The muscles used for bench press will change based on the angle of the bench (flat, decline, incline), grip on the bar (narrow or wide), and range of motion trained (bottom-end or top-end).

In general, the muscles used for bench press are the pecs, shoulders, and triceps. These are the muscles that contribute to pressing the bar in the vertical plane of motion. Other muscle groups such as the erector spinae, lats, and rotator cuff stabilize the bench press, including decelerating the bar (on the way down) and restrict inefficient movement patterns. Together, the prime movers and the stabilizing muscles are designed to work in collaboration to help produce maximum force and a well-coordinated movement.

However, as I said the exact muscles used changed based on various factors. So let’s dig into these concepts further and understand how you can best recruit each muscle groups when benching.

This article is part of a series on the muscles used in the powerlifting movements. You can check out the other articles on MUSCLES USED IN THE SQUAT and MUSCLES USED IN THE DEADLIFT.

Contents

CHEST MUSCLES IN THE BENCH PRESS

The chest will largely be activated during the descent of the movement and at the bottom-end of the range of motion during the lifting phase. A wider grip (2X shoulder-width) has shown to activate the chest more than other grip styles.

Role of The Chest

The chest is made up of the ‘upper pecs’ and ‘lower pecs’.

Anatomy picture courtesy of T-NATION

The upper pec includes the muscle fibers on your clavicle (collarbone), which help with shoulder flexion (like a pec fly).

The lower pec includes the muscle fibers on your sternum and ribcage, which help with horizontal flexion (bringing the arms straight overhead from the front).

Chest & Range of Motion

The pecs reach their peak activation during the bottom-end of the range of motion. However, the pecs are activated 2X as much on the descent compared with the lifting phase (Duffey 2008). This suggests that the pecs are highly activated when used to slow the bar.

If you can’t control the weight on the way down, or you fail the lift during the lower half of the lift, it might be because of weak pec muscles.

Chest & Grip

The wider you grip the bar, the pec muscles will activate more than the shoulders and triceps (Lehman, 2005).

A wide grip is considered 2X the width measured between your shoulders.

For example, if you measure the distance between your shoulders at 40cm, then a wide grip would be 80cm from index finger-to-index finger on the bar.

Wide Grip Bench Press (2X shoulder width)

Based on research from Duffey (2008), grip width in and of itself may not be the reason why the chest is activated more in a wider grip. But rather, it’s what the wider grip causes the elbow position to do. If the elbow position is directly under the bar (not infront) then it will recruit the chest muscles more. If the elbows tuck inward then the triceps can also be activated in the wider grip.

Chest Muscles & Bench Angle

It’s been shown that an incline bench activates the upper pecs more than the flat and decline variations (saeterbakken et al., 2017). Specifically, it’s been shown that a 45-degree bench incline had the most activation in the pecs compared with other angles (Trebs, 2010).

When looking at the flat and decline variations, however, there isn’t any significant difference in pec activation.

Therefore, if you want more pec activation, perform an incline bench at 45-degrees, but you can pass up the decline bench because it doesn’t offer any more pec activation than flat.

My Reccomendation for Activating Your Chest

To train the chest more: Train on a flat or incline bench (at 45-degrees) in a wide grip. Additionally, because the chest is activated 2X more on the descent, you could perform a slow bench press variation, bringing the bar down with a 3-5 seconds tempo. Also, since the chest is activated more in the bottom range of motion, you could perform exercises that extend the time under tension on the chest, such as long pause bench press (3-sec hold on chest).

SHOULDER MUSCLES IN THE BENCH PRESS

The shoulders (anterior delt) will largely be activated during the mid-range of the bench press. Regardless of the grip you choose, the shoulders will activate similarly across different widths. Furthermore, the shoulders are most activated by using a high incline bench (55 degrees +) when compared with other bench angles).

Role of The Shoulders

The shoulder is made up of the anterior deltoid (front), medial deltoid (side), and rear deltoid (back).

Picture courtesy of Jason’s Take

Only the anterior deltoid is involved in the bench press as a prime mover. It’s role is shoulder flexion (bringing the arms straight overhead from the front).

Shoulders & Range of Motion

The anterior deltoid is utilized the most in the mid-position of the bench press. Unlike the chest and triceps which have different activation levels during the descent and lift phase, the shoulders are equally active when lowering and lifting the bar, and its peak activity occurs very close to the middle of the movement, regardless of which direction the bar is moving (Duffey, 2008).

If you get stuck in the mid-range of the bench press, it might mean you have weak anterior delt muscles.

Shoulders & Grip

Various studies have shown that there is no statistical difference between shoulder activation and grip width on bench press (Saeterbakken et al, 2017, Duffey, 2008, Lehman, 2005).

You can expect that your shoulders will be activated similarly whether you choose to have a narrow, medium, or wide grip on the bar.

Same muscle recruitment regardless of grip

Shoulder Muscles & Bench Angles

The anterior delt is activated more throughout an incline bench variation. Studies have shown that the higher the incline, the more the anterior delt is activated (Trebs et al., 2010).

While I mentioned that the pec muscles are most activated at a 45-degree angle before having diminishing returns, the anterior delt becomes more activated the higher the angle (55+ degrees). Therefore, as you start to increase the bench angle higher than 45-degrees, the pecs do less of the work, and the shoulders do more. ‘

There is also no difference between shoulder activation on the decline and flat bench . So again, if you’re looking for more shoulder activation, perform a high incline or flat bench, but forget about decline.

My Recommendation for Activating Your Shoulders

To target the shoulders more: Train on a flat or incline bench (greater than 45-degrees) in a wide grip. Remember, the greater the incline, the more anterior delt activation. On a flat bench, the shoulders are most activated in the mid-range. Therefore, you can consider doing exercises that emphasize the mid-range of motion, such as a 2-stop bench press (where you stop and pause at the halfway point on the way down and up).

TRICEP MUSCLES IN THE BENCH PRESS

The triceps (lateral and medial head) will largely be activated during the lock-out phase of the bench press. A narrower grip (shoulder-width) has shown to activate the triceps more. Stick to the flat bench as the triceps decrease in muscle activation by up to 50% on incline bench variations.

Role of The Tricep

The triceps are made up the lateral, medial, and long head.

Picture courtesy of Human Anatomy Lib

Only the lateral and medial head of the tricep are involved in bench press as a prime mover. Their role is extending the elbow (going from bent to locked).

Tricep & Range of Motion

The triceps reach their peak muscle activation at the lock-out when the elbows extend (Duffey, 2008). I mentioned the pecs are highly activated during the descent, but this is the opposite for the triceps. They are realtively inactive as you bring the bar down to the chest, and only activate at the top of the movement on the way up.

If you fail the weight at the top end, it might be because you have weak triceps.

Tricep & Grip

The triceps are activated the most in a narrow grip (Lehman, 2005). A narrow grip can be considered a shoulder-width grip.

For example, if you measure the distance between your shoulders at 40cm, then a narrow grip is when your grip is 40cm between your two index fingers on the bar.

At this grip width, the triceps have shown to be activated 2X as much when compared with a grip that is twice the distance (Lehman, 2005).

However, just as I stated above, studies have shown that the elbow position in relation to the bar is largely what determines the muscle activation (Duffey, 2008). So if the elbows are tucking in front of the bar in a narrower grip, then more triceps will be activated. But, if the elbows are stacked directly under the bar, then the pecs will have more activation (not more than in a wider grip, but some).

Tricep Muscles & Bench Angles

There is 50% less tricep activation on the incline bench when compared with the flat and decline variations (saeterbakken et al., 2017). So while you may get more chest and shoulder activation with higher inclines, tricep activation drastically reduces.

On the decline bench, the triceps are similarly activated when compared with flat bench (Trebs et al., 2010). So, if you wanted to target the triceps, you could either do flat or decline bench. But decline is generally a more awkward set-up, so I would just stick to flat benching.

My Recommendation for Activating Your Triceps

To target the triceps more: Use a narrow grip (shoulder width distance) on a flat or decline bench. Also, since the triceps are at their peak activation during the lock-out of the bench press, you could perform top-end variations such as board presses or band presses. Read my article on the 16 best tricep exercises to increase bench press strength.

Final Thoughts

You should now be convinced that in order to target each muscle group involved in the bench press there will be different angles, grips, and ranges of motion that will be most effective.

So how should you use this information?

If you’re a powerlifter, like most of our audience will be, you should prioritize the flat bench press over all variations.

My recommendation for people who want to maximize musculature is to practice on a flat bench press and strive to be in a wider grip. A good starting point for a wider grip would be a 2X shoulder width distance, and then adjust based on mobility and level of comfort.

With that said, it’s important to target each muscle group involved in the bench press through different variations.

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What To Read Next?

Bench Press Tempo: How Fast You Should Bring The Bar Down?

Should Your Elbows Be In or Out For Bench Press?

Resources

Lehman, G. The Influencer of Grip Width and Forearm Pronation/Supination on Upper-Body MyoElectric Activity During The Flat Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005;19(3):587-591)

Trebs AA, Brandenburg JP, Pitney WA. An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several positions. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24:1925–1930.

Dumbbell Bench Press – Muscles Worked, Benefits, and Technique

The dumbbell bench press is a bench press variation that can be done to boost overall strength, enhance muscle hypertrophy, and isolate areas of weakness in the bench press. The dumbbell press falls within the horizontal pressing domain, which also includes: barbell bench press, push ups, and angular variations (decline, incline, etc).

Regardless of the variation, bench pressing can be used by coaches and athletes to enhance overall muscular strength and hypertrophy, but also to improve bench press and overall pressing performance.

