How to Bench Press with Dumbbells: Exercise Guide + Workout

Despite emphasising specific muscular areas, the bench press is a full-body activity. While recognised as a killer workout for growing the upper body, the dumbbell bench press is much more than that.

Performing the dumbbell bench press can help you build strength all over your body, preparing you for other exercises (hello, push-ups) and giving you the impression that you are an incredibly powerful badass. But if that isn't enough to convince you, keep reading for a list of all the benefits that the dumbbell bench press has to offer, as well as tips on how to perform the exercise perfectly, regardless of whether you're going with the classic technique or utilising a scaled-down or levelled-up variation of the exercise.

In a few ways, it is also superior to the barbell bench press, so you should consider incorporating it into your training regimen occasionally.

You'll find out in this article what the dumbbell bench press is, how it compares to the barbell bench press, the advantages of the flat dumbbell bench press, how to perform the dumbbell bench press with correct form, the best alternatives to the dumbbell bench press, and more. 

What Is a Dumbbell Bench Press?

The dumbbell bench press is an upper-body workout that engages your arm, shoulder, and chest muscles. It is also known as the dumbbell flat bench press and the dumbbell chest press. When performing the exercise known as the dumbbell bench press, you should begin by reclining face down on a bench. Next, place a pair of dumbbells on your hips seated. Next, raise the dumbbells above your chest while keeping your abdominal muscles and glutes engaged. Next, contract your shoulder blades as you lower your arms again, stopping when your arms' upper and lower halves make an angle of 90 degrees. 

How to Do Dumbbell Bench Presses With Perfect Form

When performing bench presses with dumbbells, starting with a weight you can easily control for two to three sets of eight to twelve repetitions is best. You should select a weight that enables you to keep a decent form throughout all the sets and repetitions.

  1. Snatch a set of dumbbells from the rack and position the weights while seated on the bench so that the crease of your hips faces them. Then, lay back on the bench and keep the dumbbells on your hips while you do this exercise.
  2. Once in the correct position, contract your abdominal muscles and press the dumbbells toward the ceiling. Your palms have to be pointing in front of you. To activate your lats, rotate your shoulders so that they face outward. Your upper back should be kept taut and stable at all times. It is recommended that all repetitions begin from this starting position.
  3. Lower the dumbbells gradually while preserving a neutral wrist position, and stop when your upper arms are at the same height as your back. Your forearms should be perpendicular to your torso at a 45-degree angle, and the angle formed by your upper and lower arms should be 90 degrees. At the very bottom of the movement, pause for a moment.
  4. Start the upward movement by pressing your chest together and pushing the dumbbells back to the starting position. It will get you started. Keep pressing until your arms are at a right angle to your body and your elbows are slightly bent.
  5. When you reach the movement's top, contract your chest to finish the exercise. At the end of each repetition, ensure sufficient space between the dumbbells.

5 Dumbbell Bench Press Variations

Try one of these variations on the dumbbell bench press once you've gotten the hang of the basic exercise with the dumbbells.

  1. Bench press with dumbbells at a 45-degree incline. The incline bench press requires an adjustable bench adjusted to a 45-degree elevation. This variation emphasises your upper chest muscles more than a regular dumbbell bench press since it requires you to sit up slightly.
  2. Single-arm dumbbell bench press: If you want to zero in on perfecting your lifting form, consider performing this unilateral exercise variation.
  3. Decline the dumbbell bench press. This variation of the dumbbell bench press targets your lower pecs and triceps more than the conventional variation. To perform this variation, rest your back on an adjustable bench and lift your knees so that they are above your shoulders.
  4. Dumbbell floor press: The dumbbell floor press utilises a more explosive movement and a shorter range of motion than the bench press since it requires the user to lie on the floor rather than sit on a bench.
  5. Bench presses with dumbbells using a neutral grip: If you want to target your triceps while putting less strain on your shoulder joints, performing a neutral grip is the way to go.

