Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
Working the main muscles of your chest, the flat bench dumbbell press gives an increased (deeper) range of motion (ROM) than when using a barbell (the barbell must always stop when it touches your chest), so can boost muscle growth even further. The only difference between this exercise and the flat barbell bench press version is that in order to stabilize the dumbbells your body will need to recruit more muscle fibers (you have to support and balance two separate weights). As a result, this exercise is even more effective than the flat barbell bench press. The downside is that you won’t be able to lift as much weight as with a barbell. Barbells are much easier to use than dumbbells when the weight gets heavy.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Press Exercise Instructions
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Lie faceup on a flat exercise bench and take a dumbbell in each hand at your side using pronated grip (palms facing forward). Start with the dumbbells at chest level (just outside your chest; depending on flexibility) with your elbows bent at about a 90-degree angle. Your head, back, and buttocks are in contact with the bench and your feet are flat on the floor.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Gradually lift the dumbbells straight up (vertically) until your elbows lock. At the top your arms are fully extended and perpendicular to the floor. The ends of the dumbbells should almost touch. Hold for a second, then lower the dumbbells to the starting position at your side. Keep your elbows perpendicular to and away from your body. Repeat.
Experiment with placing your feet on top of the bench, instead of on the floor. This keeps you from “cheating” with your legs—using them to help you lift the dumbbells. With your feet on the bench, your chest muscles become isolated.
For more variety, you can rotate your wrists 90 degrees inward as you lift so that your palms are oriented toward each other at the top of the motion (neutral grip). Then you can rotate your wrists back as you lower the weight so that they’re in the starting position again (palms facing forward).
Flat Bench Dumbbell Press Tips & Tricks
- Keep your forearms vertical under the weights.
- Lower the weights under control.
- Don’t let the dumbbells clang together.
- Flare your elbows out wide during descent. Keeping your elbow out will ensure you are using more chest and less triceps.
- If you have an excessive arch in your back, place your feet on the end of the bench.
- Keeping your shoulder blades tight stabilizes your shoulder joints, reducing your risk of injury and helping you lift heavier weights.
- Lower the dumbbells as far as you can (near your armpits and in line with the middle of your chest) aiming for a maximum stretch but which still feels comfortable.
- Keep the dumbbells over your chest – do not let them travel back towards your head.
- If you are new to this exercise, it is advised that you use a spotter. The spotter assists by spotting your forearms near your wrists.
Muscles Used in Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
- Main muscles: pectoralis major, triceps, deltoids (anterior)
- Secondary muscles: coracobrachialis, serratus anterior, subscapularis
- Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids (posterior)
Flat Bench Dumbbell Press Variations
- Variable-grip flat bench dumbbell press. Hold the dumbbells with a pronated grip (palms forward) at the start; rotate the dumbbells as you press so that palms face together (neutral grip) at lockout.
- Neutral-grip dumbbell bench press. Perform dumbbell presses using a neutral grip (palms facing each other) throughout the entire range of motion.
Substitutes (Replacement Exercises)
There are many other pressing exercises to target your middle chest area. Each exercise works the middle pecs and supporting muscles slightly differently. Remember, specificity requires that you choose exercises that reflect your needs and goals. Visit our middle chest exercise database to find those exercises.
- Flat bench barbell press
- Smith-machine bench press
- Seated machine chest press
- Push-ups between two Chairs – Deep push-ups
- Machine bench press
The flat bench dumbbell press develops the middle chest as well as the barbell bench press, but allows a slightly greater range of motion, thus stimulating greater development. You can adopt any hand and elbow position. This freedom is much more restricted with a barbell. The flat bench dumbbell press requires more involvement of the stabilizer muscles to balance and control the dumbbells, so you will probably need to use less weight.
Unfortunately, using dumbbells for this exercise obliges you to manage your weights in this rather unnatural posture at the beginning and end of each set, although it does allow a longer movement. The problem is that you are forced to lie back while holding the dumbbells with the arms flexed, unless you are being helped by someone who can pass you the weights. Picking up and putting down the weights involves some risk to the shoulders.
If you traditionally do both barbell and dumbbell presses for chest development, keep it up. The combination of both barbell and dumbbell work increases muscular development throughout the whole pectoral and shoulder area, giving you the most balanced chest possible. If you typically gravitate toward only one, however, you should begin incorporating both into your routine to get the most out of your chest-training efforts. From week to week, as you vary your working angles, try alternating between using the barbell and dumbbells on exercises.