Bench Press: Dumbbells vs. Barbells | Marmina Exercise & Nutrition (2023)

Posted OnAugust 17, 2018 ByMichael Marmina

Dumbbells vs. Barbell Bench Press! Commonly, fitness enthusiasts will argue that dumbbell bench is superior than barbell bench to develop chest musculature and unconventionally, a counter argument will be made in favour of Barbells being the more effective of the two modalities

It appears that dumbbell bench is more popular than barbell bench. Both from observation and a recent poll we conducted on our Instagram page showing that 69% of voters preferred dumbbell pressing instead of barbell pressing.

This article aims to delve into some theory, science and practice pertaining to both versions of the bench press. We’ll pit Dumbbells vs. Barbells against one another. This article will mainly focus on the flat dumbbell bench and some real-life considerations and applications you can make to your program today.

The case for dumbbell pressing

This section will look to use some good old fashioned experienced and knowhow to come up with some general recommendations and considerations one could make when programming either barbells or dumbbells into their workout for horizontal pressing.

Increased ROM with dumbbell pressing

Firstly, the dumbbell press allows for more range of motion to be achieved as a result of the bar not hitting your chest. As you bring the dumbbells down from the top of the concentric action, forming a slightly neutral grip at the bottom of the lift means that you can get a bigger stretch in your pecs.

(Video) Barbell Press Vs. Dumbbell Press For Chest: Which Is Better?

The larger the dumbbells get, the more this becomes apparent because bigger dumbbells will just hit your chest. This can decrease potential for range of motion when compared to the barbell bench. This is important because we know increased range of motion can mean more hypertrophy (1, 2).

The cited research reports that if you’re looking to get bigger and potentially stronger, attempting to do the most range of motion you’re comfortably capable of is a superior means of producing hypertrophy.

Barbells are harder to recover from

Because barbells allow the lifter to produce more force, they’re more centrally taxing. This could limit the amount of overall volume one can potentially accumulate across the course of their training phase. If the goal is to maximise hypertrophy, this isn’t ideal. The lifter should employ exercises that they can recover from, but are still challenging and demanding.

Training close to failure is easier with dumbbells too. Using a barbell, and mistaking how many reps in reserve you have could mean dropping the bar on your chest and getting seriously injured. Not to mention, some research suggests that elbow extensors take more of a beating when using a barbell for pressing, than a dumbbell (3).

Training close to failure is noteworthy. Getting close enough to failure and leaving approx. 1-2 reps in reserve is important for training plans looking to maximise hypertrophy. Subjects get greater neural signalling and more motor unit recruitment the closer to failure they get.

Dumbbells allow for technique modification

Anecdotally, people will report that barbell beat up their shoulders. This leaves lifters sore and unable to progress. If this is you, dumbbells allow you to alter your grip and how you press more flexibly than barbells.

Slight grip and shoulder angle modifications can potentially, for you, lead to decreased perceptions of discomfort. This means you can press more, use more weight, augment more volume and get bigger pecs without worrying about experiencing unwanted shoulder issues.

Dumbbells show greater pec activation (EMG Data)

EMG data from Bret Contreras shows that mean mid pec activation scores are greater for the dumbbell bench press than the barbell bench press. Dumbbell presses had the highest mean EMG activity compared to barbell pressing.

(Video) Stop Doing Dumbbell Presses Like This! (7 KEY MISTAKES)

Not surprisingly, the 102 kg barbell bench had a higher EMG reading than the 125 kg bench. The incline barbell bench press scored slightly lower than the flat bench at the mid pec but slightly more on the upper pec.

The case for barbell pressing

In contrast, one could contend that the barbell bench press allows for the production of more force. This would mean one would achieve superior strength gains, specific to the barbell bench press when using a barbell.

As a result of generating more force, one could potentially overload the pecs more-so with a more fixed object like a barbell. This would mean greater gains in strength and over time, superior gains in hypertrophy as a result of increases in volume.

Greater learning curve for dumbbell pressing

One limitation of using dumbbells over barbells would be that using dumbbells are harder to learn and stabilise. Most would say that the increased stability component of using dumbbells means that they’re better for shoulder health and that might be true.

However, if we’re talking strictly hypertrophic responses, the complicated learning curve and decrease in stability might mean decrease in force production and performance, overall. This may potentially limit long-term progress and thus the hypertrophy response is volume is not overloaded long-term as part of a phasic training plan.

More range of motion isn’t better for everyone

Conventionally with new lifters, at the bottom of the dumbbell press you’ll notice shoulders translating forward and potentially causing some stress on anterior shoulder structures. Usually, this is less common with the barbell press due to the limited range of motion and because the movement is more “fixed” compared to dumbbells, which makes it easier to control.

More stability with barbell pressing

Because the barbell is a fixed object where the load is distributed in both hands, it is more stable. Most will use this as a criticism of barbell pressing when comparing it to it’s dumbbell cousin. However, it’s more of a benefit, especially with hypertrophy in mind than a con.

