To those in pursuit of chest hypertrophy and enhanced upper-body strength, you would want the Dumbbell Bench Press in your arsenal. The dumbbell bench press also called the dumbbell flat bench press or dumbbell chest press is a gold standard upper body exercise activating your shoulders, arms, and chest muscles. It can build serious strength and muscle development in the entire torso and is the more optimum exercise for lifters who have joint pain.

However, you can only reap the benefits of this great exercise when it’s done correctly. We’ll guide you on the steps to perform the dumbbell bench press correctly, along with more information on the exercise’s benefits, muscles worked, variations, and alternatives you can do. You can also check out our 10 Best Dumbbell Racks that will help you save space and organise your dumbbells.

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Do Dumbbell Bench Press
  • 6 Dumbbell Bench Press Benefits
  • Common Dumbbell Bench Press Mistakes To Avoid
  • Dumbbell Bench Press Muscles Worked
  • Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Dumbbell Bench Press Variations
  • Dumbbell Bench Press Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Dumbbell Bench Press

How To Do Dumbbell Bench Press

Step 1: Grab your weights

Before you begin the standard dumbbell bench press, you’ll need to get your weights ready. When using light to moderate weights, you can lift the dumbbells off the floor and to your knees, gripping them firmly as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then, kick your kneed up to drive one dumbbell to your shoulder, doing the same with the other side afterward.

Step 2: Get into starting position.

Next up, you’ll get into starting position by laying down on your bench. Begin with both dumbbells over your chest and arms fully extended. As you lie down, make sure you do so slowly as you carry the weights to avoid accidents and injuries.

Step 3: Set your back

Once you’ve got your back on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades together with your feet actively pressing on the ground to recruit more muscles to help lift. The back muscles will the base of the dumbbell press as you squeeze the scapulas, tensing the back and engaging your muscles. Keep your elbows under your wrists to keep your shoulder joints in proper position and help with maximal back tension. Now, pull your weights down, and you’ll feel the lats tighten like they’re ready to explode up!

Step 4: Lower your weights

As you slowly lower the weights, keep the elbows to about 45 degrees and maintain a neutral grip and wrist. Never let your arms waiver from the pressing park. Pretend that the middle of your dumbbell handle is on a set line and that you must keep it on the line. Continue lowering the weights until the dumbbells are slightly outside your torso at your chest. Your shoulder blades should be depressed and retracted towards your hips, which helps maintain upper back stability. Think of it like pressing yourself deeper into your bench, pulling your weights to you.

Step 5: Press your weights

When your back is tight, and the dumbbells are sitting at chest level, drive your weights up over your chest. Your elbows should stay tucked in at a 45-degree angle throughout your lift to maintain correct pressing mechanics. Furthermore, keep your feet flat and pressing to the floor, with the extra leg engagement pushing even more weight, which helps as you lift heavier.

Common Dumbbell Bench Press Mistakes to Avoid

You Lift Too Heavy

When doing any type of resistance training, you need to have enough load to build strength, but there should be balance! Only use the appropriate loads that you can handle, something that challenges you but can still perform with great form. If you try using an extremely heavyweight, you might injure yourself, and you can’t load your target muscles effectively, so it won’t do much for your goals! 

You Have an Incorrect Setup

When putting heavy loads above your face and chest muscle, you need to have a stable base of support, with your feet planted firmly on the ground, glutes pressed into your bench, and your head and upper back in contact with your bench. Retract the shoulder blades for a stable base of support for your upper back and embrace your core and chest 

Arching Your Back

Arching your back is cheating as you limit your range of motion, making it easier to use momentum for pressing your weight upward. This decreases the exercise’s effectiveness, as you have a limited range of motion, which reduces the number of muscle fibers recruited. Furthermore, arching your back would increase your risk of lower back injury, potentially harming your progress.

You Don’t Have a Spotter

When doing free weight exercises, there’s the risk of dropping the weight on yourself when doing free weight exercises, even with perfect form. Having a spotter can help you get the last few reps out, improve your confidence, critique your form, and keep you safe in case you lose control of the weights. While it’s possible to perform this exercise without a spotter, it’s recommended for beginners or those using heavier dumbbells.

You Lift Your Head

If you lift your head during the exercise, it may result in injuries like strains in the muscles surrounding the neck. Make sure that your head is firmly against the bench as you’re bench pressing.

Neglect the Rotator Cuff

Many lifters have an issue with weak rotator cuff muscles located near their shoulders and engage in every push or pull movement. Weaknesses in that area may harm your performance or increase the risk of injury, especially when using heavier weights and poor form. Avoid injury on rotator cuffs by focusing on your form and including warm-up movements that strengthen the rotator cuffs before beginning your exercise program.

Dumbbell Bench Press Muscles Worked

  • Pectoral muscles 
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Core

The pectoral muscles are your chest muscles, the primary muscle group involved in force production required to perform this exercise. Lifters can go in an even deeper range of motion with the dumbbell bench press, which fights demands on your chest muscles. For this exercise, it focuses more on your upper chest muscles.

