Dumbbell Vs Barbell Bench Press: Which is Better?
The bench press is one of the best exercises you could possibly do for your chest. It’s an awesome way to get a great contraction on your pectoral muscle group as a whole, supported by your shoulders and triceps too. It’s one of the fundamental muscle building exercises out there, and it's famous because of it. One gift that's also a curse of the bench press, though, is the variation it has to offer you. Equipment, angles, techniques, positions, you name it. Two of the most popular of these variations are the dumbbell vs barbell bench press, in particular.
Dumbbells and barbells are both famously effective ways to train. Whether you're trying to body-build on a huge scale, build a little muscle, or just get a good all-round workout, they're multi-purpose, and they help across the board. Despite both creating what appear to be similar exercises, however, they do still have their key differences. With any differences, you have advantages and disadvantages arising as a result. That's why we're here to pit them against each other and see who the winner of the dumbbell vs barbell bench press battle really is.
Let’s break it down:
The Barbell Bench Press
We'll start with the iconic barbell bench press. It's one of the most iconic weight training exercises in existence, and definitely one of the best barbell exercises. It's one of the biggest lifts out there, and it's an all-round king in the exercise world. With all that being said, does that mean it’s the best? Let’s look at its advantages:
The biggest benefit of the barbell vs the dumbbell bench press is that the barbell offers you a really effective form of progressive overload. The shape of the barbell makes it way easier for you to rely almost solely on your pecs rather than anything else and doesn't give you the need for balance that dumbbells do either. That makes it incredibly effective for pushing your chest to its absolute limit and making serious progress in your pecs specifically. Awesome.
Better Set Up
On top of being better for your overload, chest pressing with a barbell also offers you an easier setup too. With a rack for the barbell, as is standard with most benches suitable for the exercise, you're able to make things way easier for yourself. Barbells allow you to adjust the weights you need with ease, as well as offering you support to get started and finished in your sets. (Lifting dumbbells up to your starting position in the first place can take a huge amount of energy too).
The last thing we'll look at when we're singing the barbell bench press' praises is that it's an awesome beginner-friendly exercise too. If you jump straight into bench pressing with dumbbells, you'll run into some issues. It's only normal. The dumbbell bench press is a much harder exercise to complete, and it shows quickly. That means that using a barbell is almost definitely going to be the fastest way to build muscle and see progress; at least in the short term.
So that’s the barbell’s side of the dumbbell vs barbell bench press argument, but what about the dumbbells? They’re still up there with the best dumbbell exercises out there after all. Let’s talk you through it.
Stability and Balance
First of all, the use of two dumbbells instead of a barbell in your bench press means that you have to really employ your full muscle range into making sure the exercise is done right. You use a huge number of muscles to keep the weights balanced and on the right motion range, which is great for building functional strength. It's all you, and not relying on the equipment.
Next up, we have the imbalance prevention that comes with dumbbells. It might not sound like much, but it’s well worth noting. Because you have a weight in each hand and you aren’t sharing the burden across your body, you have no room for training imbalances. If one side fails, you’ll know about it pretty quickly. You can’t rely on your stronger side to keep you going and overdevelop in specific areas. That’s way more valuable than you may realise in the grand scheme of things.
Natural Motion Range
Finally, we'll look at the motion ranges that both exercises present. The dumbbell's is clearly a much more natural movement. You aren't stuck on a fixed track like you are with a barbell, and you can bring your hands and the weights as together or apart as you need to, to train in the way that you want. Barbells just can’t offer you that. On top of that, you can change depth and angle in the same exercise without any extra set up, which is essential in a full workout too. (Just make sure you don’t go too deep. Dumbbells don’t have to stop at your chest where they are supposed to like a barbell does).
Overall, the dumbbells are better as an overall exercise and develop functional strength a lot more in a safe and natural way. Because of this though, they're harder to use, and you may not see as good of a pec workout than you would with barbells since barbells make it so much easier to overload your chest. Choose wisely, and to improve your chest workout further still, take a look at our article on increasing your bench press here, too!
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