But to be honest, both of them are excellent options and the whole barbell vs dumbbell bench press debate is quite unimportant because both of them are effective in their own respective areas!
With dumbbells you got more range of motion which will provide greater stretch to work the muscles (mainly pecs) but the truth is it’s quite difficult to experience same kind of strength gains with dumbbells compared to barbell.
So a good idea would be to incorporate both of them to mix up your workouts and to gain some new stimulus for your muscles!
Let’s look a bit indepth to both of them now:
The Positives Of Barbell Bench Press
One of the best mass and strength builders for your upper body. Opposed to dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press allows you to work with heavier weights and build strength in a better fashion than dumbbell variations of bench.
The flat- and decline bench have been a staple in every serious athlete who wants to enhance their performance for a specific sport or for bodybuilders who want to pack on some lean muscle on to their upper body.
When done right, barbell bench presses not only have positive effects on performance and muscle growth but they also strengthen your shoulders, contradictory what most people say. Usually shoulder injuries while benching are a result of improper lifting technique or form breakdown.
The positives of barbell bench when compared to dumbbells are:
- Greater strength development
- Better carryover to sport specific athleticism
The Most Common Barbell Bench Variations:
Flat Barbell Bench Press
The famous flat barbell bench press. I can almost guarantee that you’ve been asked this almost legendary question: “How much you bench?”
I don’t really have an idea why bench press has become the #1 lift for guys just starting out and why people obsess so much about it. If you know, please drop me a comment down below!
In my opinion the bench press is a bit overrated movement when talking about athletic performance or whole body strength. Squats and deadlifts, in my opinion are better gauges for overall strength and athletic performance…
But for front-upper body the bench press is in my opinion the best overall mass builder.
There are basically two different flat benches:
Wide grip is usually the choice for people that try to move as much as weight possible when benching. Usually everyone tries to get as wide grip on the bar as possible since this takes out the range of motion that you’re required to move the weight. But the flipside of the coin is the fact that wider grip will put more stress on your shoulders since you cannot tuck your elbows in as effectively. For this reason many powerlifters train their offseason with narrower grip and start to widen their grips when getting closer to competition to get the most out of the lift.
Narrow grip means taking no narrower than shoulder with grip on the bar. This way of benching is much safer on the shoulders because you can tuck your elbows in (slingshot emphasizes this even more!) and in my opinion narrow grip activates more chest than the wide grip (when done with correct form!). Also as you’re gripping the bar narrower your range of motion is longer which activates more triceps. Worth to mention that I don’t recommend you to go narrower than shoulder width since it will put a lot of stress on your wrists! Atleast for any heavy lifting.
If you’re thinking about which one of these to choose just pick a grip width which feels natural for you and stick with it. As you progress you’ll learn more of your body and which grip width and works best for YOUR body.
Incline Barbell Bench Press
Incline bench is a staple assistance exercise for the flat bench press or good suplementary exercise for the bench press if you cannot perform the flat bench due to an injury.
When doing incline work the upright angle of the bench activates more your upper chest and shoulders. It is important to note that you shouldnt go over 30 degrees of the incline for it to be effective.
If you shift the bench to the basic 45 degree angle what most guys use in the gym, the lift becomes way more strenous to the shoulder joints and you really shouldn’t be pushing heavy weights with that angle since the injury risk gets that much higher.
Depending on your body structure, incline bench can feel really good for your shoulders or really bad. I’d generally advice people to take narrower grip when doing incline work since for most of the people the incline will put more stress on the shoulders so you can take some of that stress off by narrowing the grip.
Again experiment with light weights to find the optimal grip width for you.
Decline Barbell Bench Press
The little brother of flat and incline. Decline bench doesn’t get used nearly as much as the two earlier ones I mentioned for various reasons… BUT it’s great bench press variation to get used to!
I personally find that I’m the most powerful with decline bench out of all three.
But at the same time, I once did ONLY incline work and it didn’t translate to flat bench like I thought it would.
Decline bench also might be the best bench variation for folks that are experiencing shoulder problems. Since you’re kinda pressing the bar “down” rather than up it doesn’t put nearly as much stress on the shoulders as the flat or decline.
Also I feel the most amount of lower-mid pec activation with decline bench but the upper chest doesn’t really get hit at all.
I’d like to think that decline bench is a great assistance exercise for the flat bench or substitute exercise for the flat bench if you’re shoulders cannot take it.
Again all of these things pour down to our own biomechanics and some people find decline great others hate it.
Test it out and figure yourself out.
The Positives Of Dumbbell Bench Vs Barbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench pressess are great for building muscle and also to people that have crooked shoulders. Since you can use different wrist angles with dumbbells you can get a lot more healthier feel for your shoulders as you’re not restricted of gripping the bar with absolutely even angles.