Whenever a lift is performed in the presence of instability, there is a reduction in one’s force producing capacity. So, this means that if your ideal situation is to maximally recruit motor units and build strength and muscle, exercising on stable surfaces and using unchanging modalities is superlative.


As in vogue as unstable surface training is, it’s generally redundant in the face of simple solid training with the foundations of exercise prescription principles at the helm of program design. Using a more stable barbell could result in more strength gained, greater volumes achieved and more muscle recruited because you don’t have to worry about stabilising two objects, like dumbbells, in each hand. As a result, this allows for more overload.

Practical applications

Assuming “healthy shoulders” the flat barbell bench press is the ideal candidate for the main lift in chest workouts or as the main horizontal pushing exercise compared to flat dumbbell bench press. This is due to its capacity to allow the lifter to generate more force and overload.

All rep ranges can potentially lead to hypertrophy. Some are simply more ideal volume accumulators than others. For the flat barbell bench press, it’s best to train it heavy in the 4-8 rep range to make the most of the amount you can lift. Thereby, promoting overload and focusing on the hypertrophic properties of emphasising mechanical tension.

Once you have used the flat barbell bench press as your main, heavy lift, you can look to dumbbells at all angles to accumulate volume over the course of your phasic training program. This is because they’re easier to recover from and allow you to go close to failure. The 8-15 rep range tends to suit these exercise variations nicely. Allowing for the accumulation of metabolites that could be significant for hypertrophy.

You could flat barbell bench heavy on Monday, incline dumbbell press lighter on Wednesday, and cable fly for some more volume in the 12+ rep range on Friday, depending on how your training plan is set up.

In conclusion, most exercise variations have their place in a program somewhere, sometime, and/or somehow. The trick is knowing where to use them and how to implement them strategically over the course of multiple training phases, to elicit the desired outcome one seeks.

Contact us on our homepage


  1. McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambele GL. Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2014;28(1):245-55.
  2. Pinto RS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, Botton CE, Brown LE, Bottaro M. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2012;26(8):2140-5.
  3. Ferreira DV, Ferreira-Junior JB, Soares SR, Cadore EL, Izquierdo M, Brown LE, et al. Chest Press Exercises With Different Stability Requirements Result in Similar Muscle Damage Recovery in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2017;31(1):71-9.
(Video) Barbells vs Dumbbells for Muscle Growth


Bench Press: Dumbbells vs. Barbells | Marmina Exercise & Nutrition? ›

Truthfully, both exercises are great for training the chest and tricep muscles. The main difference between the two is that the barbell bench press allows you to lift more weight and therefore results in greater strength gains. If you want to focus on increasing muscle mass and size, go with the dumbbell bench press.

Are barbell and dumbbell bench presses equally effective? ›

Both versions of the bench press can help with muscle growth. Depending on how you program your lifts, you can use either version for hypertrophy. That said, the dumbbell variation can allow lifters to achieve a longer range of motion, which can result in more muscle activation.

Do I need barbell or dumbbells are enough? ›

Both types of equipment are equally effective for biceps activation. If your goal is to build mass, focus on lifting heavier weights. In this case, it makes sense to use the barbell, especially for compound exercises. Dumbbells activate more muscles, but this doesn't necessarily lead to hypertrophy.

Are dumbbells more effective than barbells? ›

Athletes need to be using the barbell if they want to focus on sports performance exercises around technical coordination and absolute strength. Dumbbells are great for unilateral upper body movements and creating a metabolic response through high reps to burn a little more calories.

Why is my dumbbell press better than barbell? ›

By default, barbells allow for less range of motion because the actual axis of the barbell gets in the way. Dumbbells on the other hand, are not connected and that allows for a much deeper stretch and contraction for most exercises.


1. Stop Doing Dumbbell Bench Press Like This (I'M BEGGING YOU!)
2. Barbell vs Dumbbell (Most Scientific way) | Which one is better for muscle growth? | Chirag Khanna
(Chirag Khanna)
3. You CAN Combine Cardio & Weights (and Should)
(House of Hypertrophy)
4. Irish Strength's Keg Toss Challenge Episode 1
(Irish Strength)
5. Why I Stopped Doing Barbell Exercises & You Should Too
(eugene teo)
6. Dumbbell Pressing Is AMAZING!
(Alex Leonidas)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Allyn Kozey

Last Updated: 08/03/2023

Views: 6707

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Allyn Kozey

Birthday: 1993-12-21

Address: Suite 454 40343 Larson Union, Port Melia, TX 16164

Phone: +2456904400762

Job: Investor Administrator

Hobby: Sketching, Puzzles, Pet, Mountaineering, Skydiving, Dowsing, Sports

Introduction: My name is Allyn Kozey, I am a outstanding, colorful, adventurous, encouraging, zealous, tender, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.