Q: A guy at my gym told me that dumbbell bench presses are better than barbell benches for chest development. He said it’s because of the increased range of motion you can get with the dumbbells and the pec squeeze you can do at the top. What do you think? Should I switch?
A: Well, as we explain in The Ultimate Mass Workout e-book, neither of those is best for chest development; decline presses are a much better choice because that angle puts you in a more ergonomically correct position for hitting pecs and minimizing front-delt involvement (it’s why people lift their butts off the bench when doing them flat—to get into the more advantageous decline position).
Nevertheless, we understand that it’s sometimes hard to find a decline bench press setup, so a flat bench press is the next best thing. Should you use dumbbells or a barbell? Both have their advantages. That’s the reason we generally alternate between them—but we do prefer one over the other…
We’ve found that the barbell is better, but not just because you can overload the pecs with more weight than with dumbbells. With your hands locked on the bar, you can push inward statically, creating more nerve force and fiber activation in your pecs. With dumbbells, you have to balance and control the arc as you push them up, and it’s very easy to allow your front delts and triceps to take over. That’s not such a problem for trainees with naturally good pecs, but both of us have low neuromuscular efficiency in our pectoral muscles, which means our front delts and triceps will take over at every opportunity—and dumbbells provide that opportunity more than a barbell.
What about the increased range of motion with dumbbells? If you use 3D Positions of Flexion, you get stretch overload from flyes (stretch-position exercise) and tension in the flexed position with cable crossovers (contracted-position exercise). You cover the full spectrum of the pectoral muscles’ range, so there’s no need to worry about that on bench presses, the midrange move, so you can concentrate on max-force generation, the biggest contributor to getting bigger pecs.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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