Barbells and Dumbbells: All the Basics You Need to Know

Have you ever felt intimidated by the barbells and dumbbells in a gym?

“How do I use those things? you might have asked. Or, “what weight is right for me?”

That’s totally understandable! Machines in gyms often have instructions printed on them which makes them more accessible. Barbells and dumbbells don’t so some people will avoid them.

Here’s the truth: barbells and dumbbells can be used to improve your fitness dramatically, and you’ll feel comfortable with them if you get some instruction.

Read on: we’ll provide some info on both implements!


Dumbbells come in all shapes and sizes. Some are rubber-coated and some are metal. They usually go up in 5lbs increments though you will sometimes see very light (1lb or 3lbs) dumbbells. On the other end, they can be well over 100lbs. It is much more common to see heavy dumbbells in the range of 60lbs to 70lbs. You can even find adjustable dumbbells these days. Especially for you home gym folks!

Whatever they look like, dumbbells are almost always held in your hands. You might see someone carrying them on the shoulders from time to time but this is a bit less frequent.

Many dumbbell exercises work the upper body. You can certainly venture into your lower body as well but… here’s a short, non-exhaustive list of the types of upper body things you can do with dumbbells:

  • Overhead presses
  • Chest presses
  • Pull-overs
  • Side, front, and rear deltoid flyes
  • Shrugs
  • Bent over rows
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep extensions

How about your lower body?

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Step ups
  • Snatches
  • Cleans

If you take one thing from all this, remember that dumbbells allow you to do all kinds of strength-building exercises with different levels of resistance. You can even use them in conditioning workouts if you select the right weights and movements.


Barbells come in many varieties but we’ll note one key point: you can adjust the loading on some barbells by adding plates of various sizes while others are locked to a fix weight.

Fixed-weight barbells will often be found on large racks. They will usually go up in 5lbs or 10lbs increments as well.

Empty barbells usually weight 35lbs or 45lbs but lighter variations exist (15lbs training bar, for example). With more room to “add weights,” you can load up your barbell to hundreds of pounds.

Just like dumbbells, you have a wide array of things you can do with your barbell. Almost any movement you can perform with a dumbbell can be performed with a barbell and vice-versa. The difference is that you can often lift more with a barbell because you can apply all your force into one object instead of trying to control two separate things.

Barbells can be seen in Olympic weightlifting (the snatch and the clean and jerk) and powerlifting (the back squat, the bench press, and the deadlift). If you’re a beginner, you can absolutely learn to perform these movements if that is your goal. This is what a great personal trainer is for!

How to Use Dumbbells and Barbells

We love both of these pieces of equipment, but we also understand that they can be slightly harder to use than machines.

Do not worry: we’ve taught hundres of people how to use these implements to accomplish their fitness goals, and they’re always thrilled to learn new things that keep workouts fresh and exciting.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use different pieces of fitness equipment, we can help! We offer classes and personal training, as well as personalized training plans that include movements you enjoy and equipment you have access to.

To learn more about lifting, book a free consultation HERE.

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