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The Pros and Cons of Barbell, Dumbbell & Kettlebell Training

The Pros and Cons of Barbell, Dumbbell & Kettlebell Training

By Nordic Balance

When walking into our St James’s gym you will find that like most gyms there is a weights area kitted out with kettlebells, squat racks, smith machines, barbells and free weights and you may be a frequent user of these tools, but have you ever considered the differences and what the pro’s & cons of Barbell, Dumbbell & Kettlebell Training?


The Pros and Cons of Barbell Training


The bar itself ranges from 1.2m (4 feet) to 2.1m (7 feet) and weighs 20kg for men and 15kg for women but there are other varieties.


Exercises that are frequently used are back squats, front squats, overhead squats, deadlifts, rack-pulls, stiff-leg deadlifts, sumo-stance deadlifts, bent-over rows, bench presses, overhead presses, cleans, jerks, snatches, power cleans, push presses, and power snatches.


Pros of Barbell Training


It is easy and safe to use if you learn the proper technique for each lift.


You can easily measure your strength gains because you’re using plates with different weights that you add to the bar.


There is no better way of measuring raw strength when lifting a weight up and down and this is why we see barbells as the only tool in Olympic weightlifting.


The exercises do not normally take you to an end range of movement and therefore there may be less risk of injury since most injuries happen when you’re taking a load outside the muscle and joint range of movement.


When doing power snatches, push presses and clean and jerks it becomes a very good tool for increasing the heart rate and after you completed a set and have a rest you’ll go again and your body will work the same way as when doing interval training on e.g. a bike or Treadmill and this means you’ll burn a lot of energy (calories).


Cons of Barbell Training 


Barbell training is limited to using only one plane of motion which is not very functional and does not mimic what the human body does in ‘real’ life that is, going through three planes of movement: Sagittal (right and left), Frontal (forward and back) and Transverse (horizontal, superior and inferior part).


For example, when you walk and then turn left and then you reach for something above your head you have used all planes of movement and you have used a wide range of muscles in your body.


If you only work with a barbell (or gym machines) you will create imbalances in your body and become very inefficient and non-functional when using your body.


I mentioned before that barbell training is safe if you use the right technique, however, many people load the bar up way to heavy and a common mistake which often leads to injury is that your inner core unit (the deepest muscles in your trunk), with a prime function of supporting your spine, ribs and pelvis, switches off and your outer layer takes over without any support left.


Therefore, while you’re getting stronger in a specific lift it is not necessarily good to increase weight due to the increased load on your body which often leads to injury.


Barbell training is also very specific to each barbell exercise so you might be strong when doing a deadlift but, in another environment, it does not necessarily improve your strength and functionality within your body.


This is called the law of specific adaptation to imposed demands and another example is if you want to be a good runner, you need to run, or if you want to be a great swimmer, you need to swim. So, if you want to be an Olympic weightlifter, then do this but otherwise, it’s necessary to vary your training if your goal is to stay able, strong and injury-free.


The Pros & Cons of Dumbbell Training


Dumbbells are the most common resistance training equipment and they range from as little as 0.5kg to 50kg, in gyms the most common range is 1-25kg.


You can do exercises with one arm at a time or both and there is a very wide range of exercises, some of the more common ones are: chest press, fly’s, reversed fly’s, shoulder press, one arm bent over row, lateral and frontal raise, bicep curls, triceps push out.


Pros of Dumbell Training


As mentioned above you can do many different exercises with dumbbells incorporating strength and functional training and progress is measured easily by adjusting the weight as you’re getting stronger.


Using single limb exercises such as the bicep curl recruits more stabilizing muscles and therefore a higher force output which is why you can lift more with single limb than using a bar for example.


This becomes highly effective if you’re looking to increase strength not only the muscle used for the exercise but also core stability.


Dumbbell training can also be an effective tool for your cardiovascular system as using big muscle groups generates more blood flow up and down your body, hence a higher heart rate during the workout.


With dumbbells, you are also able to create exercises that take you into different planes of movement which replicates our everyday life and makes us more functional.


Cons of Dumbell Training


Using free weights such as dumbbells involves a higher health and safety risk because you don’t have a limited range of movement like machines do, therefore it’s more likely you will take a joint to its end range of movement or further which causes injury. If you learn the right technique and how to stabilize the rest of your body in an exercise it’s a great tool for resistance training.


There is also a higher risk of injury to your body if lifting a heavyweight, you don’t have a personal trainer/friend that can take the weight safely from you.


There have been many accidents where a person has dropped a dumbbell on his/her foot or chest (when doing chest press for example) and ended up with very bruised or broken bones.


Pros & Cons of Kettlebell Training


These cannonball shaped tools originate from Russia and were first mentioned in 1704 in a Russian dictionary. They come in a wide range of weights, from 10-100 pounds and are more and more frequently seen in gyms these days but are still quite unknown for many people.


Pros of Kettlebell Training


When using a kettlebell, you recruit most muscles in your body, it’s a very effective tool for weight loss, increased cardiovascular fitness and strength.


There are many different exercises that you can perform with a kettlebell often using a pendulum movement pattern that uses your body’s different muscle slings, i.e. muscle groups that works together as a unit to create movement. Therefore, kettlebell training is very functional and builds a strong able body that will be able to handle external stress a lot better.


Kettlebells are great for core training as it is impossible not to use it when performing the exercises. You can move in different directions using single or dual grip creating more or less stability work for your core.


Cons of Kettlebell Training


If you are a beginner and have not been training in gyms before, then kettlebells are not the best place to start as it requires a certain amount of strength and especially core control. If you are not aware of your body and how to switch muscles on and off, then exercising with kettlebells can easily lead to injury.


A person with back pain should also be very careful when starting off with kettlebells if you don’t have the right technique you are likely to do more damage.


You also need to take care when lifting the weight so that you don’t drop it on your (or someone else’s) foot. Wearing gym gloves can be a good idea as this gives you good grip strength.


All 3 types of weights have something to offer and when carefully combined, each can be highly effective training methods, keeping your training varied & interesting.


For further help & guidance on the right training plan for you, talk to our personal training team in St James’s London. We offer both PT sessions in our gym & remotely.

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