Is There a Difference Between Dumbbells & Barbells?

Dumbbells can effectively tone muscles with a variety of exercises.

Dumbbells can effectively tone muscles with a variety of exercises.

Barbells and dumbbells are staples of free weight equipment, weights which are not attached to some sort of exercise machine. They're found in fitness centers, sports training facilities and home gyms. Barbells are bars, from 4 to 7 feet long, with some type of weight on either end, held with both hands. Dumbbells are shorter, usually 10 to 15 inches long, with weights on each end that are held individually in the hands.

Barbell Basics

Top line barbells are called Olympics. They are 7 feet long, weigh 45 pounds and are capable of being loaded with weights of 800 or more pounds. Non-Olympic bars are slightly shorter and lighter but both styles use round plates in weights of 5 to 50 pounds fastened on each end of the bar with a collar. Barbells typically are used with weight benches for presses or for squats or deadlifts.

Standard Barbells

Standard barbells have a smaller bar, usually about 1 inch in diameter, and are 5 to 6 feet long. Plates, which are often secured with a spring clip, are thinner and made of either cast iron or concrete encased in plastic. There also are fixed-weight barbells with weights permanently attached on the ends. These usually are found in fitness or weight training centers.

Special Barbells

Curl bars and tricep bars are special types of barbells. A curl bar is shorter than a barbell and has angled hand grips, with spaces for weights on each end. It is used in bicep and similar arm exercises to reduce the stress placed on wrists with those movements using a straight bar. A tricep bar has a rectangle in the center with upright handholds and straight ends to hold weights. It also is used in arm exercises.

Dumbbell Options

There are three basic styles of dumbbell: pro style, with fixed round weighted ends; hex style, with hexagonal weights on the ends and adjustable, short bars that have weight plates attached like barbells. Pro and hex styles are fixed weights, ranging from 1 to 100 pounds. Adjustable dumbbell weights vary with the plates attached, usually from 2 1/2 to 25 pounds on each side. Some fixed weight dumbbells have rubber coatings.

Varying Uses

Both barbells and dumbbells can be used for many exercises such as presses, bicep curls and rows. Barbells are better for leg exercises such as squats and those which focus on building strength and body mass. Dumbbells allow more flexibility of movement and build more defined muscles. There are at least 15 variations of arm curls with dumbbells, for instance.


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