Many people have it cemented in their heads that heavy duty barbell exercises (i.e., squats and deadlifts) are the be-all, end-all for lean muscle building. To be sure, the traditional compound barbell lifts play an important role in any mass gain routine. However, if maximum hypertrophy and strength increases are your objective, it's time to stop prioritizing barbell exercises and start making friends with the dumbbells. Here's why:
1. More Muscle Fiber Activation.
When you perform exercises with dumbbells, it requires greater stabilization to successfully perform each rep. This, in turn, engages more muscle fibers, which is key for forcing lean muscle growth. Although you may feel as though you're working harder repping that barbell when you bench press, studies show that using dumbbells instead will yield greater returns by recruiting more muscle fibers in the biceps especially.
2. Cure for Muscle Imbalance.
Training with dumbbells forces the limbs to work unilaterally. Because it's impossible to overcompensate by lifting heavier with one arm than the other, using dumbbells is a great way to stave off - and correct - muscular imbalance.
3. More Versatile Training Techniques.
No matter how you slice it, there are several advanced lifting techniques that just don't adapt well to barbells. Rest-pause sets, mechanical advantage dropsets, and traditional dropsets, to name a few, are very difficult to perform smoothly using barbells. If you're not training with dumbbells, odds are you're missing out on some highly effective techniques for size and strength gains.
4. Heightened Range of Motion.
Achieving maximum range of motion is one of the most surefire ways to overload the muscles in order to build them up. There's only so far you can extend your range with a barbell row or press, but this isn't the case when using dumbbells. Increasing your range of motion by training with dumbbells will add a whole new dimension of overload to your mass-building routine.
5. Improved Injury Prevention.
Many benefits of training with dumbbells have the dual advantage of helping to safeguard against injuries. By enhancing your range of motion, you will avoid putting your joints in unnatural positions that create risk of sprains, strains, and worse. Moreover, the probability of injury significantly decreases when you identify and eliminate muscle imbalances.