The dumbbell bench press is the cousin of many people’s favorite compound movement — the barbell bench press. That said, gymgoers of all skill levels can benefit from doing the dumbbell bench press. It builds strength and muscle in the entire torso, can improve your barbell bench press, and may even help you grow more muscle across your chest as well.
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Check out our video guide for even more information on how to execute this pec-builder flawlessly.
How To Do the Dumbbell Bench Press
[Read More: How to Do the Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press — Benefits, Variations, and More]
- Set Up: Grip each dumbbell firmly, and then squeeze your shoulder blades together. Kick one knee up to drive a dumbbell to your shoulder. Then, drive the other knee up. (Be careful not to launch the dumbbells too hard and risk hitting your head.) As you drive the last dumbbell up, lay back down on the bench.
- Brace: Squeeze your shoulder blades together and ensure your feet are actively pressing into the floor.
- Lower and Press: Slowly lower the dumbbells down toward your chest. The weights should fall both down and out to the sides. Lower until your upper arm is parallel (or lower) to the floor, then press back up.
Coach’s Tip: Think about pressing the weights both up and inward during this flat bench dumbbell press.
Dumbbell Bench Press Variations
There are a few modifications you can make to the dumbbell chest press. If you’re looking for a variation, give these a shot:
Dumbbell Floor Press
[Read More: Press With Purpose: Bench Press Cues for Stronger Lifts]
- Sit upright on the floor with a pair of dumbbells on your knees.
- Slowly sit back until you’re lying on the floor while using your knees to push the weights up to arm’s length.
- Brace your core and lower the weights down until your elbows gently touch the floor, then press back up.
By laying on the floor, you restrict the overall range of motion in the pressing movement, increasing the demands on the triceps to assist in the lockout position. Additionally, it can help you establish a deeper understanding of how to stabilize your upper back.
Dumbbell Hex Press
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- Lie on a bench with a pair of dumbbells held at arm’s length, actively pressing the dumbbells together. You can place a small medicine ball between the weights if desired.
- Keep your arms tucked to your sides and lower the weights down toward your chest, then press back up.
The hex press changes the angle of your upper arm, which affects chest activation. Hex presses are also a bit easier on the shoulder on average.
Dumbbell Bench Press Alternatives
If the dumbbell bench just isn’t right for you, don’t fret. Below are a few dumbbell bench press alternatives you can use instead to work similar muscles:
Dumbbell Overhead Press
[Read More: The Best Bench Press Workouts for Your Experience Level]
- Take an adjustable weight bench seat and fix it to roughly 90 degrees.
- Sit with a dumbbell on each knee.
- Kick the weights up to shoulder height, then take a breath in and brace your core.
- Press the weights up overhead until your arms fully extend.
The overhead press targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest, and can have a significant impact on total-body strength.
Barbell Bench Press
[Read More: Dumbbell Vs. Barbell Bench Press — Which is Best for Strength, Size, and Performance?]
- Lie under a barbell that has been set into a squat rack or bench station.
- Unrack the bar and hold it with a shoulder-width grip directly above your shoulders.
- Inhale, brace your core, and lower the weight down until it touches around your sternum or nipple line, keeping your elbows under the bar the whole way.
- Press the bar up and back until it returns to its starting position over your shoulders.
The standard bench press should be your go-to if you want to prioritize strength gain. Barbells are easier to use if you want to implement progressive overload.
Dumbbell Hip Extension Floor Press
[Read More: The Incline Dumbbell Bench Press Will Unlock Your Muscle-Building Potential]
- Lie on the floor while holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length.
- Contract your glutes to lift your hips off the floor and hold them in an extended position.
- Lower the weights down until your elbows touch the floor, then press back up.
This movement limits the amount of weight you can use. However, lifting your hips changes the angle of your shoulder, which may help you target a different region of your chest, or work around any nagging aches or pains.
Who Should Do the Dumbbell Bench Press
There’s no one who can’t benefit from doing dumbbell bench presses. However, here’s more detail on how the exercise helps specific strength athletes. Note: all of the benefits mentioned below can apply to any everyday gymgoer.
Powerlifters can use the dumbbell bench press to add additional training volume to drive muscle growth and unilateral strength for the barbell bench press. Additionally, adding in dumbbell training can help increase scapular stability, improve unilateral asymmetries, and even help load the chest throughout a greater range of motion — which may help with injury prevention.
Strongmen and Strongwomen
While the bench press is not a competition lift for strongman and strongwomen, overhead strength and performance is a large aspect of strongman training. The triceps, shoulder, and chest muscle and strength that is built from doing dumbbell bench presses are built and can be carried over to a variety of pressing angles.
Increasing upper body pressing strength and muscle mass is beneficial for weightlifters as they must hoist and support heavy loads overhead in the snatch and clean & jerk.
Additionally, adding muscle mass to the chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids can improve the front rack positioning and provide greater support while in the front rack of the clean, front squat, and jerk.
Bodybuilders have two main goals: to build muscle and burn fat. While the latter is all about caloric expenditure, dumbbell work is stellar for muscle growth because of its personalized range of motion. Dumbbell bench pressing allows your shoulder to move more naturally and should help you line up your structure a bit better.
Dumbbell Bench Press Sets and Reps
What exercises you choose to do in the gym is important, but how you go about performing them from a programming perspective is what really drives progress. Here are some sets and reps options for the dumbbell bench press to help you make the kind of gains you want.
