Barbell and Dumbbell? or Barbell then Dumbbell?

  1. Question Barbell and Dumbbell? or Barbell then Dumbbell?

    Hey guys... I have a question on what you guys do as far as chest goes with dumbbell/barbell. I am trying to figure out if I should stick to barbell for my chest day one week and then switch to dumbbell for the next. Or if I should alternate the two in each workout?

    I do switch the order of my exercises so I am not always doing flat first. I just have it this way for example sake. I also almost always do incline dumbbell flyes. However, I excluded them from my examples because they are always done with dumbbells. Here are a couple examples of what I am saying, if I worded it wrong this should help ya see what is going on in my pea brain :

    Week 1. Flat barbell press/incline barbell press/decline smith machine barbell press/flye machine

    Week 2. Flat dumbbell press/inclined dumbbell press/decline dumbbell press/dumbbell flyes

    Or should I be mixing the dumbbell/barbell exercises together?

    Week 1. Flat barbell/inclined dumbbell/decline smith barbell/dumbbell flye

    Week 2. Flat dumbbell/inclined barbell/decline dumbbell/flye machine

    What do ya think? A or B? Or should I make it a 4 workout cycle and do A and B both? Just wondering what yall think, or even what you do yourself.

  2. I don't use bars much... just don't like the feel, takes less concentration and effort IMO, I like the stretch, the pump, and it's easier on my wrists to have that slight rotation available at the bottom of the rep... my arms are long as ****, and I really like the extended range of motion db's provide... I always start with incline, but sometimes change it up, throw in a few sets of flat, and go back to finish incline etc... hmm, what else... what feels the best to you? Have you looked through the bench poll thread? There may be useful info in there.

  3. ya.. i have taken a look in there.. and my arms are long as **** to but i don't really like to leave out the bar stuff cuz i feel they give me a good workout too. the only one i skip sometimes is decline cuz i think flat hits the lower chest well enough to leave it out sometimes.

    anyone else?
  4. YOu may find this interesting

    You may find this interesting

    Variations In The Bench Press
    by Tom McCullough MEd., MSS

    The bench press may be the most popular and widely used exercise used for developing the chest (Thompson, 1994). But go into any gym today and you will see quite a few different variations being done. Thereís the decline, the incline, the flat bench and to make things even more complicated, all of these can be done with dumbbells. Is one better than the others? Which one should you use and what does each develop?

    Well, this is where we must begin to separate popular Ďgym mythsí from reality. First letís look at the claims of many bodybuilders. Most believe the angle of the bench has lots to do with what part of the chest you will use. So it is a pretty common belief among weightlifters that the decline bench targets the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major (the lower pecs) and the incline bench hits the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (the upper pecs). So obviously the flat bench must hit a little of both. What about the grip position? Should we use a wide grip or is a narrow grip? Iím sure most of us have heard that a wide grip uses more chest and shoulders and a narrow grip uses more triceps.

    Is this common advice just another fine example of the Ďgym mythí or is there actually some science to back these anecdotal claims? Before we attempt to answer this burning question letís first take a look at what really happens when the bench press is performed. As most of us are aware the major muscle used in the movement of the bench press is the pectoralis major. While the pectoralis major is actually one muscle, it has two heads -- the clavicular head and the sternocostal head. The clavicular head or the upper pecs originate at the middle part of the clavicle. The sternocostal head or lower pecs originate at the costal cartlidges of the first six ribs and the adjoining portion of the sternum. Both heads span the chest and eventually join and insert on the humerus or the bone of the upper arm. It is pretty much accepted by sport scientists that the upper pecs are responsible for shoulder flexion or moving the arm upward and the lower pecs are responsible for shoulder extension or moving the arm downward (Lockhart 1974). So at this point it still seems logical to believe that the decline position may actually hit the lower pecs and the incline will hit the upper pecs.

    But wait...before we draw any conclusions, letís take a quick look at some of the other muscles involved in moving the bench press. First we have the triceps brachii. The major function of the triceps is to extend the elbow and shoulder joints. The triceps brachii actually consist of three heads (long, lateral, and medial). The medial and lateral heads attach to the upper arm and elbow performing extension of the elbow joint while the long head attaches to the scapula to extend the shoulder.

    Next we have the deltoids. While the deltoid is only one muscle it actually attaches in three places giving it three distinct heads (anterior, lateral, and posterior). While the posterior and lateral heads are used as stabilizers in the bench press we are only going to be concerned with the anterior or front deltoids (McCaw, 1994). The front deltoids are responsible for flexion, by moving the arm upward and horizontal adduction, which is moving the arm toward the chest.

