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Are the Bench Press and Dumbbell Press the Same ?

Katie Hogan Bench Press

The dumbbell press and the barbell bench press are among the most popular chest exercises, a staple in chest workouts. Both are free weight exercises. They may seem similar, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages, whether that be, better muscle activation, better mechanical tension, better muscle growth etc.

People are getting more passionate about training, and home gyms are more popular than ever. Home workouts are becoming the new norm, people are bound to wonder what is best for them.

We hope that this article can help you make your choice between an Olympic bar and plates, or a set of adjustable dumbbells.

In this article, we are going to compare these two exercises to help you find out which one is right for your training goals.

The Barbell Bench Press

This exercise is part of the trinity of compound lifts along with the squat and the deadlift. So why is this exercise so popular. Well, first off as a compound lift the barbell bench uses multiple muscles.

The muscles activated are: the pectoralis major, the anterior deltoids, and the coracobrachialis muscles.

So why should you choose to do this exercise with a barbell

Well, the answer is simple. According to a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, subjects who utilized a barbell over a dumbbell on the barbell bench could lift around 20% more weight!

If you want a clear example, just look around the room. You will often meet experienced trainees in it, who push a 100-kilogram barbell from the barbell bench as if it were a feather.

Have you seen anyone who can do a 50kg dumbbell press? 

As we all know, lifting more weight allows you to increase the raw power and strength of your muscles. Most studies agree that you need to maximize mechanical tension in order to get stronger, and the primary way to do that is by lifting heavy weights.

In conclusion, if you want well-developed and shaped muscles, you must include basic, multi-joint exercises in your program, while progressively increasing the load over time.

The exercises with a bar are quite convenient for the purpose – the barbell allows to absorb more mechanical stress than the dumbbells. 

The Dumbbell Bench Press

Why should you use dumbbells on the bench instead of a barbell?

Using dumbbells has its own unique benefits. Perhaps one of the most significant advantages of dumbbells is that performing the exercises with them allows for better muscle activation compared to performing it with a barbell. 

One such study compares the pectoralis major muscle’s activation when performing a bench press with a dumbbell, a barbell, and a smith machine. The results unequivocally show the advantage of dumbbells in muscle activation in this case.

The other significant benefit of performing a dumbbell press is that they allow for a better range of motion due to their compact nature. With dumbbells, your body can move the weights in a more natural weight. Meaning that you can get better activation due to their non-fixed nature due to them being more comfortable to handle.

For this reason, you can use the dumbbell press, to work around an injury that you have had that may be hindered by the fixed nature of the barbell bench press.

Earlier, we mentioned that the barbell bench press involves more than one muscle group. This allows you to load a heavier weight, which is of great importance in increasing muscle mass. 

But the dumbbells provide another advantage – their use allows your arms to move in a more precise and natural way.

Thus, the targeted muscle is loaded and activated to a greater extent. That is why most isolating, simple exercises are performed with dumbbells. In addition, dumbbells can be used to perform unilateral training. This can help you work on any muscles imbalances that you may have

Barbell vs Dumbbells 

From the very beginning, it became clear that both dumbbells and barbells are beneficial training apparatuses. The point of this article is not to help you choose a favorite, but to look at their advantages and disadvantages to make an informed decision about how to use them in our training.

Both of these exercises have a specific purpose.

For example, the Barbell Bench Press is mainly a strength building exercise. It should be performed at a lower rep range (for example, the classic 3x 4-6 reps).

The Dumbbell Press is more of a hypertrophy exercise; thus, the rep range should be higher, for example, 8-12 reps. It is also different as it puts a lot more pressure on your stabilization muscles because your arms are working independently of one another. 

A quick summary.

Barbells are the goto choice if you are someone who wants to focus on strength gains or if you want to lift heavier weights. 

Barbell exercises require less precise weight stabilization than dumbbells, where weight stabilization muscles work a lot harder. This piece of equipment can also be used to perform other compound lifts such as the overhead press. So if you are thinking of buying one for your home gym, keep that in mind.

Dumbbells are also a great choice. They can be used for numerous other exercises such as the incline dumbbell press, so you can always find a use for them.

Most dumbbells are easily adjustable in terms of weight, so even if you are a beginner, you can benefit from them. Training with dumbbells allows you to initially train with lighter weights, thus reducing the risk of overload, injuries and other unpleasant consequences. This makes the transition towards heavier loads smooth and safe.

In Conclusion

So, which one will you choose, are you a fan of barbell exercises in general?

Are you someone who loves the flexibility and variety of exercises that can be performed with dumbbells?

Even if you can’t just a favorite, the most sensible approach is to do an effective combination of exercises with both a barbell and dumbbells. This will allow you to take full advantage of their benefits.


The Rx Review is an independent fitness website, reporting on the Sport of Fitness, functional fitness news, The CrossFit Games, health and diet related information, and also provides reviews on sports performance products.