Dumb bell vs. barbell training

One for the boys this week – chest development focus.
Up and down the country (and possibly the world), Mondays have somehow become national chest day! Mainly for men, I rarely see a woman using Monday as an excuse to train chest (or any other day for that matter). If used correctly, dumbbells AND barbells can be used to develop that strapping chest of yours! So, what’s the difference? Well, barbells are heavy sticks that you can hold with both hands and add extra weight on each end as and when you please, whilst dumbbells are small pre-weighted pins of metal that you hold in each hand! Got it? Welcome to training for 5 year olds!
Barbell training can actually offer a greater opportunity for gradual progression. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to throw a 1.25kg on each side of the bar than jump up in 2kg increments on a dumbbell (for EACH arm). FACT: on average, fitness fanatics (gym goers, people, weight lifters, whatever you want to call yourself) can lift 20% more with a barbell than with dumbbells on any given exercise. Primarily due to the fact that you’ll use fewer stabilizer muscles, meaning you can focus all that super human strength on lifting than trying to prevent your awkward looking wiggle.
As the barbell is already set in an overhead position in the rack, it makes it easier to ‘go harder’ than it would if you were working with dumbbells. Consider this; how often have you seen someone dumbbell pressing 100kg in each hand? Rarely. It’s easier to load up a bar that lift dumbbells of extreme hulk-like weight. The fact your weights are already preset above your head/chest also means that there’s less chance of you screwing your self over with injuries whilst purely trying to manoeuvre heavy weights from the ground to your chest press position. Has anyone ever seen someone wiggly around like an uncomfortable worm with a bunch of big old weights? It’s not pretty.
For all those lone trainers, if you’re without a spotter and/or are unable to get a friendly fellow lifter to support you, dumbbells are the safer option! It’s easier to drop them without endangering your chest or your airway. Admittedly, I have indeed been one of those over-optimistic lone trainers who has ended up with 90kg of weight stuck on my chest without a Prince(ss) Charming to save me! Embarrassment to the max.
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So, what are the other reasons that make dumbbell pressing so super duper ‘cool’? Mainly, it encourages stability at the shoulder and distributes the weight equally upon each side of the chest. After all, nobody wants to walk around with one pec bigger than the other! Mentally, you will need to be more focused with dumbbells as they require greater co-ordination and stabilization of not only your arms and chest muscles, but a hell of a lot of your core. The bonus of using dumbbells is that they can actually enhance your form when you put your mind to it. Dumbbells will give you a greater range of motion and muscle activation compared to barbell presses as you can only go so low with a barbell before the sodding thing hits your chest. They (dumbbells that is) will also increase the amount of transverse flexion/adduction you have to do at the beginning of the lift. More flexion, more gains.
*** TIPS ***
Firstly; when you’re pressing the dumbbells upwards, also press them inwards (as in, towards one another, but not actually hitting) as this will give you a lot more of loaded transverse flexion/adduction. The fact that you’re keeping the weights closer to your body and line of travel will prevent over stretching of your joints and minimise injuries. So although a barbell won’t put you at a higher risk of injuries (due to the fact your hands are fixed and can’t wiggle anywhere), it will discourage arm activation.
Secondly; if you want to make the dumbbell press more effective, the key is to bring your hands lower than your chest on the eccentric. Make a real effort to get that stretch across your chest. If you can’t bring your hands lower than your chest, you’ve gone too heavy. Gains were not made from poor form.
So, what’s the biggest difference between the use of barbells and dumbbells? Mainly the range of movement (ROM). Although it’s just one factor, it can be the difference between injuries, imbalances and strength. What’s the verdict? Barbells are be used if you’re looking to build strength and hit those heavier weights, whereas you can use dumbbells are a way to balance imperfections and increase symmetry in appearance and strength, with more of a focus on hypertrophy. But as usual VARIATION IS TRAINING IS KEY!
Boyce, L. (2013). 5 Truths About Pressing. Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/5-truths-about-pressing
Hill, D. (2015). Do Dumbbells or Barbells Build More Mass? Retrieved from:http://www.livestrong.com/article/525777-do-dumbbells-or-barbells-build-more-mass/
Muir, C. (2015). The Ultimate Barbell Vs Dumbbell Showdown. Retrieved from:http://leanmuscleproject.com/barbell-vs-dumbbell/
Thibaudeau, C. (2015). Tip: For Pecs, Use Dumbbells Not Barbells. Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-for-pecs-use-dumbbells-not-barbells

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