In this dumbbell bench press exercise guide, we will cover:

  • Dumbbell Bench Presses Form and Technique
  • Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Who Should Do Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Benefits of Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Dumbbell Bench Press Variations and Alternatives

How to Dumbbell Bench Press

1. Set the Back

Start by lying supine on a bench (face up) with a dumbbell tightly grasped in each hand.

With the back and hips engaged, squeeze the dumbbell handle and pull the weights down to the sides of the chest, keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the elbows slightly tucked inwards towards the body.

The elbows should be directly underneath the wrist, as this will help keep the shoulder joint in proper positioning and allow for maximal back tension.

2. Lower the Dumbbells, Then Press

At the bottom of the press, the weights should be slightly outside the torso, with the shoulder blades retracted and depressed (down towards the hips) to help maintain upper back stability.

When ready, press the dumbbells back to the returning position without letting the elbows flare out directly to the sides.

Think about pressing yourself deeper into the bench and/or pushing yourself away from the dumbbells.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Bench Press

Below are five huge reasons why powerlifting, strongman, Olympic weightlifting, and yes, CrossFit athletes should be doing the dumbbell bench press. While the bench press is often seen as a “bro-sesh” kind of movement, it can truly develop the upper body strength and muscle mass needed for most strength, power, and fitness sports.

Increased Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength

Bench pressing in general can create some serious strength and hypertrophy gains. No matter the sport, nearly every lifter could benefit from increases strength and muscle mass. The bench press, as well as the overhead movements are critical for upper body pushing strength development.

Joint Angle Customization (Injury and Training Stimulus)

Unlike the barbell bench press (and other fixed pressing movements), the dumbbell allows a lifter to rotate their arms, position their shoulders, and change the movement patterning slightly to better suit their joint integrity needs. Some lifters may get shoulder/elbow/wrist pain from pressing with a barbell (while others don’t).

Rather than for a lifter to either (a) lift very light so that there is not pain train with regular loading and risk further injury and/or discomfort in pressing movements. Dumbbells can be used to attain all of the above goals, while still allowing for serious loafing on muscles, connective tissues, and joints.

Increased Unilateral Strength and Development

In an earlier article, I discussed in depth the importance of unilateral training, for all segments of the body. By performing dumbbell bench presses, you can reap all normal benefits of bench pressing AND al the unique benefits of unilateral training.

Increasing Range of Motion for Joint Health and Power

Unlike the barbell bench press, the dumbbell bench press allows for increased lengthening of the muscle fibers and even joint capsule while pressing. For some lifters, failure to increase personal records or getting stuck in the bench press could suggest poor end range control and/or lack of overall development of muscle fibers.

By increasing the range of motion and the ability to promote force throughout, you also increase your shoulders and chest muscles injury resilience, which is often lacking in competitive sports (especially during explosive or high volume movements). Additionally, by increasing the amount of force that you can produce at end ranges of movement you can increase maximal strength and power at off the chest in the bench press, often a sticking point for many.

Development of Stabilization Muscles

Due to the dumbbells being independent of one another (unlike the barbell bench press), the body must work to properly stabilize the load unilaterally, meaning that any compensation patterns covered by a lifter being able to shift greater load and control to a stronger/healthier arm is minimized.

The payoff is that the lifter can then strengthen and challenge joint stabilization and train dormant muscle groups to increase control and firing rates, which can then be applied into competitive bench pressing or other fitness exercises.

Muscles Worked – Dumbbell Bench Press

The bench press is an extremely effective movement for increasing upper body strength and muscle mass for aesthetics purposes, competitive advantages, or simply to promote overall muscle growth and development. Below are the key exercises stressed during the dumbbell bench press.

It is important to note that many variations can exist (incline pressing, single arm, pauses, etc) that will alter which muscle group below is specifically targeted, but nonetheless here are the muscles worked:

Photo by decade3d – anatomy online /

Pectorals (Chest)

The pectoral muscles (chest) are the primary muscle groups involved in the force production needed to perform the dumbbell bench press. With dumbbells, some lifters may find that they can go into deeper ranges of motion during the eccentric aspect of the lift, fighting the demands placed upon the chest muscles. Additionally, the unilateral demands of dumbbell bench pressing has also been shown to increase muscle activation of the chest and pressing muscles.

Triceps

The triceps are involved in the stability of the elbow and responsible for the final extension of the elbow to lock out the bench press. Depending on the angle of the upper body and wrist, lifters can manipulate the movement to increase triceps demands as well (close grip dumbbell bench press).

Who Should Do Dumbbell Bench Presses?

The single arm dumbbell bench press can be highly beneficial for all strength, power, and fitness athlete. The below groups can benefit from learning and performing this movement due to the various reasons listed below.

Strength and Power Athletes

The dumbbell bench press can be integrated into strength and power athlete programs to increase upper body strength and muscle mass of the chest, triceps, and anterior pressing muscles. Below, we will discuss how to integrate the dumbbell bench press in to training programs.

Training for General Fitness, Hypertrophy, and Strength Goals

The dumbbell bench press is a movement that offers fitness goers a wide array of muscle and strength building benefits. In the below sections, we discuss those benefits and go over the dumbbell bench press variations that all can be integrated into your current training program.

How to Program the Dumbbell Bench Press

In the below section we discuss how coaches and athletes can integrate the dumbbell bench press into current training programs.

Main Strength Lifts

The dumbbell bench press can be done as a main strength lift for the day, similar to that of the barbell bench press. Some lifters however, may not have heavy enough dumbbells to train for maximal strength. If this is the case, a barbell is often used to stress maximal strength with dumbbells being used in more strength/hypertrophy training blocks (see below).

Dumbbell Bench Press Variations

Accessory Blocks

The dumbbell bench press can be added into accessory training blocks to increase muscle hypertrophy, reinforce proper pressing mechanics, and enhance muscular development of the upper body. Refer to the below section for sets, reps, and weight recommendations.

Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations

Below are three primary training goals and programming recommendations when utilizing the dumbbell bench press into specific programs. Note, that these are general guidelines, and by no means should be used as the only way to program dumbbell bench press.

Strength – Reps and Sets

For strength building sets, athletes can perform lower repetition ranges for more sets.

  • 4-6 sets of 4-8 repetitions, resting 2-3 minutes

Hypertrophy – Reps and Sets

Muscle hypertrophy can be accomplished by adding training volume (more reps), time under tension, and/or training towards fatigue.

  • 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions, resting 1-2 minutes

Muscle Endurance – Reps and Sets

Some lifters may want to train greater muscle endurance (for sport), in which higher repetition ranges and/or shorter rest periods are recommended.

  • 2-3 sets of 12+ repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between (this is highly sport specific)

Dumbbell Bench Press Variations

Below are three (3) dumbbell bench press variations that can be used by coaches and athletes to keep training varied and progressive.

1. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a dumbbell bench press variation that is done by lying on the floor rather than a bench. In doing this, you restrict the overall range of motion in the pressing movement, increasing the demands on the triceps to assist in the lockout position.

In addition, it can help individuals establish a deeper understanding of how to stabilize the upper back during the movement.

2. How to Floor Press

1. Setup Underneath the Barbell

Start by positioning yourself on the floor underneath the barbell (eyes should be underneath). With the legs either straight or bent, be sure to place the feet, hips, and upper back on the floor, similar to that of a bench press.

Note, that this relationship with the floor is essential to the floor press. Often, individuals who struggle with this on a bench may find it easier to develop greater back tension in the floor press in the early learning phases.

2. Grip the Floor, Bring Elbows Downwards

With the body actively gripping the floor, firmly squeeze the barbell and pull the elbows down towards the torso, on a slight angle to ensure that the back muscles and posterior shoulders are being activated.

Be sure to pull the barbell to the base of the chest (just above the sternum) so that the elbows are roughly 45 degrees from the torso.

3. Gently Contact the Floor, Then Press

Once you have gently made contact with the back of the elbows to the floor, remain in tension and reverse the movement so that you go into the concentric pressing phase of the floor press.

Note, that lifters can pause at the bottom of the press (which I prefer) to help increase stability, control, and gain a deeper understanding on how to develop and maintain tension and strength throughout the full lift.

4.

Once you have returned to the top of the movement, repeat for the prescribed repetitions, rest, and repeat.

Make sure to not over protract at the top when completing a rep, as this could throw your positioning and base out of line.

Dumbbell Reciprocating Bench Press

The dumbbell reciprocating bench press is a unilateral dumbbell bench press variation that has the lifter move one dumbbell at a time, alternating between the left and right sides pressing. This can be done to increase complexity of a press, increase rotational resistance, and help to increase the overall functionality of the lift for individuals who may be involved in more contact-based sports/events.

3. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

The single arm dumbbell bench press is done by using only one dumbbell (rather than two dumbbells) during the bench press movement. This variation offers athletes and coaches unilateral stability, strength, and can enhance core and glute activation in the bench press movement.

Dumbbell Bench Press Alternatives

Below are three (3) dumbbell bench press alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase chest and triceps strength and muscle hypertrophy.

Overhead Press

The overhead press is a movement that targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest, and can have a significant impact on total body strength. Lifters who are looking to increase bench press strength and upper body mass can build in overhead pressing to diversify their pressing strength and better balance out upper body training programs.

Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press can be done to increase sport specific strength (powerlifting) and is often used to increase overall strength and muscle mass. Unlike the dumbbells, the load is not independently managed, making it easier to use heavy loads and attack maximal strength in the pressing movement. Check out this article where we go over the differences between the barbell and dumbbell bench press and determine which one is best for you.

