Dumbbells: Smart Equipment for Novice Crossfitters


If you have just discovered the Crossfit system of exercise, you probably notice that it uses different types of equipment. Examples include dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls. Kettlebells and medicine balls usually complement the workouts that involve movement and agility exercises, while dumbbells and barbells are used for strength and power. Most exercises performed with a dumbbell can also be done with a barbell. Novice Crossfitters often wonder which piece of equipment offers the most efficient and effective workout.

As always, when it comes to fitness issues, the answer is, “it depends.”

Checking Right to Left Muscle Imbalances

Most people have a stronger side and a weaker side of their body. Some of these discrepancies are genetic, but lifestyle and habit may exacerbate an existing imbalance. Favoring one side of your body makes you more susceptible to injury. Dumbbell training helps you even out any right to left strength imbalances you might have. In contrast, with a barbell, it’s quite easy to cheat and favor your more dominant side.

Dumbbell training helps you identify your weaker side and train it with the same intensity as your stronger side. Dumbbells are also safer for beginners who are net yet sure of their strength limitations. You can drop a dumbbell if it’s too heavy, but getting pinned under a barbell is not fun. Consider this if you plan to do your workout of the day at home by yourself. In most cases, dumbbell training is safer when working out without a trained spotter.

Natural Body Position 

Since dumbbell training allows you to work each side individually, it does not force your body into the fixed position necessary for barbell workouts. This allows your body to make whatever minute adjustments required to assure safe, comfortable and natural body movements. The more natural the movement, the safer the workout.

The body position issue becomes important when considering squat and lunge exercises. Some of the Crossfit lower body exercises require you to place the bar on your upper back. This can be painful for people with neck or shoulder problems. Dumbbells also facilitate a more versatile selection of movements. Chest-fly type movements and lateral raises are not possible with barbells.

An Expert Speaks

In an article in the Crossfit Journal, conditioning coach Michael Ruthorford explains his preference for Crossfit dumbbell training. Ruthorford cites the following advantages that dumbbells have over barbells:

Dumbbells require at minimal amount of space.

Dumbbells are inexpensive, because you do not need a bar and a set of collars.

Dumbbells help develop joint stability.

You can simulate sport-specific or every day functional movements with a dumbbell easier than with a barbell.

Ruthorford claims that he has seen athletes make significant improvements in their speed, vertical jump, balance, hip flexibility and abdominal and core strength as a result of Crossfit dumbbell workouts. His training methods include a series of complex, squat and lunge movement patterns that use bilateral dumbbell arm movements in conjunction with the leg movements. These workouts would be impossible to perform with a barbell.

When Barbells Are Better

As you progress to the power-lifting phase in Crossfit training, you might find that barbells provide the more efficient training method. The fact that barbell training uses both arms simultaneously means that you can lift more weight. Explosive movements, such as power cleans and snatches, are more effective with a barbell.

For the best Crossfit training, consider workouts with one of our personal trainers.

Call Happy Physio on (08) 9272 7359 today and book an appointment with our expert physios.