If you are a fitness enthusiast, two exercises that you would surely have heard about quite frequently are dumbbell press and bench press.
However, while both exercises are great ways of working the chest, shoulders, and triceps, there remain significant differences in weight, stability, and grip.
In this article, we will provide brief overviews of dumbbell press and bench press and subsequently discuss how they compare against each other.
Finally, we will try to measure the advantages and disadvantages of each exercise and help you determine which one will be more beneficial for your body in the long run.
As always, we will provide links for any helpful information, surveys, and studies used in this article.
A Brief Overview of Dumbbell Press and Bench Press
Both these exercises are excellent ways of improving your muscle strength and boosting pectoral power. They are pretty straightforward to do, and in both exercises, you need to lie down and use the weights to work the pectoral muscles.
Compared to the bench press, the dumbbell press requires more stability and is more limited in terms of the weight that can be used. It also allows freedom of positioning and grip which you would not get with the bench press.
It increases and stabilizes your upper body muscles, boosts muscle mass, and would also help you in performing better bench press exercises.
The steps are similar to that of the bench press. You lie on a bench, bring the dumbbells to shoulder level, and extend them towards the ceiling.
You can vary your grip from 90 degrees at the shoulder to 45 degrees to even neutral grips where the knuckles of the hands face each other.
The various options in varying the grip are beneficial for those who have suffered a shoulder injury. Also, unlike a bench press, a dumbbell press does not require a spotter.
The Barbell bench press is an exercise that is quite commonly seen in gyms and is popular in sports like power-lifting and soccer. It allows the muscles to exert more force and can use more weight compared to the dumbbell press.
To perform the bench press, you have to lie down on a bench and hold the barbell with a grip slightly wider than the shoulder width.
Then, pressing your feet into the ground and keeping your hips steadfastly on the bench, lower the barbell to chest level, and then extend it upwards until your shoulders are locked. Do this 5-10 times, or as advised by your trainer.
There are many variations of the bench press, like flat bench press, incline bench press, etc., but the basic principle remains the same.
Dumbbell Press vs Bench Press: Which Exercise Is Better for You?
The Barbells Vs Dumbbells debate has been around for a long time, and most fitness experts tend to choose one over the other. Here we will discuss how they match up against each other with respect to some salient areas.
Which Is the Better for Shoulders?
Both exercises have their pros and cons when it comes to building shoulders. With the bench press, you can work your triceps more, and the strength you gain from this movement will help you with your other power-lifting activities.
Since you are lifting more weight with the barbells, it would help you to build greater muscle mass and strength in your shoulders compared to dumbbell press.
On the other hand, if your goal is to have all-around development of your deltoids and to build your shoulder for aesthetic purposes, then dumbbell presses might be a better option.
A study compiled by a Norwegian team showed that dumbbell presses show 11% and 7% greater muscle activation with respect to anterior deltoid and middle deltoid, as compared to the bench press.
Which Is Better for the Chest?
Dumbbells are a wiser choice if improving chest muscle growth is your priority. When performing a bench press, the contraction stops at the chest.
But in the dumbbell press, you are in complete control of the range of movement, and you can take it past your chest if you wish to.
Dumbbell presses lead to greater tension on the pectoral muscles. Indeed, you won’t be able to lift as much weight as you do on the bench press, but it will be more flexible for your joints, especially if they are prone to injury.
In a study compiled by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was reported that the chest muscles were more activated by the dumbbell press.
It also reported that the dumbbell press works the pectoral muscles and the biceps as compared to the bench press.
It was also suggested that dumbbells cause an ‘adduction of the humerus’ that barbells are unable to do because of their linear up-and-down movement.
The bottom line is that when it comes to chest muscles, the free movement of dumbbells outscores the bench press.
Which Is Safer?
If we take safety as the comparing parameter, then dumbbell presses are far safer than bench presses. Especially if you are carrying a shoulder injury or your shoulder is prone to such damages, you should stay away from barbells.
Since you are lifting more weight and your shoulder remains stuck in the same place for the entire movement, there are higher risks of your shoulders getting hurt.
On the other hand, the dumbbell presses use less weight, and your arms move independently, so there are fewer chances of injury.
If you fail to complete a movement, you can just let the dumbbells down on the floor. But in case of failure, barbells can be pretty challenging to maneuver.
Dumbbell presses also help you to develop your stabilizer muscles so that you can lift greater weights, notably the 100 lb dumbbell that every beginner and intermediate weightlifter aspires to.
But hey, as a beginner let me just tell you right now that trying to lug around a 100lb dumbbell especially to ego lift on the bench press, is not only not safe, but it’s also considered overkill by most strength training resources.
As a beginner learning the dumbbell bench press is something that should be done with light weights, not 100-pound dumbbells.
Which Is Better for Beginners?
If you are a fresher in weightlifting, or if you are planning to start exercising on your own, then dumbbell presses are naturally the better choice.
They do not require a spotter, and there is a lot less risk of injuries. For advanced bodybuilders who are now equipped to lift heavier weights, barbells are naturally more appealing.
Your Best Interest for Weight Gains
Barbells allow you to lift heavier weights which maximize mechanical tension and induces hypertrophy. Hence bench presses are far and away from the best bet if you are looking for mass gains.
Another advantage is that you can use more muscle groups at the same time during a bench press. The weight is evenly distributed, and since no energy is being wasted, you can lift greater weights.
Conversely, a lot of energy is wasted in bringing the dumbbell from the floor to the chest, which reduces your weightlifting capacity.
Barbells feature unnatural wrist positions that may be painful at times. Their range of motion is also quite limited.
On the other hand, dumbbells allow for a greater range of movement, which is natural and unrestricted. You are in control of your movements and do not need a spotter.
It also works more stabilizing muscles, which leads to better muscle conditioning.
The downside in dumbbell press with respect to flexibility is that you can only train one arm simultaneously, whereas, in bench presses, you can train both arms simultaneously.
Balance of the Body
With bench presses, there is always the risk that you might end up unfavorably disposed towards one side which will destabilize the entire exercise.
But with Dumbbell presses, there are no such concerns because of the greater flexibility and control over movement.
With dumbbell presses, you can actually fix your shoulder imbalances. If you can identify during the exercise that you have a shoulder imbalance, you can use your muscles to stabilize your imbalance.
To sum up, bench presses are better for gaining muscle mass and shoulder development, while dumbbell presses are safer, more practical options for beginners, and improve muscle stability and imbalance.
It is, of course, essential to remember that you do not need to restrict yourself exclusively to either bench press or dumbbell press; you can accommodate them together in your fitness routine.
The Norwegian study recommends that you should do bench presses first to maximize the amount of overload on the chest.
After that, you can move to Dumbbell presses to focus on the improvement of pectoral muscles without neglecting the triceps.
The study also established a quite useful benchmark by which you can judge which press you need to work on, and when.
It argued that your optimum weight while lifting dumbbell presses should be 80% of what you lift on bench presses.
If you are under this mark, you should do more dumbbell presses. If you are above this level, then you should do more bench presses.
This simple rule is something you can use quite effectively in your fitness routine to ensure you get the best of both exercises.
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