    The last muscle we will take a look at is the latissimus dorsi or the lats. The lats in this case, act as an adductor by pushing the arm toward the midline of the body. The lats however, are thought to play only a very minor part in the actual moving of the bench press. They have been shown to be effective just prior to the bottom phase of the lift (Barnett, 1995).

    Now what does science have to say about the effectiveness of all of these variations in the bench press? As many of us are aware, when a muscle contracts it produces electrical energy. The higher the electrical energy the more work the actual muscle is producing. By attaching electrodes to the skin over the bellies of each of these muscles this electrical energy can be measured and read using an electromyograph (EMG). EMG studies can be then be performed on subjects to determine which muscles each of these variations in the bench press may effect. In a recent study Barnett et al (1995) examined the EMG activity of the upper pecs, the lower pecs, the triceps, the front deltoids and the lats using the decline, flat and incline bench press. This study will be quite useful in shedding some light on this confusing subject of pectoral development. So letís get started!

    The Sternocostal Head

    One of the most common assumptions in the world of iron is that the decline bench is the best for developing the lower pecs. However, this familiar premise may be nothing more than another unfounded gym myth. According to the Barnett EMG study, the flat bench produced much more electrical energy in the lower pecs than did either the decline or incline positions. "I agree with this research" says NPC National Champion and pro bodybuilder Jay Cutler, "The flat bench is much better for lower pec development than the decline."

    But what is the best grip to use? EMG studies have also shown that when doing the flat bench, the muscle fibers of the lower pecs are activated the most when using a wide grip. "This is very much true," adds Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield, Ph.D. "A wide grip with the elbows out will cause much more lower pec activation." However, whether you choose to use a wide or narrow grip, we can assume that using the decline position to target the lower pecs is just not justified. Eddie Robinson, IFBB pro bodybuilder states, "I feel the flat bench press, with a wide grip is best for over all pec development, but you do not want to go so wide with the grip that you over stress the shoulders."

    The Clavicular Head

    Now we all know that the incline bench hits the upper pecs. Right? Since the upper pecs seem to help to raise the arm, this would make sense. The incline position would put the arm in more of a flexed position than either the flat or decline positions. According to EMG studies this advice seems to be pretty much true. The Barnett study tells us that the incline position produces just slightly more electrical energy in the upper pecs that either the flat or decline positions. However, the flat bench was found to be very close. While the difference between the two was considered insignificant, the slight advantage of the incline over the flat bench in upper pec activation may be just what some of us need to further develop the upper pecs. "This is all very true," says Robinson. "There is no doubt the incline bench hits the pecs more than the flat bench."

    Cutler agrees and says, "I personally feel upper pec development is very important for a bodybuilder. So I concentrate more on the incline bench that I do the flat bench." While the incline position may provide slightly greater upper pec stimulation Hatfield contends, "The same thing can be accomplished by using the flat bench. I would suggest lowering the bar to the upper pecs instead of the lower pecs (as normal), using a wide grip with the elbows out."

    Nevertheless, if you are going to use the incline position to target the upper pecs, a narrower grip has been shown to best activate them. Professional bodybuilder Mike Francois agrees and says "A grip that is just a little bit wider than shoulderís width really hits my upper pecs best." But Sal Arria, D.C., founder of the International Sport Science Association and former powerlifting champion warns: "Using a wide grip can involve too much front deltoid and can cause the deltoids to slam against the acronium process, causing trauma to the muscle."

    The Triceps Brachii

    Iím sure most of us have been told that a narrow grip hits more triceps than the wide grip. The close grip bench is widely used by powerlifters to develop strength in the triceps to accomplish those massive bench press attempts. According to the EMG study this is very true. The narrow grip when done in a flat position, produced more electrical energy than the incline or decline positions. It should be noted though, that the decline position was pretty close. Cutler explains, "While the decline may be close, I prefer to target the triceps using the flat bench with a narrow grip." Professional bodybuilder Mike Francois agrees, "The flat bench with a narrow grip is a great mass builder." "A narrow grip means your hands should be at your bodyís width," Dr. Arria warns, "If you want to create a permanent wrist injury, go with a extremely narrow grip."

    The Anterior Deltoid

    Since the front deltoids are used for flexion of the arm, it makes since that the incline bench would activate the deltoids much more than the flat or decline positions. Once again our EMG study agrees. The incline bench press with a wide grip produced more electrical energy than the narrow grip. Francois remarks, "I agree! The greater the incline of the bench the more the front delts will be activated." Dr. Arria adds: "While the narrow grip is a stronger position, the wider grip produces more stress to the muscle."

