How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Press & Which Angle Is Best to Supersize Your Chest?
The incline dumbbell press is a staple in the programme of many, dedicated bodybuilders or casual gym goers alike. For a pumped up chest they are a great addition to your workout, and by hitting multiple muscle groups, they're great bang for your buck. There are many benefits to the incline dumbbell press and to make the most of them, it's imperative to nail the technique.
We will cover the incline dumbbell press muscles worked, benefits, technique, correct bench angle, which weights and reps, workouts and exercise variations.
Muscles Worked by the Incline Dumbbell Press
Depending on the incline of the bench, there will be a different percentage of muscular recruitment from each of the following muscles.
Chest: The incline dumbbell press works the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior and the subclavius.
Shoulders: Due to the nature of the angle of the bench, the incline dumbbell press also targets the anterior deltoid.
Triceps: Whilst the exercise works the entire arm to a certain degree, the triceps are the primary movers when locking out the arms.
The Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Press
Superior upper pec activation: The main benefit of the incline dumbbell press is that you will get more upper pec activation in comparison to a flat bench dumbbell press.
Evens out strength differences: The incline dumbbell press also works each arm separately. This can even out differences in strength between the two arms which could then have beneficial carry over to your barbell bench press heavy lifts.
Suitable for all levels: All participants, regardless of their level of exercise experience can include the incline dumbbell press in their programme to see strength and muscle gains.
Which Angle Is Best for the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press?
There is much discussion in the fitness industry over which bench angle is best for your incline dumbbell press. One study looking at the effect of five different bench inclinations found that a 30° inclination produces greater activation of the upper portion of the pectoralis major. Another study found that an inclined position of approximately 44° was required to effectively recruit the clavicular head (the upper portion of pectoralis major).
According to Dr Mike Israetel PhD, ‘The target [of the incline dumbbell press] is the upper pecs, and the more you incline, the more the upper pecs are involved. Until they're not involved much anymore and the front delts take over too much. Then if you lower the incline a tonne, you actually get more whole pec activation. But at some point, the upper part of the pecs aren't getting as big of a fraction of that as they were. So, what's the right answer? The right answer is feeling it out. Try all three inclines; lower incline, medium incline and high incline. These being basically; 30 degrees, 45 degrees and around 60 degrees. Start at 45 degrees, work your way from there based on what the muscle is sensing in your body and don't worry about what everybody else is doing.’ As per usual, do what's right for you.
How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Chest Press
Begin with the bench set at a 30°-45° incline. The higher the end of that range, the more you will target your upper pecs and shoulders.
Sit at the end of the bench with the dumbbells on your knees. Lean back on the bench and lift the dumbbells over the chest by alternately kicking your knees up to help you.
Have your feet planted on the floor, core engaged and arms locked out with the dumbbells directly above the upper chest.
Slowly lower the elbows into an arrow shape just below your shoulders so that you get a big stretch across the chest. Keep the dumbbells an equal distance the entire rep and don't let them move further apart.
Pause for a second before pushing the weights explosively away from you, back to your starting position as you exhale, ready to repeat.
How Many Reps, Sets and Which Weight?
Choose a rep range and weight to suit your abilities. As a general rule of thumb, for hypertrophy (building muscle) four sets of 6-12 reps should be sufficient.
To choose an ideal weight, familiarise yourself with the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion). This is a scale from one-to-10, 10 being maximum exertion, one being minimum exertion. For strength and muscle gain, towards the end of your incline dumbbell press sets, ideally you want to be sitting at around an eight out of 10. This means that at a push you could complete two more reps at the end of the set with your weight of choice.
Incline Dumbbell Press Variations
Here are some of our favourite incline dumbbell chest press variations you can try:
Flat Bench Dumbbell Chest Press
Set the bench to flat. Lay on the bench, your knees bent, pushing your feet into the floor. Press a pair of dumbells into the air, locking out your elbows. Lower the bells slowly until they touch your chest. Keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle, pause here before explosively pressing back up. Repeat.
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press
Lay flat on a bench, your knees bent, pushing your feet into the floor. Press a pair of dumbells into the air, locking out your elbows with the palms facing inwards (neutral grip). Lower the bells slowly until they touch your chest. Keep your elbows close to your waist, pause here before explosively pressing back up. Repeat.
Incline Barbell Bench Press
Set the bench to a 30°-45° incline. Lay flat on a bench, your knees bent, pushing your feet into the floors. Take the weight out of the rack, locking out your elbows. Lower the bar slowly until the bar touches your chest. Keep your elbows at 45 degree angle, pause here before explosively pressing back up.
Flat Bench Barbell Bench Press
Set the bench to flat. Lay flat on a bench, your knees bent, pushing your feet into the floors. Take the weight out of the rack, locking out your elbows. Lower the bar slowly until the bar touches your chest keep your elbows at 45 degree angle, pause here before explosively pressing back up.
Dumbbell Floor Press
Start by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Press the weights above you, locking out your elbows. Lower them slowly until your upper arms are resting on the floor, close to your body, pause here before explosively pressing back up.
Alternating Single Arm Floor Press
Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Press the weights above you, locking out your elbows. Lower one bell slowly until your upper arm is resting on the floor, close to your body, pause here before explosively pressing back up and repeating on the other side.
Sandbag Floor Press
Lie on the floor with your bag across your chest, gripping it as hard as possible. Without flaring your elbows, press the bag away from your body until your arms are fully extended. Reverse under control back to your chest and repeat.
10 Incline Dumbbell Chest Press Workouts
This Four-Move, Dumbbell Chest Workout Builds Massive Muscle in the Busiest of Gyms
This Workout Uses The '5/20' Method for Bigger Chest and Arm Gains
Use Glen Powell's 'Top Gun' Workout Secrets in This Dumbbell Session
Incline Vs Flat Bench, Which Is Best?
As per usual, it depends on your goals and preferences. A study examining the muscles used by different angles, found that including both flat and incline bench settings in your programme is optimal. According to the study, 'For individuals looking to maximize strength gains, findings from the present study indicate that to successfully train the muscles involved in chest press exercises (sternocostal and clavicular heads of the pectoralis major along with the anterior deltoid), more than 1 angle of bench incline needs to be employed.' So, make sure you have a combination of both flat and incline bench exercises in your programme whether your goals are to add size or increase strength.
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