Axle/Fat Bar Bench Press

The axle/fat bar bench press can be done to add variety to the bench press training and to reinforce proper position in the press. I find that the axle bar bench press can enhance wrist stability and help lifters establish better elbow positioning in the bottom position of the press (due to the necessity to actually pull the weight into the body and squeeze the fatter bar).

The Perfect Chest Manifesto: Which Bench Press is Best

by Trevor Hiltbrand | Reviewed by Advisory Board

The barbell bench press is without a doubt the most renowned strength building exercise known to man. With one simple piece of equipment, the culmination of a man’s success in the gym can be weighed.

Just think, how many times have you gone head to head with a comrade lifter to see who can move the most weight on the bench press?

While competition is the true spirit of all endeavors both inside and outside of the gym, no other exercise has been the determination of superior strength like the barbell bench press.

But, is it the only exercise method worthwhile for building chest muscle?

Here we are going to cover the most effective chest exercises.

These exercises include the three major barbell presses (flat, incline, decline), as well as all the secondary chest exercises out there including the dumbbell press (flat, incline, decline), machines, cable exercises and calisthenics. Everything chest-related.

Ultimately, we’re going to determine which exercise hails as the king of chest hypertrophy. And how you can best leverage all of your options in the pursuit of the perfect strong and sculpted chest.

The 3 Pillars of Chest Growth – Barbell Presses

#1 Flat Barbell Bench Press (full chest focus)

The barbell bench press is the standard bench press upon which many proud pectorals have been crafted. When you simplify bodybuilding into the big-3 exercises for building massive strength, the flat barbell bench press is one of them, right beside squats and deadlifts.

The Big 3 are the three powerlifting compound exercises for building strength and stimulating hypertrophy. In combination, these three exercises stimulate the majority of your body’s musculature system. These are the three exercises which every bodybuilding program should be based around.

There are several methods for carrying out the flat barbell bench press. Each style boasts slightly different benefits that we will explore.

Flat Barbell Bench Press: The flat barbell bench press is a powerful tool for activating the entire pectoral region.

While this exercise is a powerful tool for building your chest, it is also one of the most challenging exercises to do properly (aka fully activate your chest). The most common indication that you are performing the chest press wrong is: “If you find that while performing the bench press your arms are tiring out before your chest is.” Or, you don’t even feel your chest being worn out; take a look at this.

To properly perform the bench press:

  • Your arms should be parallel to the barbell
  • Your shoulders should be locked back, with your shoulder blades tightly together
  • Your hands should be roughly wider than shoulder width apart on the barbell
  • While you perform your rep, focus on squeezing your chest together
  • When the bar touches your chest, it should be just below your nipples
  • Focus less on the weight going up, and more on the curving motion from pectoral to elbow
  • Keep your entire body controlled and stable

These guidelines are some of the best for ‘finding your chest’ when you do flat barbell bench press. It’s important that you use a lighter than normal weight while you learn your chest, as you will need to keep your overbearing shoulders and triceps at bay.

Value of the Flat Barbell Bench Press

As you expected, the flat barbell chest press is the superior chest exercise for building both mass and strength. Think of the flat barbell bench press as the cornerstone of your chest development, whereas the Big-3 is the cornerstone of the entire body. For growth and strength, this exercise is the primary lift that will never lose its use.

Injury Management: While performing the flat barbell bench press, a bodybuilder tends to lift with the bar slightly closer to their head than a powerlifter (nipple line versus slightly lower), to stimulate more muscle growth (whereas as a powerlifter lifts to move more weight via form). Doing so, under heavy weight is a risk to your shoulders and elbows, especially if you are not training all the muscle groups that make up your shoulders.

Other Muscles Worked: The flat barbell bench press also utilizes the deltoids and triceps heavily. When performed correctly to lift heavier weight, the lats, lower back and glutes are firmly tensed as well. This exercise is meant to be extremely controlled throughout your whole body to reduce the risk of injury.

Secondary Exercises – Full Chest Focus The following secondary exercises work along the same lines as the flat barbell bench press and are used to increase total volume and isolation work. Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: The dumbbell variation of the flat barbell chest press is the close second place workout for mass and strength gains for the full and center focused chest. In fact, there are quite a few trainers out there who would argue that the dumbbell chest press is more valuable and effective than the flat barbell bench press. In some aspects, they are certainly right. However, to effectively achieve the large volume of lifting required to both build strength and muscle we and many others prefer integrating both barbell and dumbbell exercises into our programs. The main advantages that the flat dumbbell bench press holds over the flat barbell bench press are greater range of motion, muscle symmetry, and greater stabilizer activation. We cover the value of these at the bottom of this article. Cable Chest Fly: The cable chest fly is certainly a secondary to tertiary chest exercise by default. However, it still has value in this supportive role when you look at the big picture. Like the dumbbell chest press, cable chest flys are a great way to add more volume to your lift, as well as stimulate some outer chest growth. Chest Fly Machine (pec deck): The chest fly machine is one of the most utilized machines in the gym, from both guys that just finished chest day, and the random machine hopper alike. Overall, the chest fly machine has massive value for a great stretch and extra muscle fiber activation when utilized towards the end of your lift after all the heavy lifting has come to a cease. Standard Push Up: While pushups are not popular in the gym, there is no denying the effectiveness of this simple elementary exercise. If you struggle to add variety to your chest routine or your gym is simply lacking. Add in some push-ups after your benching has come to an end for extra muscle stimulation.

#2 Incline Barbell Bench Press (upper chest focus)

Incline Barbell Bench Press is performed like the flat barbell bench press, just with an angle. For beginners, incline bench press is an easier adoption form-wise as long as your grip is wide enough.

There is a common misconception that incline bench press is more effective at building the upper chest than flat bench press.

The flat barbell bench press activates just as much upper chest muscle than the incline barbell bench press. The only difference is, incline barbell bench press activates less of the middle and lower chest, which, allows you to feel your upper chest more while performing the exercise.

Despite this, the Incline barbell bench press still has tremendous importance in your exercise routine.

The incline barbell bench press allows you to isolate the top of your chest for extra reps to either grow a larger upper chest without affecting the mid and lower, or, to train the upper chest past lower chest fatigue.

However, the idea that all of the strain of a standard chest press is focused upon the upper chest while in the incline position isn’t telling the whole story. Rather, when lifting in the incline position, a great deal of weight is being managed by your shoulders and not your chest. That bit of weight that is managed by the chest, is mostly done so at the top clavicular head (upper chest).

To Properly Perform the Incline Barbell Bench Press:

  • Your arms should be parallel to the barbell
  • Your shoulders should be locked back, with your shoulder blades tightly together
  • Your hands should be roughly wider than shoulder width apart on the barbell
  • While you perform your rep, focus on squeezing your upper chest together
  • Instead of touching the bar below your nipples like flat bench, touch between your collarbone and nipples for incline
  • Keep your entire body controlled and stable

Value of the Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is best used to increase hypertrophy in the upper pectoral major (the part that connects to your collar bone). Though, this will take practice and focus on isolating it to its full potential. The outer pectoralis major also gets a great workout in synchrony with the front deltoids.

Injury Management: Like the flat barbell bench press, the incline version puts a strain on the shoulders and elbows. Heavy weights exacerbate this, and it isn’t recommended to proceed to shoulder exercises after chest day with incline bench presses if your shoulders are sensitive or have imbalanced deltoids.

Other Muscles Worked: The incline barbell bench press also engages the shoulders to a large degree. Aside from this, triceps, and core stabilizing muscles support the motion.

Secondary Exercises – Upper Chest Focus The following secondary exercises work along the same lines as the flat barbell bench press and are often used for additional volume and isolation work. Incline Dumbbell Chest Press: The incline dumbbell chest press is a fan favorite which often replaces the incline barbell bench press entirely for many peoples training programs. This is due to the extra range of motion that free weights allow for, as well as the ability to work until failure given the option to drop the weights at each side. Something which the incline barbell bench press certainly does not offer. Overall, this is a highly valuable exercise like all the other dumbbell variations of barbell exercises. Reverse Grip Barbell or Dumbbell Incline Chest Press: For extra upper chest activation, one can rotate their palms for a reverse grip motion. This has a way of really stimulating the upper inner chest near your collarbones. Reverse grip exercises for upper chest can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells. Dumbbells tend to be more forgiving. Upwards Cable Chest Fly: For those that do not wish to utilize reverse grip, or simply want to destroy their upper chest- the upwards cable chest fly is a simple motion for clavicular-connecting pectoral tissue. Be wary of your form and weights while performing this motion. Too much weight will recruit too many supporting muscles which will take over the lift.

#3 Decline Barbell Bench Press (lower chest focus)

Decline bench press is by far the least utilized press in the gym, but it has some noteworthy benefits.

While the standard flat bench press is the overall winner for maximum chest hypertrophy stimulation and strength gains, the decline bench press is very effective at activating the lower pectoral muscles (and pectoralis major) while placing less strain on your shoulders than both the flat and incline bench press.

To properly perform the decline barbell bench press:

  • Secure your legs and stabilize your body
  • Your arms should be parallel to the barbell
  • Your hands should be roughly wider than shoulder width apart on the barbell
  • While you perform your rep, focus on squeezing your lower chest together
  • As you bring the weight down, it should touch near your xiphoid process below your nipples
  • Keep your entire body controlled and stable

Value of the decline barbell bench press

The decline barbell bench press offers the same basic benefits as the flat bench press, with additional emphasis on the lower pectoralis muscles. While there is still triceps activation, shoulder stress is reduced greatly with proper form. Due to this, decline barbell bench press is a great way to add variation and extra volume to a standard chest routine without compromising the shoulders.

Injury Management: For the decline barbell bench press, proper form is very important. It’s important to begin learning the decline bench press with light weights to feel out the motion. Once you are comfortable, larger weights can be accomplished similarly to the flat barbell bench press with great chest isolation.

