Dumbbell vs Barbell Bench Press
Looking for the final answer in the dumbbell vs barbell bench press debate?
In this article, I will be revealing the key differences between both of these lifts along with the pros and
cons of each exercise.
The truth is there is no real winner in the dumbbell vs barbell bench press contest. Both exercises have unique
pros and cons and which exercise you choose will vary from person to person. Additionally, it can be beneficial for
many lifters to use both exercises rather than pick between one or the other.
Dumbbell vs Barbell Bench Press - Pros of each exercise
- Allows for more range of motion. A barbell can only go down to the chest, whereas a person using
dumbbells can go even lower since the dumbbells can move around the rib cage. This causes an extra stretch in
the muscle and can result in a higher quality of muscle contraction.
- Gentler on the shoulder. Since each shoulder can move independently of the other, you are able to press in a
much more comfortable motion. You can rotate and move positions side to side, whereas on the bench the hands are
stuck in a fixed position and are unable to move. As a result, the body is able to adopt a more comfortable
movement pattern when performing the dumbbell bench press.
- Can be performed without a spotter. While when lifting heavy you always want a spotter, it is much safer to
lift with dumbbells without a spotter. On the barbell bench press, even when attempting an easy weight, you never
know when a muscle is going to cramp up or tear.
Freak accidents can happen even with light weight and can literally result in death for the solo lifter.
Dumbbells can be easily dropped in the event of such an occurrence, whereas the barbell cannot. This is a major
upside for dumbbells in the dumbbell vs barbell bench press debate.
- Can use more weight. By using more weight, you are able to place a greater load on the muscles. It is very
easy to scale up on a barbell bench press to progress. When a lifter reaches a certain strength on the dumbbell
bench press, awkwardness of holding a big dumbbell and getting it into position can seriously limit strength.
- Creates a greater systemic load than dumbbells. In other words, since you can load more weight onto the bar
with a barbell bench press, you tax more muscles and more muscle fibers within those muscles. This results in a
host of benefits such as an increase in natural testosterone production, more calories burnt, and possibly more
These are just the differences in the benefits of the dumbbell vs barbell bench press. There are also cons to
each particular movement:
Cons of Dumbbell Bench Press:
- Scalability. This is the only real negative to the dumbbell bench press, but it is a big one. As a lifter gets
stronger, it becomes harder and harder to add more weight.
Larger dumbbells become unwieldy, and many lifters are already using 85 pound dumbbells within two years of
regular training. It can be very hard to get into position using a 100+ pound set of dumbbells and you will
generally need a spotter to help get in position. It is practically impossible to max out on dumbbells for this
Additionally, once the dumbbells get physically large enough as you move up in weight, the extra range of motion
provided by dumbbells is lost, as the size of the dumbbell gets in the way of the movement.
Finally, many gyms do not carry dumbbells over 100 pounds, so with dedicated training you might find yourself
without heavy enough weights to lift.
Barbell Bench Press Cons
There are two major cons of the barbell bench press:
- Muscle bearing the load. If the goal is bodybuilding rather than raw strength, the barbell bench press may not
be appropriate. Many lifters find that they do not feel a good contraction in the chest when lifting but rather
feel their shoulders fatigue first.
This lifter will not get major pec growth from the barbell bench press and is likely to be better off by
sticking to dumbbells. This is one of the major things to consider when choosing between the dumbbell vs barbell
- Places a lot of load on the shoulders. For many lifters, bench pressing is an uncomfortable experience. These
lifters are likely to have a lot less pain when benching simply by switching over to dumbbells. The greater freedom
of movement offered by dumbbells allows the lifter to take the most comfortable path when bench pressing.
At the end of the day, there is no real winner in the dumbbell vs barbell bench press debate. The barbell bench
press is great for lifting with max loads, but places more stress on the shoulder.
The dumbbell bench press can yield a better mind-muscle connection, is gentler on the shoulder. Unfortunately,
dumbbells get unwieldy at larger weights and are harder if not impossible to max out on.
If you are still undecided in the dumbbell vs barbell bench press debate, try starting your pressing or
chest workouts by working up to a heavy set on the barbell bench press and then moving over to the dumbbell bench
press for some higher volume sets (more reps, less weight).
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