Bench Press - Dumbbell vs. Barbell

Bench Press - Dumbbell vs. Barbell


Chest Of Destiny –

Is There One Press To Rule Them All?


I remember being around 13 with my old man nervously spotting me over the bare barbell – all 10kgs of it.

It was fun.

Progress was quick.

I added weight every couple of weeks. I got stronger and stronger. Then I got hurt.

Headaches, neck pain and worst of all – visual asymmetry.

We couldn’t figure it out at first – I was lifting the same weight I’d pressed for several weeks before.

I was getting my eight reps in without any real pain or discomfort. Then the old boy (in his infinite wisdom) took all the plates off, dropped to his knees and watched the bar carefully:


“You’re doing way too much work with your right side, pal.”


After lifting for a while, you develop an understanding that most of the muscles in your body are best thought of as functioning in groups and left-right pairs, then trained the same way.

For your upper body, a lot of the core strength – and visual impact – of getting in shape comes from building balanced, symmetrical muscle mass and power in the upper and lower pectoral muscles on both sides of your chest.

This applies to both sexes, but especially for men…

A sharply defined and muscular chest is a defining part of the ideal male physical appearance, going back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

Sadly, we can’t strap on a muscled breastplate for campaigning against the Gauls when we miss chest day…

Nobody will spot my gyno in this


Nobody will spot my gyno in this…


Pressing exercises are what you need for chest development, and the bench press is one of the three compound movements that make up the core of all classic strongman/strongwoman, weightlifter and bodybuilding routines:

  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Barbell Benchpress
  • Barbell Deadlift

These compound exercises are useful for almost everyone building muscle. That’s because they allow an effective work out of multiple muscle groups at once and require a high level exertion – burning more calories in a short amount of time, stimulating both fat loss and muscle growth. Perfect for that battlefield Berserker look many of us are going for.

 The Gold Standard - No Prizes For Guessing Who


The Gold Standard – No Prizes For Guessing Who


“So What Do You Bench?”

Guys at gyms always want to compare their max lifts, and the barbell benchpress – with roots in the sports of Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting – has traditionally been the gold standard for this.

Actually though, is it overrated? If you’re after functional strength or visual pop, focusing on the flat bench mightn’t be such a good idea.

There’s not just one way to put the bench press into your regular training:

  • Barbell benchpress is the most traditional and popular choice for chest workouts, and a barbell is what most people think of when it comes to benchpress.
  • Dumbbell benchpress is the less popular option – but might actually be a better choice to maximise your chest development

Barbell pressing has stayed the standard benchpress for almost 100 years of physical culture – for reasons perhaps more to do with vanity than functionality. That’s a controversial statement, but there are sound reasons behind it – because there are 3 components of a bench press that can drastically impact your results:

  • Range Of Motion – how far do your arms travel between the beginning and end of each movement?
    • You can vary this – with a barbell or dumbbells – by adjusting the distance between your hands
  • Symmetrical Effort – are both of your arms (and so your chest) doing the same amount of work?
  • Muscular Tension – which muscles are *actually* doing the heavy work of each movement – and are they they same muscles you’re trying to target?

So let’s compare barbell and dumbbell benchpresses for all these factors:

  • Range Of Motion
    • Barbell press: Your hands are locked in a single position on the bar and you press up, limiting the extension of your arms and potential impact of the movement
    • Dumbbell press: Pressing with dumbbells requires both your hands and your arms to independently lift the dumbbells, which allows you to extend more and increases your range of motion
      • You move more muscles in more dynamic ways, increasing the benefit from your workout
      • This is the single biggest benefit of dumbbell pressing – your ability to activate a much wider range of muscle fibers than you can with a barbell – including the hardest-to-develop areas at the outer and inner edges of both left and right pecs
      • With clever programming, you can vary your ROM by changing grip width between sets and work hell out of every part of your chest in about 20 minutes
  • Symmetrical Development
    • Barbell Press: With a barbell, hand dominance comes into play – even if you don’t notice it
      • If you bench press while favoring one side, you could end up with size and growth imbalance in your muscles
      • Over time, favouring one side over another has knock-on effects in other areas of the body, and can be an underlying cause of ‘mysterious’ chronic pain in the back, shoulders,neck and jaw – plus related problems like headaches and sleep disturbance
Señor Crab-arm prefers the left for his ‘alone time’


Señor Crab-arm prefers the left for his ‘alone time’…


    • Dumbbell Press: Each arm moves independently to lift equal weight, which should lead to equal muscle development – and symmetrical aesthetics – over time
That’s more like it - Robbie ‘The Black Prince’ Robinson


