Three dumbbell bench press mistakes you need to stop making

A personal trainer says these common mistakes will hinder your gains

Man doing dumbbell chest press
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The dumbbell bench press is one of the best exercises if you want bigger pecs. Unlike the barbell bench press, using a pair of dumbbells gives you a couple of advantages: greater range of motion and reducing the likelihood of muscle imbalances. If you’re a beginner, it’s also a brilliant alternative exercise to the barbell bench press, which is a pretty advanced compound lift that requires very strong chest muscles during the bottom of the movement.  

Although the dumbbell bench press predominantly works the chest muscles, it also targets your shoulders and triceps too. However, if performed incorrectly (easily done) other muscles can end up taking centre stage more. So, if you’ve been pressing away for months now and still haven’t seen any considerable chest gains, there’s a good chance your form is slipping and you’re making one of these common mistakes. 

Woman doing dumbbell chest press

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Flaring the elbows

If you think this exercise is simply pressing the dumbbells up and down with your arms at a 90 degree angle, think again. “You often see people with their elbows in too wide a set-up which puts your shoulders in a compromised position and a lot of strain on your shoulders,” says Personal Trainer and Online Coach Alex Petitt-Ward. Remember what we said earlier about other muscles getting more of the attention? This is it! Positioning your arms at a 90 degree angle also reduces the amount of control you have over the dumbbells. “Aim to have a 45 degree angle to your arms so you can maintain and keep control of the movement,” adds Alex. 

2. Putting your feet on the bench

Get them off the weight bench! (Although we know this might ruffle a few feathers because some people do bench with their feet in the air.) However, beginners certainly don’t need to be putting their feet anywhere else other than the floor. “It’s a common mistake, especially for shorter people,” says Alex. “When your feet are elevated on the bench it makes the movement a lot harder and stabilising becomes very difficult.” Instead, Alex suggests putting down two weight plates and resting your feet on these instead.  

3. Rounded shoulders

Not only is this bad form but it can also cause shoulder pain too, which will lead to an uncomfortable bench. “You will not have as much control of the dumbbells either and stabilising will become an issue,” says Alex. “Try to pull shoulder blades down and back onto the bench.” Rounded shoulders can occur as a result of sitting too much, which can cause your chest muscles to become tight and your shoulders to round. Make sure you incorporate chest mobility exercises into your training if you do experience this.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.