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Dumbbell Bench Press E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

The Dumbbell Bench Press is a fantastic movement that when properly performed builds the chest muscles. The john_baroud_dumbbell_benchDumbbell Bench Press is a great chest exercise because it can be performed using various angles to develop every part of the chest muscle. The Dumbbell Bench Press is also a fantastic chest exercise because it allows for great freedom of motion and as such engages many supporting muscles that further stimulate optimal chest development.

The Dumbbell Bench Press  - APrincipal Compound Exercise

The Dumbbell Bench Press is basic principal exercise that can place greater absolute intensity on muscles exercised relative to auxiliary exercises. Because the Dumbbell Bench Press movement is a compound movement (An exercise that involves two or more joint movements) it is a great chest exercise for developing both mass and strength; which is why it is a favorite chest exercise by many.

Basic Chest Physiology 

The chest is a major muscle which consists of the pectoralis major and minor. Ochest-anatomyther names for this muscle group include: Chest, Pecs, Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Pecs. For bodybuilding purposes the chest can be divided into 5 areas of concentration:

  • Upper Chest
  • Middle Chest
  • Lower Chest
  • Inner Chest
  • Outer Chest

Dumbbell Bench Press Overview 

  • Main Muscle(s) Worked: Chest; Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
  • Other Muscles Worked: Shoulders, Triceps
  • Equipment: Dumbbells, Bench
  • Mechanics Type: Compound (An exercise that involves two or more joint movements).
  • Force: Push (Movement away from center of body during the concentric contraction of the target muscle).
  • Utility: Basic (A principal exercise that can place greater absolute intensity on muscles exercised relative to auxiliary exercises. Basic exercises tend to be gravity dependent, have an inclusion or shift of resistance through multiple muscle group throughout the range of motion (e.g. bench press: front deltoid to pectoralis major to triceps) and have a natural transfer of torsion force to compression force (e.g., lockout on squat, bench press, etc.) or tension force (e.g. extension of arm curl) to the bone(s) and joint(s) during full range of motion.

Target Muscles Used when Performing a Dumbbell Bench Press Movement

  • Pectoralis Major, Sternal

Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing a Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
  • Deltoid, Anterior
  • Triceps Brachii

Stabilizers Worked When Performing a Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Biceps Brachii, Short Head

Muscle Fiber Recruitment for Dumbbell Bench Press

When you use dumbbells to perform a bench press movement you maximize muscle fibers used because of the extra muscle needed to stabilze and balance the weight which are NOT used when using lever type and other chest building workout machines. Incorporating free weight exercises into your routine is the BEST way to to build strength, balance, supporting muscles and develop the best well rounded and fully developed physique. 

Dumbbell Bench Press Technique

Following proper dumbbell bench press form will reduces the chance of injury and maximally challenges the muscles of the chest.dumbbell bench press

  • Grasp two dumbbells with an overhand grip.
  • Sit down on bench with dumbbells resting on lower thigh.
  • Kick weights to shoulder and lie back supine on the bench, with the knees bent to 90 degrees and the feet firmly on the floor. If the feet do not reach the ground, only then can you put them on the bench. The shoulder and elbow joints should both be at a 90-degree angle.
  • Position dumbbells to the sides of the upper chest with elbows under dumbbells.
  • Arch the back slightly, tighten the abs, and retract the scapulas. Make sure that the glutes stay in contact with the bench throughout the lift. Inhale and hold your breath.
  • Feet are kept flat on the floor, weight on the heels, lower leg perpendicular to the floor, with the buttocks always in contact with the bench. This prevents extreme arching of your lower back.
  • Forcefully exhale as you push the dumbbells straight up until the elbows are extended.
  • Squeeze the chest.
  • Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
  • Repeat.

Caution Needed Performing Dumbbell Bench Press

Anyone with shoulder or elbow problems should be careful when using free weights to perform this exercise.The angle you use with the bench should also be reviewed carefully. If you have any shoulder issues proceed carefully (if at all). Do not exceed a 30 degree angle if you have had any shoulder pain. If you are bothered by this exercise, be smart and just avoid this exercise. There are plenty of other movements which deliver success without risk to your shoulders and elbows. 

Possible Injuries when Performing Dumbbell Bench Press 

Incorrect form may lead to multiple types of injuries including:

  • torn ligaments/tendons in shoulders.
  • back injuries due to bridging, which is the arching of the lower back. To prevent bridging, compress the stomach muscles to force the lower back down, or bring legs up and flat onto the bench.

Common Errors when Performing the Dumbbell Bench Press

The following errors are potentially dangerous and can result in injury. Avoid them at all costs.

