Written by Rita Catolino, B.A. Health and Fitness Expert, Certified Trainer & Best-Selling Author
Photography by Paul Buceta
Hair & Makeup by Monica Kalra

For some people, walking into a gym is equivalent to being a kid in a candy store—the more equipment, the better. For others, the plethora of choices can feel paralyzing—where to begin?

Each apparatus offers unique advantages and disadvantages, and learning how to tailor the tools available to you during training to suit your preferences and needs is critical. Let’s review the various options, comparing the pros and cons of working out with each.

1. Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a staple in any gym setting, and for good reason. One of the major benefits of using dumbbells is versatility. With dumbbells, you can perform various exercises targeting different muscle groups, making them suitable for beginners and advanced lifters. Dumbbells also allow for a greater range of motion, helping to engage stabilizer muscles and promote better coordination. Plus, they’re perfect for unilateral movements, which help decipher any imbalances in muscle strength. Bonus: dumbbells are relatively easy to store, and transport.

Downside—you may require various weights for different exercises, or to progress with training. This can be costly, and take up space (you may want to try out adjustable dumbbells). Additionally, some movements may be challenging to execute with heavy dumbbells due to the limited grip surface.

2. Barbells

Barbells are a classic strength training tool. Correctly using them can help build overall strength and muscle mass. They are perfect for compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, where you can simultaneously lift heavier weights and engage multiple muscle groups. Barbells also promote balance and stability because of the even weight distribution on both sides.

Downside—barbells require a decent amount of space, and are not easily portable. Additionally, some exercises may be more challenging to perform with proper form, which could increase the risk of injury. Beginners may find barbells intimidating, especially when handling heavy weights without proper guidance. 

3. Kettlebells

Kettlebells gained popularity due to their ability to improve functional strength and cardiovascular fitness. The unique shape and off-centered weight distribution engage the stabilizer muscles, intensifying the workout. Kettlebell exercises, such as swings and Turkish get-ups, also help improve grip strength, core stability, and mobility.

Downside—the limited range of available weights. Not advantageous if you want to increase the load as you get stronger. You also may need more time to master the correct form and technique, making them less beginner-friendly.

4. Resistance Bands

Resistance bands provide a portable and affordable option for strength training. With varying resistance levels, you can challenge your muscles progressively. Resistance bands are particularly useful in targeting smaller and stabilizer muscles that may be neglected with other tools. They are also joint-friendly and can be easily incorporated into rehab programs.

Downside—the resistance may not be as consistent or easily quantifiable as traditional weights. It can be difficult to track progress and measure your lifting load. Additionally, certain exercises may be limited due to the nature of how bands work.

Choosing the best equipment for your workouts can be quite a task. Remember the particulars, and that integrating a combination of these tools into your routine can offer a comprehensive and well-rounded strength training program that helps you achieve your goals as you grow. Of course, if you’re still unsure, just ask!

STRONG Fitness
STRONG Fitness Magazine is a trusted source of cutting-edge fitness and health information for the modern woman who lives to be fit. STRONG’s sophisticated editorial voice combined with raw, powerful imagery and a modern, athletic design reflect the direction fitness has taken in the last decade.