How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

A dumbbell push at an incline is a free weight workout that works the chest, shoulders, and triceps, independently hitting each side of the body. This exercise is a great way to focus on and define your upper-chest muscles.

Unlike the more traditional flat bench press, the incline press shifts the movement’s focus to the upper portion of the pectoral muscle groups and the front of the shoulder. This allows for more significant hypertrophy (muscle growth) of the upper chest when the exercise is performed regularly. How to Incline a Dumbbell Press: Methods, Advantages, Adjustments

The incline dumbbell press is designed to increase chest strength and size, so it’s typically included in a well-rounded, intermediate strength training program. If you split up your weekly workouts by body part, include this chest exercise on your upper body or chest day, following workouts like the flat bench press or pushups.

How To Do an Incline Dumbbell Press

All you need to perform the incline dumbbell press is an incline bench or adjustable bench, and a set of dumbbells. You won’t need much more space beyond the space required for the bench itself. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

If your bench is adjustable, set the incline to between 30- to 45-degrees. The bigger the angle, the more the exercise will engage the shoulders.

You’ll want to select dumbbells that are lighter than you’d use for a flat dumbbell bench press and when performing a barbell incline press. If you’re unsure of the right weight, Work your way up from a light starting point until you feel pushed but are still able to complete a set with perfect form.

  1. Sit on the bench and lean back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with hands positioned at your shoulders, elbows bent and angled down below your ribs. Relax your neck against the bench. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Brace your core and press both dumbbells straight over your chest as you exhale. Keep your wrists straight (don’t let them “cock” backward). At the top of the movement, the dumbbells should almost touch each other, and your arms should be perpendicular to the floor. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations
  3. Reverse the movement and slowly lower the dumbbells to the top of your chest as you inhale. As you lower the dumbbells, your elbows should come down at roughly a 45-degree angle to your torso. They shouldn’t splay out to the sides, pointing toward the side of the room. Instead, keep your elbows pointing to the floor.
  4. Aim to complete sets of 8 to 12 reps. Start with one set and work up to two to three sets over time as you build strength. When you finish your set, safely exit the exercise by sitting up and placing the dumbbells on your knees before you stand up. Make an effort not to drop the dumbbells while lying on the inclined bench.

Benefits of The Incline Dumbbell Press

The dumbbell incline press targets the upper portion of the chest—specifically, the clavicular head of the pectoralis major—an area of the chest almost completely unengaged during other common chest exercises, like the traditional bench press, incline pushups, and chest fly. The front portion of your shoulder, or the anterior head of the deltoid muscle, is also compressed during an incline push. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

Functionally, the dumbbell incline press transfers naturally to a range of pushing and pressing motions, such as pushing open a heavy door or putting groceries away on elevated shelves.

The dumbbell version of the incline press is especially beneficial for correcting strength imbalances between each side of your body. It’s common for one arm to be stronger than the other. By using dumbbells to perform this exercise, each arm works independently, which prevents the dominant arm from “taking over” to complete the lift, improving strength and stability on both sides of the body. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

Other Variations of The Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press can be modified in various ways or made more challenging to suit individual needs and fitness goals.

Barbell Incline Press

If isolating each shoulder independently doesn’t work for you, you can modify the exercise and still get similar results. Instead of the dumbbell incline press, opt for the barbell incline press. The barbell exercise targets the same muscle groups in the same way but doesn’t require the unilateral control that the dumbbell press requires.

This exercise will help you develop the baseline strength required for the movement while also starting to engage the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders without isolating each shoulder independently. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

Perform the exercise in the exact same way as the dumbbell press, except using a barbell gripped with both arms instead of individual dumbbells. Set the bench at a 30 to 45-degree incline under a rack with the bar loaded. Grip the bar wider than shoulder width.

  1. Unrack the weighted bar and slowly lower it to your chest.
  2. Touch the bar to your chest, then lift the bar by extending your arms. Avoid locking out to maintain tension on your chest muscles.
  3. Repeat for desired repetitions before re-racking.

Kettlebell Incline Press

Use a set of kettlebells instead of dumbbells to increase the difficulty of the exercise. Due to the uneven weight distribution of kettlebells (the “bell” portion weighs more than the handle of the equipment), it requires more stability and control to perform the exercise correctly. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

This exercise is otherwise performed in the same way as the incline dumbbell press, but you’re pressing kettlebells with each hand, rather than dumbbells.

