DB Bench Press
By Jason Meredith, CSCS, RSCC, Milwaukee Brewers
The DB Bench Press, and its cousin the Barbell Bench Press, are often given a bad rap as non-functional exercises as well as exercises that can cause shoulder pain and instability. However, if performed correctly and in balance with pulling exercises these issues can be avoided.
How to do it – the start:
- Pick a pair of dumbbells (DBs) that you can lift for the prescribed number of reps.
- Hold a DB in each hand using a closed, neutral grip.
- Lie down in a supine position on a flat bench in the five-point body contact position (head, shoulders, and hips in contact with the bench, and feet flat on the floor).
- The arms are in a neutral position and extended straight above the chest at the nipple line.
- The shoulders are relaxed, not elevated and the wrists are above the elbows.
- All repetitions will begin from this position.
How to do it – the downward movement:
- Set the core, and in a controlled fashion, lower the DBs down and slightly out to the nipple line at the chest by bending the elbows and extending the shoulders.
- The DBs separate on the way down so that they are slightly wider than shoulder-width and should touch the outside of the chest for full range of motion.
- Keep the wrists stiff and directly above the elbows, with the DB handles aligned with each other throughout the movement.
- Once the weight touches the outside of the chest, push the weight back up to the starting position by straightening the arms.
- The hands should trace the shape of a triangle, wide at the bottom of the exercise and closer together at the top.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
- When you are able to complete the prescribed sets and reps in consecutive workouts, progress to the next heaviest set of DBs.
Sets and Reps:
- To build strength perform 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps
- To train hypertrophy perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps
Push: Pull Ratio: When programming workouts it is recommended that you keep the ratio of push: pull exercises at 1:2 or even 1:3. Keeping your push and pull exercises in this ratio will help keep your upper body in balance and minimize negative outcomes associated with excessive pushing exercises.
- Maintain all points of contact during exercise; head, shoulders and hips on bench and feet flat on the ground.
- Maintain control of the DBs at all times.
- Keep the core engaged to provide a steady base to push from.
- Keep the wrists stiff and directly over the elbows.
Progression – to make it harder:
- Alternate hands, i.e., push one DB up as you lower the opposite DB.
- Use only one arm (DB) at a time, then switch hands.
- Complete all reps with one hand while holding (stabilizing) the DB with the other arm fully flexed or extended. Do not switch hands until all reps are completed.
- Slide off to the side of the bench so it splits you into right and left halves. Place the DB in hand that corresponds with the shoulder that is off the bench. This will allow the shoulder blade to move easier along with the arm during the movement, as well as cause you to really engage the core to stabilize yourself. You will need to use a lighter weight for this modification.
Jason Meredith, CSCS, RSCC, is the Assistant Major League Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the Milwaukee Brewers