How to do Dumbbell Bench Press Properly and Safely (Video, FAQs, & More)

The Dumbbell Bench Press is a great horizontal pushing exercise that allows for a more natural range of motion of the shoulders and individual training of each arm. 

Given that the weight is not fixed by a barbell, your shoulders are free to rotate throughout the movement. 

Also, the isolation of each arm can help eliminate any side-to-side muscular imbalances you may have.

Let’s go over how to the Dumbbell Bench Press with proper form!

dumbbell bench press cover image



  • Teaches you how to maintain a stable shoulder position for everyday movements
  • Allows the shoulders to rotate freely without the restriction of a barbell
  • Can iron out muscular imbalances from side to side
  • Allows for a much greater range of motion compared to the barbell press
  • Builds upper body strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms which improves lean muscle mass and fat burning


  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Anterior Shoulders


  • Grab two dumbbells and position yourself in front of a bench, without sitting down yet
  • Place the dumbbells on your lower legs, right above your knees
  • Maintain the dumbbells in this position and sit down on the lower end of the bench
  • The dumbbells should be resting on your knees in a vertical orientation
brittany sitting on a bench holding  dumbbells on her knees
  • Retract and squeeze your scapulae together when laying on the bench. Maintain this retracted position throughout the entire lift
alex retracting/pinching his shoulder blades
  • Next, using controlled momentum, you are going to lay yourself down while simultaneously bringing the dumbbells to your chest with a pronated grip
  • Ensure that your scapulae are still retracted (this will also create a natural arch in your mid back)
  • Keep your elbows tucked at a 45-degree angle and the dumbbells angled slightly with one end resting on your chest
bottom of the bench press with dumbbells down by the chest while lying on a bench
  • Place your feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees, and point your feet straight or angled out up to 45 degrees
  • Take a deep breath and begin the movement by pressing the weight directly up and slightly back towards your face
  • Do not rotate the dumbbells any more than is necessary
  • Reverse the movement by bringing the weight back down until they are in contact with your chest
  • When you are finished with your set, use momentum to simultaneously stand back up to a sitting position while bringing the outstretched dumbbells back down to your knees
  • Or you can simply drop the dumbbells in a controlled manner (feel free to place mats on the floor to brace the impact)



Do not flare your elbows out to a 90-degree angle from your body when doing this exercise.

This position places a lot of strain on your pectoralis tendon as well as your bicep tendon.  If you develop pain on the anterior side of your shoulder when performing this exercise, try tucking your elbows to a 45-degree angle to your body.

dumbbell bench press wrong technique showing elbows flaring out to 90 degrees from the body


Is Dumbell Press As Good As The Bench Press?

The dumbbell bench press is better than the bench press in three regards:

  1. It allows you to train each arm individually,
  2. it allows your shoulders to move more freely,
  3. and it increases the range of motion for the exercise, allowing you to get a greater stretch on your pec muscles.

However, the bench press is much better for building overall strength. You will always have to use lighter weights when using dumbbells.

Is it Harder to Bench Press With Dumbbells?

It is much harder to bench with dumbbells than with a barbell for two reasons.

  1. It is awkward to get into the starting position once the dumbbells get heavy enough
  2. Your arms are working unilaterally. You will always be stronger when you can use both hands to lift a weight simultaneously.

That makes the Dumbbell Bench a good variation if you experience any shoulder discomfort during the Barbell Bench.

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt When I Do Dumbbell Bench Press?

Shoulder pain while doing a dumbbell bench press is likely due to poor technique, or the use of a weight that is too heavy for your tendons to handle.

It is important that you set your shoulders in an optimal position by externally rotating your shoulders and keeping them back in their sockets throughout the entire set.

Lower the weight and focus on technique and volume.

If you already struggle with shoulder issues it is important to find exercises you can do pain-free.

How do you set shoulders for bench press?

Set your shoulders by retracting and depressing your shoulder blades. Imagine trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets while pinching a pencil in between them.

How Do You Activate Your Chest With Dumbbell Bench Press?

If you perform the exercise with correct form (lowering the dumbbells to a ~45-degree angle, and maintaining optimal shoulder positioning), your chest will automatically get activated during the dumbbell bench press.

If you want to get a deeper stretch of the chest muscles, you can flare your elbows out a bit more (no more than 60 degrees). Also, you can concentrate on squeezing your chest muscles together at the top of the movement.

Should The Dumbbells Touch My Chest?

Yes, the dumbbells should touch your chest when performing the dumbbell bench press. This depth ensures that you are placing your chest muscles on a stretch to activate them sufficiently.

Does Dumbbell Bench Press Work Shoulders?

Yes, the dumbbell bench press will train your anterior deltoid muscles. It will not train the medial (or later) deltoids, nor the posterior deltoids.

What is The Close Grip Dumbbell Press?

The great thing about the dumbbell bench press is that you can change your hand position to get a slightly different stimulus.

For example, you can perform a close grip dumbbell press by using a neutral grip (i.e, facing your palms towards each other) and keeping your elbows tucked close into your body.

This shifts the movement from a chest exercise to a tricep dominant exercise.

Here is a video of me performing the close grip dumbbell bench.

Can You Do A Dumbbell Bench Press On The Floor?

You can also do a dumbbell bench press on the floor, this is known as a dumbbell floor press.

Naturally, you won’t be able to lower the dumbbells as low as your upper arm will make contact with the floor long before the dumbbells make contact with your chest.

The target muscles in this movement are the triceps and anterior shoulders.

You could do this exercise with a single dumbbell as well.

What About The Incline Dumbbell Bench Press?

The incline dumbbell bench press is a similar exercise to the flat bench press, but it emphasizes the upper chest muscles and shoulders a bit more.

You will also need an adjustable bench to do it.

You can check out my entire tutorial on the incline press here.


Check out our workout template for busy people to learn how to incorporate this exercise and every other functional exercise into your training routine for the best results!

You can also check out our e-book that goes over all the best exercises for specific muscle groups!




Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.

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