Ditch the Bench
The barbell bench press is the unquestioned king of upper-body exercises. It's one of the three powerlifting movements, and "How much do you bench" is the golden question for most bodybuilders.
However, we're not all powerlifters or bodybuilders, and sometimes the normal bench press can actually be detrimental for the average person. In these cases, switching to the dumbbell press is one of the best choices for working the pecs.
Of course, I'm not saying that everyone should abandon the bench or that it's an ineffective movement, but let's look at some benefits of dumbbells over the bar.
Reduce Joint Impact
Bench press is a complicated compound movement that requires exact form to avoid injury:
- Scapula must be retracted with braced shoulders to impacting shoulder joints
- Elbows need to come toward the body to avoid improper elbow torsion
- Wrists must be kept straight to maintain proper force transfer
- Leg drive and a slight arch protect the spine and core while providing a solid base
The majority of people I see on the bench have no idea that they're setting themselves up for failure, pain, and possible injury, especially when lifting heavy weights.
Even if they are aware, all of these form points can be difficult to remember for the average gym-goer who's just looking for a chest pump. Missing just one form check can cause serious joint injury, and we're not even touching on muscle damage or failing the lift yet!
Switching to a dumbbell press makes proper form much easier and intuitive for most people. The hands are no longer locked in place, and stabilizer muscles are freed up so unnatural joint torsion all but disappears.
Improve Muscle Imbalance
Even if we're not bodybuilders, meticulously analyzing muscle symmetry and aesthetics, we all have a dominant side that's stronger than the other side. Personally, my right side is noticeably stronger than my left, and I notice one side failing faster when performing dumbbell movements.
Targeting our weak side with the barbell bench press can be difficult because the weight is evenly distributed. With dumbbells, we can do a few more reps, focusing on our weaker muscles to better even out imbalances.
Eliminate The Need For A Spotter
Asking for a spotter or benching with spot bars is common sense. You're lifting hundreds of pounds directly over your chest and neck. Dropping that without some sort of protection is a one-way ticket to broken ribs, a crushed trachea, or even more serious injuries.
Unfortunately, too many people decide to go it alone on the bench. Maybe you're alone in the gym, work-out at home, or are just too nervous to ask for help.
Of course, there's the "roll of shame," rolling the bar down your body when you fail a set. But that hurts a lot and causes bruises on your chest, stomach, and thighs – and that's the best-case scenario!
With dumbbells, we don't have to worry about breaking ribs, relying on a stranger, or struggling to roll. If you can't get the weight up on your last set, just drop the dumbbell and rest. No risk, no injury, and you don't have to worry about getting a spotter.
Looking At The Big Picture
Ultimately, I think the bench press is one of the most important upper-body exercises, but realistically, I realize that it might not be the best choice for everyone all the time.
Looking at the risks, benefits, and individual situations of different exercises is the most important way to make sure you're getting the most out of your workouts.
Next time you're feeling some shoulder pain, don't have a spotter, or don't want to think about complicated form, try swapping the regular bench press for dumbbell work.
What are your favorite alternatives or accessories to the bench press? Have you seen gains from switching from the traditional bench? Let us know in the comments!