Barbells vs Dumbbells: Which One Is Better?

The five weeks of the CrossFit Open has expired and Regionals season is officially in full swing. The Dave “Cornrows were never a good choice” Castro threw another wrench in the game by completely negating any bilateral movements aka barbells, and instead went all-in on the unilateral dumbbell arena for our Games gladiator contenders.

A lot of noise was had as to whether or not we’d see a surprise event this year, with barbells being a feature in the athlete warm up area. However, with two regionals already down and one more filled with folks fighting for a podium finish, it’s safe to say this year is yet another for the books.

But instead of adding to the cacophony of CrossFit commentators, let’s lend our voices to knowledge and progression and let’s take a deeper look, (and perhaps even give a slow clap to The Dave for once):


Strengthen stabilizing muscles

If you’ve ever performed an overhead squat utilizing both arms and a barbell, you might be aware of the incredible challenge of stabilizing both your overhead position as well as your core as you descend into a squat. When dumbbells are utilized properly, you’ll not only notice the challenge increase, substantially, but your balance and stability will also improve ten-fold. For example, the CrossFit Regionals 2017 Event 5 contains a total of 45 single arm overhead squats. So, when taking away the ability to utilize both arms and instead isolating the workload to one arm, you’re forcing yourself to adapt, strengthen and overcome.

Winner: Dumbbells

Does familiarity breed intensity?

Most CrossFitters live and breathe by the barbell. (Heck, 7 of the 9 Foundational Movements of CrossFit are taught utilizing a mimic of a barbell aka the PVC pipe.) So it really isn’t any question what we’ve grown accustomed to since the infancy of our CrossFit journey, is what we find most comfortable. And when we become comfortable, we tend to plateau.

Winner: Dumbbells


Arguably, the fun part of barbell movements--lifting more weight! When recruiting multiple muscles in our body we are able to produce more power output and thusly able to lift heavier loads. A “less fun” point, however, when utilizing dumbbells, is the inability to lift incredibly heavy loads due largely to the sheer fact that dumbbells are only manufactured to “X” amount of weight, and even then, most of us are at the mercy of the tools provided at our CF/ Box/ home gym. Couple this with the somewhat obvious fact that holding heavy dumbbells in a front rack position is not only incredibly fatiguing, but can also be fairly uncomfortable and cumbersome.

Winner: Barbells


Practically every movement performed with a barbell can be done with a dumbbell; however, the same cannot be said in reverse. Think about isolating your rear deltoids. Acquiring the same stimulus with a barbell, essentially, becomes an exponentially more difficult movement when performed with a barbell, versus when performed with lower weight dumbbells. (ie: rear delt fly)

Winner: Dumbbells

Range of Motion

When utilizing both appendages to lift a barbell, we are only privilege to the range of motion of our weakest body part or the tools being used. (Ie: If performing a barbell bench press, the bar can only go to the depth in which the bar touches your chest.) However, when performing a single arm dumbbell bench press, for example, we are able to descend into full range of motion to recruit, hopefully, our: pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, scapulae fixers, trapezii, and the triceps.

Winner: Dumbbells

So What Is The Winner?

This is only one person’s opinion, so take this with a grain of salt, but maybe there’s something to be said, aside from complaints and criticims, in regard to Castro’s Regionals programming.

Let’s look toward Wisconsin with open eyes and a lens of adaptation, overcoming and conquering.

This gal’s in your corner, Castro. Bring it on.