Dumbbells or Barbells? The Answer is Simple!

It’s an age-old question in the iron game… Are dumbbells or barbells better for building muscle? Well, when it comes to any type of bench press, dumbbells allow a fuller range of motion, less shoulder stress and a more natural movement…

BUT, with a barbell you can statically drive inward with your hands on the bar, which creates a unique pec contraction throughout the set. Plus, theres no need to worry about balance and controlling the weight in each hand, as you would with dumbbells.

So which is ultimately the better choice for bench pressing type of movements? The answer is much simpler than you may think. The best choice is… The one you feel the best in your chest. Period. Argument over.

That goes for just about any exercise, actually. Use the one that you feel best in the target muscle you’re trying to build. That holds true for bench presses, pulldowns, rows or whatever you can think of.

Some trainees like chest-supported dumbbell rows because the dumbbells can come together at the bottom for more of a stretch in the midback and trap area. Others like their hands locked in one position on a barbell so that they can squeeze the midback harder at the top contraction.

If you can’t decide which ultimately works best for you based on feel, just alternate between them. Use dumbbells at one workout and a barbell at the next.

If you really do have a hard time feeling either exercise, you might want to consider trying some training, pre-exhaust supersets or modified pre-ex. The modified version is without supersets, where you just do 3X or 4X sequences on both exercises, but still with the pre-ex bias, so with either pre-ex method you do a contracted-position exercise first…

As an example, try doing your cable crossovers before bench presses, bent-arm bent-over laterals before rows, and so on. If you are able to superset the two exercises, you get more density overload, or simply more work in less time, but some gyms are crowded which can make that too much of a burden. That’s prime time to use the modified version mentioned above.

You could also try to alternate Pre-Ex 3X at one workout and then the big exercise first at your next workout. That little bit of variety can also help to keep the motivation high so that you always have a little extra something to look forward to.

About the Author

Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns X-Rep.com where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog.  He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.