Barbell Or Dumbbell Bench Press – Which Is Better?

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barbell vs dumbbell

Barbell Or Dumbbell Bench Press – Which Is Better?

Bench pressing is usually considered the bread and butter of chest training. It is un-doubtfully one of the most effective upper body exercises for bodybuilders and strength athletes, and hence is widely used among the majority of weight trainers. The bench press itself can be performed in a number of ways however; an array of angles can be used to differ the stimulus, and the apparatus used can differ with the popular methods being the barbell, dumbbells and machine press. The barbell and dumbbell variations would be considered the most logical choices, so we will examine if one should be favoured over the other.

Barbell benefits

It is often wrongly assumed that the barbell is the superior choice if the trainee wishes to add muscle bulk to the chest, and the dumbbell is more suited to shaping the muscle. Muscle bulk and shape are both achieved by muscle hypertrophy (growth), so it is the exercise which will result in the greater chest stimulus which may be considered superior in both regards, and that’s assuming either exercise shows notable superiority.

There is a practical benefit of the barbell bench press which is not possessed to the same degree by the dumbbell press, and that is the ability of a spotter to aid the trainer during barbell pressing. Greater stimulus can be achieved if the trainee is pushed to the limit, therefore placing greater demand on the chest. The barbell is often easier to spot, as well the ability for the experienced spotter to aid the trainee during his/her set to enhance the stimulus.

The barbell bench press does target the chest in a slightly different way compared to the dumbbell press, with the front deltoids (shoulders) and upper chest more involved during the exercise, with the lower chest less active.

Dumbbell benefits

One of the main advantages of the dumbbell variation is its unilateral characteristic, or in other words the ability for both sides of the body to independently lift equal poundage. This can be of a great advantage for those trainees who suffer from muscle imbalances, as well as reducing the chance of such imbalances in the future. The unilateral trait of the dumbbell exercise also leads to greater involvement of assistant muscle groups which will benefit from greater stimulus.

We know the barbell press primarily focuses on the front deltoids and upper region of the chest, but the dumbbell bench press differs somewhat. The reason the barbell bench press targets these areas is because the hands are in a fixed position during the press and therefore the hands are not brought closer together at the top of the exercise. As the dumbbell variation involves the hands being brought closer together at the top of the exercise, the lower chest is often involved a lot more in the exercise.


It is worth remembering the above comments are more refined to trainees who train for aesthetic purposes and wish the greatest stimulus placed on the chest. Strength training athletes will commonly focus on the barbell press to a greater degree as it may be a discipline in competition events, so it makes sense to practice more and become stronger for this specific exercise.

For most it would be logical to include both exercises within their training. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both stimulate the chest and shoulders slightly differently, so for a well balanced plan it would be worthwhile including both. Both exercises do not have to be included within any given chest workout, instead the workout should be changed periodically so to introduce new movements and continually stress the chest in new ways.

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