incline dumbbell press vs incline barbell press

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Last updated on August 20, 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 barbell 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.

How to the Incline barbell Press – video

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

Benefits of the Incline Bench Press

Multiple muscle group activation

As a compound exercise multiple muscle groups are engaged. This includes the triceps and shoulders, particularly the anterior deltoids. Furthermore, the exercise does not only engage the upper pecs, the middle and lower pec are also worked.

Good for progressive overload

Incline bench presses allow you to use heavier weights. This cannot be achieved when doing the incline dumbbell 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 and allow better muscle growth and strength.

Better control and stability

Given you will be using a fixed grip and there is not need to stabilise the weight it offers better control. In most gyms the exercise is setup for you to do, simply lie on the incline bench and unrack the bar and do your incline presses. For further safety you can use a smith machine.

Disadvantages of the Incline Bench Press

Uneven Strength

Some individuals may find that one side of their body is stronger than the other. This could lead to the stronger arm compensating for the weaker arm thereby exacerbating muscle and strength imbalances.

Limited Range of Motion

The natural shoulder movement is limited by the fixed barbell, which leads to less muscle activation in certain areas of the chest.

Overemphasis of front deltoids

Without proper form there will be overemphasis on the front deltoids (shoulder muscles) so its important you do not try to push too much weight which compromises your form.

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.

How to do the Incline dumbbell press – video

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

  1. 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.
  2. One side at a time kick your leg up to provide the momentum to bring the dumbbell up to your chest level.
  3. With both dumbbells at chest level press them up to the start position at arm’s length above your mid chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press Disadvantages

Weight pressing limited

You will end up pressing lighter weights compare to the barbell version. So, if strength development and muscle mass is your goal, you are better off with the barbell version of the exercise as you will be able go for heavy weight. Ideally you would want some to ‘spot’ you otherwise you wont be able to do too much weight.

Greater risk of injury

However, when you are using dumbbells you have to get the weights from the floor up into the starting 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.

Incline Dumbbell Press Benefits

Target the upper chest

You can target the upper pectoral muscles better with he incline dumbbell press. it allows you to move your upper arms inward as you press upward. That means that you are able to get a full and complete contraction of the pectoral muscles to the midline of the chest. You cannot do that with a barbell.

Engages stabiliser muscles

You have freedom of movement when doing the dumbbell press, each arm has to independently balance the weight when doing the exercise. This makes a great exercise to activate the stabiliser muscles as each arm is working in isolation. This also is an effective exercise to address muscular imbalances.

Better range of motion

As each arm is working in isolation it allows for a greater range of motion and a deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement. This leads to better muscle activation and overall chest development.

Great angle variability

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

Verdict: Which is Best?

Both exercises are great chest exercises that can be used to achieve serious muscle mass (barbell incline press) or better better activate your pectoral muscles and get a full range of motion at the ideal angle (dumbbell incline press). The choice is yours but we recommend doing both to promote proper chest development.

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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