There is no doubt that most gym-goers are attracted to the barbell bench press. It’s in 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 as much weight as possible. But due to injuries or mobility issues, not everyone is able to max out the bench press. This is where the dumbbell bench press comes into play.

You can’t go that heavy with this variation, but the dumbbell bench press has some advantages over the barbell variation. As you lift two dumbbells, each arm works independently, reinforcing the imbalances between the sides.

Big deal, you say, but wait, there’s more: Imbalance strengthening leads to better chest and triceps muscle development for better flex appeal,

And dumbbells give you more range of motion than gripping a barbell, and higher intensity with less weight. It’s a great standalone exercise and an excellent accessory exercise for the barbell bench press.

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

How to bench press dumbbells

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

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

What is needed for a good form of dumbbell bench press

If you’re going heavy, ideally it’s best to have a spotter for safety’s sake, but that’s not always the case. That is why it is essential to properly set up and finish this lift. Here are some other things needed for good shape.

  • Decent grip and wrist strength: The dumbbell bench press requires more grip strength than the regular press variation due to the freedom of movement of the dumbbells relative to the barbell.
  • No Front 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 the dumbbells into position might be easier, but your shoulders will hate you. And dropping dumbbells on the floor when you’re done isn’t cool, no matter what they say.
  • Correct upper arm angle: You can press with your arm bent at the side or at the elbow, parallel to the shoulder, but that’s 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 to increase. Small errors will occur, however, these technical flaws should be corrected no matter how much weight you are pushing. Otherwise, these mistakes will affect your confidence and ability to gain decent amounts of muscle and strength with this lift.

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

Improper installation and finishing

It may feel nice and easier to drop the dumbbells and feel that thud after you finish the set, but it’s not only boring, it can be dangerous for you and others. First, the dumbbells could bounce and hit someone nearby, and two, the dumbbells could break. However, doing it too often, especially with heavier weights, can eventually lead to shoulder joint injuries.

Fix it: Try not to drop the dumbbells, as the video shows. If necessary, ask your training partner or someone at the gym to locate you.

Bodybuilder Dumbbell Bench-Press-Legs

Excessive or insufficient range of motion

There is a time and a place to shorten or expand one’s range of motion, but the dumbbell bench press is not one of those exercises. Reducing ROM leaves potential gains on the bench press because the muscle is under less muscle-building tension. Increasing ROM by lowering the elbow below the torso puts the anterior shoulder in a compromised position, potentially causing pain and injury.

Fix it: When clients do this exercise, I place my hand under their torso and tell them to touch my elbow. My hands give them a point of reference; after a few repetitions, they know how deep to go. Ask a workout partner to do it, or do a dumbbell floor press instead if you’re having trouble judging your ROM.

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

Upper arm angle

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

Fix it: This is as simple as knowing the position of your upper arm when you press. If you feel your upper arm brushing against your side, it’s too close; if you move it too much in the front of the shoulder, you’re too loose.

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