The Key Dumbbell Bench Press Benefits

Should you include dumbbell bench presses in your program for your upper body? Then, persuade yourself with the help of these advantages:

Improves Push-Up Performance

Do you need help doing more than a few push-ups without compromising your form? Then, you'll find that the dumbbell bench press is your new best friend. According to Henry, this exercise is easier to perform than push-ups since it does not require as much core stabilisation but builds strength in the same muscles that are called on during the bodyweight action. In addition, if you combine the dumbbell bench press with something like a plank, you'll be well on your way to obtaining some great push-ups. 

Targets Shoulder Stabilisers

One receives an additional benefit when performing a bench press with dumbbells rather than using a barbell. Using this exercise variation will help strengthen the small stabiliser muscles in the shoulder more so than when using a barbell. In addition, because this variation requires more stability in the shoulder, it'll help strengthen the small stabiliser muscles in the shoulder more than when you use a barbell. As a result, you may compensate with your movement, increasing the risk of injury and producing muscle imbalances. 

Helps You Address Muscle Imbalances

You can move your arms in whatever direction you desire while performing a dumbbell bench press, and you can even perform repetitions on only one side of your body at a time. The exercise can also help you become aware of and address muscle imbalances that you may have. For example, everyone globally has one side of their body that is stronger than the other. It's only a tiny bit for some people, but for others, it's a lot. 

The problem is that these muscular imbalances, like a lack of joint stability, can cause you to change your movement patterns, increasing the likelihood of sustaining an injury. For example, when you're doing a unilateral exercise, which means an exercise that you can do just one side at a time, you can identify those strength and coordination deficits better than if you have both sides working simultaneously. It is because it can help the weaker side. If both sides work simultaneously, it can help the weaker side. After that, you will be able to concentrate on strengthening the side of your body that is less robust. 

Can Be Accessible to People with Shoulder Injuries

When performing a traditional barbell bench press, you must use a pronated (overhand) grip almost all the time. However, when performing the dumbbell version of the exercise, you can adjust your hand positioning however you see fit. It is especially helpful for people with issues with their shoulders. For example, for someone with shoulder pain, a torn rotator cuff, or any other kind of shoulder damage, a more neutral grip, which means with your hands facing each other, will be easier on the shoulder joint. "Neutral" means "with your hands facing each other." However, you won't be able to accomplish that with a barbell. 

Dumbbell Bench Press Variations

If you are new to weightlifting, getting over an injury, or looking for a new challenge, the typical dumbbell bench press might not be a good fit for you, and that's okay. There are plenty of different exercises you can do instead. In any event, you should feel completely at ease changing or progressing the action to acquire what you desire from your workout. 

Modification: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

You can prepare your muscles for the dumbbell bench press by doing push-ups with your body weight. Bench pressing may help you build strength for push-ups, but you can also do push-ups with your body weight. If either is too difficult for you, consider switching to eccentric push-ups: Beginning in a high plank posture, carefully descending the body to the floor while maintaining as much control as possible. Problems with your shoulder? A 45-degree or neutral grip (that is, palms facing in) will target the chest muscles slightly differently and enable individuals with shoulder difficulties to achieve a better bench posture.

However, complete beginners might find it easiest, to begin with a single-arm dumbbell bench press. You won't simultaneously press both weights up to the ceiling. Instead, you'll focus on performing your reps one side at a time. It will allow you to expend less mental energy and coordination while exercising. Whenever you do a new exercise, you are not only training the muscles, but you are also training your central nervous system. You train your muscles and central nervous system every time you do an activity. You give your brain instructions to complete a task, your brain relays those instructions to your muscles, and the process happens quickly. As a result, you can concentrate all your mental capacity on the task when you complete one side at a time. 

Progression: Continuous Tension Dumbbell Bench Press

Switch to the barbell version if you're already dominating the bench press with dumbbells. It will enable you to lift more weight and, as a result, grow more muscle. Alternately, you could try variations of the bench press, such as a close-grip bench (which focuses more on the forearms and triceps), a speed bench (which consists of pressing the bar as quickly as possible), or a banded bench press (which increases the amount of resistance). If you start to increase the weight, you must ensure that you are working with a spotter or benching safely.

