Dumbbell Press vs Barbell Press for Chest Size and Strength

Because of their status of essential mass builders, heavy compound exercises should be at the core of your chest routine, regardless of your other training preferences. Even though bodybuilders are notorious for their inability to agree upon the best ways to train, almost every lifter out there will tell you that compound exercises should always come first and isolation exercises should always come last in terms of workout structure.

In addition, since each exercise has its own perks and flaws, you need to plan your workout in a way that enables optimal muscle activation in the given period of time. In the case of chest training, you have a wide variety of great exercises to choose from and compose the perfect workout. But let’s begin with the basic tried-and-true upper body builder – the chest press.

You want to start your chest routine with heavy compound presses that will allow you to overload your chest while your pecs are still fresh and unfatigued so that you can achieve maximum tension and engage as many muscle fibers as possible. Presses also let you add more weight in a progressive manner and accurately track your strength development. There are gazillion press variations which target the chest muscles from different angles and we encourage you to experiment with all of them.

Nevertheless, barbell and dumbbell presses are the primary chest compound moves you should rely on for building size and strength in this area. While the barbell press is the golden chest exercise of bodybuilding for many decades now, dumbbell presses also come with a useful pack of benefits that you shouldn’t neglect if you want to up your gains.

In the text bellow we’ll compare both exercises in relation to the three most important factors that determine muscle growth and provide you with the knowledge you need to start making the most out of your chest training days.

#1. Range of Motion

The main responsibility of the fan-shaped pectoral muscles is to make your upper arms move across the front of the torso, a movement termed as “horizontal adduction”, by contracting and pulling the upper arms towards the mid-chest area.

Now, we know that going through the entire range of motion on functional exercises encourages maximum fiber recruitment and supports better muscle growth. That being said, the biggest issue with barbell presses is that they limit your range of motion and reduce it to a short up-and-down motion by keeping your arms in a locked position and thereby restricting the distance they can travel. This means that using a barbell inevitably robs you of achieving the full potential of the exercise which relies on the full arching movement and a complete horizontal adduction.

With dumbbells, your arms and hands are able to move through a full range of motion and further across your chest because they’re not locked in place like when gripping a bar. By simply comparing the top positions of a barbell press and a dumbbell press you can notice that the latter allows your arms to travel more freely and thus much further than the barbell variant. In this way, dumbbell presses make your pecs move more and work harder and stay under more-or-less constant tension through a greater range of motion.

#2. Muscular Symmetry

Most lifters struggle with having an overly developed or dominant side of their bodies caused by imbalanced training and genetic predispositions, for the most part. The resulting strength and size imbalances can be difficult to correct without proper training knowledge and lots of intentional effort. Anytime you’re performing an exercise, chances are that your dominant side will take on some of the work of the weaker side and reinforce the imbalance even further. The long term results of this include reduced stability, damaged aesthetics and increased vulnerability to injury.

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