And if you trade the barbell for a pair of dumbbells, as you will in the bench press variation below, you’ll add an element of instability that will increase muscle activation throughout your core, helping to correct any imbalances.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to perform it with perfect form.
Dumbbell Bench Press: Step-by-Step Instructions
Target muscles: Chest, as well as the triceps, shoulders, and core.
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- Lie on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest with your palms facing forward. Your head, upper back, and butt should touch the bench, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
- Slowly lower the weights to the sides of your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body (not flared).
- Pause, and then push the weights back up to the starting position.
Bonus tips: Keep your upper arms at a 45-degree angle to your body as you lower the weights. Doing so will reduce the stress on your shoulders. (Flaring your elbows — the most common mistake people make when performing the bench press — has the opposite effect.)
Similarly, don’t arch your back as you press the weights up (it will increase the stress on your spine). Instead, actively press your back into the bench and keep your abs drawn in.
Make it easier: Use lighter weights, or ditch the bench and perform the push-up.
Make it harder: Use heavier weights, or perform the alternating dumbbell bench press (lowering one arm at a time) or the single-arm dumbbell bench press, using a single dumbbell to work one side of your body at a time.
Benefits of Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press hits different areas of your chest muscles than the barbell bench press.
By using dumbbells instead of a barbell, you can use different angles to target different fibers (the inner, outer, and upper portions of your chest muscles) more effectively.
This is because different angles allow you to get a better stretch at the bottom of the movement, which is when you are able to recruit more muscle fibers and stimulate growth.
You can change the angle by moving your arms closer together or farther apart.
You can also change the angle by placing your feet on a different height surface — for example, place your feet on plates if you want to raise them higher off the floor.
In addition, it’s good for developing overall chest mass and strength because it allows for greater range of motion than does the flat bench press with a barbell.
What Muscles Does the Dumbbell Bench Press Work?
Dumbbell bench presses work your chest, shoulders, and arms. The primary muscles worked in the dumbbell bench press are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor in the chest.
The deltoid muscles in your shoulders are also heavily used when doing a dumbbell bench press.
In addition to these primary muscles, secondary muscles used while performing a dumbbell bench press include the triceps at back of your upper arm and biceps at front of your upper arm.