There is no doubting most gymgoers’ attraction to the barbell bench press. It is part of the Big 3 lifts for a reason: The barbell bench press, with its stability and relatively fixed range of motion, allows the lifter to move the most weight possible. But through injury or range of motion issues, not everyone is capable of maximizing the bench press. That’s where the dumbbell bench press comes in.

You cannot go as heavy with this variation, but the dumbbell bench press does have a few advantages over the barbell variation. As you lift two dumbbells, each arm is working independently, strengthening imbalances between sides.

Big deal, you say, but wait, there is more: Strengthening imbalances leads to better muscle development of the chest and triceps for better flex appeal,

And dumbbells give you more freedom of movement than your barbell grip and higher intensity at a lower weight. It’s a great stand-alone exercise and an excellent accessory exercise for the barbell bench press.

But to get the most bang for your dumbbell buck, it’s best to stop falling prey to these common dumbbell bench press mistakes. Here we’ll dive into how to do the dumbbell bench press exercise correctly and fixes for common miscues so you can continue making gains each and every chest day.

How To Do The Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Sit upright on a flat bench with a dumbbell on each knee.
  2. Then lie down and drive the dumbbells back towards you with your knees while pressing up the dumbbells.
  3. Lower the dumbbells, keeping your elbows at 45 degrees from the torso.
  4. Once your elbows are roughly even with the level of your torso, push the dumbbells back up and reset and repeat.

It doesn’t seem complicated, but the devil is in the details.

What’s Needed For A Good Dumbbell Bench Press Form

If you’re going heavy, ideally is best to have a spotter for safety purposes, but that is not always the case. That’s why setting up and finishing this lift properly is essential. Here are a few other things needed for good form.

  • Decent grip and wrist strength: The dumbbell bench press requires more grip strength than the usual press variation because of the dumbbell’s freedom of movement compared to the barbell.
  • No anterior shoulder pain: This variation is easier on the shoulder, but if anterior shoulder pain exists, be careful.
  • Ability to set up and finish without a spotter: Using body English to get dumbbells into position might be easier, but your shoulders will hate you. And dropping the dumbbells to the ground when you’re done is not cool, no matter what anyone says.
  • Proper upper arm angle: You can press with your arm tucked to your side or elbow, parallel with your shoulder, but it is not ideal. To get the best out of the dumbbell bench press, use a 45-degree arm angle.

3 Common Dumbbell Bench Press Mistakes

Perfect form rarely exists, especially as the dumbbell weights start increasing. Little errors will happen, however, these technical flaws should be fixed no matter the amount of weight you’re pushing. Otherwise, these mistakes will affect your safety and the ability to acquire decent amounts of muscle and strength with this lift.

Remember that the most common error is letting your ego get in the way of lifting too heavy. But you should know that by now, right?

Improper Setup And Finish

It may seem cool and easier to drop the dumbbells and feel that “thud” after finishing your set, but it’s not only lame, it can be unsafe for you and others. First, the dumbbells could rebound and hit someone close, and two, the dumbbell might break. However, doing this too often, especially with heavier weights, can eventually cause injury to your shoulder joints.

Fix it: Try not to drop the dumbbells, as the video shows. Please require your workout partner or someone at the gym to spot you if you must.

Bodybuilder Dumbbell Bench-Press-Legs
South_agency / Getty

Too Much or Too Little Range of Motion

There is a time and place for shortening or expanding one’s range of motion, but the dumbbell bench press is not one of those exercises. Reducing the ROM means leaving potential gains on the bench because the muscle is under less muscle-building tension. Increasing the ROM by dropping your elbow below your torso puts the anterior shoulder in a compromised position, possibly leading to pain and injury.

Fix it: When clients perform this exercise, I place my hand below their torso and tell them to touch my elbow. My hands give them a reference point; after a few reps, they know how deep to go. Get a workout partner to do this, or perform a dumbbell floor press instead if you have difficulty judging your own ROM.

Muscular fit male in athletic gear performing a dumbbell bench press exercise in the gym
Jasminko Ibrakovic

Upper Arm Angle

Taking your elbow out too wide puts the shoulder in a compromised position, making it less of a chest exercise. Plus, having your elbow tucked into your side emphasizes the triceps a little more than the chest. To make the dumbbell bench press an equal chest and triceps builder, a 45-degree arm angle works best.

Fix it: This is as simple as knowing your upper arm position when pressing. If you feel your upper arm brushing your side, it’s too close; if you ‘”eel it” too much in your anterior shoulder, you are too wide.