But the downside is that as dumbbells require a lot more stabilization from you, so you cannot develop as much strength with them.
And usually people who train from home, more often than not have only dumbbells at their use so they’ll work wonders for your general pressing movements.
The positives of dumbbell bench press include:
- Better for shoulder health because you can pick a comfortable pressing angle.
- Trains your stabilizers more.
- Greater range of motion since you can lower them lower than barbell -> more chest development.
- Prevents muscle imbalances better since you’re both hands have to work individually.
- Easier to drop down when hitting failure (if you don’t have safety pins with barbell bench press!)
How To Get Into Position With Dumbbells
This is one skill you’ll have to master before you can start to work with dumbbells. It might be a bit intimidating first but mastering the technique in this is not too difficult in the end.
As you get proficient with it, you will be able to get into position with bigger weights than what you can press so you don’t have to fear that you’ll miss gains because you have the power to bench press bigger dumbbells but you’re not strong enough to move them around.
The process is something like this:
- Grab the dumbbells from the rack our ground maintaining neutral back
- Walk in front of the bench
- Rest the bottom part of the dumbbell on top of your thighs
- Sit back / down on to the bench
- Simultaneously start to ascend to the bench and help with a slight push from your knees one at a time
- Try to get into position, shoulder blades retracted and arch your back
- Complete the set
- Either drop the weights down or repeat the process vice versa
I know it might sound a bit too complicated now but it really sounds way more difficult than it is. It’s about technique and not about strength!
Just remember to start off light and get comfortable with the whole process before going too heavy.
But for clearances sake here is a video for you to get the hang of it:
The Different Grips With Any Dumbbell Bench Press
So there are basically no rules how to grab the dumbbells and press with them.
Your grip can depend on many different factors like for example:
- Do you want more chest activation
- More tricep activation
- Prevent / Work around injury
- Gain as much carryover to barbell bench press as possible
But the basic grips are Neutral / Hammer, reverse, normal and 45 degrees.
But that being said, there really isn’t strict rules on here. If you like to hold the dumbbells 23.567 degrees and feel you get the best results from that by all means go for it!
These are just the basic blueprints what you can try to get the feel for it.
And all of these grips and their variations can be used with any single dumbbell bench exercise that I’m about to list for you here.
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
The same exact movement as the flat barbell bench but just done with dumbbells. As mentioned this can be a great substitute or assistance exercise for the regular barbell bench press.
One difficulty that differentiates dumbbells from barbell is the fact that you cannot position yourself as well as pressing with barbell IF you don’t have a friend who picks the weights for you and even then I feel it is a bit of a difficult task to do.
As you have to get into the pressing position while having the weights in your hands it is really difficult to get a good setup. Usually you’ll have to adjust yourself fully while doing the first rep.
Also as your arms are moving individually you’ll have much more options on which kind of range of motion you’ll move the dumbbells. You can have many different elbow position and adjust them as you seem fit for your purpose.
Basically the dumbbells give you much more freedom to press and usually people will find way more natural feeling movement with them when comparing to the barbell.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Again incline DB bench will give you more upper chest stimulation and takes more shoulders into the motion.
The differences between different dumbbell presses are basically the same as within flat barbell and it’s variations so not much to add to here.
Just remember that going over 30 degrees might compromise the safety of your shoulder joints!
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
Same thing with the decline with the muscles targeted as earlier mentioned with the barbells.
Although I have to mention that as you’re getting into a negative angle be especially cautious while getting down into the position as there will be a lot more momentum when you’re getting so low down.
Be careful that you don’t crush yourself with the dumbbells while getting into position as there will be a bit more momentum and you will be in a more vulnerable position.
Conclusion On Barbell Vs Dumbbell Bench Press
When it all comes down to it, an excellent idea would be to work on your strength with the basic Barbell Bench Press and on top of that do different variations of the dumbbell bench presses to stimulate more of your muscles. Experiment and try what feels the best for YOUR body.
If you don’t have access to a barbell then try to build your exercises around different dumbbell bench presses, they’ll work wonders nevertheless!
And please do not think that you cannot build your upper body if you don’t own a barbell. If you focus on progressing and adding weight and reps with the dumbbells I really cannot see any reason why you wouldn’t get stronger although it might be a bit slower than with a barbell.
Here is a simple bullet point list for you to recap all the main points:
- Barbell Bench increases more strength
- Dumbbell Bench stimulates more muscle growth
- Dumbbells are better for people that want to work around injuries
- Overall dumbbell bench presses are harder to perform
- Barbell Bench can work better for training athletic performance
- Experiment and find out what works best for YOUR body!
That is all I have for you today guys. I hope you found this article helpful and you got something out of it.
If you have questions in mind I’d be more than happy to hear them in the comment section below.
Remember to train hard and trains SMART!