Let’s face it – when it comes to attacking your entire chest area, bench pressing heavy all the time is not really the best idea there is. We’re not saying that pressing exercises aren’t essential for building mass and strength in the pectorals, but they can’t provide a complete chest training on their own, so it’s kind of saddening that most lifters in any commercial gym are relying far too much on this exercise to give them pecs of steel. Although the bench press can help you build a certain level of upper body strength and size, performing it too frequently will make your workouts stale and hurt potential gains. But you knew all of this.
What you don’t know is that there’s a huge, crucial difference between the barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press. For most people, the barbell bench press will never lead to impressive, or even significant chest growth and it will become more of a triceps exercise, while performing the same exercise with dumbbells can be more effective for chest building. Why? Read on to find out.
Barbell vs. Dumbbell
Here are the differences between bench pressing with a barbell and dumbbells in correlation with the four most important factors that directly affect your bench pressing results:
Range of motion
When using a barbell, your hands are locked in a single position on the bar as you press up and your arms don’t move in their full range of motion, which lessens the effectiveness of the exercise. But when you’re pressing with dumbbells, both of your arms have to be extended more in order to lift the weight, which increases their range of motion and leads to better gains from the workout.
Hand dominance is a very common problem in those who bench press using a barbell and this tendency is really hard to control. The end results from favoring one side are muscle and strength imbalances that are painfully visible. Dumbbells fix this issue pretty easily by allowing each arm to move independently and do equal work, which translates to equal growth on both sides.
For maximum chest gains, you need to place and maintain a sufficient amount of tension on the chest muscles. But during a heavy barbell bench press, you can easily relocate the muscular tension placed on the chest to other muscle groups by simply sliding your hands outward, which of course, will cause less chest growth. Since dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion, they give you more control over the motion of your arms so you can concentrate the tension on your chest muscles for a longer period of time.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the main functions of the pecs during the bench press – horizontal flexion and horizontal adduction, which are very similar but differ in elbow position. Horizontal adduction (drawing the arm across the body) is the only movement that involves the entire pectoralis major, but when you’re holding a barbell you’re locked into a limited amount of horizontal adduction, which means that your upper arm is limited in how much it can move towards the midline of your body. This reduces the effect the exercise has on your chest muscles because most of the time your pecs are not directly responsible for moving the weight.
Simply put, the barbell bench press neglects the primary function of the chest muscles and therefore the pecs can’t be fully developed by performing this exercise alone.
The majority of studies seem to support the claim that the dumbbell bench press is a better option for anyone looking to increase his chest size, mainly because of the greater range of motion involved – a greater range of motion on pressing movements means more horizontal flexion and adduction and a greater recruitment of chest muscle fibers.
Naturally, in order to reap these gains, you have to go through the entire range of motion the exercise allows and bring your hands lower than your chest at the lower portion of the movement. Another way to increase the effectiveness of the dumbbell bench press is by pressing the weights upwards and inward, almost like a flye, without letting them touch at the top.
Don’t forget, consistency is the key to success. However, regardless of how experienced you are with the barbell bench press, eventually your workout will become stale your progress will hit a plateau. And that’s the perfect time to introduce the dumbbell bench press into your routine and save the day. Using dumbbells instead of a barbell will increase the range of motion and time under tension and allow you to recruit the chest muscles more efficiently. So go get a pair of dumbbells and squeeze out those extra chest gains that you could never reach using a dumbbell.