Why Is Dumbbell Bench Press Harder?

Whether you are lifting weights for bodybuilding, powerlifting or to just get into shape chest exercises like dumbbell bench press will be a main exercise you perform. Mixing up dumbbell and barbell exercises can be beneficial in several different way including hitting different smaller muscle groups you may not use on one of them.

guy doing dumbbell press struggling

So why is dumbbell bench press harder then barbell bench press? 

Dumbbell bench press is harder because you are increasing your range of motion along with working your stabilizers more. Each side of your pecks is acting individually and not as a team so one side can't pick up the slack of the other one. Another reason they are harder is because you can't get as much weight into position using dumbbells versus a barbell with a rack. This is where your spotter can come into help.

Both Dumbbell and Barbell Press should be a major part of your workout program. However having said that unless you are a powerlifter you don't necessarily need barbell bench press. It is of course nice to walk around saying I bench so and so instead of saying well I can bench press some heavy dumbbells. At some point you are going to want to use barbell press and you will enjoy it more then dumbbell press more then likely.

Below we asked actually weightlifters about their opinion on dumbbell vs barbell presses and why they are much harder. They had some good feedback too.

Dumbbell VS Barbell Bench Press

We didn't want you to only take our opinion on this matter so we went out and gathered information from different lifting websites and forums. Those including Bodybuilding.com and some weightlifting sub reddits.

This data was curated so the only thing changed was grammar or spelling where needed to make readable or bad words taken out. Other then that the answers remain original.

Real Weightlifters

1. Tavernicus “Work Stabilizers” – DB works stabilizers, and you can get more ROM. I always hit DB bench after BB bench(incline/flat).

2. WannaGo127 “More shoulder friendly as well” – Training pressing exercises with dumbbells instead of barbells is generally more shoulder-friendly. However, I wouldn't call dumbbells superior to barbells or vice versa. If you want to become a strong barbell bencher, there is no reason to scrap barbell benching. If you want to become a strong dumbbell bencher, use dumbbells. Dumbbells require more balancing though, so stabilizers get more work. Moreover, benching with a barbell creates torque in the shoulders as the hands are fixed on the bar. Dumbbells let the arms move freely, so there is no torque (easier on the rotator cuffs).

If your shoulders hurt after benching, your technique is probably off. Benching usually hurts when shoulders come into play too much; shoulders should be tucked back into their sockets. If shoulders move during benching, shoulder joints are placed under heavy and unwanted stress. Refine your technique and try to keep shoulders immobile.

That being said, the same shoulder-protecting technique applies to dumbbell bench pressing as well. You don't want your shoulders moving the weight, but your triceps and chest. So if you go for a really long range of motion with the dumbbells, your shoulders are likely bound to move more than they should.

In conclusion: if you like to bench press with dumbbells, do it by all means, they are no worse than barbells; they surpass barbells in terms of shoulder health. But I wouldn't recommend shooting for a wider range of motion just because it is possible with dumbbells, because it puts the shoulders in a disadvantageous position. Longer stretch in the muscle and increased DOMS do not mean increased hypertrophy.

3. GuyOnThisSite “Not a powerlifter don't need barbell” – If you're not a powerlifter and don't care about having the biggest bench press numbers, then you may even benefit both aesthetically and injury-wise by going dumbbell only. They allow you to work more stabilizers, and put your limbs in the safest positions.

However, you'd probably still want to barbell bench some just because you can load up a lot more weight than with dumbbells.

4. FulThrottleJazzHands “More range of motion” – DB will give you more range of motion (that “stretch” you're feeling) and will work your stabilizers more. Once you get to a certain point, BB becomes necessary because you can't balance DBs and lifting them into position becomes a problem past a certain weight.

5. DontDoIt17 “Bigger ROM, More Stretch, More Stabilization” – Yes, DB bench does give you a bigger ROM, more stretch, and more stabilization work. But then, you can always do more weight on a barbell.