Your triceps are involved with elbow stability and help with the final extension of your elbow when locking out your dumbbell bench press. You can manipulate the movement to focus more on the triceps, like doing a close or neutral grip dumbbell bench press.

Deltoids move the ball-and-socket shoulder joints so our arms can reach in all directions, which is vital in the bench press. Your triceps and chest do most of the work here, but your shoulders are also working to stabilize your joints, assisting with the move.

The biceps is the double-headed muscle that controls the motion of the two joints and helps with your elbow and shoulder movement. It also helps move the arms upward, sideways, and forward. Do not forget to brace your core as you perform the movement.

Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press

The biggest difference between the dumbbell and barbell bench press is the weight you’ll use. Both versions of the exercise help with muscle growth, though using dumbbells can help lifters get a longer range of motion and muscle activation. Moreover, dumbbell bench presses can directly target weaknesses, balancing your body and training simultaneously. However, since you can use more weight with a Barbell, you may build more strength with barbell bench presses. 

For people with asymmetrical arm muscles and balance problems, the dumbbell bench press seems to be more useful in balancing and correcting it since equal weights are loaded on each arm. This is different in barbells, where the stronger does more of the work. Dumbbells are also less restrictive than barbells. 

But if you want to pack up on chest and arm muscles, start with moderate to heavy dumbbells, then continue building up to a barbell press.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

The recommended rep range and sets of the dumbbell bench press you should do depends on your goals. Here are general guidelines you can follow for your exercise program:

For Muscle Building

To build muscle, you need to lift in the full range of motion, feel a deep chest stretch at the bottom of your press, and control the lowering phase. You can do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps for muscle growth, resting for one minute between sets.

For Strength Training

To gain strength, you should perform lower reps and more sets, with the range of motion and tempo similar to hypertrophy training. Some people may adjust the speed and range of motion to suit their positional strength preferences or needs. Perform 3–5 sets of 5-8 reps using a heavy load. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

To Improve Muscle Endurance

If you want to improve your muscle endurance for sports, you should opt for higher reps and shorter rest periods, which allow you to produce more repetitive force in short periods. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps, resting for 45-60 seconds between each set, using lighter weights.

Dumbbell Bench Press Variations

Here are the dumbbell bench press variations you can try, whether you need something a bit easier or to challenge your upper body:

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

This is a unilateral dumbbell bench press variation having you move one dumbbell at a time, alternating between your right and left. This increases the exercise’s complexity, rotational resistance, and the lift’s overall functionality for those involved in contact-based sports or activities. 

Close Grip Bench Press

This is like the classic move but make sure that the placement of your hands is slightly less than shoulder-width apart, which will put more emphasis on the smaller muscles of your arms, particularly the forearms and triceps. 

One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Presses

You will only use one dumbbell for this variation instead of two, which helps with unilateral stability, strength, and glute and core activation. It can work your core muscles as they help prevent your torso from rotating too far to the side.

Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is done lying on the floor instead of a bench, which restricts the overall range of motion during the pressing movement. It would increase the demands on your triceps, assisting in the lockout position. You’ll get to understand how you can stabilize your upper back during the exercise better.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

The incline dumbbell bench press means sitting up slightly rather than on a flat bench. You can use an Adjustable Bench and set it to a 45-degree angle. This incline press variation will emphasize the upper chest muscles even more.

Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

Decline Bench Press requires you to rest back on an adjustable bench while your knees are raised over the shoulders. That way, you can work your triceps and lower pecs more.

Dumbbell Bench Press Alternatives

If you can’t do dumbbell bench presses or want to add more exercises that train similar muscles, here are alternatives you can perform (other than the dumbbell bench press variations):

Overhead Press

The overhead press targets your shoulders, triceps, and upper chest, which can help with total body strength. It benefits those who want to increase their bench press strength and upper-body mass.

Barbell Bench Press

This is great to improve the sport-specific strength, like for powerlifting. It’s also beneficial for increasing overall muscle mass and strength. Since you don’t independently manage the load, it’s easier to use heavier loads, attacking maximal strength during the pressing movement.

Axle or Fat Bar Bench Press

This exercise can add more variety to your bench press training. It also helps reinforce correct positioning in the press. The axle bar bench press also helps with wrist stability and enables you to establish improved elbow positioning in the bottom position.

Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on your preferences, but the dumbbell bench press may benefit lifters who want more range of motion and control over their elbows. It also helps build unilateral strength, compared to using barbells. That said, barbells allow you to lift heavier, this helping with better strength. 

That is totally up to you and your goals, which we have tackled in the previous section. We recommend using heavier loads with fewer reps if you want to grow muscle. If you want to gain muscular endurance, it’s best to go for lighter loads but more reps. For building upper body strength, you can go for a moderate weight. 

There are no “better” exercises for everyone, depending on your fitness goals and needs. Dumbbell bench presses have benefits, but other bench press variations work the same muscles with added or reduced intensity. 

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