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I feel like I often see much longer sets in the sense of each set having many more reps done on the dumbbell area of the gym while I’ve often heard people recommend sets of a few as 3 reps each on the barbells. Is this so? And if yes, why?

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The most likely reason you perceive this is because strength training is mostly done exclusively on barbells while hypertrophy training is done on both barbells and dumbbells. So what you see is almost nobody doing high-intensity, low-rep workouts on dumbbells.

There's no inherent reason for this other than that strength sports almost exclusively use barbells (powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting mostly). People who are training for these sports generally don't have a need to use dumbbells because all their training is focused on lifting barbells as heavily as they can. The rep ranges for this style of training is also much more intense with fewer reps. Barbell exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches are far more taxing on the body which also encourages more low-rep training.

Bodybuilders and people looking to build mass use both barbells and dumbbells. Hypertrophy training is more focused on lifting to muscular failure, so rep ranges are much higher with more sets. A lot of dumbbell exercises are more isolated and lighter which makes them less taxing on the body, so people are able to do more with them. However, people in fact do high-rep workouts with barbells all the time, including squats, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches. You just probably haven't noticed.

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  • Perhaps worth pointing out as well that low reps implies high weight and sufficiently heavy dumbbells are quite rare and awkward. Even for non-barbell-exclusive sports like strong, barbell training predominates because it’s much easier to have hundreds of pounds on a barbell than on a dumbbell
    – jamesnvc
    Apr 1, 2023 at 15:30

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