Overhead Press Barbell vs Dumbbell: which is better? | Wellneos (2023)

The barbell overhead press and the dumbbell overhead press both have their pros and cons which we will talk about in this article. Barbells will help improve general strength and hypertrophy much faster because it allows you to look more weight.

With that being said the dumbbell overhead press will help hit all 3 deltoid heads and is better for muscle imbalances.

The barbell overhead press is optimal when it comes to improving overall general strength. And as well as improving your strength on other exercises,mainly the bench press. The barbell can also help strengthenthe anterior and middle deltoid which can help prevent injuries on the bench press. The dumbbell overhead press recruits more muscles in the anterior 11% more, middle 7% more, and posterior deltoid. The dumbbell overhead press is a better exercise when it comes to improving muscle imbalances and recruiting all 3 deltoid heads.

Barbell Overhead Press


They are both great exercises to keep in your toolbox, but they both have pros and cons.when you’re lifting a barbell the weight is evenly distributed it allows you to lift more because of the stability.

Dumbbell overhead press is quite the opposite because our shoulders can have different strengths and muscle imbalances which can mean that you are overcompensating.

There was a study performed in 2013 where the results come to show that the participants on a one-rep max with barbell 7% more versus dumbbells. The barbell is better at overall general strength and improving other lifts as well as stimulating more muscles at once.


If you are a beginner or new to weightlifting, then a barbell overhead press can be intimidating for most. The barbell itself weighs 45 lb and it can be a lot or some to start with.

As to where dumbbells you can start with a lower amount of weight until you are confident in your strength to pursue the barbell overhead press.

Dumbbell Overhead Press


Dumbbells are better at preventing muscle imbalances and they also activate all three deltoid heads in the shoulder according to EMG studies.
In fact, dumbbell overhead press activates the posterior deltoid as to where the barbell press cannot.The barbell overhead press also activates the anterior and middle deltoids more than a barbell overhead press. They are also better for beginners because you can control the weight amount that you are lifting.


The potential for both to injure yourself is fairly close, especially if your form is incorrect and you are trying to lift too much load at once. One of the big pros of barbell exercises is the starting point from the rack where you are pulling the bar off at shoulder height.

It’s also better if you don’t have a spotter and your muscles become too fatigued you can easily rack the barbell. It’s quite the opposite for dumbbells, you have the weight above your head and there is no safe way of your dropping them when your muscles are too fatigued.

Muscles that are worked during an Overhead Press

The main muscle groups that we will train during the overhead press are the anterior, middle, and posterior deltoids. The deltoids are the main muscles in the shoulders. These muscles are responsible for daily movements for things such as shoulder abduction, shoulder extension, and shoulder flexion.

During the overhead press, other muscle groups that will be activated are the triceps and biceps.The triceps will start muscle recruitment in motion such as a pressing one and are active during the whole range of motion.

Our biceps will support our body through the movement like a dynamic stabilizer, with the short head of the bicep providing the most help.

As you can see there are quite a bit of muscle groups being activated during the overhead press. Other stabilizing muscles will include traps, lats, rotator cuffs, rhomboids and teres major and minor.

The main Primary muscles worked during an Overhead Press is the anterior, middle, posterior deltoid heads. Your tricep and biceps will also get some activation during this exercise.

Overhead Press and Core Strength Benefits

Another huge great benefit of trying to get a six-pack or improve your core strength can be accomplished through doing things such as an overhead press. However, studies have shown that doing standing overhead presses activate your core much more than a sitting overhead press.

I don’t know about you but I’m not the biggest fan in the world doing ab work, I don’t think anyone really is. This is why doing standing barbell or dumbbell overhead press extra benefits improving our core strength.

One of the benefits from the barbell overhead press is bringing the far down in front of your body, and this helps with more load being put on the anterior and middle deltoids. The upper chest also gets some muscle fiber recruitment but not the most optimal exercise for building a better chest.

However, the barbell press will help improve your bench press and will in turn help increase strength and build a better chest.

Dumbell Overhead Press

Overhead Press Barbell vs Dumbbell: which is better? | Wellneos (1)

Even though I am pro barbell for almost all exercises, I kind of prefer the dumbbell shoulder press over the barbell. I know most of us our goal is to not only improve our wellness and health but also to look better aesthetically.

And the dumbbell overhead press is better just for that. The reason why is because this exercise helps train all three deltoids.

This could seem counterintuitive and confusing because generally, barbell exercises are more superior because they are training more than one muscle group at once.

The dumbbell overhead shoulder press does hold value and is better in certain ways. as mentioned, we can definitely lift more weight on the barbell overhead shoulder press and this is because of our body mechanics for the lift.

You would automatically just assume that because you can lift more weight that means more chance for more muscle growth? unfortunately oh, it’s not that simple nor the case.

One major area where the barbell exercise is lacking that the dumbbell is not his posterior deltoids.One of the biggest benefits from the barbell shoulder press is it’s better at improving strength and muscle groups like the triceps and trapezius.

As to where the dumbbell shoulder press causes few how to activate more of the stabilizing muscles because each arm are moving at different speeds.

The stabilizing muscles that will be actively used more and engage are the biceps and your rotator cuffs. As to wear the barbell is more controlled.

