Doing It Better: Dumbbell Bench with Progressions

Monday is and will always be National bench Press day.

That’s just how it is folks….there are too many Bro’s in wifebeaters, Ed Hardy jeans and blowouts in gyms across America for it to be any other way.


Short of a major cultural shift, we’re going to have to try to educate the “indigenous” people of Bro’merica.

It’s going to have to be a slow and (almost) painless progression as we move them from a regimen of chest, shoulders and bi’s 3 x’s a week to well-rounded programs that include things like

  • The entire back side of your body.


  • The very skinny things they walk on….I think they call them toothpicks legs.

But we’ll have to take it slow.

Something as simple as teaching them that these things called dumbbells can be used for something other than 34 curl variations pressing would be a start.

23684772 (1)


But where to start???

Dumbbell Floor Press:

Key Points:

  • Shoulders packed…shoulder blades pinched together and pulled down to the butt, keep them there.
  • Legs straight out or bent. Doesn’t matter just don’t move them.
  • Set up each rep from the top. ie. Arms extended.
  • Get a BIG breath into the diaphragm and hold it.
  • Lower smoothly until the triceps are fully on the ground.
  • Grip the weight as hard as you can.
  • Don’t breath out yet.
  • Push the shoulders into the ground when pressing up.
  • Don’t let the shoulders “unpack”.
  • Press over the chest.
  • Think Faster when pressing up, but stay in control.
  • At lockout, you can breathe out and get a new breath.

Why start with this?

On the floor it’s waaay easier to learn how to keep the chest up (shoulders packed ie, pinched together and pushed down) than on a bench.

An important, yet overlooked aspect is the plane the dumbbells are pressed in and much of this is dependent on the angle of the forearms at the bottom of the movement.

For the most part you should aim to have vertical forearms at the bottom.

Some people will have a slightly “positive” angle, elbows flexed, hands toward the face. This is OK only if it’s very slight and they still press the weights over their chest on the way up.

Quick word to the wise:

NEVER, EVER press a weight over your face…..

I’ve never seen it happen and don’t really know how it could happen but if you press over your face and for some god awful reason decided to or had to let go….

The weight falls on your face.

That would be bad…..

Next step….

Dumbbell Bench Press:

Key Points:

  • Set up “tight”. Shoulders packed, feet locked into the ground, hips locked into the bench.
  • There should be no movement in the body once you’re set…quit moving your feet around.
  • Get a breath at the top and hold it through the bottom.
  • Grip the dumbbells hard the whole time
  • Bring the dumbbells down smoothly aiming for “thumbs at nipples” or “hands at ribs”. You’re not trying to actually touch the hands to the body, they should just be in the same plane as those “landmarks”
  • The forearms should be vertical or just slightly “positive” at the bottom.
  • Drive the feet into the ground, shoulders into the bench
  • Don’t breath out until you’re almost at the top or all the way there.

Why is this next?

It’s the logical progression….duh….

It takes more body control and increases the range of motion. Plus, at this point shoulder “packing” should be second nature and this is VERY important for shoulder health (sub acromial space).

This is probably the best strength builder of the variations in this article and should make up the bulk of your accessory (secondary pressing) movements.

Next up…

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Presses:

Key Points:

  • Same as above
  • Stay “tight” through the body, don’t relax. Keep the feet and hips (butt) engaged.
  • When they get hard treat each press as a “set of one”…. set up, don’t rush. <—-This goes for all exercises…
  • Don’t allow the body to rotate as you change arms.

Why next?

This takes a greater degree of coordination.

Probably not as good for building absolute strength as the other two but a good muscle builder/ time under tension exercise and more of a total body challenge.

Sometimes this is actually a better progression from the floor press because it forces new trainees to use less weight, slow down and concentrate.

Next Up….

Dumbbell Piston Bench Press:

Key Points:

  • DO NOT RELAX AT ALL!!!….Stay tight!
  • No rotation of the shoulders or hips.
  • There should be constant movement of the dumbbells.

This movement,  at the same weight as the others, is by far the most difficult.

It takes the highest degree of coordination.

Because of the constant motion of the dumbbells you have to keep every muscle in the body “tight” or you’ll get rotation at the shoulders and hips which will limit the weights you can use and through off your rhythm.

I’ve found this is best used as a finisher with lighter weights or as a recovery exercise.

High rep sets, 30+ total reps, or for time 1,2,3 minutes continuous seem to work best.

Quick thought:

That whole: “Breath out as you press up” thing…..

Yeah, unless you have heart/ blood pressure issues, that’s DEAD WRONG.

If someone tells you that this is what they are actually saying:

“Hi, I have NO F-ing CLUE what I’m talking about. I’ve clearly NEVER lifted anything heavy, nor learned from someone who has lifted something heavy yet I want to give you bad advice so you too can be weak and pathetic like me.. I prefer machines anyway, they’re much safer. Do you like my track suit, I bought it at Marshalls?”- stuck in the 80’s gym guy who gives out bad advice

Short reason why:

Pack your shoulders (together and down).

Now take a big breath in, really expand the diaphragm and chest…

Look at the angle, body positions.


Now breath out…

Did anything change?

Did the chest collapse?

Did the rib-cage collapse?

The shoulders move?

The mid/ upper back move?

I bet they did……

Now answer this question:

When trying to create force to press a heavy weight away from you do you want things to move that should not move? 

Logic will give you you’re answer…..

Now go forth and spread the word to Bro’merica….there are other exercises and body parts.

You can even Bench, the most sacred of all Bro’ercises, with something other than a barbell…



Sign Up, Get Knowledge!

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About Roy:

I wrote this, if you think it rocks, Like, Tweet, E-mail, share and tell people about this article. If you think it sucks, Like, Tweet, E-mail, share this article and tell people I'm the biggest jerk in the world (or not). Either way thanks for reading, sharing and let me know what you think.


  1. great article i just want to add When you are done, do not drop the dumbbells next to you as this is dangerous to your rotator cuff in your shoulders and others working out around you.

    thank you
    – See more at:

Talk About it!