Many top bodybuilders have recently spoken out about their preference for alternating nearly “all-barbell” and “all-dumbbell” days. They believe that training in this manner, they are able to isolate certain muscle fibers and stabilizer muscles, which can often become overlooked using the same exercises in the same order each week. Let’s look at a standard example of how chest day could be trained in consecutive weeks, alternating barbell and dumbbell day.
Workout #1 – Barbell Day
- Flat barbell press
- Incline barbell press
- Hammer Strength Bench Press machine
- Dips with attached weights
- Barbell pullovers
Workout #2 – Dumbbell Day
- Incline dumbbell press
- Flat dumbbell press
- Incline dumbbell flyes
- Dumbbell pullovers
- Cable crossovers
As you can see, entirely different exercises are used. The chest, the targeted muscle group of both of these routines, would be hit completely different on workout #1 than it would be in workout #2. Different angles, as well as the recruitment of stabilizer muscles (workout 2) and secondary muscle groups (emphasized in workout 1) also come into play.
The goal of this type of training is to hit all the available muscle fibers (fast twitch being hit by low reps, and slow-twitch being hit by high-rep sets). In addition, the stabilizer muscles are isolated on movements requiring dumbbells, which require additional balance from the lifter. Remember that the weight is pulled by gravity differently on dumbbells than it is for barbells.
Taking it a step further, it’s entirely possible to utilize this “absolute” method in training other body parts are well. Perhaps one leg day comprised of nothing but high repetitions using machines, followed by a leg day the next week that only involved heavy, low reps using free weights, would be a good mixture. For arms, workout #1 could be all barbells, and workout #2 could be all dumbbells. One could even take it one step further and make a workout #3 into an all-cable day. Once you open up your mind to limiting the muscle groups to a certain avenue for attack on a particular day, you begin to introduce movements, which will hit the muscle groups in new ways.
If you’re looking for some variation in your workout routine, try alternating dumbbell and barbell days. You might find your overall lifts on the compound movements might increase, as your new angles of approach to the muscle groups will cause small gaps in musculature to be filled in!