So a lot of us have had this question as to which is better when it comes to training- dumbbell or barbell. Some say barbell feels good while some others are dumbbell feel gooders.
Well there's no feel-good thing when it comes to stating scientific facts. So breaking the ice- it's the dumbbell who wins!
1. Dumbbells offer isolateral and unilateral benefits of training as opposed to barbells-that offer bilateral training. First, let's try to understand these forms of training.
What is bilateral training?
The human body is divided into 2 halves into various planes of motion. The plane that divides the body into left and right from the anatomical position is the sagittal plane. So the muscles of the left and right when trained simultaneously on a *same object* is called to be bilaterally trained. For example- barbell military press, barbell bench press.
Isolateral training- This means that the muscles on both sides are working together under the same load but not on the same object. The objects under which the muscle is in tension are independent to each other. Eg- Dumbbell shoulder press.
Unilateral training- Training one muscle at a time (either left or right) and then moving on to the next. Example- alternate dumbbell curls or single arm dumbbell rows.
Here is the thing: Every single individual has one dominant side and one slightly weaker side compared to the former. This is because the central nervous system is less efficient on one side, just because over the years we have used one side more than the other. Proprioception is set. So if training bilaterally, the body will employ the stronger side little bit more than the weaker side - just to cover up or compensate the force generated by the weaker side. Repeatedly doing this will lead to a significant imbalance between the size of muscle groups on the right and left. This is the reason when someone posts about muscle imbalance, we recommend them to use dumbbells and ditch barbells.
As opposed to this, training isolaterally gives you the benefit of not hitting that muscular imbalance because your muscles are handling the same load but are working independently. So the weaker side can never cover up for the stronger. So if you fail on the weaker side you will simply stop the set. You wouldn't continue with the stronger side. How stupid that would look. Imagine a guy chest pressing with just one arm :P
Again some new terms before we get into this.
- Single axis movement
- Double axis movement.
So a single axis movement is the one in which the distance between your arms remains constant. Example- barbell bench press. And double axis movement would mean, the distance between your arms will change. Example- dumbbell bench press.
Now since we are vouching for dumbbells- double axis movements demand more stabilisation to take place. Now let me tell you, there is no special class of muscles called as stabiliser muscles. A muscle can work its role into stabilisation on demand. Here the stabilisation is more neurological in sense than muscular because CNS needs that extra activation to allow the muscles to take up multiple roles in an instant. Stabilizing and load bearing. This would carry over the benefit in terms of functionality.
3. Better range of motion:
This doesn't need much of an explanation. It's tangible. You can see and feel it. Dumbbell movements allow a better range of motion across the muscle when compared to the barbell.
Now, are the poor barbells totally to be ignored? No! There are scenarios where a barbell is irreplaceable. For example, someone training for a powerlifting championship would need to train with the barbell instead of dumbbells because they need to open up their CNS pathways towards handling single axial movements. Although training with dumbbell would help develop the weaker side but this would be done sparingly and barbell will be used more often keeping the goal in mind. For a regular person looking to build muscle and get stronger, dumbbell does a lot better job. It would actually allow you to transition into your power period in your periodization (read my last article) to hit your 1 rep max more efficiently and safer.
Article contributed by - Melvin (CoFounder - GetSetGo Fitness)
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