How to Incline Dumbbell Press Correctly & Safely [Video]

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THE INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

The Incline Dumbbell Press is one of our favorite bench press exercises because it provides a great amount of variation to your repertoire. 

This incline DB press has two major benefits over other bench exercises:

1) It utilizes dumbbells which allow for a more natural range of motion of the shoulders and individual training of each arm.

This is beneficial for those who have tight shoulders or experience discomfort during a barbell incline bench press.

2) The incline angle changes the way your pressing muscles contract which shifts the burden to your upper chest and shoulder muscles more than a flat bench press.

In this article, we are covering

  • Proper Incline Dumbbell Press Form
  • Muscles worked during the movement
  • How much weight you should use
  • and more…

Let’s get started.

INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS FORM

BENEFITS OF THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS

  • Teaches how to maintain a stable shoulder position for everyday movements
  • Allows the shoulders to rotate freely without the restriction of a barbell
  • Helps to correct any strength imbalances between your two arms
  • Strengthens the upper chest (clavicular head) and shoulder muscles more than a flat bench press
  • Provides a new variation to the bench press, allowing you to continue strengthening the press pattern while decreasing the risk of overuse injuries

WHAT MUSCLES ARE WORKED DURING THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS?

  • Upper and Mid Chest (Clavicular Head)
  • Anterior Shoulders
  • Triceps

One of the main advantages of the incline bench press is that it targets the upper chest more than any other horizontal pressing exercise.

As such, this exercise can help you create a more balanced and well-rounded development of your chest.

WHAT’S THE BEST ANGLE FOR THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS?

So what’s the best Incline Dumbbell Press angle?

In general, the lower the incline, the more the movement resembles the traditional Bench Press.

The higher the Incline, the more it resembles an Overhead Press.

High inclines will train the shoulders and upper pec muscles more, making the movement more difficult.

A good place to start is roughly at the halfway mark between the two exercises or  30-45 degrees. 

PERFORMING THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS WITH GOOD TECHNIQUE

  • Grab two dumbbells and position yourself in front of a bench set up at a 30 to 45-degree incline
  • Place the dumbbells on your lower thigh, 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 at this point as seen below
  • Retract and squeeze your scapulae together when laying on the bench. 
  • Maintain this retracted position throughout the entire lift

 

  • Next, using controlled momentum, you are going to lay yourself down while simultaneously bringing the dumbbells to your outer chest
  • Ensure that your scapulae are still retracted
  • Keep your elbows tucked at a 45-degree angle and the dumbbells angled slightly pointing towards your chin
  • Place your feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees, and point your feet straight or angled out up to 45 degrees
  • Begin the movement by pressing the weight directly up overhead
  • Do not rotate the dumbbells any more than is necessary, and it is unnecessary to make them touch at the top
  • Reverse the movement by bringing the weight back down until the edge of the dumbbells are in contact with your outer 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
  • Alternatively, you can simply drop the dumbbells in a controlled manner

The Incline DB Press is just one of several compound exercises you should be doing

To see a list of them all, be sure to check out our FREE E-book that goes over all of the best compound exercises for each body part!



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We also go over them all in The Best Compound Exercises of All Time.


COMMON INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS MISTAKES

BENCHING WITH YOUR ELBOWS FLARED OUT

Do not flare your elbows out to 90 degrees from your body.

This position places a lot of strain on you 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 (or less) angle to your body.

 OVER-ARCHING YOUR BACK

When the incline DB press becomes challenging, you will have a tendency to arch your back.

That’s because your body is trying to incorporate more chest involvement. I.e, you are trying to turn the exercise into a traditional bench press by making your upper torso more horizontal.

If this starts happening, stop the set and lower the weight. This can place a lot of pressure on your low back and cause injuries.

INTEGRATING THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS INTO YOUR ROUTINE

So how can you include the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press in your routine?

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OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

HOW MUCH SHOULD I INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS?

It depends on what your goals are.

In my opinion, the incline dumbbell press should be used as an exercise to

  1. Build your upper chest strength
  2. Iron out any imbalances between your right and left side
  3. Give you a low impact alternative to traditional barbell bench press

As a result, I don’t think you should go very heavy.

Use a weight where you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 7-12 repetitions per set.

SHOULD YOU TOUCH YOUR CHEST ON INCLINE BENCH?

In general yes, you should touch your chest on the incline bench.

You should have a sufficient range of motion to let the dumbbells touch your chest while maintaining your shoulders in a stable position.

Just make sure that your scapulae remain retracted throughout the entire exercise.

If this exercise causes you any pain, then stop doing it!

IS THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS HARDER THAN FLAT?

Yes, the Incline DB Press is harder than the flat DB Press.

That’s because you are using less muscle to lift the weight when you’re on an incline.

Think of it as a midway point between a traditional bench press and an overhead press.

IS THE INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS BETTER THAN FLAT?

No. Both exercises have their place.

I recommend that you do at least one training cycle with each (or you can use both exercises in the same training cycle.)

INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS OR BARBELL PRESS- WHICH IS BETTER?

It always boils down to what your goal is.

You will be able to lift more weight with a barbell exercises. If your goal is strength- then the barbell is the way to go.

If your goal is pure muscle hypertrophy, then you should use a combination of both barbell and dumbbell Incline Press.

Some have even argued that you can build more muscle with dumbbells, as you can increase the range of motion of the exercise.

My recommendation is to include both in your training.

CAN I USE AN INCLINE PRESS MACHINE?

You can, but I prefer that you use the free weight variation instead.

Machines lock the weight in place. As such, there is no stability component involved.

Free weights, on the other hand, will strengthen and develop many small stabilizer muscles.

Just think about how much harder it is to just hold up the dumbbells and not let them fall when compared to just using machine weights.

ANY OTHER VARIATIONS I CAN TRY?

The beauty of the Incline Dumbbell Press is that you can simply vary the incline of your bench to create a new variation.

The more upright the incline, the harder the exercise.

In addition, you can do a Single-Arm Incline Press.

  • In this variation, you only lower one dumbbell down to your chest while keeping the other dumbbell locked out.
  • Press the dumbbell back up and then lower the opposite one.

This will make the exercise more challenging and really isolate each arm.

WHAT ABOUT THE DECLINE DUMBBELL PRESS?

This exercise is pretty much irrelevant.

Don’t waste your time doing it as it offers no significant benefit over the other types of DB presses.

INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS ALTERNATIVES


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

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

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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