Incline dumbbell presses and incline barbell presses both primarily work your chest muscles, but they also involve your shoulders and triceps muscles. When performing either exercise, your bench should be set at a 30-degree to 45-degree angle. You need to start every repetition with your hands just above your chest and finish with your elbows straight and the weight directly above your chest. While both exercises are commonly used in muscle-building and strength-building routines, each has its distinct advantages. Consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen to ensure it is appropriate for you.
Range of Motion
Incline dumbbell presses allow you to use a greater range of motion than the barbell version. When using a bar, you can lower the weight only as far as your chest. Dumbbells allow you lower the weight further, enabling you to rotate your shoulders back slightly, providing a bigger stretch and more muscle fiber recruitment. This increased range of motion also means your shoulders won't fatigue before your chest muscles, which can happen with barbell presses, according to trainer Jimmy Smith, author of "The Physique Formula."
When using dumbbells, each arm has to work individually, unlike with a barbell, where your stronger arm can compensate for your weaker side by pushing more. Dumbbells are better for improving muscular imbalances and reducing your risk of shoulder injuries, according to Shannon Clark, author of "Muscle Advantage Plan" and contributor to Bodybuilding.com. Because of the unbalanced nature of dumbbells, the stabilization muscles in your shoulder have to work harder too.
Powerlifters perform the bench press in competition. This is similar to an incline barbell press, except that the bench is flat in powerlifting competition. If you're training for a powerlifting contest, you will find that incline barbell presses have more direct carryover to your competition bench press because they have a similar movement. Barbell presses also use a shorter range of motion, which allows you to lift more weight, thus increasing your strength faster. However, both exercises will strengthen your chest, shoulders and triceps and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Tony Gentilcore claims high-volume dumbbell work is an effective way to boost your bench press.
Both exercises have a place in most routines. Incline dumbbell presses are more effective for muscle growth because they isolate chest muscles. They provide freer range of motion if you're recovering from a shoulder injury and force weakened stabilizer muscles to get stronger. Incline barbell presses are more effective for strength and power training, and because you don't have to work as hard to stabilize the bar, you can lift more weight. To get the benefits of both, start your workout with incline dumbbell presses for four sets of six to eight repetitions, then move to incline barbell presses for three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. Do this for four weeks, then change the order. Alternatively you could spend four weeks just doing incline dumbbell presses, then four weeks using the barbell.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.