10.120 Dumbbells are usually used for detail exercises which have very limited, if any application for the typical hard gainer whose priority is to build substantial size and strength. Barbells, generally speaking, have a tradition for being used for the big and most useful movements. If you have in mind doing the pec fly, lateral raise, concentration curl, triceps kickback and akin exercises with dumbbells, the 'bells will harm your training progress. But if, for example, you use them for one-arm rows instead of pulldowns, dumbbell presses instead of barbell presses, hammer or supinating curls instead of barbell curls, and one-legged calf raises instead of using a calf machine, then the dumbbells will be an asset.
10.121 While dumbbells provide variety relative to the straight bar, for some exercises, e.g., bench presses and overhead presses, they are very awkward to get into position. You may need two spotters for each dumbbell once you are using heavy weights. If the dumbbells fall out of the groove during a set the exercise can be very dangerous. Even if you escape injury, heavy dumbbells dropping to the floor risk damage to it and the equipment, and to anyone nearby at the time.
10.122 But most misuse of dumbbells comes from people who use 'bells that are too heavy for them. ^ey are thus unable to control the resistance properly, and thus put themselves and the dumbbells at risk. Use dumbbells properly, or not at all.
10.123 A barbell bench press can be easily set down on power-rack pins if you fail during a rep. Not so with a heavy dumbbell bench press where very alert, strong and competent spotters are needed at all times, and a power rack is unhelpful. But you could attach chains of the appropriate length to the dumbbells, and securely suspend them from overhead so that at rest the 'bells are at the bottom position of the exercise concerned.
10.124 Unless you have a full set of dumbbells available, the changing of the plates is a hassle and big disadvantage. But for some exercises—e.g., deadlifts, rows, curls and calf raises—there are fewer handling difficulties.
10.125 Keeping the potential negatives in mind, dumbbells offer some advantages relative to barbells. ^ey demand greater control and coordination, and thus involve more musculature. ^ey permit a greater range of motion in some exercises, e.g., the bench press and deadlift (but which may be harmful because too much range of motion may expose you to injury).
10.126 Dumbbells allow one-limbed work, which can be a terrific way of applying increased focus and effort on your body—train both sides of your body, but only one side at a time. At least in some exercises this permits you to use the disengaged side as the spotter for the engaged side, e.g., one-limbed curls and calf work. ^is can be very productive.
10.127 Very importantly, dumbbells enable the user to find the best rep groove for him. ^is may enable a given barbell movement that is not a success to be turned into a successful dumbbell version. ^e barbell forces the hands into a set position; but the dumbbells enable the hands to be held in whatever position is best for the user according to leverage or injury factors.
10.128 Many older trainees prefer dumbbells to barbells in many moves because the 'bells, with a slight change in wrist position, permit pain-free training relative to doing the same movements with a barbell. Of course you should avoid any training abuse that may cause damage to begin with; but if you are living with a legacy of mistakes from years gone by (not necessarily training related), then dumbbells may be particularly useful.
10.129 If you retain good control over the dumbbells, have their collars securely in place, do not expose yourself to undue injury risk, and are wise in your choice of exercises, the addition of dumbbells to your training can be invaluable.
10.130 ^e combined weight of two dumbbells is usually less than can be used in the same movement done with a barbell. ^e total used in bench pressing or overhead pressing with dumbbells will, typically, be about 80-85% of what can be moved with a barbell in those two exercises. ^is assumes familiarity with using the dumbbells. Until you are familiar with the tricky balance of using a pair of dumbbells, it is unlikely you will be able to handle 80% of your barbell weight. ^is dumbbells-versus-barbell comparison applies to exercises where two dumbbells are used simultaneously. It does not apply to exercises where one side is done at a time, e.g., dumbbell row.
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The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.