Other Muscles Worked: In addition to the pectoralis major and minor, the decline bench press unavoidably works the triceps, serratus anterior, and lats to a small degree. Luckily, very little emphasis is put on the shoulders when performed right alongside a spotter to help with racking.

Secondary Exercises – Lower Chest Focus The following secondary exercises work along the same lines as the decline barbell bench press and are often used for additional volume and isolation work. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press: Decline dumbbell chest press is much more difficult to get into position with in comparison to the barbell version. However, the added range of motion can make for some great pumps. Lower Cable Flies: Lower cable flies are one of the most popular and effective lower chest workouts in accessory to the decline chest press. While this exercise can be used to stimulate growth, its most commonly performed at a light weight with extreme lower chest isolation as a method for toning and giving the pec a strong undercut. Dips: Dips performed while leaning slightly forward are another effective method for targeting the lower chest while getting a good triceps workout at the same time. Adding dips to the end of your workout routine is a great way to complete chest day. Incline Pushups: Pushups are always an unconventional workout for grown men, but their effectiveness cannot be denied, no matter how much their unpleasantness force us to rationalize that they are. To perform an incline pushup, place your hands on a bench seat instead of on the ground.

Wide Grip – Close Grip – Reverse Grip: Why that grip though?

Use the bench press enough, and you will quickly notice many different grip variations being used. As a rule of thumb, here are the typical reasons.

Wide grip: targets the outer chest and provides a greater stretch. Though, an also over-emphasize shoulders.

Close grip: Targets the inner chest but mostly shifts accessory muscle usage from the shoulders to the triceps.

Reverse grip: Targets the upper chest aka the smaller part of the pectoralis major that connects to your collar bone.

Why do some guys bench press with their Legs Up?

People bench press with their legs off of the ground for one of three reasons:

  1. They have lower back pain
  2. They think they are challenging their chest more
  3. They don’t know what they are doing

Reason 1 may be acceptable for some people while using light weights. But, as a rule of thumb, your feet should always be firmly planted on the ground for stabilities sake. Otherwise, you lose both safety and power that can end up resulting in injury.

What exactly are the extra benefits of Dumbbell exercises?

For every barbell bench press variation, there is a dumbbell press to match it as you noticed in each secondary exercise set. What exactly is the overall difference and benefits of utilizing dumbbell chest presses in your strength and mass routine?

Range of Motion: The most obvious benefit to dumbbells is the added range of motion. While using dumbbells, there is extra mobility at both the top and the bottom of each press, leading to greater, more complete muscle activation.

Stability: Training with dumbbell requires greater stability, which is accomplished by the recruitment of accessory muscles. As these accessory muscles grow, you become stronger and overall more stable and less injury prone.

Muscle Symmetry: During barbell exercises, it is possible for your dominant side to train harder than your less dominant side. Free weights, on the other hand, do not share the load between both arms. Due to this, the body grows more symmetrically since you will notice any imbalances in ability during your lift.

Closing Thoughts on our Chest Exploration

When it comes to training chest, you have endless options. In our opinion, the best way to grow serious chest mass and strength is to base your entire chest workout around the 3 main barbell chest presses.

From there, you can diversify your workout with a collection of accessory lifts that activate the entire chest.

Depending on the day, it’s totally acceptable to lead your workouts with dumbbell presses for variation. Likewise, it isn’t exactly sensible to do flat barbell press, incline press, and decline press in the same day, every day. So, as you put together your workout routine, realize which exercises bring forth the biggest bang for your buck, and then organize them in a way that will allow you to stimulate those muscles appropriately while not overloading your shoulders day in and day out.

Want a guaranteed way to increase your bench press? Try our expert formulated Creatine HMB for the most scientifically backed supplement for increasing strength.

Trevor Hiltbrand

Author

Trevor Hiltbrand is one of the owners/co-founders of Transparent Labs and head of content creation. He got his start with supplement research back in 2013 when he began researching cognitive enhancement. With the help of the Transparent Labs Expert Panel and Advisory Board, we aim to bring our evidence based nutrition and exercise research to the world.

How to Do the Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press closely mimics the bench press — the favorite exercise among serious weightlifters everywhere. This exercise works your chest muscles, shoulders, and triceps. If you have shoulder, elbow, or lower-back problems, limit the range of motion. You should lower and lift the dumbbells only a few inches to avoid overstraining these joints.

Performing the dumbbell chest press

Follow these steps to perform this exercise:

  1. Lie on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet flat on the floor.

    You can rest your feet up on the bench if it’s more comfortable.

  2. Push the dumbbells up so that your arms are directly over your shoulders and your palms are up.

  3. Pull your abdominals in, and tilt your chin toward your chest.

  4. Lower the dumbbells down and a little to the side until your elbows are slightly below your shoulders.

  5. Roll your shoulder blades back and down, like you’re pinching them together and accentuating your chest.

  6. Push the weights back up, taking care not to lock your elbows or allow your shoulder blades to rise off the bench.

    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc. The dumbbell chest press works your chest muscles, shoulders, and triceps.

Tips for completing the dumbbell chest press

Keep in mind the following tips as you perform chest presses:

  • Let your back keep a natural arch so that you have a slight gap between your lower back and the bench.

  • Don’t contort your body in an effort to lift the weight. Lift only as much weight as you can handle while maintaining good form.

  • When pressing the dumbbells up, have them form a triangular motion; they don’t need to touch each other.

Gym alternative: Vertical chest-press machine

Use the vertical chest-press machine at your gym as an alternative to using dumbbells for this exercise. Follow these steps to use the vertical chest-press machine:

  1. Sit so that the center of your chest lines up with the center of the horizontal set of handlebars.

  2. Press down on the foot bar (if your particular machine’s design has one) so that the handles move forward.

  3. Grip the horizontal handles and push them forward, straightening your arms.

  4. Lift your feet from the foot bar so that the weight of the stack transfers into your hands.

  5. Slowly bend your arms until your elbows are slightly behind your chest, and then push the handles forward until your arms are straight.

  6. After you complete the set, put your feet back on the foot bar and let go of the handles before you lower the weight stack all the way down.

    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc. The vertical chest-press machine is an alternative to the dumbbell chest press.

6 EXERCISES WITH A WEIGHTS BENCH

In 6 basic exercises, this practical guide will help you build muscle easily using a piece of must-have equipment: the weights bench.

BUILD YOUR CHEST MUSCLES

Exercise 1: bench press with dumbbells

Even if you cannot lift as much as with a barbell, the bench press with dumbbells allows you to work your pecs differently, with better range and a more natural movement.

  • You will need: weights bench, 2 dumbbells.

  • Main targeted muscles: pectorals, shoulders, triceps.

  • Performing the exercise: lie on your weights bench, slightly arch your back and put your feet flat on the ground. Take a dumbbell in each hand. Stretch your arms out vertically, bringing the dumbbells together. Remember to pull your shoulders back and contract your pectoral muscles. From this high position, slowly lower the dumbbells down to each side of your chest. Without bouncing back, contract your pecs and press (push) the dumbbells back up, bringing them together as they reach the top (the dumbbells should touch at the end of movement = converging movement).

  • Breathing: inhale while lowering the dumbbells, exhale while pushing them up (this follows the movement of the ribcage).

  • Safety instructions: your head, shoulders and buttocks must remain resting against the bench. They help to anchor you. Without this stability, there is no strength. When you bring the dumbbells down, keep your elbows in line with your shoulders. In the high position, do not lock your elbows in order not to damage the elbow joint.

Exercise 2: inclined press with dumbbells

This exercise with dumbbells allows a more comprehensive and natural movement than with a barbell. It is useful as a complement to the bench press to rebalance your pectoral muscles, as it focuses more on the upper part.

  • You will need: weights bench, 2 dumbbells.

  • Main targeted muscles: pectorals, shoulders, triceps.

  • Performing the exercise: lie on your weights bench, inclined between 15° to 45°. Slightly arch your back and put your feet flat on the ground. Take a dumbbell in each hand. Stretch your arms out vertically, bringing the dumbbells together. Remember to pull your shoulders back and contract your pectoral muscles. From this high position, breathe in and then slowly lower the dumbbells down to each side of your chest. Without bouncing back, contract your pecs and press (push) the dumbbells back up, bringing them together as they reach the top (the dumbbells should touch at the end of movement = converging movement).

  • Breathing: inhale as you lower the dumbbells, exhale as you push up.

  • Safety tips: your head, shoulders and buttocks must remain resting against the bench. They help to anchor you. Without this stability, there is no strength. When you bring the dumbbells down, keep your elbows in line with your shoulders. In the high position, do not lock your elbows in order not to damage the elbow joint.

Exercise 3: dumbbell pullover

  • You will need: weights bench, dumbbell.

  • Main targeted muscles: pectoralis major, long head of the triceps, teres major, latissimus dorsi.

  • Performing the exercise: lay down on your weights bench. Pick up a dumbbell with both hands and extend your arms above your head. Take a deep breath and lower the dumbbell behind your head, with your elbows slightly bent. Breathe out whilst returning to your starting position.

  • Breathing: inhale while lowering the dumbbell behind your head, exhale at the end of the movement (while returning to the high position).

  • Safety tips: your head, shoulders and buttocks must remain resting against the bench.

BUILD UP YOUR BACK

Exercise 4: dumbbell row

  • You will need: weights bench, dumbbell.

  • Main targeted muscles: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid (back of shoulder), brachioradialis (supinator longus).

