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Dumbbell Shoulder Press Vs Barbell Shoulder Press for Shoulder Muscle

Which one is better for you?

Which of these two exercises builds shoulder muscles faster: the Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Barbell Shoulder Press?

Both exercises are aimed at strengthening the shoulders, specifically the anterior, middle, and posterior deltoids. These muscles, in turn, are responsible for shoulder flexion, abduction, and extension.

Secondarily, the biceps and triceps muscles are also involved in both exercises, together with your rotator cuffs, traps, lats, teres major and minor and rhomboids. Additionally, your core muscles will also work as stabilisers, but their involvement will vary depending on whether you’re doing the exercises standing or seated.

During this Dumbbell Shoulder Press Vs Barbell Shoulder Press discussion, we’ll focus on the seated variation of both exercises.

Read more: 9 Best Overhead Press Variations

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Vs Barbell Shoulder Press

Barbell Shoulder Press

  • Start by sitting on a bench, feel flat on the ground, and barbell resting in the front rack position.
  • Bracing your core and ensuring your back isn’t excessively arched, bring the barbell overhead.
  • This should be done without any momentum and full control, and your midline should stay tight throughout.
  • Lock your elbows and bring the barbell back to the front rack position in a controlled manner.
  • Use a weight that will allow you to perform this exercise with perfect form.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Start by sitting on a bench, back straight, and bringing two dumbbells towards your shoulders.
  • Your hands should be facing forward and one head of each dumbbell should rest by your shoulders.
  • Brace your core and bring both dumbbells overhead, moving them straight up.
  • Ensure the heads of the dumbbells don’t touch at the top, lock your elbows, and bring the dumbbells back down.

Which is better for building shoulder muscle?

Both exercises have their pros and cons and the best one will ultimately depend on your goals and what you want to achieve with your training.

The barbell shoulder press recruits your anterior and middle deltoids more, as you have to bring the barbell down in front of you to avoid hitting your head. This means the posterior deltoids aren’t worked as hard, but you can minimise this effect by adding exercises like the dumbbell bent-over fly to your training.

On the upside, the barbell variation allows you to lift more weight and thus (if part of a smart training program), develop more overall muscle mass and strength. Using a barbell gives your body a mechanical advantage over the dumbbells, allowing you to lift more weight.

athlete fixes muscle imbalances in the gymSource: Arthur Edelmans on Unsplash

The dumbbell shoulder press is a great exercise for those training for aesthetics, as it targets all three heads of the deltoids, giving athletes that “round shoulder” look.

Additionally, because each arm moves independently from the other, the dumbbell variation is great for addressing imbalances and recruiting other support muscles.

A 2013 study looked at muscle activity in both exercises and found that:

  • For anterior deltoid recruitment, the seated dumbbell press had 11% greater muscle activation then the seated barbell press.
  • For middle deltoid recruitment, the standing dumbbell press was 7% greater than the standing barbell press.
Uldis Upenieks knows how to build capped shouldersSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Vs Barbell Shoulder Press, which one should you do?

If your main goal is to build overall upper body strength and increase other lifts such as the deadlift, then the barbell shoulder press might be best for you. If you want to develop the entire deltoid area, then include the dumbbell shoulder press into your training.

Regardless of your goal, shaking up your training and adding different stimuluses is generally good practice, so try to incorporate both exercises into your routine.

Read more: 5 Best Shoulder Pressing Exercises for Strength

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