In this article, I will guide you through the benefits of using dumbbells. You will notice that this simple tool can really help you overcome plateaus and roadblocks in your training.
Based on my own experience and online research, I will provide you with the ultimate manual and tips on the dumbbell bench press.
Most chest workouts online focus on barbell bench press, but this article will show you how dumbbell bench press can be a great alternative.
So, follow along!
How to Perform the Dumbbell Bench Press
Step 1: Get into the starting position
- The preferred way to get into the starting position is to lie down on the bench and ask your partner to hand you the weights. This will save you some energy and prevent any injuries from lifting the dumbbells from the floor.
- If you don’t have a partner, you can pick your dumbbells from the floor while keeping your spine neutral and palms facing in. Then, sit on the bench and place each dumbbell on your thighs. While lying back, slightly kick the weights towards your belly with one knee at a time. This will help you get the dumbbells close to your chest without straining your arms or back.
Step 2: Press the dumbbells up
- Once you are lying on the bench with the dumbbells close to your chest, you are ready to press them up. Keep your elbows at about 45 degrees to your sides. This will protect your shoulders and rotator cuff from excessive stress. Your forearms should stay perpendicular to the floor during all phases of the move.
- Press the dumbbells up and slightly forward until your arms are fully extended but not locked out. Keep your palms facing forward or at a 45 degree angle to match your elbows. Squeeze your chest at the top of the movement.
Step 3: Lower the dumbbells back
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Follow the same path as the pressing phase and keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle to your sides. Don’t let the dumbbells drop or bounce off your chest.
- The lowering phase should take longer than the pressing phase, as this is where most of the muscle damage and growth occurs. Lower the dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, depending on your flexibility and comfort.
Step 4: Repeat for desired reps
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for as many reps as you want or can do with good form. Don’t sacrifice your technique for more reps or weight, as this will increase your risk of injury and reduce your effectiveness.
- To finish, bend your knees, bring the dumbbells back to your thighs and rock up to a seated position.
Dumbbell Bench Press Tips
Dumbbell bench press is a great exercise for building strength and muscle mass in your chest, shoulders and triceps. Unlike the barbell bench press, dumbbells allow you to increase the range of motion and activate more muscle fibers. It is also a compound movement that involves multiple joints and muscles, making it more efficient and functional.
You can use dumbbell press as your main chest exercise or as an accessory movement to complement your barbell work.
To perform the dumbbell bench press correctly and safely, follow these tips:
- Keep your elbows slightly bent at the top position to maintain tension on your pecs.
- Keep your forearms at a 45-70 degree angle if you want to emphasize your chest, a 90-degree angle will work more on your shoulders.
- Hold the dumbbells at a 45 degree angle to align them with your elbows.
- Make sure your elbows stay under your wrists at all times to align your joints and reduce risks of injury.
- Avoid flaring your elbows out.
- Do not touch the dumbbells at the top position to avoid losing control or bouncing them off each other.
- Pinch your shoulder blades to create a stable base and protect your rotator cuffs.
- Keep a slight curve in your lower back to further squeeze your shoulder blades. However, engage your abs and keep your ribs down to prevent arching your back too much.
- Do not shrug your shoulders up at the top position, but keep them down and away from your ears.
- Lead with your thumbs when you press up and forward, so that your thumbs are slightly higher than your pinkies at the top position. This will activate your chest more and take some pressure off your wrists.
- Squeeze your glutes throughout the movement to stabilize your hips and spine.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and press them down actively during the exercise to generate more power and balance.
- Start each rep from a chest level or slightly lower, depending on your range of motion and comfort.
Two Major Dumbbell Bench Press Styles
Powerlifting dumbbell bench press focuses on lifting heavier weights rather than on chest development. If choosing this style, you will arch your back, raise your chest and keep your glutes in contact with the bench. This technique has several benefits for powerlifters, such as:
- It allows your lats to assist in pushing the weight, which increases your strength and stability.
- It reduces the range of motion and starts the push sooner, which saves energy and allows you to lift more weight.
- It mimics the barbell bench press form, which is the main lift in powerlifting competitions.
However, this technique also has some drawbacks, such as:
- Limiting the chest activation and hypertrophy, which may affect your aesthetics and balance.
- Increasing the risk of injury if done incorrectly or excessively due to the heavier loads.
