Dumbbell Bench Press – Muscles Worked, Benefits, and Technique

The dumbbell bench press is a movement that falls within the horizontal pressing domain, which also includes: barbell bench press, push ups, and angular variations (decline, incline, etc). In an earlier article I went throughout the differences between the dumbbell and barbell bench presses, which you can see here.

Let’s dive into the unique benefits of the dumbbell bench press, how you should do them for best results, and what specifics you need to know to promote the most muscle, strength, and injury resilience while doing them!

5 Benefits of the Dumbbell Bench Press You CANNOT Deny!

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:

  • Heavier pressing movements (including overhead lifts),
  • Higher rep based training under fatigue (often seen in CrossFit and other functional fitness sports), and is an
  • Effective means to increase sport specific goals (such as powerlifting totals, increases in lean body mass, etc).

1. 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. By only training overhead pressing movements, you negate a vital movement patterning of the human body, not striking balance with increase pulling and other movement volume. Additionally, many lifters enjoy bench pressing, therefore by allowing a lifter to bench press can increase motivation to train which can lead to long term commitment to increases in upper body strength, front rack positioning, and overall muscle mass.

2. 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 (3) 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.

3. 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.

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4. 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.

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5. 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

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:

  • Pectoralis Major (Chest)
  • Clavicular Pectoralis Muscles (Chest)
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Scapulae and Back (Stabilization)

How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press

Below is a quick video demonstration on how to perform the dumbbell bench press. The queues and set up are generally similar to the bench press, with the slightly distinction that the palms are facing one another rather than towards the feet, is in the barbell bench press. This will allow for greater chest and arm isolation while decreasing strain on the shoulders.

Note, that in this video Mark Bell reps out a set of 35 presses with technique and power. For beginners and lifters looking for hypertrophy and strength specificity, manipulating rep ranges and tempos can also be varied. For more, watch the video below regarding chest hypertrophy training specifics.

How to Program for Strength and Muscle Mass

Generally speaking, the chest muscles tend to grow bigger (hypertrophy) and stronger under moderate to heavy loading, with good amounts of volume (sets and reps). In the video below, Dr. Mike Israetel discusses the science behind muscle hypertrophy training for the chest specifically, in great detail.

Overall, performing this movement for 4-6 sets of 5-8 repetitions with near maximal loading may be best for overall strength and muscular development (surely, there is some play based on overall training volume of the chest throughout the week). I highly recommend you watch the video below if you are at all interested in growing more muscle mass and strength abilities transferable to your sport or training.

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Featured Image: @markthenrose on Instagram