  • Performing the exercise: stand up next to your weights bench. Put one knee on the bench, leave your other foot on the ground. Take a dumbbell in one hand, steady yourself against the bench with the other hand. Contract your back then bring your elbow back, as high as you can go, to raise the dumbbell.

  • Breathing: inhale in the low position, then hold your breath during the contraction (when you lift the dumbbell). Exhale while lowering the dumbbell.

  • Safety tips: to protect your lower back, keep your back flat during the exercise. With each rep, lift the dumbbell without any jerky movements.

BUILD YOUR TRICEPS

Exercise 5: lying triceps extension

  • You will need: weights bench, straight bar or EZ curl bar

  • Main targeted muscles: triceps.

  • Performing the exercise: lie on your weights bench with your feet flat on the ground. Hold the bar with a supinated (palms facing your face) or pronated grip (easier for beginners), with your hands shoulder width apart. Without locking your elbows, bend your forearm to bring the bar above your forehead. From this position, extend your forearms to raise the bar above your head.

  • Breathing: inhale in the low position, exhale while lifting the bar.

  • Safety tips: carefully lower the bar by bending your forearms. Be careful not to spread your elbows apart when lowering the bar towards your forehead.

BUILD YOUR BICEPS

Exercise 6: concentrated curl

  • You will need: weights bench, dumbbell.

  • Main targeted muscles: biceps brachii, brachialis (located under the biceps).
  • Performing the exercise: sit down on your weights bench with your legs apart and your feet flat on the ground. Pick up a dumbbell with your right hand, with a supinated grip (palms facing upwards). Keeping your back straight, lean forward slightly, with your elbow slightly bent and place it on your right thigh. Rest your other hand on your left thigh. Take a deep breath and lift the dumbbell up to your chest. Then breathe out whilst returning to your starting position. Do your reps at your own pace and then switch sides.

  • Breathing: inhale in the starting position, when your elbow is slightly bent. Exhale during the contraction.

  • Safety tips: lift the weight while concentrating on your biceps, without moving your upper body or legs. Take care to control the movement while lowering the dumbbell.

How to do Dumbbell Bench Press Correctly and Safely

INTRODUCTION: DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS VS BARBELL BENCH

The Dumbbell Bench Press is a handy variation of the Barbell Bench Press which allows for a more natural range of motion of the shoulders and individual training of each arm. Given that the weight is not fixed by a barbell, your shoulders are free to rotate throughout the movement. That makes the Dumbbell Bench a good variation if you experience any shoulder discomfort during the Barbell Bench.

Because this exercise trains each arm individually, you will not be able to lift as much weight with this exercise compared to the Barbell Bench Press.

The downside to Dumbbell Bench Press is that it becomes more difficult to get into the starting position as the dumbbells you lift get heavier and heavier.

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS FORM VIDEO

BENEFITS OF THE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

  • Teaches how to maintain a stable shoulder position for everyday movements

  • Allows the shoulders to rotate freely without the restriction of a barbell

  • Encourages strength development of the shoulders, and arms which improve lean muscle mass and fat burning

MUSCLES WORKED DURING THE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

  • Chest

  • Triceps

  • Anterior Shoulders

PERFORMING THE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS WITH GOOD TECHNIQUE

  • Grab two dumbbells and position yourself in front of a bench, without sitting down yet

  • Place the dumbbells on your lower legs, right above your knees

  • Maintain the dumbbells in this position and sit down on the lower end of the bench

  • The dumbbells should be resting on your knees in a vertical orientation at this point as seen below

  • Retract and squeeze your scapulae together when laying on the bench. Maintain this retracted position throughout the entire lift

  • Next, using controlled momentum, you are going to lay yourself down while simultaneously bringing the dumbbells to your chest

  • Ensure that your scapulae are still retracted

  • Keep your elbows tucked at a 45-degree angle and the dumbbells angled slightly

  • Place your feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees, and point your feet straight or angled out up to 45 degrees

  • Begin the movement by pressing the weight directly up and slightly back towards your face

  • Do not rotate the dumbbells any more than is necessary

  • Reverse the movement by bringing the weight back down until they are in contact with your chest

  • When you are finished with your set, use momentum to simultaneously stand back up to a sitting position while bringing the outstretched dumbbells back down to your knees

  • Or you can simply drop the dumbbells in a controlled manner

COMMON MISTAKES

BENCHING WITH YOUR ELBOWS FLARED OUT

Do not flare your elbows out to 90 degrees from your body. This position places a lot of strain on you pectoralis tendon as well as your bicep tendon. If you develop pain on the anterior side of your shoulder when performing this exercise, try tucking your elbows to a 45 degree (or less) angle to your body.

HOW CAN I INTEGRATE THIS EXERCISE INTO MY TRAINING?

Check out our workout template for busy people to learn how to incorporate this exercise and every other functional exercise into your training routine.

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS ALTERNATIVES

  • Bench Press

  • Incline Bench Press

  • Close Grip Bench Press

  • Push-ups

Dumbbell Bench Press: A Perfect Form Guide and Video Tutorial

The dumbbell bench press is an awesome chest exercise that will help you build a great looking chest and a beach-ready overall physique. It works the muscles in your chest, shoulders and upper arm.

Doing the press with dumbbells instead of a barbell is much safer for your shoulders by being more flexible with your arm position throughout the exercise.

Using dumbbells for this exercise will also help build the stabilizer muscles in your shoulder that will make it functionally strong and will help to avoid injury.

Take a look at our video tutorial below where I guide you through the exercise and outline the main technique points of how to do a perfect dumbbell bench press.

If you need something to print off and take to the gym as a reminder, the step-by-step exercise technique is further down this page.

How to do a dumbbell bench press – Step-by-step technique

    • Step 1: Sit on the end of a bench with the dumbbells resting on your thighs, holding them with a strong grip in the centre of the dumbbell grip .
    • Step 2: Lower yourself back and bring the dumbbells onto your chest, facing each other.
    • Step 3: Press the dumbbells up, so they are over your chest and your arms are almost straight. Twist your hands so your thumbs are side by side.
    • Step 4: Breathing in, slowly lower the dumbbells to a 2 count, so they reach a point in line with your nipples and your arms are just below 90 degrees.
    • Step 5: Breathing out and leading with your pinky finger, press the dumbbells back up to the start point, with your arms slightly bent.
    • Step 6: Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.


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* We hoped you enjoyed this dumbbell bench press tutorial. Remember to always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program and that this is not medical advice – just well researched info. Please see our disclaimer at the bottom of this website. Exercise intelligently and safely at your own risk.

A chest press is basically like a triple espresso for your upper body: “This move allows you to press the most weight humanly possible to target your pecs, delts, and triceps, compared to other chest moves,” Matt Pippin, CSCS, strength and mobility coach at Pippin Performance in San Diego.

The most humanly possible?! Damn, I’m impressed. But yeah, it only works like that if you do it correctly so….

How To Do A Dumbbell Chest Press

How to: Lie flat on your back, or on a bench, with your feet flat on the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms directly over your shoulders, palms facing toward your feet. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weights out to the side, parallel with your shoulders, until your elbows form 90-degree angles. Slowly drive the dumbbells back up to start, squeezing your shoulder blades the entire time. That’s one rep.

Chest presses work your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Reps/sets for best results: If you’re aiming to build strength, repeat for five to six reps, then three sets. Rest three minutes in between each set. If you’re looking to increase muscle size, aim for three sets of 8 to 12 reps, 90 seconds rest in between. For muscular endurance, hit three sets of 15 to 20 reps, with 60 seconds of rest in between.

Form tips: Be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades throughout the entire move—this creates a more stable platform to press from, keeping the move safer and allowing you to press more weight, Pippin explains. But if you feel a pinching in your shoulders, stop at a more shallow depth.

Benefits Of Dumbbell Chest Press

Chest presses focus on exactly that—the chest muscle, called the pectoralis major. They also work the deltoids (a.k.a. shoulders) and triceps. This move is also versatile for your goals: Grab a heavier set of weights to help build max strength, or light for muscular endurance, Pippin says.

This exercise gives you the most bang for your upper-body buck since it recruits so many different muscle groups. “Plus, you’re developing horizontal pushing strength, which has a ton of practical application in the real world,” Pippin says, “like opening doors, pushing carts/strollers, or improving performance in activities like yoga.”

How To Make The Dumbbell Chest Press Part Of Your Workout

Work this move into your routine two times a week for overall wellness, and three times a week if you’re looking to increase strength, Pippin advises.

You can use it in a HIIT routine with lighter weight—since the chest press hits so many muscle groups, it works well to get your heart rate up, Pippin says.

But for the most part, chest presses are perfect for heavy lifting days: “Since you can load this move with a lot of weight it should have a higher priority in your weight routine,” he says. That means it belongs at the beginning of the workout when you have the most energy. Then, pair it with a pulling motion, like lat pull-downs and dumbbell rows. “Using the opposite muscle groups allows you to train both moves back to back, plus it helps balance out your strength,” Pippin explains.

And you’re not limited to dumbbells for your chest press: Trading them for a standard barbell will allow you to stimulate the most muscle, since you’re lifting a single object instead of two, he says.

Make the dumbbell variety more challenging by pressing just one lighter dumbbell at a time, which will work your core, too. Or, if you’re using a bench, change the angle to between 15 and 45 degrees to challenge slightly different parts of your upper body. “The body loves variety,” Pippin adds. “And you should always change the angles you’re hitting in your routine.”

Rachael Schultz Rachael Schultz is a freelance writer with years of experience covering health, nutrition, and physiology.

Most modern gyms provide a large variety of training equipment to help their members pursue their individual goals in the most effective way. Unlike their predecessors, modern lifters are able to target specific body parts in very specific ways with the help of specialized tools.