Bodybuilding dumbbell bench press emphasizes chest development rather than lifting heavy weights. You will be more interested in keeping your torso flat, your glutes squeezed and your core braced. Potential benefits include:
- It mimics the classic push-up movement, which is a natural and effective way to train your chest, shoulders and triceps.
- It increases the range of motion and activates more muscle fibers in your chest, which leads to more muscle growth and definition.
- It reduces the risk of injury by allowing you to adjust the angle and position of the dumbbells to suit your anatomy and preference.
Some drawbacks might include:
- It limits the amount of weight you can use because you need to focus on your shoulder stability to secure the move.
- It is harder to set up and control, especially for beginners or when using heavy weights.
Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Bench Press
- Pectoralis major: This is the largest and most visible chest muscle that covers most of the front of the rib cage. It is responsible for horizontal adduction, flexion, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint.
- Anterior deltoid: This is the front part of the shoulder muscle that forms the rounded shape of the shoulder. It is responsible for flexion, horizontal adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint.
- Triceps brachii: This is the muscle that runs along the back of the upper arm. It has three heads: long, lateral, and medial. It is responsible for extension of the elbow joint and assists in extension and adduction of the shoulder joint.
- Biceps brachii: This is the muscle that runs along the front of the upper arm. It has two heads: long and short. It is responsible for flexion and supination of the elbow joint and assists in flexion and abduction of the shoulder joint.
Dumbbell Bench Press Benefits
There are several major benefits that might help you make up your mind and include dumbbell bench press into your exercise routine.
- You can apply this exercise to different goals and programs, such as hypertrophy, strength or power.
- A good alternative
- It is a good new stimulus to your muscles especially when you switch from the barbell and you have a feeling that you hit a plateau or you are bored.
- It’s a safer option to start with compared to the barbell, as it teaches you how to control and balance the weights with your stabilizing muscles.
- More natural move
- You will be able to freely adjust your grip. This will allow you to move comfortably according to your anatomy and preference, which can reduce shoulder stress and improve hand mobility.
- A unilateral movement
- It works each side of your body independently. This can help you correct muscle imbalances, increase scapular stability and enhance core tension.
- Increased range of motion
- It moves deeper in the eccentric motion and stretches the pecs muscles more than the barbell. This can lead to more muscle growth and activation.
Bench Press Variations
- Natural Grip
You will hold the dumbbells with your palms facing each other, instead of facing forward. This technique will help you reduce shoulder stress and prevent shoulder impingement. As it places less strain on your rotator cuffs and biceps tendons it is a great option if you are recovering from shoulder injuries or pain.
As it puts your shoulders in the strongest leverage position for the press, natural grip can help you lift more weight and improve your strength.
However, there are some drawbacks as well.
Neutral grip works more on your front delts than on your chest. Usually this is not your primary goal if you want to develop your pecs.
- Incline Bench Dumbbell Press
Ideally, you should set the bench at an angle of around 30-45 degrees. However, even a slight angle of 15 degrees will do the job. Incline bench press puts more emphasis on your upper chest, which is often neglected or underdeveloped by many lifters.
However, there are a few things to remember when choosing this variation.
First of all, it requires more shoulder stability and mobility, as you have to control the dumbbells at a higher position.
It works less on your lower and middle chest, so you should also include the flat bench press in your routine.
Do not set the bench at too high of an angle, such as 60 degrees or more. This will work more on your delts than on your chest, which is not your primary goal in this exercise.
- Underhand Dumbbell Bench Press
In this variation, you will have to grab the dumbbells with an underhand grip. Your palms will be facing your head. This grip technique changes the angle of your arms and activates your upper pecs. If you don’t have an incline bench at home, this might be the best solution.
However, this variation also has a major drawback.
The underhand grip can be uncomfortable and unstable for some people, especially at the lowest point of the movement. You also have to use lower weights to protect your wrists and shoulders.
- Floor Dumbbell Press
Floor dumbbell bench press is a technique that involves lying on the floor instead of a bench. Like any other variation, it has its pros and cons. Some of the benefits of this variation are:
- Working more on your triceps, which are responsible for extending your arms.
- Allowing you to use more weight, as you have to lift the dumbbells for a shorter distance and against less gravity.
- Reducing the stress on your shoulders, as you eliminate the lower part of the motion that can cause shoulder impingement or injury.
