Dumbbell Chest Press (what is a dumbbell chest press?)

Dumbbell Chest Press

What is the dumbbell chest press?

The dumbbell chest press is a resistance exercise performed on a bench with dumbbells. The exercise targets the pectoral muscles in the chest as well as activates the triceps and anterior deltoids. 

Dumbbell presses are popular amongst bodybuilders as a pressing movement as they allow a wider stretch at the bottom of the movement and a tighter squeeze at the top than a traditional barbell press.

Which muscles are targeted with a dumbbell chest press?

The dumbbell bench press is primarily used for developing the pectoral muscle in the chest. As it is a pressing movement, the triceps and anterior deltoids will also be activated as secondary assisters. 

It is possible to target the upper portion of the pectoral muscle by inclining the bench and pressing in an upwards motion. Make sure you do not incline too far as you'll be taking resistance away from the chest and loading the shoulders.

If you want to target your lower chest, you can decline the bench. the further it declines, the more of the load the lower chest will take. In order to break down more fibres within your chest, work it from different angles regularly through a variety of pressing and fly movements. 

The chest reacts well to heavy loads for developing mass but it also reacts well to slow movements with high 'time under tension'. This means using an explosive pressing motion, squeezing at the top for a couple of seconds and using a very slow negative motion back to the start position. 

Dumbbell presses are great for this as they allow you to bring the dumbbells together at the top of the movement and really squeeze the pecs.

How do I perform a dumbbell chest press?

To perform a dumbbell press of any variation you will need two things, a bench and some dumbbells. For the first example, we will look at a flat bench press but the movement is the same whether you use an incline bench or a decline bench. 

How do I do a dumbbell chest press

  1. Move a flat bench into space by the dumbbell rack.
  2. Select your dumbbells and sit on the end of the bench with a grip on the dumbbells which should be resting on your thighs.
  3. Lay backwards on the bench and use your legs to help lift the dumbbells into the starting position by your chest.
  4. Make sure your upper back and head are firmly on the bench and your feet are giving you a sturdy stance and your lower back is preferably arched off of the bench.
  5. Take a deep breath, upon exhale, press the dumbbells in an upwards motion. Try to keep your palms facing toward your knees throughout the movement. You can perform it with a hammer grip as illustrated above but this will put more emphasis on the triceps and less on the pectorals.
  6. When you get to the top of the movement, try not to lock out your arms but squeeze the pectoral muscle for a couple of seconds. 
  7. Slowly lower the weights to the side of your chest until you can feel the pectoral muscles stretching.
  8. Repeat the movement for the required number of reps and sets.

Incline dumbbell bench press.

The incline dumbbell bench press targets the upper portion of the pectoral muscles as well as the anterior deltoids and triceps. It is great for adding mass to the chest and definition between the shoulders and traps. 
How do I do an incline dumbbell press

The incline dumbbell bench press is performed in exactly the same way as a flat bench press. The only thing that you will need to change is the angle of the bench so that it is inclined. 

Try to keep the angle less than 45% otherwise you will be activating the shoulder muscles to a higher extent than the chest. If you can adjust the seat pad to an angle, this will add extra support and stop you from sliding around on the bench. 

Decline dumbbell press.

It is good to target the lower chest on occasion. It adds overall strength to your pectoral muscles for pressing movements as well as definition between the chest and abdominal muscles. By declining the bench or using a sit-up bench, you can use dumbbell chest presses to develop this area. 

Helpful tips for pressing dumbbells.

If you are pressing heavy weights, it is safer and easier to have a spotter or two to help you load up and unload. Having an experienced spotter can also help with pushing you to go beyond failure with your sets on dumbbell chest presses. 

By supporting your elbows on the pressing motion and allowing you to take the full strain of the negative motion once you reach failure, you will tear down more fibres in your pecs and allow for more growth.

If you can not get a spotter, make sure that you have nobody else around you, no phone or anything of value on the floor next to the bench and that you are allowed to drop weights in your gym. 

If you are training with heavy weights, the only safe way to unload them after a set is to drop them to the side of you. Trying to twist and place them on the floor can lead to a shoulder injury. 

If dropping weights is not allowed in your gym, you will just have to train with a lighter load and place emphasis on strict form and time under tension. 

The majority of gyms that ban dropping weights are the same ones that ban chalking up and grunting. If you are serious about bodybuilding or strength training, you should probably find another gym! 

Elbow supports can be beneficial if you are training heavy and your elbows joints are a weak spot. Many lifters find that wearing elbow straps mentally supports them to lift heavier as well as reduces the risk of injury. 

It is advisable not to wear wrist straps in case you need to release the dumbbell quickly but wrist supports can also assist with heavier lifts. 

Variations of dumbbell presses.

Floor dumbbell press.

If you do not have access to a dumbbell or flat bench, you can always perform the movement from the floor. The motion is exactly the same but instead of lying flat on a bench, you will be lying with your back on the floor. 

The main disadvantage of doing presses from the floor is that you are unable to bring your elbows down low enough to give the pecs a stretch. That being said, it is a good way for beginners to start pressing dumbbells and a good substitute if you do not have a bench. 

Dumbbell Floor Press

Flat plate press.

Although this is not a dumbbell press, it is the same motion and activates the same muscles. If you do not have access to dumbbells, using a weight plate is a great alternative. 

The disadvantage is that you are limited to the maximum weight available and you are unable to squeeze as tight at the top of the movement. 

Many lifters prefer to use a plate as it is slightly easier than using dumbbells and does not rely on as many stabiliser muscles. 

Close grip plate press.

If you want to perform plate presses instead of dumbbell presses but find it harder to get a squeeze on the pecs at the top of the movement, try using close grip plate presses. 

Again, you are limited by the weight available and you need to make sure that you are using a plate that allows you a firm grip but it is a good exercise for slow, controlled movement. 

Can I perform a dumbbell chest press at home?

You can do dumbbell presses at home but you will need a set of dumbbells and a sturdy, adjustable bench. These are both essentials if you are setting up a home gym and should be at the top of your shopping list. 

A rack of dumbbells is not cheap but they are a worthwhile investment. Avoid adjustable dumbbells if you can. They do save space and are cheaper but they have a tendency to break easily and are often too wide to balance well. 

Our recommendation for a dumbbell bench is Hardcastle semi-commercial bench. It is reasonably priced, fully adjustable and very heavy duty. 

Cheap benches are usually made of very low-quality steel and can have some suspect welds making them very dangerous if you are training with heavy loads. Click on the image below for more information. 

Weights bench

Dumbbells are going to be the major expense in any home gym. You will want rubber coated dumbbells with a range that will suit your current needs as well as your future goals. Extreme fitness dumbbells are durable, functional and reasonably priced. 

They can be purchased individually so, as your strength increases, you can add larger weights. Click on the image below for further details. 

Dumbbell set

Alternatives to dumbbell chest press

Barbell bench press

Seated chest press

Pec dec flys

Cable flys

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