The dumbbell bench press can be a great chest builder when performed correctly, but any slippage in your form can lead to other muscles being recruited in to help your body complete the movement, meaning you’re more likely to hit up your arms than the area you’re actually trying to grow.
In a new video on his YouTube channel, fitness coach Jeremy Ethier provides a rundown of what he believes to be the five most common errors people make when doing the dumbbell press—and the easy ways to fix your technique to see bigger, better gains.
Firstly, he observes that a lot of people adopt a wide arm path in this exercise, and then simply move the dumbbells in a straight up-and-down movement because it feels easier and makes it possible to lift heavier. However, this feels easier because it’s not stimulating the chest, and can actually create a risk of injury. “To maximize chest activation, you want your arm path to line up in the same direction that the chest fibers run,” says Ethier. “You’ll want to tuck your elbows to a 45 to 60 degree angle away from your body, and allow your grip to turn in slightly with your elbows… The dumbbells will no longer move straight up and down, but rather forwards on the way down and backwards on the way up.”
The next mistake is to do with your forearms. As he lifted heavier and heavier in the dumbbell press, Ethier noticed that he started bending his forearms inwards more and more, shortening the lever and recruiting the triceps, making the movement feel easier. “Lighten the weight, keep your forearm vertical over your elbow on each rep, and you’ll feel the difference right away,” he says.
Another common form mistake is protracting your shoulders, rounding them forward at the top end of the movement. This can mean some growth for your shoulder muscles, but not the chest. Ethier recommends performing some activation exercises which will open up your chest before you start the dumbbell press, such as extending your back over a foam roller or doing over-and-backs with a resistance band.
The fourth error is a simple one to fix: some people touch the dumbbells together at the top of the movement in order to ensure they’ve moved them as far as they will go: however, the truth is that once your arms are in full extension, you’ve got as much as you’re going to out of that motion. “To keep constant tension on the chest, stop each rep once your arms end up straight over your shoulders,” says Ethier.
The fifth mistake is all about the angle of the bench. “In addition to doing just the flat dumbbell bench press, I’d also recommend doing an incline dumbbell press once a week as well,” says Ethier, recommending that as small an incline as 15 to 30 degrees can help you target your upper chest .
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