Incline Dumbbell Press vs Barbell Press: Head to Head

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Last updated on February 7, 2023

The incline chest press is a favorite exercise for people who are looking for exercises for building their chest. Most trainers seem to prefer the bench press version of the exercise over other options. The second most popular way to incline press is with dumbbells. So, which is best? In this article we put the incline dumbbell bench press and the incline barbell press head to head to see which one deserves priority in your workout.

The Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is a variation of flat benching that is designed to preferentially work the upper portion of your chest. The exercise is performed on a fixed incline bench that has uprights attached that allow you to rack an olympic bar. Most incline benches are set at an angle of around 45 degrees.


The incline barbell press is performed in a similar manner to flat bench presses. The difference is that you bring the bar down to a higher point on your chest and push it up on a slight angle to lock out in line with your eyesight.

Pros of the Incline Bench Press

Incline bench presses allow you to use a heavy weight. You won’t be able to go as heavy as you would if you were using a flat bench but you will be able to go heavier than when you are doing the exercise with dumbbells. That is because you are not having to stabilize the individual dumbbells when you are performing the exercise. This difference will allow you to lift 10-15 percent more weight when you are incline benching with a bar than with dumbbells.


The incline bench press is easier to get into position for than the dumbbell version of the exercise. Because you have a rack to place the bar upon, you simply lie on the incline bench and unrack the bar. However, when you are using dumbbells you have to get the weights from the floor up into the start position above your head to arm’s length. When the weights get heavy this can be a challenge in itself. It may even lead to injury, especially if you have lower back issues.

Cons of the Incline Bench Press

The first con of the incline bench press is that the bench has a fixed incline. This robs you of the opportunity to adjust the incline angle for maximum benefit. When you are doing this movement, rather than just pumping out reps mindlessly, connect your mind to your muscle and think about the feel in your pecs. When the bench is set at 45 degrees, you will feel the work being done more by the front deltoids than by the pectorals.


A 45 degree angle is not ideal for incline pressing. A far better angle to hit the pecs is 30 degrees. However, the incline bench press bench does not allow you to adjust it to that ideal position.


Another problem with  barbell benching on an incline is that it fixes your hands in a position that does not allow you to maximally contract your pectoral fibers toward the midline. Instead, because your hands are fixed in place, the chest must travel up and down in a straight line. That reduces your range of motion by as much as 40 percent. In fact, it is that inward motion of the hands down and toward the midline, rather than pressing overhead, that optimally stimulates the upper portion of the chest, along with the rest of it.


Another problem with the incline bench press is that it does not provide you with a full range of motion in the bottom position of the movement. You are limited by the point where the bar touches your chest. This robs you of around an inch of movement. That inch may not sound like much but it makes all the difference in terms of full range of motion and maximum stimulation of the chest muscle fibers.

The Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is the same movement as the barbell version except that you are using a pair of dumbbells rather than a barbell. The exercise is performed on an adjustable incline bench. To get into position for the incline bench start position, you need to get the weights from the floor up to the start position above your head. This can be a challenge, especially when you are using heavy weights.


Here is how to get the dumbbells into position for the incline dumbbell press:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells off the rack and sit on the bench with them resting on their ends on your thighs, just above the knee.
  • One side at a time kick your leg up to provide the momentum to bring the dumbbell up to your chest level.
  • With both dumbbells at chest level press them up to the start position at arm’s length above your mid chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press Cons

The incline dumbbell chest press does not allow you to go as heavy as the barbell version. So, if strength development and power is your goal, you are better off with the barbell version of the exercise.


Another problem with the dumbbell press, as we have already mentioned, is the difficulty in getting the dumbbells up to the start position.

Incline Dumbbell Press Pros

The incline dumbbell press allows you to move your arms inward as you press upward. That means that you are able to get a full and complete contraction of the pectoral fibers to the midline of the chest. You cannot do that with a barbell.


The incline dumbbell press also allows you to customize the angle of the bench that you are using. As a result, you are able to set the bench at the ideal 30 degrees rather than the 45 degrees at which the barbell incline bench is set.


Another benefit of the incline dumbbell press is that it works each side of your chest individually. This prevents your stronger side from taking over as usually happens in the barbell incline bench press. As a result, you will get even strength and muscle development.

Verdict: Which is Best?

The dumbbell version of the bench press is clearly superior to the barbell version. When using dumbbells, you are able to far better activate your pectoral muscle fiber and get a full range of motion at the ideal angle. Our suggestion; ditch the incline barbell press and focus on the dumbbell version.


Our site contains training tips written by qualified professionals to give you effective exercises you can use. These include how to exercises showing you the proper form (for example, the shoulder press), workout routines for your fitness objective (for example, to increase strength and muscle growth, improve stamina and achieve fat loss, and also address muscle imbalances), and nutrition advice.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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