Barbell vs Dumbbell Overhead Press , which is Better?

Barbell vs Dumbbell Overhead Press, Which is Better?

When we are training for hypertrophy or improve muscle size then barbell overhead press is the better exercise. Plus another added benefit besides the hypertrophy is just from a comfort use.

when we do the standing barbell press we get to lift the weight from shoulder height and straight off the rack. On the other hand, while doing dumbbell press it can be a pain because training with heavyweight, we have to lift the dumbbells from the floor to our shoulders Beforebefore starting.

The dumbbell exercise engages more stabilizing muscles when compared to a barbell. This is why most people can lift up to 20% have your way with a barbell versus both dumbbells.

The reason why I like barbell exercises more is because you can work more than one muscle group at a time even if there are fewer stabilizing muscles being trained.

It really comes down to preference but I like the standing dumbbell overhead press more because it targets all 3 deltoid heads.

Which Exercise makes your Shoulders Bigger and Stronger?

An EMG electromyography is what is used for studies to see what muscle groups are truly being activated at the help take away from the guesswork.

A Norwegian study looked at the differences between the barbell overhead press and the dumbbell overhead press to see which muscles were truly getting worked the most for the deltoids.

During their research, they used a couple of different ways to compare the mechanics of the movement with standing and seated overhead press.

Interestingly enough what they come to find was for the anterior deltoid activation, being seated and doing a dumbbell overhead press add an 11% increase versus the seated barbell press. while we are looking at the seated vs. standing because of the research, I’m definitely more of a fan of standing because of the improved core activation we are getting during the exercise.

The standing dumbbell overhead press also had a 7% greater muscle activation for the middle deltoid versus the standing barbell press. I find this interesting because most would assume that the barbell exercise is generally superior to a dumbbell exercise.

During the research, they did not look at the posterior deltoids and also did not compare the barbell vs. dumbbell exercise. What they did find was that standing still a far better position to be involved doing an overhead press, not only because of the core activation.

It will also help muscle activation with about 25% more posterior deltoids while standing and it didn’t matter if it was a dumbbell or barbell exercise. Even though this study goes to show that whether sitting or standing core using a barbell or dumbbell, the dumbbell exercise will recruit more posterior deltoids while standing.

In summary, the dumbbell standing overhead press is the better exercise when it comes to overall posterior deltoid Improvement.The dumbbell exercise is a better exercise for overall Improvement within all three deltoid heads of the shoulder. The barbell exercise is better for overall General strength and improving other exercises as well. No matter which one you prefer, make sure you are doing them while standing so you can get better core activation as well as posterior deltoid muscle recruitment.

The barbell overhead press is better for building more strength but not size because they do not target all deltoid heads.

Final Thoughts

While it’s hard to say which exercise is better between thedumbbell and barbell overhead press. This is because they both have a place when it comes to improving strength and your body’s aesthetics.

As mentioned, no matter which exercise you prefer Studies have shown that doing the while standing can’t help with posterior deltoid recruitment and as well as more core activation.

The barbell exercise is better for improving the size and overall general strength of other exercises, mainly the bench press. The dumbbell overhead press is better in ways that it trains all three deltoid heads as to where the barbell overhead press does not.

The dumbbell overhead press also helps prevent or improve any muscle imbalances in the body. While I prefer barbell training I like the dumbbell over press better personally, there is a place for both of them to be used in any of your workout programs.


Overhead Press Barbell vs Dumbbell: which is better? | Wellneos? ›

Barbells are commonly used for overhead presses because they allow for heavier weights to be lifted and provide more stability. However, dumbbells offer a greater range of motion and can be used to work one arm at a time, which can help correct muscle imbalances.

Is overhead press better with dumbbell or barbell? ›

If you are interested in building overall upper body strength and mass then a barbell press is better. You can lift more weight and build more strength with the barbell press than you can with dumbbells. If you want to build more rounded shoulders for aesthetics rather than pure strength then the dumbbells are better.

Is overhead press better than dumbbell shoulder press? ›

Barbell Overhead Press Vs Dumbbell Shoulder Press for Hypertrophy. Both of these variations can be great for hypertrophy and building shoulder mass, however, the dumbbell shoulder press will usually take the edge for lifters fully focused on building shoulder mass.

Can I replace overhead press with dumbbells? ›

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is perhaps the most popular overhead press alternative. More than that, it is one of the most popular upper body strength training exercises.

Why is dumbbell press more effective than barbell? ›

Dumbbells can also be more helpful for developing your pectoral muscles individually, regardless of any muscular imbalances, Gentilcore said. “A barbell will allow you to use more load, but you can't squeeze your pecs at the top like you can with a dumbbell,” he said.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Moshe Kshlerin

Last Updated: 06/12/2023

Views: 6113

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Moshe Kshlerin

Birthday: 1994-01-25

Address: Suite 609 315 Lupita Unions, Ronnieburgh, MI 62697

Phone: +2424755286529

Job: District Education Designer

Hobby: Yoga, Gunsmithing, Singing, 3D printing, Nordic skating, Soapmaking, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Moshe Kshlerin, I am a gleaming, attractive, outstanding, pleasant, delightful, outstanding, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.