6. EvidenceBasedDC “Dumbbells far superior” – Generally, I find dumbbells superior to barbells. If you have plans of powerlifting in your lifetime, I would still make the bench your focus.

7. Evangelical1971 “Mix it up as much as possible” – I do a mix. I do regular Bench (flat barbell bench press), but then do incline and decline dumbell press. So I never actually do flat dumbell press. But I think the variety gets me what I need.

8. Stuward “DB's just different in a good way” – It's different, it's not superior or inferior. It does increase the range of motion and that's a good thing but it carries some risk if you go heavier that you're ready for.

9. SiloTheGreat “Hit different muscles” –  think both variations hit different chest muscles. I've been doing PHUL a majority of the summer and I've been working the barbell more and I've noticed some differences in my pecs. I do prefer dumbbells though and think they are more effective in the long run.

10. JayHigher “Stabilizing muscles” – Stabilizing muscles are also a big factor. This is the same reason that free weights are harder to lift than using any type of weight machine.

11. LitterallyIAmPuck “Torque off bar makes easier” – The stabilizing individual weights part is true, but with something like a barbell, your arms are able to create torque off the bar.

Your shoulders (and hips) create stability in the joint by external rotation forces (most of the time). A lot of trainers and coaches will tell people to “bend/break the bar” in their set-up, which is a cue to create that rotation in the shoulder that allows the shoulder to be stable.

When you do a dumbbell press, most of the time people do this with their elbows our at a 90 degree angle from their body. In this position, your shoulder joint is much more INTERNALLY rotated, which causes instability in the joint. Your nervous system does not want to put heavy force through an unstable joint because that can often be dangerous.

12. AMGS_Initiative “Separate weights” – When using separate weights, not only is the arm reponsible for upwards motion, it also has to compensate for the balancing act of the weights.


Related Dumbbell Bench Press Questions

Why can I dumbbell press more than bench?

Benching more with dumbbells than a barbell is definitely not normal. I would either have somebody watch or video you doing your dumbbell bench press and your barbell bench press. You are more then likely touching your chest or shoulders with the dumbbell. Then on your barbell you definitely need to work on your technique and alignment make sure you are not too high using more of your shoulders. Let your chest do the bulk of the work and you should see a significant increase in your barbell versus your dumbbell press.

How much can the average man dumbbell press?

The average man can dumbbell bench press 70-80% of their barbell bench press. The average bench for a beginner is 135 lbs so 70-80% of that would be 95 lbs (48 lbs each) to 110 lbs (55 lbs each).

What is a good weight for dumbbell bench press?

A good weight to start with on dumbbell bench press is 70-80% of what you are comfortable to barbell bench press. So let's say you can rep 135 lbs for 10 reps on barbell press that would mean you can us 45 lb dumbbells to press first or start out a little lighter if this is your first time with dumbbells.

Should you do both barbell and dumbbell bench?

You should work dumbbells and barbells into your bench routine. They will definitely benefit one another as dumbbells work your range of motion more along with your stabilizers. If you are a powerlifter I would work dumbbell press in after you do your barbell exercises and not before.

Why are all my lifts getting stronger except my bench which is getting weaker?

If all your lifts are getting stronger except your bench you need to make sure you are getting proper rest for your chest muscles. Maybe dedicate an entire workout to your chest then have the following day be a rest day. Also make sure you are doing different exercises, weights, repetition, using dumbbells and barbell. Maybe do a separate day for just your triceps as well if you are on a 7 day routine. Stretching can also be a factor believe it or not if your muscles are not being stretched it can lead to additional fatigue and soreness. Try a specialized stretching routine after each of your workouts.

Will dumbbell press help my bench?

Dumbbell press will help your bench how much will be determined on how you mix it in. Usually if you are a powerlifter you want to mix it in after your barbell exercises. It will help with stabilizing and range of motion especially if you are barbell pause pressing your max which deals more with these two factors.

Tab Winner

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