The dumbbell chest press exercise is as popular as its barbell counterpart. And, like the bench press, the dumbbell variation can be done on a flat as well as incline bench, targeting the full spectrum of pectoral or chest muscles (pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior and subclavius muscles). However, though seemingly simple in its biomechanical movement, it is easy to get the dumbbell press wrong. Even seasoned gym goers make some basic errors, rendering this exercise less effective and even injurious.
The chest muscles not only act as a connective skeletal muscle (connect the upper extremities to the anterior and lateral thoracic walls) but also facilitates the range of motion for the upper extremities. These include flexion, adduction and internal rotation of the humerus, stabilization of the scapula along with elevating and depressing bones of the thorax.
Experts point out some of the most common mistakes to avoid while doing them, whether on a flat or on an incline bench.
“In strength training, instead of lifting heavy weights, the form while doing an exercise needs to be proper,” says Hyderabad-based fitness trainer A Shiva. “As the dumbbell press is a free weight exercise, chances of injury are also higher when done with an improper form. In terms of weights, an individual should not attempt to lift the unnecessarily heavy ones.”
Common mistakes during dumbbell press
One of the common misconceptions is looking at the dumbbell press as a variant of the barbell bench press. The two differ from each other not only in terms of range of motion, but also in terms of muscle activation and balance.
This 2017 study found greater muscle activation in the pectoralis major muscles for dumbbell press when compared to the barbell bench press.
“In the barbell bench press a balancing factor is there,” says Abhijeet Sahoo, a personal fitness trainer from Noida. “As the barbell is held with both the hands on the bar, during lifting the hands work in a coordinated manner. This is missing in the dumbbell press as both hands move independently. And when done with the wrong form, chances of injury to the shoulder including muscle tears and shoulder dislocations are high.”
1. Elbow and wrist position during dumbbell press
“At times people tend to bring their elbows closer to their shoulder,” says Sahoo. “That puts additional pressure on the shoulder joint. The correct position for the elbows should be slightly lower towards the middle part of the chest. And the wrist should be straight. If someone lifts excessive weights beyond their capacity, then sometimes the wrists twist to the side. That should not happen. The wrists should remain straight during the repetitions.”
2. Angle of bench during the inclined dumbbell press
Some people don’t maintain a proper angle to the bench incline for the incline dumbbell press, while targeting the upper chest muscles. “For an effective upper chest workout, the bench angle should be at 45 degrees,” says Sahoo. “If it is kept more than that then the shoulders get the load instead of the chest muscles.”
3. Touching dumbbells at the top and throwing down
It is a common practice to touch dumbbells at the top during the lifts. “Now for any exercise it is important that a proper flow is maintained,” says Sahoo. “If the dumbbells are touched at the top, then the continuous flow breaks and the muscles also tend to go for rest which should not happen in between the repetitions.”
Sometimes people throw dumbbells down post completing their set. It could give a jerk to the shoulder. Ensure the dumbbells are placed gently on the floor.
4. Use of bands and belts
It is always advisable that if needed, protect the wrists and elbows with wrist and elbow bands. Use lifting belts to protect the core and the back.