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

Dumbbell Pros:

– 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.

Barbell Pros:

– 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 muscle built.

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 reason.

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 bench press.

– 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).