Dumbbell vs. Barbell Bench Press: Which is Best for You?

In this article we will discuss what you need to considered when determining what bench press modality (dumbbell vs. barbell bench press) is best for you and your specific performance and fitness goals.

Strength and Hypertrophy = Both

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Barbell and dumbbell bench are both crucial components of strength and hypertrophy training. Barbells allow lifters to load maximal amounts of when to stimulate the central nervous system and drive muscular adaptations under moderate to heavy loads. Dumbbells offer a lifter the immense benefits of unilateral training, which can increase muscle mass, provide injury resilience, and maximize performance.

Sport-Specific Performance (Powerlifting) = Barbell Bench Press

While this may be a no-brainer, I felt compelled to state that the sport of powerlifting entails a lifter to press a barbell, making the barbell bench press VITAL to sport performance. While dumbbell pressing will provide powerlifters the immense benefits listed througout, the barbell bench press should be a staple skill and strength exercise within a powerliftering training regimen.

Sport-Specific Performance (Non-Powerlifting) = Both

For all other sports that do not require an athlete to press a barbell (powerlifting), the combination of barbell AND dumbbell training should be included. Dependencies on any one pressing modality (barbell or dumbbell) would neglect many of the other aspects discussed throughout this article, leaving the athlete susceptible to lackluster strength, muscle mass, and injury.

Correcting Imbalances = Dumbbell Bench Press

Unilateral training reigns supreme when addressing imbalanced and weaknesses. Barbell training does not allow for single-sided specialization, often hiding any weakness or pressing deficiencies if they are present. By using dumbbells, you can target each side of the body, muscles, and joint actions to make sure an athlete is stable and strong throughout both unilateral and bilateral pressing.

Recoverying from Injury = Dumbbell Bench Press

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In the event of an injury to the shoulder, pec, biceps, wrist, elbow, or any other joint/muscle/connective tissue, I find the ability to vary joint angles and load placement on an individual basis to be better using dumbbells than barbells. Provided an athlete has been cleared to press (many shoulder injuries highly advise against bench pressing in early stages), dumbbells allow coaches to manipulate joint angles that may be at risk following injury or during the recovery process.

Beginners = Both

Beginners often lack neuromuscular control, which makes a single loaded piece of equipment sometimes easier to handle when teaching pressing movements. Dumbbells, however, and other unilateral pieces of equipment, should be implemented in addition to barbell training to develop structural balance, proprioception, and fundamental movements necessary for growth. I often will attack strength and muscle hypertrophy with barbells in beginners, using dumbbells for more structural stability, proprioception, and correcting unilateral imbalances until they become more advanced.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a huge fan of going all or nothing when it comes to choosing a training modality (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, bodyweight, no weights, etc). While certain sports require a lifter to use a certain modality (powerlifting and weightlifting with barbells), all athletes can benefit from using a variety of training equipment to bulletproof their performance.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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