STOP Doing Dumbbell Press Like This (5 Mistakes Slowing Your Chest Gains)

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.

32 thoughts on “STOP Doing Dumbbell Press Like This (5 Mistakes Slowing Your Chest Gains)

    • Henry Harmon says:

      I’m doing inverted rows to increase my pull-ups, but it’s very hard to feel my back working, even after relaxing my arms as much as possible and visualizing them merely as levers. Thanks for considering, Jeremy. This video was a great one!

    • chu says:

      Not necessarily one exercise but I’m struggling trying to find a PPL routine that requires only dumbells (and no bench) because that is all I have.

  1. The Gentlemen says:

    Awesome video man, this is one of those lifts that never felt quite right. The info really helps

  2. Michael Gamboa says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen AthleanX do such a simple detailed video on the dumbbell press, good job man!

  3. JAYZUPP says:

    This is some awesome info!
    I love how you talk about getting more results with using lighter weight if you just do the movement a different way.
    I’m looking to get gains not heavier dumbbells, they’re too expensive hahaha

  4. MJ Whitto says:

    Great video I can’t stress enough how important improving your shoulder position is for chest gains. I always had rounded shoulders and used to lift fairly heavy and my delts got big and my chest didn’t. Once I decided to actually do all the stretches and band work to open my chest and used the correct form like Jeremy suggests in this video it made a massive difference to my chest. I’m 38 now and I like most people didn’t bother listening to the mobility and stretching advice when I was younger because it’s boring but it’s incredibly important and when you get older you’ll regret not doing it trust me!

    • Daniel says:

      My posture is absolutely terrible, but I’m going to commit to a daily stretch routine. I’ve found it sucks having poor mobility in the gym, especially when it restricts you in doing the movements that give you the greatest gains! Good on you! 🙂

    • MJ Whitto says:

      @Daniel If it helps along with the kind of band stretches in this video I purchased some push up handles to do deep slow push ups really focusing on pulling your shoulder blades together and stretching your chest at the bottom. Then on the way up focus on the chest and pulling your biceps together, I found this exercise really helped with mind muscle connection as well as a good stretch.

    • Daniel says:

      @MJ Whitto good to know! I have my own push-up handles + resistance bands, so I can start immediately! I’ll give that a shot! 🙂

  5. Biboom says:

    I’ve been watching your videos for a while now and I’ve never seen so much care put into explaining form to target desired muscles and avoiding injuries.
    Having said that, any plans on doing a B workout for the PPL series? I’ve been doing the A workout for both days of the split and I’ve read it’s not optimal. Cheers!

  6. Devin Pappalau says:

    I’ve been doing chest workouts twice a week, focusing 1 day on inclined and the other on flat. I’ve noticed almost no difference in my chest and I’ve been working out for over 8 months consistently. The one thing I have noticed is how defined/toned my shoulders have gotten. Watching this video makes a lot more sense for the mistakes I apparently have been making. Thank you so much for this! Can’t believe this randomly came up in my feed…

    • Mike Koza says:

      The best chest exercise I’ve found is the bent over dip. You take the position of a regular ol’ dip but straighten out your legs, hinge at your hips and try to bring your legs close to your chest. It’s almost like a V-Sit style dip. At one point I was banging out 30 dips at a time, tried this variation and I couldn’t even do 5.

      Another good one is the decline deficit push-up. It’s like a regular decline push-up but with your feet higher and have your hands on kettlebell handles set on the floor instead of hands on the floor. That stretch at the bottom is killer.

      Edit: just wanted to add, if you really want to get strong and build some crazy triceps and a killer chest, invest in some parallettes. Kettlebell handles can suffice but parallettes are easier to transport and you can use them at home.

    • David Hutchinson-Adom says:

      Try using cables bro. Allows you to develop that mind muscle connection and you’ll actually feel the burn in your chest. Must suck to only realise a mistake after 8 months. Using the cable machine for chest workouts helped me a lot.

  7. JP says:

    Awesome video as always Jeremy. I noticed my arms getting bigger but my chest wasn’t over half a year. Will be keeping these in mind my next push day.

  8. lu chang says:

    Thanks for the tip. I knew I was doing something wrong after I notice no result. I knew about the incline pench press but never knew on proper form of doing presses. Much appreciated Jeremy.

  9. Styxx FireMancer says:

    I’ve always questioned why so many of the chest exercises I do end up with me not feeling them in my chest. This explains a LOT

  10. Sam S says:

    Timestamps:

    1. Align arm path in the same direction as chest fibers – 0:43
    2. Don’t bend forearms inwards – 1:53
    3. Avoid rounding shoulders – 2:57
    4. Dumbells don’t have to touch at the top – 4:20
    5. Bench angle: Incline for upper chest/ decline for lower chest- 4:55

  11. AE_CC_2017-Tutorials says:

    3:52 you should let your shoulders naturally come up in the concentric phase because that is giving you more range of motion and it also will give you a better shoulder stability it is only important for better range of motion and shoulder stability in the bottom of the movement that your shoulders are contracted together. 4:39 yes but if you make it like that you can overload the lenghtend position of the chest more that may be a benefit of doing it like that.

  12. Pak GM says:

    Hi Jeremy! Really love watching your video! Anyway I want to ask, I’ve been doing consistant workouts lately everyday for 3-4 weeks by using Fitness+ since I can only workout at home, with target to cut fat and build muscle, with the pattern of day 1 upper, next day core, after that lower, then repeat. So it will be like almost everyday I will be working out for around 30-50 minutes with almost no rest day, and mostly is strength workout. The thing is, I just randomly select any workout on the app on that day(Let’s say it’s upper day, I just randomly pick any upper body workout on the app). As for the meals, I also able to manage my meals that are planned by my wife. By using those pattern, is it good for me in long term? I managed to lose around 6 Kg in 3-4 weeks so far.

    • Mobile Legends MEMES says:

      For best results, count your macros and always check your weight. If you don’t get any progress then you either need to cut more food or update your workout plan.

      Resting once or twice a week is also good for muscle recovery. Otherwise, you might be overtraining.

  13. ZhuoJun Loh says:

    So true! I also discovered that the shoulders like to take over if I increase the weight. So I stuck to lighter weights with more reps so that I can feel my chest contracting.

  14. Joe B. says:

    I needed this since I just started switching from barbell to dumbbells for chest. Thanks Jeremy!

  15. Сергей с Сулимы says:

    Всё правильно объяснил. Не менее важен взгляд со стороны, ты можешь бесконечно долго делать, что то совершая ошибки и единственный взгляд тренера или другого спеца может вернуть тебя на путь прогресса.

  16. d4_Dynamo says:

    I just did this exercise today and was wondering why I didn’t feel much happening in my chest. The graphics & animations explain it very well for a more visual person like myself. Great video

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