Although it’s safe to say that there is no one best piece of equipment, since different types of equipment are designed to achieve different outcomes, barbells and dumbbells have remained as the two most popular tools in any bodybuilders’ training arsenal. That’s because no matter how great certain machines are, free weight training is unavoidable for anyone looking to build muscle and real strength.

That being said, barbells are considered to be more effective for developing max strength, while dumbbells are mainly used for joint-isolation exercises. But there’s more to dumbbell training than one might think – using dumbbells for full-body, multi-planar movements can provide a variety of strength gains which can’t be unlocked with the use of barbell. Here are a few important advantages of training with dumbbells:

Muscle Activation

Since handling dumbbells requires more balance and stabilization throughout the movement, the muscle fibers of the targeted muscles and the stabilizing muscles will be maximally recruited in a way that can’t be achieved with barbells or machines. Also, dumbbell exercises require both inter- and intramuscular coordination, which causes greater levels of muscle activation and can significantly improve coordination between different body parts and lead to unique progress in terms of strength, muscle development and stability.

Unilateral Training

Using dumbbells will force both limbs to do the same amount of work, thereby helping you overcome any existing muscular or strength imbalances, which are one of the most common issues that bodybuilders face today. Muscular imbalances can result with weird-looking, unbalanced physiques and therefore have to be addressed properly. Most people have a dominant side of the body which tends to compensate for the weaker one when working with a barbell, and this can be hard to notice. With dumbbells, muscular imbalances are painfully obvious and can be easily solved.

Joint Safety

It’s no secret that dumbbell exercises are more joint-friendly than their barbell equivalents. When you’re using dumbbells, the hands aren’t fixed in place, and this allows you to move more naturally and complete a greater range of motion. If you’ve had joint injuries in the past or experience joint pain while performing the barbell version of an exercise, you should try performing it with dumbbells, which allow you to alter your form and technique to suit your joints and work around existing issues, which can be impossible to do with a barbell.

Cost & Practicality

If you’re one of those guys who’d rather train in their own home gym, investing in a pair of good quality dumbbells will certainly pay off, especially if you have limited space. While barbells and weight plates are less expensive than specialized machines, they still cost more than dumbbells. On the other hand, most exercise machines can be used to perform only one or two exercises, while dumbbells provide a huge range of movements and almost every barbell exercise can also be performed with dumbbells.

The Dumbbell Bench Press

One great way to incorporate more dumbbell work into your routine is by replacing the barbell with dumbbells on the bench press, the king of chest exercises. The dumbbell bench press offers some benefits that are not available with other chest exercises and can be used to prime your pectorals for new growth.

The dumbbell bench press targets the fronts and tops of the shoulders, the triceps and the chest muscles, while also engaging the rhomboids and the serratus anterior as secondary muscles that help execute the move. The main benefit of using dumbbells is that it requires you to engage a greater number of muscles compared to the barbell and machine variant and actually activates the lower fibers of the chest press better than a barbell press – since your hands are free to move across your body when you use dumbbells, the lower pecs get a better workout.

This, of course, can be achieved only if you make sure to employ correct form and technique on this great exercise. Read the tips below to make sure you get it right.

How to perform the dumbbell bench press properly:

  • Lie on a weight bench with arms extended over your chest and hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip above your eyes.
  • Bend your elbows out at your sides to lower the weights down, creating a slight arch pattern. This phase should be performed in a slow and controlled way.
  • At the final position, your upper arms should be parallel to the top of the bench.
  • Let the dumbbells touch your chest lightly, then extend the elbows to push the dumbbells upward. The upward movement should be performed powerfully and last 1-2 seconds. Make sure to press the dumbbells from as far out wide as possible to avoid causing unnecessary tension in the triceps.
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze the chest muscles together. Some lifters choose to lock out their elbows while others feel it places too much undue stress on the joint, so that one is up to you. A good rule of thumb is to avoid locking out your elbows if it feels too uncomfortable.
  • Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps with a weight that makes the last few reps difficult to do with proper form.

Common Mistakes

#1. Too Heavy Weights

This is kind of a no-brainer. Trying to lift weights that you know you’re not capable to lift with proper form will limit your range of motion, decrease the effectiveness of the exercise and increase your risk of injury. A much better idea is to make sure you’ve mastered the form and technique before progressing in terms of weight. Avoid the urge to satisfy your ego and start light.

#2. Neglecting the Rotator Cuff

Weak rotator cuff muscles tend to be one of the biggest problems for lifters. The rotator cuff is located near the shoulder and is engaged during every push or pull movement, so any weakness in this area can harm your performance or skyrocket your chance of injury, especially when working with heavy weights and poor form.

That being said, bench pressing places a great amount of stress on the rotator cuff muscles, so in order to avoid rotator cuff tears and similar debilitating injuries, always mind your form and make sure to include exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff into your warm-up routine.

#3. Arching the Back

Arching the back while bench pressing classifies as cheating because it limits the range of motion and makes it easier to use momentum to press the weight upward. This, of course, decreases the effectiveness of the exercise, since the limited range of motion will reduce the number of muscle fibers recruited, so why would you want to do it?

On top of that, arching the back directly increases your risk of lower back injury, which can seriously harm your weightlifting and muscle building progress.

#4. Not Having a Spotter

You should use a spotter with any free weight exercise because there is always a risk of getting defeated by gravity. Having a spotter can be very useful when you’re struggling to complete those last few reps, or when you can’t determine whether your form is OK or not by yourself.

And most importantly, a spotter can assist you in those crucial moments when you realize that you can’t control the weight anymore – instead of dropping the weight in an unsafe manner, you can signal the spotter to remove it safely from your hands.

#5. Lifting the Head Up

Unfortunately, this is another very common mistake that beginners and experienced lifters alike are guilty of. Your head, shoulder blades and butt need to be in contact with the bench all throughout the movement. Lifting your head and neck up whilst performing the motion can cause neck pain and injury and eventually result with an unappealing excessive back curvature known as kyphosis.

Good luck and stay tight!

The Dumbbell Bench Press Is One of the Best Upper-Body Exercises You Can Do

While the bench press may be known as a bro fitness staple and a classic upper-body exercise, it’s much more than that: “The bench press, while putting an emphasis on specific muscle groups, is a full-body movement,” says Lisa Niren, head instructor for running app Studio.

The dumbbell bench press (demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) can help you build strength all over to prep for other exercises (hi, push-ups) and make you feel like a super strong badass, whether you do it with a barbell, dumbbells, or… your workout buddy.

Dumbbell Bench Press Benefits and Variations

“The bench press uses your shoulders, triceps, forearms, lats, pecs, traps, rhomboids, and pretty much every muscle in your upper body,” says Niren. “However, the bench press doesn’t only use your chest or upper body. When you bench properly, you use your lower back, hips, and legs to stabilize your entire body, create a solid base, and generate drive from the ground.”

That’s right: No noodle legs allowed. You should engage your quads and glutes to really press your feet into the ground, plus your core to keep your back safe and form on point.

Doing a bench press with dumbbells adds an extra perk: “Because this variation requires more stability in the shoulder, it’ll help strengthen the small stabilizer muscles in the shoulder more than when you use a barbell,” says Heidi Jones, founder of SquadWod and Fortë trainer.

Bench pressing can help you build strength for push-ups, but you can also do bodyweight push-ups to prepare your muscles for bench pressing. If both are too challenging, regress to eccentric push-ups: Start in high plank position and lower your body as slowly as possible to the floor. Shoulder issues? “A 45-degree or neutral grip (read: palms facing in) will target the chest muscles slightly differently and will allow those with shoulder issues a better bench position,” says Jones.

If you’re schooling the dumbbell bench press, up the ante by doing it with a barbell instead, performing a close-grip bench, speed bench, or banded bench press, says Niren. (Just make sure you’re using a spotter or benching safely if you start to really bump up the weight.)

How to Do a Dumbbell Bench Press

A. Sit on a bench with a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand, resting on thighs.

B. Squeeze elbows tight to ribs, and slowly lower torso down onto the bench to lie faceup, holding dumbbells in front of shoulders. Open elbows to the sides so triceps are perpendicular to torso, holding dumbbells slightly wider than shoulder-width with palms facing feet. Press feet flat into the floor and engage core to start.

C. Exhale and press dumbbells away from chest, straightening arms so dumbbells are directly over shoulders.

D. Inhale to slowly lower dumbbells back to starting position, pausing when dumbbells are just above shoulder-height.

Do 10 to 12 reps. Try 3 sets.

Dumbbell Bench Press Form Tips

  • From the bottom position, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were pinching a pencil between them. This will press your lats into the bench.
  • Engage your glutes and quads to actively press your feet into the floor the entire time. Shins should be perpendicular to the floor.
  • Be sure to move dumbbells straight up and down in line with the center of your chest.
  • By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo

How To Do The Dumbbell Bench Press

We don’t want to come over all fitness hipster here, but frankly, the barbell bench press is not an effective enough chest exercise to justify its massive popularity. It’s a great exercise, sure, but its place as a workout staple is perhaps down to the fact that benching a big weight is as good for the ego as it is for your muscles.

If you’re ready to look beyond the bench press, we have suggestions for five chest exercises you should do instead – one of which is the dumbbell bench press. That’s right, all you need to do to improve on the bench press is to switch out the barbell for a brace of dumbbells, especially if you’re looking to bulk up your chest.

Using dumbbells allows a greater range of motion than using a barbell and this in turn means you can work more of the pec muscles during the exercise. Your pecs are the main muscles targeted by the exercise, but as an added bonus it also works your triceps. Opting for dumbbells also trains each side in isolation, so you can’t rely on a stronger side to muscle up the weight like you can when using a barbell. If you do find that one side is struggling when using dumbbells, you can then focus on building your strength on that side to balance your body.