It is recommended to go one step further and perform a dumbbell bench press with continuous tension. During this exercise, keep the arm not working completely stretched toward the ceiling between reps. The requirement for stability will go "through the freaking roof" due to doing this, which is the primary benefit of doing this. To prevent yourself from falling to one side, you must use your entire body as you bring one weight closer to your chest. In addition, even during its "break," the arm not being used to lift the weight will have to continue to exert effort so that the load remains suspended above the chest. 

The Best Dumbbell Bench Press Alternatives

1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

One of the most significant advantages of the one-arm dumbbell bench press is that it enables you to concentrate on each side of your body independently, which ultimately aids in developing a stronger "mind-muscle connection." In addition, it strengthens the muscles in your core, which are put under a lot of stress when you twist your body.

Because of the inherent instability of the one-arm dumbbell bench press, you will need to lower the weight you lift considerably. But, unfortunately, it will prevent the exercise from fully realising its potential to grow muscle.

2. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a version of the dumbbell bench press performed while lying on the floor rather than on a bench. It makes the exercise less effective at working your pecs because it reduces the range of motion (you can't lower your elbows as far as you do in the regular dumbbell bench press because they run into the floor) and shortens the range of motion (you can't lower your elbows as far as they do in the regular dumbbell bench press).

Despite this, it is an efficient way to train your triceps, which are mostly responsible for "locking out" your elbows at the top of each rep. Additionally, if you don't have access to a bench, you can use it as an alternative to the dumbbell bench press. 

3. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

The primary advantage of performing the alternating dumbbell bench press is that the arm that isn't pressing gets a brief rest between each repetition. It should enable you to use weights that are a bit heavier or perform a couple of additional repetitions.

The disadvantage of this workout is that even when your arms are "resting," they still hold the weight; therefore, you may tire out more quickly when employing this strategy.

Because it involves a higher level of coordination and balance than the standard dumbbell bench press, the alternating dumbbell bench press can be challenging for certain individuals to perform correctly. 

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Dumbbell Bench Press Mistakes to Avoid

When performing a workout with dumbbells, additional freedom at the shoulder joint translates to a higher demand for control and coordination on the part of the exerciser. Therefore, a few common mistakes should be avoided when executing the dumbbell bench press.

Having an Unstable Body

During the movement, it is not uncommon for weightlifters to raise their heads, necks, and upper backs, place their feet in the air and cross their ankles, wildly sprawl their legs away from the bench, or raise their feet off the ground.

Instability is created when there are fewer points of contact with the bench and the ground, and the inability to press the legs into the ground hampers force production.

Steer clear of it: pressing your feet into the ground will assist you in preserving your equilibrium with your torso and enable you to generate greater force with your upper body. Your foot, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quads should all be contracted and completely engaged. In addition, maintaining contact with the bench with your head will help you to develop tension in your upper back.

Ego Lifting

Some weightlifters have the misconception that simply because they are capable of bench pressing amazing weights with a barbell, it means that they "should" also perform low-rep sets with extremely heavy dumbbells.

They aren't considering that using dumbbells engages the smaller stabiliser muscles of the shoulder more than using a barbell, which means that using weights that are too heavy might strain the shoulder joint and reduce the amount of work done by the chest muscles.

Please don't do it: You should leave your ego at home when lifting weights with dumbbells. Reduce the weight of the barbell bench press by half, then take off another 5-10 kg (10-20 pounds). When you first learn the exercise, this will give you a decent starting point for the total weight (the weight of both dumbbells together).

How to Add the Dumbbell Bench Press to Your Routine

Are you prepared to make the dumbbell bench press part of your regular workout routine? If you are trying a new exercise routine for the first time or have problems with your blood pressure, you should be sure to receive clearance from your primary care physician first. According to the Mayo Clinic, the fact that the exercise requires lying down before returning to a standing position after each set might cause some people to experience a sudden drop in their blood pressure, which in turn can result in feelings of dizziness, weakness, or even fainting.

