Pectoral Battle Royale: Barbells Vs. Dumbbells Vs. Smith Machine
When you want to pit your brute strength against another man or woman, you aren't going to the gym to see who can do more lunges. Instead, it devolves into a shoving match, a bench press showdown.
Strong humans waged such contests for millennia in battlefields, gyms, military bases and elsewhere. To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy: "You know you're a redneck if you've had a bench-pressing competition in your driveway or backyard."
Today we use stages and strongmen contests, flex-offs and street fights. Regardless of the competition setting, the goal is to win, right? Are you better served using a barbell, dumbbells or the Smith Machine?
Set aside preconceived notions and consider this strength issue from all sides and angles. You need the help. If you were content with your pectoral development and bench press prowess, you wouldn't read this article, would you?
Let's break this down category by category, and see how these iron-trade tools stack up in a pec-to-pec comparison.
Assess Strength Factor
You gain strength if you progressively lift more and more weight over time. If you can't lift more, something is terribly wrong. You may be lifting too fancy. You can perform advanced techniques like supersets, drop sets and forced sets, but you need to continually add more weight to the bar to become stronger.
Which of our three lifts works best for strength? In a study published in the Journal of Sports Science, researchers assessed the differences between the barbell, DBs and Mr. Smith. Twelve healthy males performed the three variations, resting 3-to-5 days between sessions.
When the study completed, the barbell loading weight was 3 percent higher than the Smith machine load, and the Smith machine was 14 percent higher than the dumbbell load. Subjects were able to lift 17 percent more weight at their one rep max using a barbell compared to a dumbbell.
The Smith machine has been criticized for locking the user into a certain position that could potentially raise the risk of injury. Keep in mind, this complaint is aimed at squats in the Smith machine rather than bench presses.
The study proves that most individuals can lift more weight by benching with a barbell. Take that route for maximum strength.
Make Sure Both Sides Carry Equal Weight
Muscular imbalance is another key issue. If one pectoral is stronger than the other, your chest will be more lopsided than Tara Reid's boob job. Will a barbell-only workout regimen work? Not really. Barbell pressing masks muscular imbalances. The stronger side overcompensates for the weaker side and strength differences will grow.
If you chest press with dumbbells, you become aware of any strength mismatch, because one side will wobble or drop. Balanced body strength leads to superior performance and injury prevention in competitive sports. Even non-athletes need to consider strength imbalances and be concerned with long-term body stability.
A Symphony of Shred
You must make triceps a top priority if you want big guns. The triceps naturally contain more muscle mass than biceps, making triceps the primary upper-arm muscle.
Researchers noted the electrical activity (muscular activation) was greater in the triceps muscle when performing barbell chest presses compared to the dumbbells. The biceps came into play more when subjects performed the dumbbell lift compared to the barbell and Smith.
This determines which muscles to target when performing chest presses. Build triceps mass with barbells, but if you want bigger, stronger biceps, the dumbbell press gives you two tickets to paradise.
Note that researchers found no statistical difference in the electrical stimulation of the pectoralis muscle or the anterior deltoid across all three lifts. Whatever method you choose will not influence recruitment of chest and shoulder muscles.
Assessing Convenience Factors
If you exercise at home, use dumbbells, unless you have a bench press machine. A full set of barbells and weight plates is optimal.
Most people don't have Smith Machines available in their home gym. In a gym, however, the Smith machine conveniently lets you move a decent-sized load without the help of a spotter. Essentially, the hooks fill the spotter function.
ADVANTAGE HOME: Barbell
ADVANTAGE GYM: Smith Machine
The Final Verdict
There is no single, correct answer to the question. All modes have pros and cons, so it's important to take a good look at your individual situation and determine which is going to best meet your preferences and goals.
The body responds best to variability over time. Alternate lifts as weeks progress. Take advantage of the strengths of each; sidestep their limitations.
Attack chest and arm muscles with different methods to install movement patterns, promote further strength gains and help avoid plateaus. Be sure you consistently add more weight to the bar. Pay attention to proper form and discover what gives you the best results.
- Fimland, MS. Saeterbakken, AH, & Van Den Tillaar, R. (2011). A Comparison Of Muscle Activity And 1-RM Strength Of Three Chest-Press Exercises With Different Stability Requirements. Journal of Sports Science. Jan 7:1-6.
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I think you have to factor all of these methods to achieve maximum results with strength and the shape of your chest . You see the dudes come into the gym and all they do is barbell bench then ***** in summer that they do not have a shaped chiseled chest that they wanted .
Knowledge is the key with anything at the gym , listen to other people it will help you form your own opinions and get max results .
To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy: "You know you're a redneck if you've had a bench-pressing competition in your driveway or backyard."
You knowz you be a soul brudder when you be uzzin' dem glocks for da gunz trainin'.
Dumbells are good for people who have shoulder injurys because u will naturally position the shoulders in the movement thats the most comfortable/safe feeling throughout the rep, also because your the one creating the exercise/movement you also strengthen the stabilizer muscles which make u over all more strong.
As long as your using compound chest movements and u take EVERY set to failure u will see strength gains its called the overload principle, of course u want chest exercises that affect the most of the pecs both pectorilis major and minor.
I'm really confused about how in the study people ended up benching more weight with barbell than smith machine...
I mean usually the smith machine is lighter and easier to stabilize.
All I can figure is the straight/updown makes the triceps more of a limiting factor whereas people benching the barbell end up using the shoulder/chest more?
When using the barbell, you're using more muscle fibers and you're also using your stabilizers to a greater degree, resulting in more energy being used to push the bar up. The big thing about it is called muscle irradiation. It's when you use more muscles, resulting in more energy consumption in your body, which transfers to more energy put into the exercise. A good example is if you're making a fist, if you squeeze your abs and your glutes it will tighten your fist further
dear beginners or intermediates,
I am doing gym for last 3 yrs and have tried all , diff workout plan, diet, free weight, resistance, bench, smith.
Ans to above question may have clear winners as per your case and goal.
For eg if you are a beginner and just want to be athletic body or fat cutting.
start with dumble for one month or two month as it will recruit more muscles and make a base and use stablisers as well.
second stage -do a smith machine , start with max wight as , do two sets of 5 and then do 20,20, and last 30 with low W.
( decline ,plane, incline, fly, crossover pully, bench pull over )
after spennding one ( at least) month at second stage
- U reach to INTERMEDIATE STAGE.
after base of three months, Now u can knock off good W from chest without a chance of disbalance and diff side growth as base is good/strong.
Now u can do a banch press with BAR TO let ur power test and go to next stage, keep a target to increase ten pounds each week.
do first set with 80-90% of capacity W, do 5-6 Rep, Two sets ( it increase ur strength) , next two sets with 15 rep with 60-70%. last set of 30 with 50%.
start with simple bench press, incline press, dumble fly decline to get u good shape, dumble pull over, cross over by pully to shape.
do vertical pull/push ( chest/ bend pull over, back row) and curls on monday- tuesday Quadds, wed rest, thursday- horizental pull push ( 3 shldr, 2 back) tricep
frid- hams ( deadlift , press)- abs every day for 5 mins at last- lower abs and uper- alternate, Bes of luck,
personally finding i can hit the bar with all the intensity ive got.possibly because all you have to focus on once you've clenched the bar and inhaled is, Booozsh.
But then muscle contraction and concentration i could really focus it on the dumb and get more blood circulating.
So... to sum up as an beg-int lifter i go bar for strength for now only because its really working for me.