Are barbell or dumbbell exercises better for shoulder growth? Training for massive shoulders is a nuanced topic. There are plenty of opinions, and learning what truly matters can be challenging.
Most people have one common question: “Are barbell or dumbbell exercises better for huge muscular shoulders?” To make it easier for you, we’ve put together this post. Below, we’ll go over the most critical considerations for shoulder hypertrophy.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
What makes our muscles grow in the first place?
Muscle hypertrophy is classified in two ways: myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to the growth of individual muscle fibers and the accumulation of myofibrils, which increases muscle density. This type of growth is typically stimulated by lifting heavier weights, and, thanks to the accumulation of contractile units, we also improve our strength potential.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to the accumulation of sarcoplasmic fluid within our muscle cells and does not potentiate strength gains. This growth type is typically achieved with volume training – more sets, more repetitions, and lighter weights.
Okay, but what do these things mean in the context of shoulder training for growth? Let’s take a look.
A more in-depth look at shoulder anatomy and function
The shoulder muscle has three heads – a posterior, middle, and front. As a whole, the shoulder is responsible for the abduction, flexion, and extension of our arms. The shoulder also works with other muscle groups to aid with scapular depression and push (horizontal and vertical).
Because the shoulder joint is incredibly mobile, our deltoids play a role in many movements and work together with other muscles, including our pectorals, biceps, triceps, and lats.
Depending on the movements we do (and the equipment we do them with), we can emphasize different deltoid muscle portions. The question is, which exercises work better at building our shoulders?
Are barbell or dumbbell exercises better for shoulder growth?
Ah, the million-dollar question: should we go with dumbbells or barbells for our shoulder training? While we can certainly make a good case for either being the better option, incorporating both types of exercises will most likely results in the best growth.
As we saw above, the shoulder muscle group is involved in various movements and works with numerous other muscles to produce different actions. What’s more, the shoulder has three heads, and we need multiple exercises to train all three sides effectively. And finally, we also need to consider the two types of muscle growth – sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy.
So, instead of asking, “Are barbell or dumbbell exercises better for shoulder growth?” think more along the lines of:
“What combination of exercises will help me train my shoulders effectively?”
For the most part, you should have one exercise where you focus on lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions. This is where a barbell could be useful – for example, on the overhead press. By using a barbell, you can lift heavier weights and place your shoulders under higher mechanical tension.
But, it would be best if you also incorporated dumbbell-based exercises like front and side raises, as well as reverse flyes. These movements will allow you to target each head better, and by doing them in the higher repetition ranges, you’ll be able to cause more sarcoplasmic growth.