be better developed in folks who don’t have it, and better expressed for folks who do.

Alternative Muscle Development
The barbell is a great muscle building tool, so this section is not to suggest dumbbells are better, just different. And in the case of building muscle, different on your body is always a good thing as that’s how we continue to drive adaptation. With the dumbbells, this is delivered in the form of greater range of motion for the working muscle, thus, a greater recruitment for muscle growth.

Many make the grave mistake of thinking that strength is only developed when we are on the Absolute Strength end of the spectrum. If our goal is well-rounded fitness, we need to think of the dumbbell not as an inconvenient obstacle to your barbell training, but one that will improve it, as well as make us more of a human being, not another robot off the growing assembly line programmed only to see benefit in major lifts at high percentages.