Deadlift: Barbell or Dumbbells?

I predict that the vast majority will be on the side of a barbell deadlift. Most of this pro-barbell majority will not even have considered the possibility of a deadlift with dumbbells. “Why, you must be joking, I don’t see anybody on Youtube doing them with dumbbells!” will be the way most green or near green lifters will think about this question.

But, to be consistent with my contrarian disposition, my particular answer won’t be on the side of this herd prejudice. The mechanics of these two movements are probably dissimilar enough to warrant them classed in different “deadlift” species.

To properly answer your question, you will probably need to consider a few others.

First, try to define what you expect or want to achieve. What is your primary goal, what do you want the exercise to do? By engaging in this particular activity, how is it likely to differ from the other? Do you have an injury issue to work around? Would you prefer to avoid high risk movements?

Here is a sample practice set of things to consider to get to the right answer:

  • Is power & strength or hypertrophy the primary goal? If the answer is power & strength, then barbell.
  • Is full range of motion and flexibility important? If yes, then dumbbells.
  • Is core the primary target? Yes? Then barbell.
  • Are glutes and hamstrings the primary target? They are? Then dumbbells.
  • Back problems? Afraid of injury? Yes? Then dumbbells, or perhaps something else.

…and so on. The above are just suggestions. You may have your own set of unique questions to ask to get a good & practical answer to your question.

A slightly altered version of this article first appeared on QUORA.

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