It is recommended to perform the dumbbell bench press at the beginning of your workout once you have received clearance. The dumbbell bench press is a complex activity, which means that it utilises many muscle groups and joints and can be quite taxing on the body. In this scenario, you should aim for three sets of eight to ten repetitions on each side. However, if you save the move until later in your strength-training session, you lighten up on the weight and try to complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps of the exercise.

Also, remember that you should select the variation of the dumbbell chest press that feels the most natural to you at that particular time. There is no shame in adapting the workout to your body, fitness level, and capabilities to get the most out of it. 

How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press

The use of dumbbells rather than a barbell results in a change in the posture of the shoulders and elbows, which in turn results in an increased range of motion and a greater stimulus for muscular growth from this exercise.

Step 1 — Get into the Pressing Position

Bring a pair of dumbbells to the sides of your chest while lying back on a flat bench. Make sure your palms are facing each other as you do this exercise. To improve your posture, tuck your shoulder blades into the bench. Be certain that both of your feet are firmly planted on the ground and that the soles of your feet are aligned squarely under your knees.

It is important that both of your shoulders, as well as your head and glutes, are firmly planted on the bench. In addition, you should rotate your arms so that your elbows point in a direction that is somewhat away from your feet, and you should allow your hands to point toward your knees.

Form tip: To maintain complete stability, ensure you have six points of contact with the bench. These six points of touch are your two feet on the ground, your tailbone, two shoulders, and your head. It will put you in a good position to begin the workout, so get started. 

Step 2 — Drive the Weights Up

It would help if you held the dumbbells firmly with your palms facing your feet in a pronated position, and your wrists should be positioned squarely above your elbows. Then, in a straight line, drive your elbows up to the ceiling until the dumbbells are positioned directly above your pectoral muscles. At the top of each rep, avoid touching the dumbbells.

Form tip: Before driving up, ensure your elbows are stacked squarely under your wrists. If you let your wrists and the weights break the plane of your elbow, you will put more strain on your joints, which will increase the likelihood that you may get an injury.


Step 3 — Lower into a Stretch

While keeping your shoulder blades pressed into the bench for support, slowly lower the dumbbells to the ground. Maintain an angle between your feet and shoulders, with your elbows pointing perpendicular to the ground. When the dumbbells have reached the point where they are resting just outside your chest, emphasise the stretching sensation you feel in your pecs.

Form tip: Consider bringing the dumbbells closer to you while simultaneously pressing your chest toward the ceiling as a helpful hint for proper form.

Tips for The Bench Press

  1. After you have completed your warm-up, you can begin this fundamental exercise by utilising dumbbells of very lightweight, at least until you have reached the point where you have total mastery of the movement, particularly concerning stability. When you are just starting at the gym or lifting high weights, it is recommended that you do it with a training partner (which is neither recommended nor necessary).
  2. To protect yourself from harm, avoid going too low on the descent. It is especially important if you have long arms.
  3. To prevent arching your back too much, flat your back against the bench. You can also draw your knees up to your tummy to prevent your back from arching, but this position is quite unstable and needs you to lighten the load. Another option is to set your feet on the steps. Again, it will prevent your back from arching.
  4. If you have long arms, you should avoid going too low so as not to put an excessive amount of strain on the joints in your shoulders.
  5. It is important to avoid letting the dumbbells touch each other at the end of the movement. Doing so will make the workout less effective because it will shorten the time the muscles are under tension.
  6. When lifting large weights, the most dangerous part of the exercise is not the movement itself but the moments immediately before and after it, namely when catching your dumbbells on the rack, positioning yourself on the bench, and lifting yourself. Because of this, it is extremely important (if it is at all possible) to place the bench in front of the dumbbells that you are going to select, after which you should grab the dumbbells while being well in front of them, the right behind them, and then pose them on your knees while rocking on the bench.
  7. After the set, return the dumbbells to their previous position on your knees and stand using the counterbalance. Because of this, your back won't be subjected to any potentially harmful movements.
  8. You should always ensure your buttocks are firmly planted on the bench during the workout.