However, this technique also has some drawbacks, such as:
- Limiting the range of motion and stretching of your chest muscles, which can affect your muscle hypertrophy.
- Requiring more control and balance, as you have to stop the dumbbells when your elbows touch the floor and avoid bouncing or dropping them.
- Alternating Dumbbell Press
In this variation, you push one dumbbell at a time, instead of both at the same time. Some of the benefits of this variation are:
- Increasing the rotational resistance in your body. This challenges your core muscles to stabilize and offset this force.
- Adding some complexity and variety to your routine, which can prevent boredom and plateaus. It can also help you correct any muscle imbalances or weaknesses that you may have on one side of your body.
However, this variation also has some drawbacks, such as being harder to control and balance, especially for beginners or when using heavier weights.
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
Single-arm dumbbell bench press is very similar to the Alternating Dumbbell Press. The only difference is that this time you will use only one dumbbell throughout the whole motion and push it with just one arm.
This variation creates even greater unilateral core activation, which means that your core muscles have to work harder to prevent your torso from rotating sideways.
Same as in the previous variation, you will have to limit the amount of weight you use and work more on your shoulder stability and mobility.
- Dumbbell Squeeze Press
To perform this variation, you need to hold two dumbbells over your chest and at the top touch them together.
This creates more tension and activation in your chest.
Make sure you lower and lift the dumbbells in line with your mid-chest, and not higher, to avoid working your shoulders too much.
Also, keep your elbows at a 45-70 degree angle with your sides to protect your joints and optimize your form.
- Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is a classic exercise for building strength and muscle mass in your chest, shoulders and triceps.
It allows you to use heavier loads than other variations, stimulating more growth and power.
However, the fixed hand position of the barbell might put some stress on your shoulders over time, especially if you have limited mobility or flexibility.
Also, the barbell bench press has a limited range of motion, as you can only lower the bar until it touches your chest.
This might reduce the tension and activation in your chest muscles at the bottom of the movement.
In general, dumbbells are made for lower loads compared to the barbell. However, you can still use them effectively when training either for strength or for hypertrophy.
Training for strength
According to the research, results are better when you train with loads close to your maximum. Another study suggests that higher set volumes (six or more sets per week) will give you better effects than lower set volumes (five sets per week or less).
Training for hypertrophy
The research suggests that you don’t have to target heavy loads if hypertrophy is your goal. Instead, lighter loads lifted close to fatigue can result in similar results. Intensity of effort might be the key. According to some further research, if you seek hypertrophy you should aim at 3-6 sets of 6-12 repetitions of an exercise with moderate intensity and then an increase in volume to 12-28 sets.
If you are just starting out, it will be beneficial for you to work with light to moderate weights and aim for 1-2 reps before failure.
The ego press – I get it. I have been there as well. Especially after working with the barbell, I was tempted to press heavily with the dumbbells. However, since the dumbbell bench press involves working with each hand separately, you need to first develop stability and control. To perform this exercise correctly, start with a lower load and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable with the motion.
Cutting the range of motion – dumbbell bench press is excellent in increasing your range of motion. However, at the beginning and especially after switching from a barbell you might be tempted not to use the full range of motion. Try to overcome this and lower the weight to your chest level or below. This will help you to target your pecs more effectively.
Keeping your forearm at 90 angle to your sides – Try to keep your forearm at a 45-70 degree angle to your sides. This will help to take off some unwanted stress from your shoulders and ensure that you are targeting the correct muscles.
Touching the dumbbells at the top – Unless you perform Dumbbell Squeeze Press try to avoid touching the dumbbells at the lockout position. This doesn’t stimulate the pecs any more and is a waste of energy with no significant added value.
What is your next move?
Why Should I Consider the Dumbbell Bench Press?
It’s a great accessory exercise. However, you can also use it as your main chest workout.
The biggest advantage of the dumbbell bench press is the fact that your hands are freed up. In this way you can personalize the move or work around any pains or injuries.
What Grip Angle Should I Start With?
Hold the dumbbells at a 45 degree angle, same as your elbows. It’s the safest and most natural grip for most of us.
How Often Should I Switch from the Bar to the Dumbbells?
It really depends on your needs. In my personal training, I switch every two weeks. So if my main tool is a barbell, I would work with it for 2 weeks straight and then switch for a week to the dumbbells.