Dumbbell Vs. Barbell Chest Press: Which Is Better?

If you have reasonable experience of training within the gym and undertaking chest exercises, then you have probably used either a barbell or dumbbells to perform a chest press exercise.

But which one is better for building strength and muscle?

First of all, let’s assume that you understand that free weights are ‘generally’ much more effective than using machines.

I use the term ‘generally’ loosely as machine weights definitely have a big part to play in most training regiments and routines so shouldn’t be disregarded.

But your main focus on executing heavier lifts should be on free weight exercises (Dumbbells/Barbells) if you are looking to make the most noticeable and efficient gains in strength and size.

Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press requires you to lift two separate weights simultaneously from start to finish.

As you can imagine this requires more isolation on each side of the body and should therefore show up any recognisable differences in strength pretty quickly.

I have seen (and experienced) an individual being more dominant on one side of their body than the other.

This usually is down to simply being more naturally dominant on one side than than the other, such as being right or left handed.

Using dumbbells will quickly get the side which is falling behind upto speed to keep up with the other.

Usually, in this case, both dumbbells are lowered in weight until both sides of the chest can perform the exercise equally as effectively or isolation exercises can be done to get upto speed.

Dumbbells, compared with a barbell, activate the pectorals more due to your ability to control the motion more than you would a barbell, which leads to a better chance of hypertrophy provided you are using progressive overload.

If training alone, you can also safely drop the weights if you really need to without the possibility of being stuck underneath a barbell.

You might get told off though LOL

Gym staff when you drop heavy weights

The Downside Of Using Dumbbells

You might have difficulty getting them into position from the floor up to above your chest, even though you are capable of doing a good amount of repetitions.

Barbell Chest Press

The barbell chest press is the greatest ‘alpha exercise’ of all time and always will be.

It also well known for it’s ability to cause shoulder pain over time.

How To Fix Shoulder Pain

If you can chest press 100kg on a barbell then you will probably be respected as quite strong in most commercial gyms.

Because the barbell is in a fixated position and you can use your whole body to push the weight, despite any imbalances, you should generally be able to press more than you would with two separate dumbbells.

This therefore activates more of the surrounding agonist and antagonist muscles, which then start to ‘chip in’ with pushing the barbell back up into start position.

The barbell can also allow you to add small increments of weight if you are trying to improve your strength very gradually.

You could potentially add on just 0.5kg each side to the bar from your previous session or quickly during your session.

The Downside Of Using The Barbell

Training on the barbell alone is very risky if you are aiming for low reps/high weight and not advised without a spotter, as the bar will end up on your chest if you can not push it back up.

I have been there, it sucks. We have all seen the videos of people getting stuck.

On the flip-side of the coin, it may be easier for you when training alone as you are able to take the weight from a position where you can control the weight instantly and not have to prop it into position in the first place.

That is where it can be more useful for moderate/weight and moderate repetition scenarios.


Overall, if it is hypertrophy which is your focus then the dumbbells are going to be more useful but that’s not to say the barbell wouldn’t have its place in increasing strength.

Whereas the barbell would be used predominantly for increasing strength as opposed to hypertrophy.

Both exercises will increase both aspects but one more so than the other if done correctly and as part of a routine.

So the simplest thing to remember as a quick tip next time you train:

Dumbbells – Better for Hypertrophy

Barbell – Better for Strength

Let me know if you found this helpful and leave a like if you are feeling nice.

Can’t make it to the gym but still need a chest workout?

>>For more information, posts, training programmes and training tips visit my website tjhealthandfitness.com

Published by Thomas Jackson Smith

Personal Trainer. Qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach, Exercise Referral specialist, Football coach and entrepreneur. Interested in health and fitness, exercise prescription, football, nutrition, injury prevention, recovery and mindset improvement. Any views are my own and from my own experience. Looking to build links within the blog community, replying to feedback and offering support so we can learn and grow together!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: