THE BENEFITS OF DUMBBELL TRAINING ON THE UPPER BODY
When you typically think of upper body you think about bench press, shoulder press, and possibly rows. About 98% of us think about these three exercises done with a barbell, but why? Dumbbells have endless options and versatility when it comes to performing different exercises including a variation of bench, shoulder press, and rows.
You can see imbalances with dumbbells more easily then with barbells, which is a very important thing to be able to see and establish. While performing an exercise, visually you will be able to see if something is off because usually one arm won’t work the same as the other. For example, there may be a difference in the speed of the rep or just the inability to complete the rep. When this occurs it is actually a good thing because it shows us your imbalances. We can then help you correct these imbalances by adding remedial lifts (i.e. external rotation, trap 3 raises, scapula retractions) to your workouts. In using a barbell you may still see a difference, but it may not be as drastic because the other muscles involved are working harder to make up for the imbalance – which may allow you to fully complete all the reps needed. Do not assume that just because you can complete all reps and sets with the barbell that you can move on and not worry about imbalances. Maintaining structural balance is critical in preventing injury and preserving overall health.
Using dumbbells also allows you to achieve a greater range of motion. During the bench press you are able to go the full range of motion, which is full extension to just outside the chest in the down portion of the rep. With shoulder press the full range is extension to just outside the shoulders. With a row the full range is from extension to just outside the chest or lats. With a barbell the farthest you’re able to go is to your chest for row and bench press and to your shoulders for shoulder press. It is extremely important to understand the meaning of “full range of motion.” The reason you strive for full range of motion is because you want to be the strongest you can be throughout the full range. For example, if you stop in a bench press an inch above the chest every time you perform the exercise, then you’re only going to gain strength within that range. If you go from extension to just outside the chest, then you will have that extra 2 inches in which you’re gaining strength. This can make a huge difference in overall strength and lean mass. There is a time and place for partial reps, but it needs to be specific in the training and serve a distinct purpose. Roughly 90% of your training will be completed with a full range of motion.
Dumbbells clearly have the advantage over barbells when targeting specific muscle groups and angles, as well as the ability to move more freely. With a barbell you can only go vertical and are limited to two grip variations, supinated and pronated. With dumbbells you can go supinated, pronated or neutral, and also go vertical or horizontal with any sort rotation of the wrists. This allows a lot more variation and the ability to activate more muscles than you could with barbell exercises.
Many of the main lifts are predominately done on barbells, so it is important to change up your training in order to keep your body guessing. Given the positives of dumbbells, it is also important to remember that our muscles need variation to improve in size and strength, which is why both dumbbells and barbells will be regularly used in your workouts here at BBC.