Lie back on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing towards your feet in the starting position, although if you have shoulder issues then switch to a neutral grip, where the palms face each other.

Press the weights above your chest by extending your elbows until your arms are straight, then bring the weights back down slowly. To take advantage of the range of movement offered by using dumbbells rather than a barbell, take the weights down past your shoulders and bring them closer together at the top of the movement. Don’t touch them at the top, though, because that will take some of the strain off your muscles.

Incline dumbbell bench press

The incline press works the top of the chest and the front of your shoulders harder than the standard exercise, boosting the strength of your muscles and hopefully increasing the amount you’ll be able to lift when performing the standard flat bench press.

Set up a bench at an incline of 30-45° and sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back on the bench. Lift the dumbbells to chest height with your palms facing forwards. Breathe out and push the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended, using your pecs to power the movement. Don’t let the dumbbells touch. Pause for a second at the top, then slowly bring them back down as you inhale.

Decline dumbbell bench press

If the incline bench press targets the top of the chest it stands to reason that the decline bench press will hit the lower chest muscles harder, and you might also find with this variation that you can lift more weight when on a decline than with the flat or incline press. Set up a bench so it’s at a 45° angle and sit on the top of the slope. Lean back (carefully) and bring the dumbbells up to your chest. Press the weights straight up slowly, then bring them back down to your chest. The natural tendency is to let the weights drift back over your head during the lift, so focus on avoiding that. It can be worth having someone check your form when first attempting this move.

Alternating dumbbell bench press

If you’re using dumbbells rather than a barbell with the aim of evening out any strength imbalances in your body, the alternating version of the exercise is one you should get well acquainted with. The form is the same as with the standard dumbbell bench press, except that you lift one weight at a time, keeping the other by your chest. The effect is to isolate each side of the body even more effectively than the standard version of the move. Start on your weaker side and you’ll soon see how much more of a challenge it is to lift one weight at a time.

Hammer-grip dumbbell bench press

By holding the dumbbells in a hammer grip – with your palms facing towards each other – you increase the load on your triceps compared with the standard grip for the bench press. You can do this variation with either a flat bench or set it at an incline, with the latter focusing more on the upper chest muscles.

Set up with the dumbbells held at chest height in a hammer grip and press them up until your arms are fully extended. Pause at the top, then bring the weights back down slowly.

Not quite sure which equipment to stake out when it’s time to start chest day? You might want to rethink the standard bench if you’re looking to blast your pecs, a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests.

That’s because what you use to bench press can influence which muscles you’re smoking the most, the researchers determined. (Here are four ways you might be screwing up your bench press.)

In the study, 19 healthy guys with prior strength training experience performed three chest workouts in three different sessions—4 sets of bench press using their 10-rep max load using either a barbell, dumbbells, or the Smith machine, followed by 4 sets of triceps extension performed on a pulley system.

The men were able to heft the heaviest loads on the barbell bench press, followed by the Smith machine press. They were weakest on the dumbbell bench press, where their load was about 14 percent less than when using the barbell. (Want to lift heavier? These three moves will boost your bench press.)

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Still, they were able to complete more reps per set and more total reps using dumbbells than either of the other two types—a key to muscle growth. (For an at-home workout you can do with just a couple dumbbells, try The 21-Day MetaShred from Men’s Health. You’ll build lean muscle fast and burn off the fat covering it.)

The researchers discovered the muscles activated the most varied depending on which chest press protocol the men used: When the guys benched using the dumbbells, they activated their pecs the most, compared to when they used the barbell. They also smoked their biceps more using dumbbells than using the Smith machine.

“With a dumbbell press, you’re getting more adduction of the humerus,” says trainer Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Boston, Mass. “When you press up, you have to bring your arms together, and that’s an action of your pecs. With the barbell, that doesn’t happen—it’s just straight up and down.”

That’s why if you’re looking to build your chest, Gentilcore recommends the dumbbell press.

“Barbell is still great if you want to move a lot of weight, but if your goal is pec development and building a more defined, more muscular chest dumbbell are going to be the better play,” he says.

While the pecs worked the most with dumbbells in the study, that variation didn’t engage the triceps as much—the men’s triceps worked the hardest when they barbell pressed and Smith-machine. And the Smith machine worked their anterior delts more than the barbell or dumbbell chest press did.

As for the triceps extensions that came after the bench pressing? The men were able to complete more reps per set and more total reps when they performed triceps extensions after the barbell bench press and dumbbell bench press than when they did the Smith machine presses.

Since dumbbell pressing smokes your pecs most and your tris to a lesser extent, your triceps are less fatigued when you move on to isolating that muscle separating, the researchers say. That enables you to work your triceps harder.

And that’s good news if you want to build your horseshoe: “If you want to build triceps, isolation work is going to be a better play anyway,” Gentilcore explains.

Bottom line: If you want to build your pecs, add dumbbell bench pressing into your routine. As an added bonus, doing so will let you work your triceps harder afterwards, which can help you isolate its development. Try this one move that will make your triceps bigger.

Christa Sgobba For nearly 10 years, Christa has created health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness content that’s steeped in science but engaging enough that people actually want to read it.

7 Dumbbell Chest Press Variations for a Stronger Chest

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The Bench Press is a weight room staple, but athletes can receive similar benefits from its lesser-known companion exercise, the Dumbbell Chest Press.

Performing a Chest Press with dumbbells instead of a barbell evenly distributes the weight to each arm, negating the tendency to use your stronger arm to do more work than your weaker arm. Dumbbells also require more muscle activation to maintain balance throughout the entire range of motion.

Rather than performing the same old Chest Press with Dumbbells day in and day out, switch it up with different Chest Press variations and reap the benefits.

RELATED: 3 Dumbbell Chest Exercises to Impress the Rest

1. Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

This variation changes the angle of the motion, targeting more of the upper chest muscles, forcing them to adapt and get stronger. It’s perfect for football players coming off the line and pressing upward when blocking an opponent.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to about 45 degrees or use a incline bench press station.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells up to chest level.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion, avoiding the tendency to let them gravitate downward.
  6. Sets/Reps: 3×10

2. Decline Dumbbell Chest Press

This targets more of the lower chest muscles and allows you to lift more than you do with a regular Chest Press.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to a 45-degree angle or use a decline bench press station.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells down to chest level.
  5. With your feet flat and hinged under the foot pads, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion, avoiding the tendency to let them gravitate backward over your head.
  6. Sets/Reps: 3×10

Learn more about the benefits of the Incline Bench Press

3. Dumbbell Floor Chest Press

By decreasing the range of motion, this variation focuses more on the triceps. You should be able to lift more than you can with a regular Chest Press.

How to Perform:

  1. Place a mat on the floor.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells up to chest level.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion.
  6. Lower the dumbbells back down until your elbows touch the floor.
  7. Repeat.
  8. Sets/Reps: 3×10

4. Dumbbell Wrist Rotation Chest Press

This variation adds rotation, which requires more muscle activation and coordination. It also simulates the wrist movement athletes use during throwing or passing. The movement is a little harder than a regular Chest Press, so you probably won’t be able to lift quite as much weight.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to 180 degrees.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells up to chest level with a neutral grip.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion.
  6. As you press up, rotate your wrists so when your arms are fully extended, you are grasping the dumbbells with an overhand grip.
  7. As you lower the dumbbells back down, repeat the motion in reverse.
  8. Sets/Reps: 3×10

5. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press

For the Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press, your palms face each other, promoting more muscle recruitment in the triceps. This variation is similar to a Chest Fly, but you keep your elbows close to your body, rather than spread out.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to 180 degrees.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells up to chest level, holding them with a neutral grip.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion, avoiding the tendency to let your elbows flair out.
  6. Sets/Reps: 3×10

6. Alternating Dumbbell Chest Press

This variation builds endurance and promotes stability in the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles—which is especially helpful in long games when your muscles start to fatigue from repetitive motion such as blocking in football, passing and shooting in basketball, and throwing in baseball.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to 180 degrees.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbells up to chest level.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbells straight up in a slow and controlled motion.
  6. While keeping your right arm fully extended, lower your left arm in a slow and controlled motion.
  7. Press your left arm back up until it is fully extended as you lower your right arm. That is one repetition.
  8. Sets/Reps: 3×10

7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Chest Press

Performing a Chest Press with one arm really engages the core and stabilizer muscles in the chest. Athletes are often required to throw, shoot or hit a ball with one arm. This variation mimics those motions.

How to Perform:

  1. Adjust a flat bench to 180 degrees.
  2. Use dumbbells that allow you to perform 10 reps.
  3. Sit down on the bench with a dumbbell in one hand resting on your thigh.
  4. Lean back and bring the dumbbell up to chest level.
  5. With your feet flat on the ground, press the dumbbell straight up in a slow and controlled motion, avoiding the tendency to lean to the opposite side.
  6. Perform set with the other arm.
  7. Sets/Reps: 3×10, each arm

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

10 DB Bench Variations for Strength and Mass

Dustin Myers

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As much as I love a good old fashioned straight bar bench press, I have always felt more direct strength and aesthetic benefit from dumbbell bench press. There are several reasons for this – you must recruit more stabilizing muscles to balance the weights than with a straight barbell, increased range of motion, a more natural hand position, etc. But what happens if you get to the point where your strength has surpassed the heaviest set of dumbbells at your gym? You can always add another 2.5 or 5lb plate to the barbell, but if your gym’s dumbbell rack maxes out at 100s, there is only so much you can do once you are strong enough to press the 100s for 15 to 20 reps. While you are still able to encourage hypertrophy and get a massive pump, you may no longer be increasing your pressing strength. The solution? Try a few of these killer dumbbell bench variations and watch your strength skyrocket.