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Bench Press

The chest is the primary focus of the work in all variations of the chest press exercise. To accomplish the exercise, numerous different muscle groups must cooperate.

Lifters can train their pressing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) with the dumbbell bench press without using weights too heavy. 

Pectoralis Major 

The pec major is the largest and most fundamental of the chest muscles. It has two heads: the clavicular (in the upper chest) and the sternocostal (mid-chest). The function of the two heads of the pectoral muscle is to bring the upper arms across the chest and closer to the body's midline. 

Anterior Deltoid

The posterior (back), lateral (side), and anterior heads of the shoulder muscles are the three distinct parts that make up this muscle group (front). Because the arm is being moved in front of the body during the dumbbell bench press, the anterior deltoid is heavily recruited for the movement. Therefore, each head of the deltoid contributes to moving the arm in its separate plane. 


The triceps comprise three heads: the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head. Each of these heads is responsible for a different aspect of extending the elbow and elevating the arm. For example, during the dumbbell bench press, significant emphasis is placed on the medial and lateral heads to transfer the weight and straighten (lockout) the elbows.

Pectoralis Minor and Serratus Anterior

Both of these rather lesser muscles can be located near the pec major. During pressing (and chest flye) actions, they both aid in controlling the movement of the shoulder blades and maintain stability. These roles are comparable. 


The bench press is a common exercise, but the dumbbell version, the dumbbell bench press, allows for a more natural movement. Because of the instability of the dumbbells, our American friends also refer to this exercise as the dumbbell bench press. It is more difficult to complete than the traditional bench press. It calls upon other muscles involved in stabilisation and necessitates a particular level of control and balance. As a result, you won't be able to use as much weight as you would with a free bar exercise.

The great and the small pectoral muscles are the ones that are targeted when performing this exercise. Nevertheless, additional muscles, such as the triceps and the anterior deltoids, as well as the stabilising muscles, particularly the serrated ones, are also engaged. You should already be aware of this fact, but the primary purpose of this workout is to strengthen your chest muscles. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can novices use dumbbells for bench pressing?

Beginners can bench press with dumbbells. It engages stabiliser muscles and increases the range of motion. Focus on form with lesser weights and raise the load as your strength and technique improve. To ensure safety and efficacy, master the proper technique and consult a fitness specialist.

Do dumbbells help muscular imbalances?

Dumbbell bench pressing can correct muscular imbalances. Each arm functions individually, allowing weaker muscles to catch up. Dumbbells can reveal and fix left-right strength imbalances. Single-arm dumbbell bench presses help improve muscle balance and symmetry.

Can dumbbell bench pressing target multiple muscle groups?

Based on bench angle and grip, dumbbell bench pressing targets different muscle areas. Some examples:

  • Incline Bench Press: Works upper chest and shoulders harder.
  • Decline Bench Press: Triceps and lower chest.
  • Neutral Grip Bench Press: Triceps work, and shoulders relax.
  • Close Grip Bench Press: Triceps-focused.

Adjusting the bench angle and grip can vary your workout by emphasising different muscle groups.

How do I choose a dumbbell bench press weight?

Dumbbell bench pressing weight depends on fitness and strength. Weight selection:

  1. Start with a weight that lets you do 8-12 reps properly.
  2. If you can do more than 12 reps, add weight.
  3. Reduce the weight until you can do eight reps properly.
  4. To grow and avoid injuries, challenge yourself without compromising form.

What advantages do dumbbell bench presses have over barbell ones?

Dumbbell bench pressing has many advantages over barbell benching. First, dumbbells increase the range of motion, which improves muscular activation and development. They use more stabilising muscles, improving strength and balance. Dumbbells also allow each arm to move independently, which helps correct muscular imbalances and equal out strength.

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