Single Arm Incline Press

You can also substantially engage your core by performing the exercise as a single-arm kettlebell incline press.

  1. Use only one kettlebell at a time, performing a complete set with your right arm before switching to your left arm. This single-sided exercise requires your core to engage to prevent your non-working side from rotating toward the side you’re working.
  2. Engage your core to prevent your left shoulder and hip from rotating to the right as you perform the movement.

Common Mistakes During An Incline Dumbbell Press

This exercise can seem deceptively simple, making it easy to overlook possible mistakes. Read on to learn about potential issues as well as how to avoid them.

Using Too Much Weight

If you’ve been doing dumbbell bench press or incline barbell press for a while, you probably have a good idea of how much weight you can handle for these exercises. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to lift the same amount when trying the dumbbell incline press.

The incline press, as a whole, uses smaller muscle groups than the flat bench press, so you’ll need to decrease your weight a bit for the incline press. Even if you’re familiar with the incline barbell press, you may still need to reduce your weight for the dumbbell version of the exercise.

This is because the dumbbell press requires each arm to lift its dumbbell independently, which requires more strength. This action is more challenging to control and ends up using more of the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder. Choosing a lower weight increases the likelihood that you can perform the activity safely.

Cocking Your Wrists

Cocking your wrists backward while holding the dumbbells—forming a 90-degree angle between the back of your hand and forearm—may not seem like a big issue, but holding the dumbbells this way puts a lot of strain on your wrists. Focus on keeping your wrists straight so that they’re perpendicular to the ground throughout the exercise to prevent wrist injury. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

Choosing the Wrong Angle For Your Bench

Doing a chest press on a flat bench positioned at 0-degrees targets the middle of your pecs. Likewise, doing a press on an upright bench positioned at 90-degrees targets your shoulders. To effectively target the upper portion of your chest, you need to select an angle somewhere between those two angles.

The trick, though, is selecting the right angle to work the muscles you want to strengthen. Generally speaking, you should set your bench between 30- and 45-degrees. The 45-degree angle will hit more of your shoulders, while the 30-degree angle will target the pecs to a greater degree.

Bouncing the Dumbbells Off Your Chest

Lowering the weights quickly and “bouncing” them up off the top of your chest is ineffective. If you find yourself doing this (or if you are tempted to do so), that’s a good indication that you’re lifting more weight than you should be.

When you speed through a movement like this, you end up losing the target focus for the exercise, allowing other muscle groups and momentum to help you complete the move. This may not seem like a big deal, but it ends up reducing the effectiveness of your workout, making it harder to see the improvements you want to see.

Over-Arching Your Back While Pressing

When you are fatigued toward the end of a set or if you’re trying to lift more weight than you should, you may find yourself straining and over-arching your back to try to force the dumbbells upward. This can open you up to the possibility of a back strain. Also, your efforts will be shortchanged. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

You’ll end up recruiting muscle groups other than the specific muscles intended to be targeted by the exercise. There is a natural arch in your back that should be there while performing this press exercise. You don’t want to eliminate this natural curve. When you try hard to push your back into the bench, It’s natural for your shoulders to drift forward. Aim to preserve the natural arch without making it more pronounced.

If you find yourself straining toward the end of a set, ask a friend to spot you as you lift. This will allow you to finish your set without altering the movement. If you find yourself over-arching your back from the get-go, choose a lighter set of dumbbells. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

How to Safely Do an Incline Dumbbell Press

When performing the incline dumbbell press, the most important thing is to select an appropriate weight for your strength level, which is probably less than you think. You should be able to complete between 8 and 12 repetitions with the weight you select for a typical workout routine. How to Incline Dumbbell Press: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

The dumbbell incline press is generally a safe exercise, but it requires a baseline level of strength, and it shouldn’t be attempted if you’re new to strength training. In that case, start with machine weights or a barbell incline press to grow accustomed to the movement, When you’re ready, go to the incline dumbbell press.

The incline press can be problematic for those who experience shoulder pain. If you have ongoing shoulder pain, attempt the exercise on a machine or with a barbell before trying it with dumbbells. If you experience sharp or shooting pain at any point during the exercise, Quit and choose painless exercise instead.

Discover a hidden easter egg