How to Get More Out of the Dumbbell Press

STACK Expert Matt Klingler explains the benefits of including the Dumbbell Press along with traditional the Bench Press.

Chest day. It's the best day of the week for many lifters. Although the Bench Press is often the centerpiece, don't neglect the Dumbbell Press.

Most people can do more weight with the Barbell Bench Press. More weight equals more stimulus to make muscles grow and adapt. So why bother with dumbbell pressing?

The Dumbbell Press allows more freedom in the movement. Barbell Bench locks both arms together. You'd be hard-pressed (pun intended) to find a perfectly symmetrical human. If you do strictly Bench Press, compensations can develop.

Dumbbells are less stable than barbells. Your shoulder girdle must work constantly to stabilize the dumbbells as you press. Dumbbell pressing develops the rotator-cuff muscles responsible for stabilizing your arm in the shoulder.

Like the Bench Press, the Dumbbell Press develops horizontal pushing strength. This has carryover into many sports. Even if your sport doesn't require you to press objects (or people) forward, developing pressing strength can increase your upper-body athletic performance. I can't neglect to mention that dumbbell pressing can help you develop chiseled pecs and horseshoe triceps.

When done correctly, the Dumbbell Press is a great addition to upper-body training. When done incorrectly, it can set you up for shoulder impingement. Get the most out of your press by following the following tips.

RELATED: 7 Dumbbell Chest Press Variations for a Stronger Chest

Press Well

  • Start seated with the dumbbells on your knees.
  • Elevate your knees to give the dumbbell some momentum as you lie on your back with the dumbbells extended above your chest.
  • Slowly lower, rotating your palms toward your ribs while tucking your elbows in. Come down to just below 90 degrees of elbow flexion.
  • Return to the starting position. The elbow tuck puts your shoulders in a friendly position and prevents impingement.

Slow Down for Gains

An eccentric contraction involves the lengthening of a muscle fiber. These contractions can produce more force. As I mentioned earlier, more force equals more muscle.

The eccentric portion of the Dumbbell Bench is the lowering phase. Most lifters speedily lower the dumbbells and use the elastic component of their muscles to "bounce" out of the bottom position. There is a time and place for ballistic training, but eccentrics are better for hypertrophy.

Try lowering the weight using a four-count. Immediately press up once you hit the bottom of the rep. Take 2 seconds to raise the weight. Once you reach the top, just before locking out your elbows, start to slowly lower again. By not stopping at the top or bottom, you keep your muscles under constant tension. This gives your muscles the greatest stimulus for growth.

Rep It Out the Right Way

If you are shooting for power, keep the reps low. One to 5 reps is a good range. For strength, do 4 to 8 reps. For hypertrophy, 8 to 12 reps is best. For endurance, use high reps, 15-plus, and shorten your rest to less than a minute between sets.

Ying and Yang—Push and Pull

Balance the push with some pull. Take a look at your weekly exercises. Do you see more pushing (Bench Press, Shoulder Press, Triceps Push-Downs) than pulling (Pull-Ups, Low Rows, Pendlay Rows)? If so, balance it out. I use a 2:3 ratio of push exercises to pull exercises. This prevents overcompensation, which could lead to injury.

RELATED: Dumbbell Squat and Press 101: A How To Guide with Video


Campbell, Stuart G., and Kenneth S. Campbell. "Mechanisms of Residual Force Enhancement in Skeletal Muscle: Insights from Experiments and Mathematical Models." Biophysical Reviews Biophys Rev 3.4 (2011): 199-207. Web.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock