Is your upper body routine getting stale? Are your Bench Presses not progressing the way you want? It may be time to mix up your training and add in single-arm work.
We all know the importance of single-limb training for the lower body, but it holds true for the upper body as well. When you incorporate dumbbells into your Bench Press cycle, you use various angles that are necessary to the development of functional strength. Plus, you mix up your routine and leave behind any plateaus.
The Dumbbell Bench Press (and its variations) engages many supporting muscles, thereby stimulating optimal chest development, boosting unilateral (single-limb) training, and increasing the range of motion of the shoulder. Dumbbells should be a staple in everyone's upper body training.
Dumbbells require more balance than barbells or machines—you have to stabilize the dumbbells throughout the movement. But improving balance translates to enhanced athletic performance, because the exercises more closely mimic game-time actions.
The following Dumbbell Bench exercises work best if used in a progressive three-week training block, where the exercises build on each other. This will allow you 15 solid weeks of progressive upper body training.
During all exercises below, be sure to:
Phase One: Weeks 1-3
The flat Dumbbell Bench is a true alternative to the classic Barbell Bench Press, so the learning curve should be slight. The Dumbbell Bench is a safe, productive and easy-to-learn lift; it builds upper body strength; and it's a great way to introduce dumbbells into your strength program.
Phase Two: Weeks 4-6
This is a hybrid of the Overhead Press and the flat Bench Press. It can be implemented during times when Overhead Pressing is not in your program. The Dumbbell Incline Bench is a great upper-body strength and shoulder stability builder. It's also a great way to introduce upper-body strengthening in a different plane of movement.
Phase Three: Weeks 6-9
With this exercise, the load is offset and requires more stabilization throughout the body. This movement will add mass to your triceps, size up your upper chest and increase your lockout strength, which will be needed during Phase Five. This exercise also protects the shoulders, since the lower half of the Press, where impingement issues can occur, is eliminated.
Sets/Reps: 3-5x5-8 per arm
Phase Four: Weeks 10-12
This one is great for single-arm strength and creating shoulder and core stability. It also teaches you to generate power from the hips and core up through the arms.
Move just one arm at a time; avoid piston-type movements, where both dumbbells are being pressed at the same time. You may be surprised how challenging this exercise becomes when performed in alternating fashion.
Phase Five: Weeks 13-15
Great for athletes of all sports, it creates single-arm strength and shoulder and core stability. It also teaches you to generate power from the hips and core up through the arms, while stabilizing the other arm and dumbbell. This is definitely the toughest of the five variations.
Again, try to avoid piston-type movements, where both dumbbells are being pressed at the same time.
Still craving more variety for your dumbbell workouts? Our Dumbbell Guide is full of interesting variations to spice up old, dull workouts.
A strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level since 2002, Jason Spray is currently the director of strength and conditioning for men’s basketball and assistant director for football at Middle Tennessee State University, where he also aids in day-to-day physical and nutritional development. Spray earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee and is CSCS, SCCC, USAW, NSCA, NASE, FMS and CSCCa certified. He is also a USA Weightlifting Club coach and a certified physical therapy aide. Spray has trained athletes ranging from high school to professional and Olympic levels. He has been featured in Premier Players Magazine and is the head sports performance adviser for RSP Nutrition.