Regular

Just in case you are not familiar with technique on the standard DB Press – as you press the weight, keep your lats engaged so your elbows don’t flare out. Keep your hips in contact with the bench and your feet flat on the ground, do not dance around. Touch the dumbbells together at the top and lower under control. The biggest mistake I see people make? Coming down too high on the chest. Imagine the handles have a barbell between them and picture where that bar would hit your chest below the pecs and across the sternum. Your dumbbells should fall along that line.

Pause Reps

When using pause reps, make sure to keep everything tight, don’t just collapse at the bottom and let the weights fall onto you. I always think of “pulling down” the dumbbells in to my lats and then squeezing while I pause for 3 seconds, then explode up. Try doing 3 x 5 with a 3 second pause at the bottom of each rep.

Negatives

There are two different ways you can utilize negatives. The most common way is to add a 6-10 second negative to the last rep of a set once you are at failure. In my opinion, the most useful way is to do an entire low rep set (3-5 reps) of 6 second negatives. If the weight is light for you, control the weight for 6 seconds on the way down and then explode up. If the weight is challenging, have your partner spot your wrists and assist the concentric portion of the rep. Either way, after 3-5 reps you should be absolutely toast.

Iso-lateral

Start by pressing both dumbbells up and then keep one locked out at the top as you press the other side. Complete the rep then switch sides. This adds an element of stability and balance and makes the reps very challenging.

Single Arm

If you thought iso-lateral db presses were challenging from a balance standpoint, wait until you try these. The core and glute strength required for heavy single arm db press is immense. Start by pressing a single dumbbell up and place your other arm across your stomach. Tighten up your glutes and press your feet down hard in to the floor. Do not allow your hips to twist as you press.

Floor Press

This is a DB bench press variation that is done while laying on the floor. Since your elbows will hit the ground at the half way point, you will only do the top half of the press which is where the triceps are required to lock out the weight. It is important to let the bar follow the same pathway as if you were doing a full press – do not flair out your elbows and bring the weight straight down, as that will strain the rotator cuff.

1/4 rep

Start by lowering the DBs all of the way to your chest, then come up 1/4 of the way and pause for a split second before lowering the weight all the way then pressing straight up. that extra 1/4 rep pump makes a big difference and gives you a great stretch thru the pecs. Shoot for sets of 5-6 reps. Another challenging addition is to hold the 1/4 rep position for a 3 second pause before finishing the rep.

Swiss Twist

This is a great functional single arm press done on a swiss ball that will test your core strength. Start with a weight roughly 1/2 – 2/3 that you would normally use on a single arm press. Lay on a swiss ball and perform a press, twisting at the top and bringing one shoulder off of the ball to reach the dumbbell as high as possible. shoot for slow controlled sets of 6-8 reps.

Pulse

Remember the 1/4 rep presses? Take a heavy weight that you can normally do 10 reps with and do strictly the bottom 1/4 range of motion. See if you can pump out double the amount of pulse reps that you would normally do if it was full reps. The catch? no stopping or locking out between reps.

Underhand Reverse Grip

Similar to a reverse grip barbell press, twist the dumbbells to an underhand position and press. This will allow you to get a killer pec contraction at the top and also really learn to “push” with your lats. You will need to start light until you master the positioning. Shoot for sets of 8-12.

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Bodyweight Bench Press Challenge

Barbell Bench is Overrated: 9 Dumbbell Press Variations You Need to Try

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises completed in gyms up and down the country. Whether it is using a bar or dumbbells I tend to see people doing the same exercise time and time again with no variation in exercise, tempo, or rep range.

People tend to get caught up in how much weight they’re lifting instead of the actual adaptation they’re looking to achieve. They miss the whole point of enhance muscular contraction and motor unit recruitment. So the reps are lazy and they end up just meandering through the set.

Related: Listen Up Bro: 3 Reasons to Ditch the Barbell Bench Press

Dumbbell bench pressing allows you to work stabiliser muscles that benching with a bar does not; furthermore it gives a great opportunity to really work the pecs hard at the top of each and every rep.

The dumbbell bench press is a fundamental exercise that most gym rats use as part of their chest routine and rightly so. As a fundamental and frequent exercise it’s paramount for progression and continuous adaptation to look at variations that can enhance this exercise.

So I wanted to share with you some of my dumbbell bench press variations to showcase different options to add some variety into your program. These are some of my favourite variations and really contribute to a great training response.

Continuous Tension Sets

When it comes to strength training, a full range of motion is typically recommended for every movement in order to reap the most benefit. However, there are a couple of things which you must consider in your quest for unparalleled size and strength.

Bodybuilders understand the importance of keeping tension on the working muscles and increasing the time under tension for each and every set. One advanced method they use to achieve this is called continuous tension sets, which is a technique that is in direct contrast to locking out every repetition.

In ‘Supertraining’ by Mel Siff, continuous tension sets are defined as:

“Any set in which each repetition is done smoothly without ballistic bounce, cheating or significant pause at either end of the motion. Characteristically, the movements are executed fairly slowly without the joints locking completely at any stage of the exercise.”

In order to perform the continuous tension technique, stop right before lockout at the top of the movement and immediately move into the eccentric phase of the next repetition.

Continuous Tension Sets (with Slow Negatives)

If you wish to further increase muscular tension and metabolic stress, a slow negative (lowering the weight for a count of 3-5 seconds) can also be incoporated with the previous technique. This method takes advantage of the continuous tension sets by keeping the muscle loaded while increasing the time under tension.

Eccentric training can be especially beneficial as this phase causes the most muscle damage and leads to greater rates of protein synthesis post-workout. Thus, when you incorporate both phases (eccentric and concentric), this will lead to large amounts of muscular damage and metabolic stress.

Band Resisted DB Bench Press

This is a great exercise to bust through a strength plateau. Your triceps and chest will experience tremendous force as you experience the greatest resistance from the band at lockout due to the nature of accomodating resistance.

Band Resisted DB Bench Press (Bands Anchored)

With the conventional dumbbell bench press the pec major acts against the weight to adduct the humerus to the midline. The load acts vertically across the system (intermuscular coordination) of the chest, triceps and shoulders.

In this variation we’ve added a lateral force vector to the system which drives the arms and dumbbells away from the midline of the body. As you can imagine, this will create an insane muscular contraction as you fight against the bands in order to keep the dumbbells on their intended vertical path.

One-Arm DB Bench Press

This is an exercise that will create superb full body tension and offers a lot in terms of anti-rotational core strength. It’s also a great accessory exercise to improve your regular bench numbers.

Don’t be fooled that it looks simple; you will need to ensure that on the very first rep you create massive full body tension. Keep the reps per set at 8 or under to avoid getting sloppy.

This is a very underutilised exercise that I highly recommend whether your goal is strength or physique orientated.

Slow Negatives

Studies have shown that your body can tolerate up to 1.75 times more weight eccentrically than it can concentrically. If you emphasise the eccentric portion of your lifts, then you’re certain to increase muscle growth.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying though, I’m certainly not suggesting you limit yourself to eccentric only training. I’m suggesting you take advantage of your body’s potential to handle more weight while still doing the full movement.

Related: How To Add Eccentric Training To Your Program

Slow negatives allows more time under tension during the eccentric phase (where we can handle more load). The great thing about this is it allows you to workout at a higher intensity and higher intensity means greater stress, which means greater adaptation.

Isometric Holds

Isometrics are unique in that they produce a greater level of activation than normal due to potentiation of all available motor units.

The most important cue for this variation is to ensure that you’re pushing the dumbbell heads together and contracting your pecs hard throughout the entire duration of the repetition.

If you’re really feeling dangerous, you can have a partner try to add a small amount of pressure (just below the wrists) to pull the dumbbells apart, I do this with my clients and find it helps to fully contract the pecs.

Slow Negatives with Isometric Holds

Combining both slow eccentrics and isometric work on each rep creates a highly effective and challenging exercise. You get the added benefits from both eccentric training as well isometric training.

However, be forewarned, this exercise can be very taxing if done correctly. I highly recommend you have a training partner spot you for the entire duration of your set as loss of control of the dumbbell might result in serious injury.

Drop Set (x3) – Last Set Fast Reps

In a straight set (8 to 12 reps with one weight), it can be tough to hit all available muscle fibers. Typically you only use the minimal number of fibers required to lift a specific weight for a specific number of reps.

By adding a drop set (stripping off 10-20% of the weight and continuing the set), you begin to recruit reserve fibers. In doing so, you are hitting stubborn muscle fibers which only amplifies muscular hypertrophy. The primary focus of drop setting, therefore, is to shock the muscle by adding stress to a standard set.

In this exercise after 8 reps I drop the weight by 15% for the second set of 8 and then finally a further 15% for the third set. In this example I try to complete the third set with fast reps. This intentional change of speed in the movement of this set is to ensure that the third set is completed with a number of reps.

In my own experience, by the third phase if you keep a controlled tempo you will struggle to complete more than a couple of reps. This third phase could contribute to new gains but, it will also help to build tremendous mental fortitude as drop sets are just as much a test of your body as they are of your mind.

The typical muscle building mantra is slow and steady, while keeping each rep smooth and controlled. Whilst that is sound advice, we can manipulate even more muscle growth by utilising the full range of rep speed.

By completing reps in less than 3-4 seconds we start to incorporate the fast twitch muscle fibers which have the highest potential for growth.

Dumbbell bench press muscles

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