Dumbbell curls vs. barbell curls: Which is better, and what are the pros and cons?

Many of the great bodybuilding champs swear by barbell curls, yet many other bodybuilding legends swear by dumbbell curls.
It’s interesting to say which is better when comparing barbell curls to dumbbell curls, especially since it depends on your goals. 

But let’s look at it this way: Which routine  –  dumbbell curls or barbell  –  will better prepare you to have the strength to scoop your arms under a family member who just fainted and pick him or her up?

Dumbbells will better prepare you for this event because they allow subtle shifts in hand/wrist and even forearm position while lifting, and this is what would occur if you were lifting a person.

Of course, you need more than strong biceps to scoop something heavy off the floor; you also need stability and strength in your lower back, plus legs (“Lift with your legs”).

Barbell curls vs. dumbbell curls: Both routines have their virtues, and you should not replace one with the other, even though it’s okay to stick to just one mode for a while when you get tired of the other.

  • With dumbbells, you have greater range of motion, since you can bring your arms back further.
  • A barbell will get in the way as it makes contact with your front, thus limiting range of motion. Many people don’t like this.
  • With dumbbells, you can include wrist movements during the routine. A barbell, which fixes the wrists in place, prevents this.

Dumbbell biceps routines more closely mimic real-life lifting, because in real-life lifting, your wrists are rarely in a fixed position, but rather, in a variable position, sometimes continuously shifting angles.

A barbell also has limitations if all you have is a standard straight bar, because the straight bar has a tendency to strain the wrists during biceps routines. You can counteract this strain by using dumbbells and rotating your palms inward a bit.

In addition to a standard straight bar is the “E-Z” bar, which is very popular for biceps routines, because the bent nature of the middle portions of the bar allow you to use it with inward palms, eliminating wrist strain.

But if you don’t have access to an E-Z bar, you’re stuck with the straight bar.

Dumbbells allow you to do hammer curls, and are also far more convenient to use while in a seated position, expecially a declined position. Try doing barbell biceps routines in a seated declined position.

However, there’s nothing like doing biceps routines with a loaded Olympic bar. The length of this bar adds a new dimension to the resistance, and many women struggle with an unloaded bar because it’s long and weighs 45 pounds.

Imagine curling one of these with a 25 pound plate on each end.

I myself use both dumbbells and barbells, but if I had to choose just one type of equipment, it would be the dumbbells.