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The 11 Best Bench Press With Dumbbells Variations For Better Chest Development

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

Bench press with dumbbells variations are where it's at and gone are the days of HAVING to do barbell bench press.

Some people might not want to hear that, but it’s true.

The barbell puts your shoulders in a vulnerable position that increases the risk of injury.

That’s where the beauty of the dumbbell comes in.

Using dumbbells allows you to slightly alter your wrist and elbow position, allowing for a more nature movement that is safe and healthy for your shoulders.

When it comes to bench press with dumbbells, there are so many variations you can do to make your training exciting and fun.

Here’s the list of 11 bench press with dumbbells variations you’ll learn about today!

bench press with dumbbells variations

Low Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

My favorite variation, and the one I start all my online clients with, is the low incline DB chest press.

It’s a staple in my programming because:

  • The low incline makes it easier to get into position versus a flat bench.
  • The neutral hand grip is safer for your shoulders.
  • It’s a good indicator of strength.

As you can see in the video, I keep my hands in a neutral grip position, instead of flaring my elbows out to the side.

Feel free to play around with your elbow position on this movement. 

Slight Decline Dumbbell Chest Press

Instead of putting yourself at a crazy angle using a decline bench, simply use a standard bench and put one weight plate underneath it.

This slight decline will be safer on your shoulders and activate your lower chest muscles more than a flat bench or incline.

As I mentioned in the previous example about the incline making it easier to get into position, going into a decline makes it harder. Be aware of this point if you try loading heavy dumbbells and getting into this position.

1.5 Rep Dumbell Chest Press

One of my favorite ways to make lighter weight feel heavier is to incorporate 1.5 reps.  I used a lot of these in my bicep curls variations article as well.

The concept of 1.5 reps is simple:

  • Bring the weight all the way down as you normally would.
  • As you start lifting the weight, pause briefly at the half way point.
  • Bring the weight BACK down to your chest.
  • Push the weight all the way back to the starting position.

Your chest will fatigue much quicker on this one with the extra half rep.

Alternating One Arm Dumbbell Chest Press

This is a fun variation that makes your shoulder stabilizers work overtime. Your shoulder stabilizers refer to the muscles that connect to the shoulder blade that help it move and stabilize freely and safely.

While you are getting chest activation when you are lowering one dumbbell, your stabilizers are working as you hold the other dumbbell up.

Once you reach the top position, switch and the opposite muscles start working.

Constant Tension One Arm Dumbbell Chest Press

This exercise is similar to the previous example, but instead of holding the dumbbell with your arms locked out, you’ll hold one dumbbell at the half way point while you do your full reps on the other side.

Holding at the half way marker will activate those shoulder stabilizers again, your core, and your chest muscles.

As you’ll see in the video below, instead of alternating back and forth like the alternating one arm dumbbell chest press, perform all the reps on one side before you switch to the other.

Alternating Dumbbell Chest Press From Bottom

You’ve seen the variation holding from the top, middle, and now you can alternate from the dumbbells at the bottom position.

The hardest part of any chest press movement is getting yourself “out of the hole” meaning the moment you switch from lowering the weight to raising it.

Pausing at the bottom while you press the dumbbell on the other side will help you build that strength in the bottom position.

One Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press

We’ll switch over to a single dumbbell variation now.

The benefit of using one dumbbell is you’ll be holding a certain amount of weight on one side of your body, meaning your abs will be working so you don’t tip over!

Feel free to perform this movement on a flat bench or incline.

I usually like to start clients on the low incline for the single arm press and then switch to flat as they become more advanced.

Dumbbell Chest Press Pulses

This variation is taking a play from the 1.5 rep dumbbell chest press.

Instead of raising the weight like a normal rep, you'll do 3 1/4 rep pulses at the bottom.

This creates more time under tension which means you'll probably need to go lighter on the weight.

Bosu Ball Dumbbell Chest Press

There aren’t many benefits of using a Bosu ball. Especially not to stand on and squat with, contrary to what many people think.

Heck, someone even sued Planet Fitness because their trainer had her stand on a Bosu ball and she fell and fractured her hip!

I digress.

What I do like to use the Bosu ball for is to use it on different pressing movements.

Instead of your shoulders digging into a bench and restricting your range of motion, a Bosu ball allows your shoulders to move freely around the ball.

I love this variation for clients that experience shoulder pain. Many have told met his movement feels great and they don't experience any discomfort.

Ho/Ho Dumbbell Chest Press

This exercise requires a level of core stability that you haven’t needed up until this point.  Because of that, this exercise is not meant for maximal strength or muscle gain.

Not only are you going to get added core stability by being half off the bench, your shoulders have free range to get as deep as you want.

This is similar to the Bosu ball chest press because the bench isn’t going to limit your range of motion.

Advanced Ho/Ho Dumbbell Chest Press

This variation is advanced because you are going to lose one of your anchor points, your elevated foot.

By keeping your elevated foot off of the bench, it requires even MORE stability in your midsection to make sure you don’t take a tumble onto the gym floor.

If you progress from the Ho/Ho press to this variation, start by going 10 - 15% lighter on your dumbbells to start.

Once you get a feel for the positioning and you are able to do it with the lighter weight, jump up to your working weight.

No Bench Alternatives

The best bench press with dumbbells variations do not always have to be performed on a bench.

In fact, there is a benefit to doing different movements without a bench.

There are quite a few exercises for you to try so instead of listing them here, I wrote another article you can check out called How To Do A Bench Press Without A Bench. 

Sets & Reps

Because I get this question quite often, I wanted to nip it in the butt before you ask.

As a general rule, anywhere between 2 - 4 rounds of 5 - 12 reps will be great with these bench press with dumbbells variations.

I don’t see a benefit to doing 1 rep max with dumbbells when you can still get a strength stimulus with 5 reps.  It’s easier to get the dumbbells in position and you lessen your chance of injury.

There you have it!

That wraps up the 11 best bench press with dumbbells variations for you try.

Try them out and leave me a comment with your favorite one!