In Praise of Heavy Dumbbell Press

Or why I prefer heavy dumbbell press over benchpress:

Why heavy dumbbell press over bench press?

  1. You don’t need a spotter. This means more control and freedom to dictate your own workout on your own terms. Personally speaking, I don’t like asking other people for a spot. Either I don’t find anyone around me who I trust, people help you too soon when you don’t need the help, or you feel guilty or weird/awkward asking someone for a spot. With heavy dumbbell press, you can always try a ‘one rep max’ attempt, and if you cannot get it up, you can just bail the weights to the side, which is far safer than failing a bench press one rep max (when you are benching yourself) and unable to get the weight (barbell) off of your chest.
  2. Less pain in elbows, wrists, and shoulders: The only injuries I’ve ever gone in the gym were through bench pressing. Torn rotator cuffs from bench in college. Ever since switching to heavy dumbbell presses (one rep max style), no injuries or pain in shoulders, wrists, or elbows. My theory is because when you are doing a heavy dumbbell press (hammer style, with the neutral grip), you put less tension and stress in your elbows and shoulders. It is the most natural position; consider when you are standing upright, your hands are in a neutral grip (not rotating towards your body, like your wrist position when you do bench press).
  3. Probably a better workout: When you grab the heavy dumbbells off of the rack, and walk over to your bench, consider you are lifting the weights (like a shrug, and training your grip strength), when you put it on your knees — all this movement is also a mini-workout in itself. Consider with bench, you just rack it off, then lower it to your chest and push it up. Even worse- when you get a ‘lift off’ (someone assists you to put it in the ‘ready’ position), you do less work.

So why is Bench Press seen as the golden standard of weight lifting and strength?

Not sure. Perhaps the American obsession with big chests? Perhaps from movies and films when the hero is training he is always bench pressing?

The bench press is a pretty modern phenomenon. In the past, the strong men of the past would either lift (and throw) heavy rocks, or do more of a ‘clean and jerk’ styled lift.

The downside with bench press and too much focus on upper-body development

To me it looks hilarious and ridiculous when I see so many guys with massive bench presses and chests and biceps and shoulders, but tiny (chicken) legs. Far more impressive to have thunder thighs and a smaller upper body (but still proportional) than a massive upper-body (and no legs).

The only reason to get a gym membership

Essentially for deadlifts and squats. To buy all that equipment for home is often too expensive, or you don’t have the space, or you cannot make the noise.

Also the gym is great because it becomes a social space where you can interact with other people, make new friends, and ‘shoot the shit’ with other guys or girls.

And typically to get your adrenaline pumping to the max, there is no greater euphoria and/or high than going for ‘one rep max‘ styled deadlifts or squats. Let us also consider there is more muscle mass in our legs (and the legs are technically more important from a physiological and evolutionary perspective) than our arms and chest. So the morale of the story:

When in doubt, train your legs harder.

Why train upper body? Because you’re bored, don’t wanna stay at home, desire to go to the gym, and you just need something else to train anyways.


Deadlifting 420 pounds (four 45-plates on each side, with a 2.5+5 pounder)