  • Using too much weight. A common mistake for many novice lifters is lifting too much weight. This can result in poor form and/or possible injuries. Make sure to use correct weight that will allow you to use proper form and full range of motion.
  • Bouncing and jerking weight. This is referred to as cheating and will take the emphasis of the chest. It can also result in losing control of the weight leading to injuries.
  • Losing Control of the weight. You can pull ligaments and hurt your rotator cuff.
  • Performing the movement too fast. Performing the movement too fast doesn't allow you to fully recruit as many muscle fibers.
  • Compromise range of motion. Going too deep if you have limited motion or are not properly warmed up and stretched can result in serious tendon, joint and muscle injury. Not using a full range of motion can also compromise results. 

Dumbbell Bench Press Tips 

  • Use a spotter. A spotter can help monitor your form and also help you get those last few reps out!
  • Begin with a light weight to practice good form and control and properly warm up the shoulder girdle.
  • Adjust the bench angle correctly. No more than 45 degree angle, otherwise too much emphasis is put on the shoulder.
  • Use a smooth and controlled motion. This will avoid cheating which in turn will take the emphasis off the chest.
  • Do not arch the back and raise the glutes off the bench. Compress the stomach muscles to force the lower back down, or bring legs up and flat onto the bench (beginners should keep the feet on the floor because otherwise they may lose their balance).

Dumbbell Bench Press Variations 

Variations are intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are plenty of variations to this strength exercise. Some other variations of the Dumbbell Bench Press:

  • Barbell Bench Press. Same movement as detailed above but using a barbell. The Barbell Bench Press is a compound movement that targets the Pectoralis Major, Sternal.

Dumbbell Bench Press Angle Variations

Dumbbell Bench Presses can be performed on an incline, on a decline, or on a stabilizer ball. The incline-version shifts some of the stress from the pectorals to the anterior deltoids and gives a greater stimulus to the upper pectorals, whereas the decline allows more weight to be lifted while using nearly the same musculature as the traditional bench press.
Angle variations include:
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press. From an incline bench. Emphasis shoulders and upper chest.
  • Decline Dumbbell Bench Press. From a decline bench. Allows more weight. Emphasizes more of the lower chest.

Dumbbell Bench Press Complimentary Exercises

No exercise program should consist of machines alone, and no exercise program should consist of free weights alone. Variety in the type of exercises you incorporate is exactly what you need to develop your body. When creating a workout plan for any body part, including the chest it is good to include both machines and free weights, dumbbells and barbells, and cables, mix up the angles and positioning so that you work the body part from different angles. It is also good to include isolation movements as well as compound movements too! The following are a few suggested exercises that would compliment the Smith Machine Incline Bench Press:

  • Decline Dumbbell Fly. Is an isolated dumbbell fly movement that targets the Pectoralis Major, Sternal when properly done will give a full width stretch of chest muscles while concentrating mostly on the center of the chest. It is a great complimentary exercise to the Smith Machine Incline Press because (1) it works the lower part of the chest instead of the upper part; and (2) as a free weight dumbbell exercise the decline dumbbell fly utilizes more muscle stabilizers required to balance and control the weight during exercise execution.
  • Barbell Pullover. The Barbell Pullover is an advanced movement that when performed properly will hit the chest at a different angles and employ muscle fibers not normally recruited standard chest building movements such as the bench press, Pec Deck and flyes. Employing the Dumbbell Pullover as part of your chest workout will aid in the full development of your chest pectorals.
  • Smith Machine Incline Bench Press. The Smith Machine Incline Bench Press  is one of the best exercises for targeting the upper chest (Pectoralis Major, Clavicular) and front deltoid. The Smith Machine also allows you to lift more weight because there is no weight in the bar (it's counter weighted) and instead of worrying about dropping the weights on your chest, you can just twist the bar to lock it off when your muscles give way.  Additionally, if you are the type of person who only uses free weights, adding the Smith Machine exercises may be exactly what you need to get your body through a plateau.
  • Barbell Incline Bench Press. Same movements as detailed above but using a barbell.Barbells and dumbbells recruit additional muscle when training, because you need to stabilize the motion by yourself.
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press. Same movements as detail above but with dumbbells. Barbells and dumbbells recruit additional muscle when training, because you need to stabilize the motion by yourself. Arms work independently of one another which can allow a deeper stretch at bottom of movement.
  • Pec Deck. The Pec Deck Fly exercise is an isolation exercise commonly used to develop the chest (pectoral muscles). The Pec Deck Fly (Butterfly) main advantage is sets can be done quickly because all that is needed to change the weights is a pin, and the exercise can be done safely, since less balance and control is required.
  • Dips. Dips are a great overall chest exercise that help build the entire chest muscle.

Bottom Line on the Dumbbell Bench Press

The Dumbbell Bench Press is a chest exercise that can be done at various angles to bring great variety and overall muscle development to every part of the chest. The Dumbbell Bench Press is a great movement that should be included in every chest workout.

About Jeff Behar

Jeff BeharJeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. Jeff Behar's work often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Jeff Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker and weight loss expert.


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