Bench presses have often been considered to be the bread and butter of chest building exercises, but truth is, barbells are not a must have if your goal is to build muscle in the chest.
Barbell bench presses is certainly an optimal exercise for building the chest, but they don’t provide any advantages over a regular dumbbell press. Many lifters actually believe that dumbbell presses are far superior to barbell presses.
There are two primary reasons why dumbbells are the preferred choice for chest building:
1. Dumbbell presses have a further range of motion than barbells.
The principal function of pectoral muscles, are to force the arms across the front of the body. This is a type of movement is referred to as “horizontal adduction”.
With hands locked onto a barbell bench press, horizontal adduction is limited purely to a straight up and down range of motion, assuming the lifter is lifting correctly and safely. The rigid range of motion in a barbell bench press reduces tension in the pectorals, distributing the weight onto the deltoids and triceps, changing the amount of intensity placed on those muscles. A barbell press also places more stress the shoulder joints, making it more likely to cause injury.
2. Dumbbell presses provide equally distributed development throughout your whole chest.
One of the impediments to lifting in a barbell bench press exercise is that chest muscles are not forced to build evenly. When lifting in a barbell press, the dominant side of the body is allowed to make up for the weaker side because all the force gets expelled into one bilateral movement. This imbalance can become visible both in strength and appearance if other exercises are not grouped in to work each muscle more effectively.
Dumbbell presses have an advantage because they force each side of the body to lift in an isolateral movement. In an isolateral movement, each arm, and each muscle must independently lift the weight on its own. Dumbbell press movements force each muscle to work independently of each other, inducing more stress on each individual muscle, developing an increasingly balanced strength throughout the triceps, shoulders, and chest.
But are barbell bench presses mandatory for achieving optimal pectoral gains?
Barbell bench presses are a great inclusion to your chest exercise routine. Keep in mind however, that you always want to execute barbell lifts with proper technique, as well as a spotter.
However, the focus of this article is to clarify that:
First, barbell bench presses can be an effective way to build up your chest, a key gauge for judging a lifter’s total body strength, and a great inclusion in your routine of primary chest building exercises. When lifting in a barbell press, a lifter should always lift correctly, and follow proper safety procedures.
Second, dumbbell presses can absolutely be the superior choice for building strength and size within the chest. The larger range of motion allows each muscle to work more intensely, and the isolateral movement creates balanced strength throughout the chest. Many lifters use dumbbell presses as their leading chest building exercise. But of course, a well-rounded lifting routine is the best overall choice.