[Read More: The 8 Best Bench Press Variations to Try on Your Next Chest Day]
Since dumbbells lack the fine-tuned loading potential of the barbell, you may find it difficult to progress your strength with them in the same way. That said, you can still ensure you’re working in the right rep ranges.
- For Muscle Mass: 3 to 5 sets of 7 to 12 reps, leaving 1-2 reps in the tank each set.
- For Strength Gains: 4 to 6 sets of 5 to 8 reps with at least two minutes’ rest.
- For Beginners: 3 sets of 10 reps with a light to moderate weight.
Benefits of 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 no matter what your goals are in the gym. Here are five benefits to doing the dumbbell bench press.
More Muscle and Strength
Bench pressing in general can create some serious strength and muscle hypertrophy gains. No matter the sport, nearly every lifter could benefit from increased strength and more muscle mass. The bench press, as well as overhead movements, are critical for upper body pushing strength development.
Freedom of Positioning
Compared to barbells, which force your joints into a fixed position, dumbbells grant a lifter the ability to adjust their grip. Some lifters may experience pain if their elbows are rotated at a certain angle (which is dictated by hand position).
During the standard barbell bench press, flared-out elbows can also put the onus on the shoulder joint. A more joint-friendly option is to do the dumbbell bench press with a neutral grip. This will create a more natural and comfortable joint angle from the wrist to the shoulder joint. You can’t do this with a barbell.
Increased Unilateral Strength
Everyone has a stronger side. People naturally lean more to one side and use one arm more than the other. When performing barbell movements, it’s normal for one side of the body to work harder to lift the combined weight. However, using dumbbells allow each side of the body to work independently.
[Related: Read Up on These 9 Proven Benefits of the Bench Press]
This will give your left or right chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles a chance to play catch up. Also, that now-stronger side will help you lift more weight on barbell movements.
Longer Range of Motion
Because there’s no barbell tapping your chest, you can lower the dumbbells farther than a barbell bench press. This means that you’ll stretch your muscle fibers more (which means more muscular damage and, therefore, growth) and take your shoulder joints through a more extended range of motion.
[Read More: How to Increase Your Bench Press — Tips and Programs to Try]
Your joints want to move, so increasing the shoulder joints’ range of motion will mean you have stronger, more resilient shoulders over time.
Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is an extremely effective movement for increasing upper body strength and muscle mass for both aesthetics and performance. Below are the critical muscles stressed during the dumbbell bench press.
The pectoral muscles are the primary muscle groups involved in the force production needed to perform the dumbbell bench press.
With dumbbells, you may find that you can go into deeper ranges of motion with dumbbells during the eccentric aspect of the lift. More chest engagement means more gains.
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. You can tweak your bench press grip width and style to better isolate your triceps by performing movements like the close-grip bench press.
The deltoids are what move the ball-and-socket shoulder joint so your arms can reach in all directions. This is important for bench pressing, as your arms need to be extended in front of your body. While your triceps and chest are doing most of the work, the shoulders are working to stabilize the shoulder joint and assist with the press.
Common Dumbbell Bench Press Mistakes
It may not be as intricate as the snatch, or even a powerlifter’s bench press, but things can still go sideways with dumbbell work. Here are a couple of common bench press mistakes to avoid when performing the dumbbell bench press.
Starting Too Heavy
Since you’re working with two separate implements at once, dumbbell exercises come with a larger stability demand. If you start off trying to match your barbell bench press weight (two 90-pound dumbbells if you bench 180 pounds, for instance) you might be surprised at how hard it is to control.
Leave your ego at the door and start extra-conservatively if you’re new to dumbbell training.
Alternating Your Arms
Unless you’re prioritizing muscular endurance, there’s no real reason to press with one arm at a time. This will essentially double the amount of time the set takes, but holding a dumbbell aloft at arm’s length does little for muscle growth or absolute strength.
It might be a fun way to switch things up once in a while, but for most training goals, pressing the weights simultaneously works just fine. Keep it simple.
Pressing Too Shallow
Tactically cutting out a portion of your range of motion can be great for strength gains, but if you’re learning to dumbbell bench press for the first time, there’s no reason to stop short. As long as your mobility and comfort permit, you should lower the weights until they’re roughly around chest level.
If you’ve still got some nagging questions about dumbbell work, look no further. Here are a few common concerns laid to rest.
The depth at which you lower the weights can vary based on goal (attacking sticking points versus maximizing muscular development), shoulder structure, and previous injuries/discomforts. For most individuals, I would suggest lowering the loads so that the sides of the weights touch the sides of the chest. This will often be a deeper range of motion, which will increase muscle development. If pain exists in that full range of motion, drop the load and see if the pain goes away. If it doesn’t stop what you’re doing.
If you are finding the movement causes shoulder pain and discomfort, first you need to review your dumbbell bench press form and technique. If this is still occurring, make sure you are maintaining back tension in both the eccentric and concentric phase of the movement. If you still have pain and discomfort, you can tuck the elbows more into the body to make the dumbbell bench press more of a neutral grip press. If you still have pain, lower the load. And lastly, if you still have pain, stop doing the dumbbell bench press and consult a medical professional for clear insight on potential injury.
This is all dependent on the goal, which you can review in the above sections. If you are using the dumbbell bench press to support muscle growth and strength specific to the barbell bench press, try using heavy loads that allow you to train in the strength and/or hypertrophy ranges listed above. If you are looking to develop overall strength for the upper body, you can diversify your workout intensity to include all rep ranges listed above.