Deadlifts: With Dumbbells versus Barbell, and Which is Best For You
Introduction to Dumbbells vs Barbell
People have been performing deadlifts since the beginning of time. After all, it’s one of the most simple yet widely-used movements in the world (picking up something from the ground), and is considered one of the Big Three Lifts for a reason.
That being said, the knowledge gained over the last few decades has changed a lot of the ways we view the deadlift.
You’ve probably seen people performing numerous variations of the deadlift, from Romanian deadlifts to deficit deadlifts, and everything in between.
Today we’re going to be talking about the differences between deadlifting with dumbbells versus barbells, the pro’s and con’s of each movement, and which is best suited for your particular style of lifting.
Before we get too deep into it though, we should go over some basic protection. Using a weight-lifting belt, along with proper form, can help keep your back injury-free so you can keep busting out new PR’s.
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With that out of the way, let’s go over the battle of Barbells versus Dumbbells for deadlifts.
The King of All Lifts
When chatting amongst serious weightlifters, there are differences of opinions on what is to be considered the King of All Lifts. Some will tell you it’s the deadlift, while others disagree and consider the squat to be King.
The truth is they’re both wrong, because they’re both right. While the squat is often seen as King, so is the deadlift. You could say they have a ‘Power Sharing Agreement’.
The deadlifts recruits the most muscles of any lift, so for that reason we can say it is King.
When properly performed, the deadlift recruits nearly all of the muscles in the legs, as well as back, traps, shoulders and biceps. The deadlift also works the forearms, which can help improve grip strength.
If done correctly, the deadlift is also one of the safest lifts out there, and can be performed without a spotter. If at any time you think you may fail during the lift, you can just drop the bar.
How-To: The Barbell Deadlift
Barbell Deadlifts are a simple yet effective exercises that everyone should know how to do, even if you plan on sticking with Dumbbell Deadlifts.
For a basic overview of how to perform the barbell deadlift, continue reading below, but be sure to check out our guide on Deadlifts here.
First, you want to keep your back straight, and have your feet at about hip width apart. Position your feet so they are under the barbell, with the bar bisecting your feet right down the middle.
When you lean forward to grab the bar, you want your shins to slightly touch it. Grip the bar with both hands facing down and at about shoulder width, while maintaining a neutral spine.
Drive your heels into the ground, and squeeze your glutes to bring your hips forward and return to the standing position.
It is important to keep your back straight and perform the deadlift with good form, otherwise you risk injury. Practice with lighter weight until you master the form, and slowly work up from there.
How To: The Dumbbells Deadlift
The biggest difference between the barbell deadlift and the dumbbell deadlift is also the most obvious: the weight isn’t connected, which means each hand is free to move independently from the other.
While this usually means that you won’t be able to lift as much weight, it also allows for greater flexibility/range of motion, as well as working additional muscles to help stabilize the weight.
The dumbbell deadlift is performed in nearly the same manner as the barbell deadlift, except it can be easier on your back since you don’t have to lean forward to grip the weight.
Instead, position the dumbbells towards the outside of your feet, so that when you bend down to grab them your hands and arms are on the outer side of your legs.
When performing deadlifts with dumbbells, make sure you’re not swinging the weights around, which some people have a tendency to do.
It’s also best to be very careful if you have to drop the weights, as unlike with the barbell, dumbbells may bounce around and hurt you.
Advantages of Using Dumbbells
Using dumbbells for deadlifts have a number of different advantages.
The biggest advantage of deadlifting with dumbbells is the increased range of motion. You can deadlift with your arms to the front or side, and due to this flexibility you will recruit more arm and shoulder muscles in order to stabilize the weight.
Another advantage is the practicality of using dumbbells. Not everyone has the space to keep a full barbell set in their home, but dumbbells are small enough that they can be kept in the garage or a spare room.
There are even adjustable dumbbell sets, so you can use the same tool for all of your lifts.
Advantages of Using the Barbell
While there may be a number of subjective advantages or preferences to performing the deadlift with a barbell, there is one advantage that is indisputable: you can lift more weight.
Using a barbell for deadlifts means you can really load some serious weight on the bar. This isn’t as important if you’re a beginner, or working on form or higher reps, but at a certain point you’re going to want to put some serious weight on the bar.
Unfortunately, most gyms don’t have dumbbells that go much beyond 150 lbs. If you want to deadlift over 300 lbs, more than likely you’re going to need to use a barbell.
A barbell is also perfectly suited to maxing out the weight on your deadlift, as the single bar means the weight is much more stable.
It’s also a lot safer to drop a barbell from a deadlift than a couple of dumbbells. Imagine dropping a 150 lbs dumbbell on your feet? With a barbell, you won’t have to worry about that because your feet are under the bar, not under the weight.
Conclusion: Which Is Best For You
As you can see, there are many pro’s and con’s for using both barbells and dumbbells while performing the deadlift.
If your goal is to perfect your form while working specific muscle groups, then you may want to try deadlifting with dumbbells.
If, on the other hand, your goals are to max out your lifts, shock your central nervous system, and build as much muscle as possible, then the barbell deadlift is probably the correct route for you.