While the bench press may be known as a bro fitness staple and a classic upper-body exercise, it's much more than that: "The bench press, while putting an emphasis on specific muscle groups, is a full-body movement," says Lisa Niren, head instructor for running app Studio.
The dumbbell bench press (demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) can help you build strength all over to prep for other exercises (hi, push-ups) and make you feel like a super strong badass, whether you do it with a barbell, dumbbells, or... your workout buddy.
Dumbbell Bench Press Benefits and Variations
"The bench press uses your shoulders, triceps, forearms, lats, pecs, traps, rhomboids, and pretty much every muscle in your upper body," says Niren. "However, the bench press doesn't only use your chest or upper body. When you bench properly, you use your lower back, hips, and legs to stabilize your entire body, create a solid base, and generate drive from the ground."
That's right: No noodle legs allowed. You should engage your quads and glutes to really press your feet into the ground, plus your core to keep your back safe and form on point.
Doing a bench press with dumbbells adds an extra perk: "Because this variation requires more stability in the shoulder, it'll help strengthen the small stabilizer muscles in the shoulder more than when you use a barbell," says Heidi Jones, founder of SquadWod and Fortë trainer.
Bench pressing can help you build strength for push-ups, but you can also do bodyweight push-ups to prepare your muscles for bench pressing. If both are too challenging, regress to eccentric push-ups: Start in high plank position and lower your body as slowly as possible to the floor. Shoulder issues? "A 45-degree or neutral grip (read: palms facing in) will target the chest muscles slightly differently and will allow those with shoulder issues a better bench position," says Jones.
If you're schooling the dumbbell bench press, up the ante by doing it with a barbell instead, performing a close-grip bench, speed bench, or banded bench press, says Niren. (Just make sure you're using a spotter or benching safely if you start to really bump up the weight.)
How to Do a Dumbbell Bench Press
A. Sit on a bench with a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand, resting on thighs.
B. Squeeze elbows tight to ribs, and slowly lower torso down onto the bench to lie faceup, holding dumbbells in front of shoulders. Open elbows to the sides so triceps are perpendicular to torso, holding dumbbells slightly wider than shoulder-width with palms facing feet. Press feet flat into the floor and engage core to start.
C. Exhale and press dumbbells away from chest, straightening arms so dumbbells are directly over shoulders.
D. Inhale to slowly lower dumbbells back to starting position, pausing when dumbbells are just above shoulder-height.
Do 10 to 12 reps. Try 3 sets.
Dumbbell Bench Press Form Tips
- From the bottom position, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were pinching a pencil between them. This will press your lats into the bench.
- Engage your glutes and quads to actively press your feet into the floor the entire time. Shins should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Be sure to move dumbbells straight up and down in line with the center of your chest.