    The Latissimus Dorsi

    Many of us were probably unaware that the lats were even involved in the bench press. However, EMG studies do show that the lats are activated for a short period of time just prior to the start of the bottom phase of the lift. Robinson states, "There is no doubt in my mind that the lats are used to help get the weight moving off the chest." However, while the lats are activated briefly in the pressing movement, it should be noted that this activity is considered to be very small when compared to that of the other muscles used in the bench press. In any case, the decline bench seemed to activate the lats much more that either the flat of incline positions. Also the wider the grip the greater the activation of the lats. "While the lats are not so much directly related to the push motion of the bench press, they are directly related to the stabilization of the torso," says Dr. Arria. "This is very important because greater trunk stabilization means that the dynamic load on the muscle is more specific."

    While the lats appear to help get the bench moving off the chest and provide stabilization, no variation of the bench press should ever be considered to be a good exercise for developing the lats. But that in no way means that good lat development is not important for optimal chest development. Francois agrees and says, "The lats are definitely a factor in the movement and stabilization of the bench press, but there are certainly much better ways to develop good lats."

    Donít Forget the Dumbbells!

    Does the use of dumbbells in chest training change any of the rules? Absolutely not! "The rules we have discussed absolutely do not change when dumbbells are used, but what the use of dumbbell in training does is enable the lifter to have a much greater range of movement," claims Dr. Arria. "Further growth can be stimulated from these deep ranges of movement." Cutler agrees and says, "I think you should expect the about the same results with the use of dumbbells except it is much easier to isolate the pecs."

    "Another important factor to be considered," says Dr. Arria, " Is because you are using the arms independently dumbbells will require a little more stabilization. This means more activation of the synergistic muscles in the shoulder used to stabilize the load." Francois adds: "I like using the flat dumbbells to isolate the chest and build more mass. I feel that dumbbells allow me to get a better stretch at the bottom and more of a contraction at the top."

    Partial Movements

    Do partial movements stimulate particular muscles better than full range movements? Perhaps some of the prime movers are used more during different phases of the lift. Elliot et al (1989) used an EMG to answer this question and reported that prime movers of the bench press (pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii) achieved maximal activation at the start of the concentric phase of the lift and maintained this level throughout the upward movement of the bar. So while many still use partials to selectively target specific muscles Hatfield contends, "Overloading the upper ranges of the movement may work, but training partial movements is for those who havenít learned the secret of compensatory acceleration. "I agree with Hatfield," says Robinson. "I donít use partial movements at all, I feel they increase you chances for injury."

    While partials may not be so great for targeting specific muscles, they do seem to be useful for exhausting the muscle. Cutler states, "I use partial movements at the end of a set only to further exhaust the muscle." Francois agrees and says, "Partial ranges of movement are great for further fatiguing the muscle after your full range of movement has failed." However, Dr. Arria again cautions: "While partials do further exhaust the muscle, you have to remember that chances of injury to the muscle are much greater as you reach the point of fatigue." So the use of partial movements should be done with discretion.

    In conclusion, most of could benefit greatly by just depending on the flat bench to gain mass in the upper and lower pecs. However, you must custom tailor your training to meet specific goals. If you have a particular body part that needs further development you must find an exercise or angle that will stress that particular area even more. Therefore variations in the angle of the bench and the grip are important to optimal development of muscles of the pecs, shoulders and triceps.

    Elite powerlifter Tom McCullough MEd.,MSS of Excel Sport Nutrition, Inc., specializes in strength and conditioning for sport, sport nutrition, weight loss, and personal fitness, and is a consultant for the International Sport Sciences Association, a national certification agency for strength coaches and personal trainers, and also works as a full-time physical education instructor and football coach. Info: [email protected]


    Barnett, C., Kippers, V., and Turner, P. (1995). Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 9(4): 222-227.
    Elliot, B.C., Wilson, G.J., and Kerr, G.K. (1989). A biomechanical analysis of the sticking region in the bench press. Medicine, Science, Sports and Exercise. 21(4): 450-462.
    Lockhardt, R.D. (1974). Living Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas of Muscles in Action and Surface Contours, 7th ed. London: Farber & Farber.
    McCaw, S.T. and Friday, J.J. (1994). A comparison of muscle activity between a free weight and machine bench press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 8(4):259-264.
    Thompson, C.E. and Floyd, R.T. (1994). The shoulder joint. In: Manual of Structural Kinesiology, 12th ed. Smith, J.M. Ed. St. Louis, MS: Mosby-Year Book.

  5. good article draven.. thanks bro

    what do you do yourself??

  6. thats a good article draven, very sound information!

  7. Originally posted by Nicolai
    what do you do yourself??
    I mix it up , right now I'm doing

    Inclined barbell bench
    Dumbell Flat Bench
    flyes (Super Set on DB bench)

    But it changes every 6 weeks or so.

  8. A few things... it's too bad the study didn't involve dips as well. Also, they neglected to mention the biomechanics issues and "sticking point". With dumbbells, you get proper biomechanics. You can't get a full contraction without your arms coming together at the top, which obviously won't happen with a barbell. Also, at a certain point in the barbell lift, your EMG will go crazy as all the muscles involved fire chaotically, trying to both stabilize and lift at once. This is also due to the immobile hand position. I haven't done a barbell press in years, and I don't plan on wasting my time with them in the future. Just my opinion though =).

  9. good points Flavor, excellent post

  10. some good info.....i wasnt a believer in db until after i had my shoulder db form the core of my chest w/o. I still do bb bench occasionally just to mix it up a little and for a change. and sooo true about range of motion with db..and better for safety too because if you reach a stikin point you can just drop the db to the floor instead of a bar crashing on your neck or chest...that would ruin your w/o

  11. here's my approach (i stole it from charles poliquin)

    1. if you are training for performance in sports, favour incline movements as they convert the most (you almost never push out the way you do in bench press). also train heavier, and when training heavy do barbell first so you can lift more weight. sometimes when training really heavy, only do barbell and only one exercise. lower the weight under control for 2-3 seconds, pause at the bottom momentarily and explode up. it doesn't matter if the bar moves up slowly as long as you attempt to move it as fast as you can, the set should be no more than 20 seconds. it is very important that you do not bounce the bar off your chest, this is why there is a slight pause at the bottom to prevent cheating. rest between sets is 3-5 min, less reps, more rest. in this phase for overload, keep the movement the same, but try to increase weight by 4-5% every workout, you may do less reps, but that is okay. so say one starts with 6 reps for workout 1, then add 4-5% weight each of the next two sessions, then for workout 4 drop the weight by 4-5% same as workout 2 but do 1 more rep, for workouts 5&6, add 4-5% each workout and drop one rep:

    workout weight reps tempo
    1 100 6 2,0,x
    2 105 5 2,0,x
    3 110 4 2,0,x
    4 105 6 2,0,x
    5 110 5 2,0,x
    6 115 4 2,0,x

    tempo is: first number is lowering, second pause at bottom, third is lifting weight, x means explosively
    this assumes that one can lift 100lbs for 6 reps on all sets to begin, all with excellent form of course. it is okay if you don't go to failure on early sets. in workouts 5&6 you can try for an extra rep, but if your form is off don't count it. sets would be 5-8 what ever you choose, i'd start with 5. the best way to do this is with a cable row of bentover barbell row superset. so chest set1, rest 90s, back set 1, rest90s, chest set2, rest 90s, back set 2....

    2. if training for mass, start with dumbells, work through a full range of motion using good form. lower the weight slowly (about 4 seconds, this is hard so use less weight than normal, don't worry, before long you will be lifting more) pause momentarily at the bottom and lift the weight using about 1-2 seconds for the concentric part. the goal here is to keep the muscle under continuous tension and the set should be 40-70 seconds. in this phase one does not accelerate the weight like in the strength phase, but slowly presses it out (1-2 seconds). do 3-4 sets of dumbells and then do 2-3 sets of flat bench. if i hadn't made it obvious by now, WATCH YOUR FORM. here the time under tension of 40-70s determines number of reps. rest 1-2 min between sets. perhaps in this phase you can start with 2 min rest and cut 12s off every workout using the same weight and speed of movement. this will serve as an over load.

    don't do the same workout more than 6 times in a row as you will adapt to it. after 6 workouts, change routine, ie: sets, reps, exercises. etc.

    working in supersets allows the muscle longer time to recover and actually helps recovery of the antagonist muscle

    a tip for incline db press: concentrate on keeping your elbows back throughout the movement. this will make your upper chest do more of the work. give this a try and report back

    another tip: read my post in the thread about best chest development exercises and find the article referenced there on structural balance. it is very interesting how your external rotators can influence your chest.

    cheers, pete
    Last edited by crazypete; 03-16-2003 at 01:41 PM.


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