What are the Different Types of Dumbbell Presses?

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  • Written By: Shelby Miller
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 24 December 2019
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Dumbbell presses are weight-training exercises that are performed by pushing a pair of handheld weights known as dumbbells away from the body. Depending on the direction of the press, the dumbbell press works the chest and/or shoulder muscles. When pressing the weights directly overhead, the primary muscles worked are the middle deltoids in the shoulder; when lying face-up and pressing straight up from the chest, the pectorals in the chest are the primary muscles worked. The chest press can be performed on an incline and decline as well. When lying on an incline and pressing up, both the pectorals and the anterior deltoids are worked, whereas pressing while lying on a decline works the pectorals and the serratus anterior just beneath the chest.

Whether the goal is bodybuilding, developing strength, or toning and fat loss, dumbbell presses can be included in a variety of strength-training programs. Someone looking to gain mass would perform a high number of sets and a low-to-moderate number of repetitions — four to eight sets and five to 12 reps are the recommended number of each — accompanied by longer rest periods. Conversely, someone looking to lose weight and tone up is advised to perform two to four sets and upwards of ten reps and to take shorter rests. Ideally, these rest periods would last 30-60 seconds as opposed to 90-120 seconds for mass-building.


To perform the first of these dumbbell presses, the overhead or military press, the exerciser should sit or stand with his elbows straight out from the shoulders and bent 90 degrees, palms facing forward. He should then press the weights directly overhead until his arms are straight and then return to the starting position. This exercise utilizes the anterior, middle, and posterior deltoids as well as the triceps as a secondary mover.

For the dumbbell chest press, the exerciser should lie on his back, usually on a flat bench, with his elbows straight out to either side and bent 90 degrees and palms facing his knees. He should then press the weights directly above his chest until his arms are straight and then return to the starting position. This version of the dumbbell press incorporates the pectoralis major and minor as the primary movers, with the triceps again playing a supporting role.

To perform the next of these dumbbell presses, the incline press, the exerciser should recline on an incline bench that is typically angled to 45 degrees. With his elbows straight out to either side of the chest, elbows bent 90 degrees, and palms facing knees, he should press the weights straight up toward the ceiling until his arms are straight and then lower them to the starting position. Again, this press works the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles, with assistance from the triceps.

The final of the dumbbell presses, the decline press, works the pectoralis major and serratus anterior muscles, the latter of which is found just under the chest along either side of the ribcage. This press requires the exerciser to lie on a decline bench, so that he is inverted with his head typically 30-45 degrees lower than his hips. As with the chest press and incline press, he should press the weights straight up toward the ceiling from a 90 degree elbow angle with palms facing away. To ensure that form is correct on any version of the dumbbell press, the exerciser is encouraged to keep the shoulder blades pulled down and back, to avoid locking out the elbows or arching the back, and to keep the hips in contact with the bench at all times.


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