The fitness industry is notorious for ongoing debates that will never seem to be resolved as the science becomes conflated with personal experiences. Even when scientific principles can be isolated, the lack of control variables makes testing a hypothesis notoriously difficult.
One such debate centres around whether the development of your chest muscles, most notably, the pectoralis major, is better achieved using a dumbbell bench press or the most popular of bodybuilding movements, the barbell bench press.
A person effortlessly performing reps of a bench press is a cliché scene in any representation of a gym environment. Questions heard by those who boast an athletic physique invariably involve a question along the lines of “how much do you bench?” In reality, the bench press is just one of many compound movements used to stimulate chest muscle growth, and the science doesn’t necessarily back up holding it above all other compound movements.
Bench Press in a Home Gym Environment
The bench press in a home gym setup does demand more space than the average workout, largely because the length of your body and the width of the bar covers a large space in two directions. Whilst this is space demanding during the workout, storing the equipment is far less intrusive with benches that fold neatly and bars that can be stood up vertically or placed on a rack.
To avoid space issues completely, an alternative to the barbell bench press is the dumbbell bench press. This requires a lot less set up and the absence of the bar allows for the workout to be completed without the need to rack the bar after the last rep. At the end of the set, dumbbells can simply be placed to one side of the bench on the floor. This is one of the issues taken into account by those who choose an adjustable barbell set.
Are Both Exercises Effective at Building Chest Muscles?
Much like other areas of fitness, there’s a huge aspect of personal preference involved as both movements require slightly different muscle activation and efforts to stabilise the weight that draw upon strength in both the shoulder and back muscles. In both cases, it’s a compound movement known to heavily stimulate chest hypertrophy (muscle growth).
The debate continues about which exercise is superior and whilst it’s accepted that the bar bench press is the more impressive exercise to watch, it isn’t necessarily the most effective at stimulating muscle growth.
Determining whether one exercise is superior to the other will more than likely never happen and the debate will continue. If you’re in a position to accommodate both a bar and a dumbbell bench press into your home workout, then you should do so. If space dictates that only the dumbbell bench press is possible, it’s unlikely that your training will be held back significantly, if at all.
Adjustable dumbbells are a great way to save on space and also add more weight for the progressive overload you need for muscle mass growth. An adjustable barbell set and a workout bench are surprisingly compact and lacks very little for what you need for full-body training.