Is bench press with dumbbells less effective than bench press with barbell, if so why?

  • 1
    My dumbbell bench press weight before I started Barbell bench press: 40 lb dumbbells. after 1 month of barbell benching, I am using the 55 lb dumbbells on my db bench. It took me 4 months to get from the 30 lb dumbbells to the 40s. Draw your own conclusions.
    – user3294
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


In Starting Strength, a well-known book on barbell training, Mark Rippetoe says (emphasis mine):

In fact, the dumbbell version of the exercise, which actually predates the barbell version due to its less specialized equipment requirements, is probably a better exercise for most purposes other than training for a powerlifting competition. This is especially true if the weights used are sufficiently heavy to challenge your ability to actually finish the set. Most trainees use them as a light assistance movement, and never appreciate how hard they are or how useful they can be. They are performed on a simple flat bench, and taking the dumbbells out of the rack or off the floor, getting into position on the flat bench, and getting up with them after the set is finished is a large part of the exercise. Dumbbells — being not tied together between the hands as with a barbell - require more active, conscious control, are harder to do, and are therefore less commonly done. There is a one-handed version, in which only one dumbbell is used, that requires a tremendous amount of core strength to just stay on the bench.

It goes on to recommend doing the barbell version ("as the weight of history and precedent demands"), though.

  • 5
    +1 great answer. In addition to history and precedent, Rip points out that "the main limitation in training with dumbbells is that you are usually at the mercy of the dumbbell rack in the gym, in that you have little control over your incremental increases -- you have to use what's there, and the next jump up may be too big. This can be addressed with magnets in the appropriate weights." Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 13:56

It is a different exercise. Quoting Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength, p.68):

... the dumbbell version ... is probably a better exercise for most purposes other than powerlifting competition.

He also says that getting into position, and getting up with the dumbbells after the set "is a large part of the fun", and that they require more conscious control and are harder to do compared to the barbell version.

I don't see why it should be less effective, except in regard to the bench press as competitive lift.


From my experience when Bench pressing with a good spotter will be 10 times more effective. it tends to use more of your core and also if done correctly you will see a vast improvement when training to your tri's too. You center of gravity is also better when barbell pressing and ensures a good press.

I would only dumbbell press if if the bench press equipment is not capable of spotting you with a lift your self and you believe that you could be putting your self in danger.


Main difference is that it is not a core lift. I use it as an accessory exercise at higher volumes (10-12 rep range) to improve my bench press.

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