As far as chest exercises go, the dumbbell bench press is arguably the most effective choice you could use to build your chest. Compared to the barbell bench press, it allows you to train through a greater range of motion, and can help prevent one side from becoming more developed than the other. That said, the DB bench press isn’t as simple as pressing the weight up and down. If you don’t do it correctly, rather than working your chest you’ll end up working other muscles like the front of your shoulders and your triceps. There are 5 dumbbell bench press form mistakes in particular that cause this to happen. Let’s start with mistake number 1 most people tend to commit during their chest workout.
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The first DB bench press form mistake has to do with your arm path. Typically people use a very wide arm path and press the dumbbells straight up and down. Not only has this form been shown to have a greater risk for shoulder injury, but it also just doesn’t stimulate the chest very well. To maximize chest activation, you want your arm path to line up in the same direction that the chest fibres pull. You can do so by tucking your elbows to about 45 to 60 degree angle away from the body and allowing your grip to turn in slightly with your elbow.
Mistake #2 you’re probably making on the dumbbell bench press has to do with your forearms. Make sure you’re not bending them inwards. This is because by bending the forearms inwards, you’re shortening the lever which makes the movement easier by taking some of the load off of the chest. It also gets the triceps more involved to take on some of the load as well. So lighten the weight, keep your forearm vertical over your elbow throughout each rep, and you’ll feel the difference right away.
The third dumbbell bench press form mistake typically results from your daily posture. Given that many of us are already stuck in a hunched over posture, we have the tendency to round our shoulders forward whenever we press. This can lead to the front of the shoulders experiencing most of the growth. To avoid this, I’d first suggest extending your back over a foam roller, and then performing over-and-backs and band pull aparts with a band to promote chest activation. Then, when you actually go into the movement, on the way down think about using your back muscles to pull the weight down towards your chest by pinching your shoulder blades together. Then on the way up, avoid letting your shoulders forward. Keep your chest up and think about squeezing your biceps into the sides of your chest.
It’s important to avoid this next mistake at the top position as well to build your chest in an optimal manner. The main function of the chest is horizontal adduction. Knowing this, you might think that bringing your arms in as close as possible at the top would better engage the chest. Some people even touch the dumbbells together at the top. However, since we’re using dumbbells, the line of force is straight down because of gravity. This means that once your arms are straight over your shoulders, there’s actually no more tension placed on the chest. Going further than this doesn’t stimulate the chest any further and is wasting energy that could otherwise be used towards your next reps. So instead, to keep constant tension on the chest, stop each rep once your arms end up straight over your shoulders.
The last mistake doesn’t actually relate to form and instead has to do with the angle of the bench. The flat dumbbell press is great, but most of the growth you get from this exercise will be in the middle portion of your chest which can lead to the upper and lower portions of your chest underdeveloped. So in addition to doing just the flat dumbbell bench press, I’d also recommend doing an incline dumbbell press once a week as well. Now as for the lower portion of your chest, for most people the flat dumbbell press will already hit this region quite well. Some studies however suggest that a slight decline can help activate this region even more effectively.
After you apply these various fixes to your chest workout, you’ll notice that you won’t be able to lift nearly as much as you used to. It might hurt the ego but it means that your chest is now doing most of the work. You’ll very quickly feel and see the difference this makes to your chest development.