Chest Press, Dumbbells VS Barbell… the Debate!!!

Many people have different views on which apparatus is going to give you the most benefits when training your chest. Many people who weight train have a favourite and will not stray from their preferred method of pressing. Some people do not have the luxury of having an option as there gym does not provide them with both (like SFY does!!!). Others prefer to stick to one method due to injury or mobility issues in shoulders and elbows.  Here is my viewpoint on the pros and cons of training with each type of equipment, although nothing is set in stone and I would love to hear your own personal opinions on our SFY Facebook page, or in person.


Pros for barbell training – I personally believe from my own experiences there is nothing better for building raw pressing strength than getting underneath a heavy barbell for some low repetitions. Going as heavy as possible with a spotter for three to around 6 repetitions will help you to build power and get your ligaments used to handling the big weights. People with short leavers will be at the biggest advantage when it comes to shifting the weight, as shorter arms and a barrel chest will mean less distance to push.

On the other end of the weight training spectrum, using extremely high volume training such as German Volume Training (GVT) specifically for mass and growth would make me personally lean more towards using a barbell.  My reasoning behind this would be small muscles used to stabilise dumbbells on GVT would fatigue quicker than the big target muscles (pectorals).

The barbell can also be used to put more strain on specific muscle groups. When pressing pectorals, front deltoids (front of your shoulders) and triceps come into play. Narrowing your pressing grip will put more strain and help develop your triceps. Wider grips will put more strain and help develop your pectorals, and an extra wide grip will put extra strain on your front deltoids. With this in mind weaknesses in your pressing power or how your upper torso looks aesthetically, can be improved by strategic changing your grip.

Barbell training to your maximum will be made difficult if you struggle to find a training partner, or don’t have a spotter. I would not bother using a barbell on my own as not having a spotter would not give me the confidence to work to fatigue and push it to the limit for fear and the embarrassment of getting stuck under a barbell and not being able to get out. Simply watching some of the horror YouTube videos of people making errors with their barbell training with no spotter is enough to put me off, ouch!


Dumbbells the pros

Pros for training chest with dumbbells – One major advantage of training with dumbbells is they allow you freedom to find your own pressing movements as you are not locked in position as with a bar. Each arm/pectoral is working individually and there is no power transfer from an opposite side which you get when using a barbell. This will help build well balanced strength as well as shaping each pectoral individually. Because of the freedom to move people with limited mobility in elbows and shoulders may find dumbbells more comfortable to use.

From a safety point of view dumbbells are a lot better option if you are training on your own. If you cannot complete a lift there is no chance you are going to become trapped underneath a barbell as with the individual dumbbells you can simply put them down if you’re struggling with your repetition.

Depending on repetitions and sets used dumbbells will help to build good shape with the pectorals. Super setting your dumbbell press with lighter dumbbell fly’s or a press up will help add mass to your torso due to the workload put on these muscle.  It is easier to do this sort of training with dumbbells as you can have two different weights to hand for a quick changeover on exercises.

Which should I choose for my training?

So let’s presume you have no injuries, good mobility and are not training a specific lifting event. Which option should I choose?

My own personal opinion is to utilise what both training apparatus has to offer.  Why choose just one when you can get the advantages and benefits of both training styles. I suggest using the barbell to build mass and power for lower repetitions. Use dumbbells to improve the shape of your chest and increase shoulder stability when lifting and for sports. How you work this will be entirely down to preference but examples could be a simple swap every week. One week use barbells only, the next train with dumbbells only for your pressing. You could also go for a “cycle” just focusing on one method for a prolonged period of time then change back. You could do this for between 3-6 weeks to progress specifically on just one method.

How you tailor your workouts is personal preference so trial and error to discover what works best for you is the key. Remember no one is the same so what works for one person may not work for the rest. Training should be personal to you!!


Keep progressing with your training, no matter what your goal may be,

Danny Allan

Swift Fitness York