That’s more like it – Robbie ‘The Black Prince’ Robinson


  • Muscular Tension
    • Barbell press: During a barbell press, it can be tempting to slide your hands outward to distribute the muscular tension to other muscle groups outside of the chest
      • This decreases the tension placed on the chest muscles, which can tank the real gains you’re looking for – size and definition in those pecs
    • Dumbbell press: Allows for a greater range of motion in your press – you have more control over the motion of your arms and can keep your movement more in front of your body instead of outwards
      • This allows you to keep more concentrated tension on your chest muscles for a longer period of time, maximizing your results
IronmasterUK Super Bench with Spotting Stand decline press


Mastering The Basics – Form & Consistency Are Key

Nearly every lifter starts off on the bench with a bare barbell and works up to more and more plates. Rome wasn’t sacked in a day (except that one time).

Eventually though, your workout will plateau, become stale, and even inefficient – and that’s where dumbbells can come to your rescue.

  • Great for aesthetics

Dumbbells help you increase your range of motion, time under tension, and help you exaggerate the squeezing motion in chest.

  • You don’t need a spotter

Without the help of a lifting partner, dumbbells are you best friend for helping you get over a plateau and squeeze out those extra gains.

  • Ease of use
  • Less risk of joint damage than barbell work
  • Harder to ‘cheat’ by over-engaging the triceps

You’ll be ready to rip off your plaid cloak, paint your face blue and charge the terrified line of civilisation in no time.

Avast, ye fake-muscle-wearing babies!


“Avast, ye fake-muscle-wearing babies!”


What Dumbbell System Should I Get For My Home Gym?

Our Ironmaster Quick-Lock Dumbbells are a top quality, premium priced – yet amazingly good value – product, that’ll probably outlast you and end up in your grandkids’ gym long after you’re dead…

So good, in fact, that we lifetime warranty every pair.

And they kick lumps out of the competition in so many ways…

  • Monster Weight Capacity –
    • Each dumbbell can be set as low as 2kg right up a massive 75kg (150kg per set)
    • No matter your level of fitness, you can set the weight for an appropriate challenge
    • Chest already swole, but legs like a chicken? No worries. We’ve got a full range covered – you can blast it all
  • Space Saving –
    • This a solution to the number one home gym headache – space
    • Our kit is designed with the smallest of spaces in mind
    • These dumbbells and vertical storage unit are barely bigger than a pair of dumbbells laid side-by-side
Stand Dimension
  • Versatility –
    • Our patented quick lock design means you can change weight in seconds
    • Looking for leaner, more functional strength? All our plates can be swapped out to use with the fully adjustable kettlebell set
    • The idea here is simple – any exercise, in any gym space

And when combined with the Ironmaster Super Bench and Dumbbell Spot Stands, you get awesome functionality that lets you train alone safely even with very heavy weights…

Spotting Stand

Why A Spotting Stand? (Or Better Yet, What Is A Spotting Stand?)

If you’re lifting heavy dumbbells, you’ll know that the sketchiest part is getting them off the floor for that first rep. For the longest time I figured this was just par for the course.

Then a friend came over for a beer.

“Where are your spotting stands?

I looked at him like he had two heads.

Now, I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I’d been lifting with a clanky old set of dumbbells, lying on a plywood bench. I’d get my eight done then rest the weights on my already creaking quads. No more.

Back in the day I rigged up something simple with plywood and screws – but once I discovered Ironmaster I kitted myself out with the genuine article.

These things are a game changer:

    • Adjustable saddles so that your weights are always within easy reach.
    • Exactly like having a human spotter there to pass you your dumbbells – except you know it’ll be 100% reliable every time – (even better than the old man)
    • Saddles can be raised or lowered from 54.5cm to 95cm in seconds and can even swivel up to 45 degrees

The Lowdown (Don’t Worry – Not Your Chest)

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

“Limited space and funds? No home gym for you.”

We’re doing our level best to blow this old idea out of the water.

A set of Ironmaster Adjustable Dumbbells.

The right program.

And, you in better shape, more money in your pocket and more time on your hands.

Add a bench and spotting stands –

You’ll wonder why you ever wasted training time sitting behind the wheel in traffic, watching your motivation tick away in time with the dashboard clock…

Don’t have all the home gym equipment you need for a full body workout? Ironmaster home gym equipment offers durable, adjustable and versatile equipment including adjustable dumbbells, adjustable kettlebells, our popular Super Bench PRO V2, Smith Machine, and much more.



James' Signature

James– Founder

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