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The incline dumbbell bench press is a sure-fire way of boosting muscle growth to your upper body.
The exercise itself is a combination of a dumbbell bench press and a shoulder press that requires you to sit at an incline.
Keep reading to discover how to do this exercise with proper form, mistakes to avoid, some variations for your chest workouts along with the dumbbell incline press muscles worked.
What Angle Is Best For Incline Bench Pressing?
The angle you set your bench at will depend on the muscles you want to target.
Simply put, if you set the bench to a high incline, you’ll recruit more of your shoulder muscles.
On the other hand, the lower the incline angle the more you’ll engage your chest muscles.
The most common setting for incline presses is between a 30 to 45-degree angle.
This will keep the weight load more evenly distributed between your upper pecs and your shoulders.
Dumbbell Incline Press Muscles Worked
Incline pressing with dumbbells is going to work your middle and upper chest muscles, along with your shoulders and triceps.
However, your bench set up will determine how much emphasis is placed on the different muscle groups.
Let’s look at how different incline options could impact the muscles being worked:
Flat Bench (0 degrees)
While this isn’t an incline bench press, it’s useful to understand how flat benching works the muscles differently.
This is a standard bench position for exercises like flyes and flat bench presses.
Flat benching will recruit much more of your chest muscles, specifically the sternal head which is the largest part of your pectoralis major.
It’ll also activate your shoulders and tricep but to a lesser extent.
Low Incline Bench (15-30 degrees)
In this position, the bench is inclined at an angle, between 15 and 30 degrees.
Incline benches will recruit more of your clavicular head, this is the smaller part of the pec major.
The anterior deltoid muscles (the front of your shoulders) are still engaged but to a slightly lesser extent compared to a higher incline.
This is because your arms are not raised as high above your head.
Standard Incline Bench (30-45 degrees)
While still targeting your upper chest, when the bench is set anywhere between a 30 to 45-degree incline, this places a bit more emphasis on the sternal head of the pectoralis major (lower part of the chest) compared to a higher incline.
This is because the angle is not as steep, allowing for a more balanced engagement of both the clavicular and sternal heads.
High Incline Bench (45-60 degrees)
A steeper incline places a greater emphasis on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (upper chest muscles).
This can be beneficial if you’re looking to specifically target and develop your upper chest.
The more elevated arm position at a steeper incline will place more demand on the front of your shoulders with less engagement of your upper pectoral muscles.
This can contribute to increased shoulder involvement in the exercise.
How To Do Incline Dumbbell Presses
Incline pressing with a pair of dumbbells is more challenging.
That’s because dumbbells require a lot more stability as each arm is working independently.
For that reason, start out with lighter weights as these will be much easier to control.
As you get stronger, you can progress to heavier weights to stop you from plateauing.
Start off by setting the back of your adjustable bench to your chosen angle.
Remember, the lower the bench the more chest activation and the higher the bench the more shoulder activation.
Place the dumbbells just in front of the seat making sure they’re within easy reach when you’re sitting.
Steps For The Incline Dumbbell Press:
- Take a seat making sure your feet are flat on the ground and under your knees with your toes pointing slightly out.
- Take hold of one dumbbell at a time and rest them on your thighs.
- Lie back so that your glutes, upper back and head should all be in contact with the bench.
- Keep your shoulders back and chest up high and dumbbells close to your body. This is the starting position.
- With your elbows bent to a 90-degree angle, press the dumbbells up and straight over head. Don’t lock out at the top of the movement.
- Pause for a second then use control to lower the dumbbells back to the start. Repeat.
5 Common Mistakes When Dumbbell Incline Pressing
Now that we know the best way of doing a dumbbell incline press, let’s address some common mistakes that you should look out for.
Not Retracting Your Shoulder Blades
If you don’t retract your shoulder blades when doing an incline press, you’ll transfer more of the load to your arms and shoulders.
This is one of the common causes of not being able to feel your chest activate when doing this exercise.
Your shoulder blades should be pinched so that your chest pushes forward and remains like this throughout the entire range of motion.
Over Arching The Lower Back
When you push your shoulders back this will create a natural arch in your lower back which is exactly what you want.
Don’t be tempted to further hyperextend your lower back as this will result in poor form and may increase the risk of injury.
Locking Out Your Elbows
At the top of the movement make sure to keep a slight bent to your elbows.
If you lock them out, not only will this put stress on the joints, but it can also cause your shoulders to roll forwards.
If this happens, your shoulder blades will protract, and you’ll end up losing form.
Not Controlling Your Tempo
It’s important to control the speed of the reps to ensure you complete each rep with good form and for maximum muscle activation.
A good rule of thumb is a count of 4 on the way up and again on the way day.
By doing this you’ll remain in control and form a better mind to muscle connection.
Going Too Heavy
When compared to a barbell bench press, using dumbbells requires a lot more stability.
You’ll have a greater range of motion, so you’ll want to stick to using lighter weights to ensure your form is correct.
6 Variations Of The Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
Depending on your fitness goals it’s important to incorporate a variety of different push exercises for maximum muscle and strength gains.
Below are our recommended chest exercises that are great variations on the dumbbell incline bench press.
Barbell Incline Bench Press
The barbell incline press is performed in the same way but instead of using a pair of dumbbells you’ll use a barbell.
The movement is more fixed and allows for less range of motion but you’ll probably find you can press more weight making it a good option for increasing your strength.
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
This exercise requires you to hold the barbell with a close grip where your hands are positioned just inside shoulder width.
This shifts the weight load onto your triceps, but it can put stress on the shoulder joint.
If you find this then switch to using dumbbells instead.
A fantastic ‘do anywhere at anytime’ exercise using just your bodyweight.
It challenges the same muscles at the barbell bench press, but you’ll do it in a prone position.
You can progress this exercise to a decline push up where your feet are elevated helping to increase the range of motion.
Reverse Grip Incline Dumbbell Press
With this variation instead of your palms facing forward during the exercise, they need to face the other way.
According to studies this has shown to increase activation of your upper chest by around 30%.
Alternating Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
During this exercise you need to press one dumbbell at a time.
This is a great way of addressing any muscular imbalances and can help to encourage better stability.
It’s also going to recruit more of your core muscles which engage to help you maintain control throughout the movement.
Incline Dumbbell Press With Bands
For this exercise you’ll wrap resistance bands around the dumbbells and your upper back.
This keeps the resistance constant during the exercise and is perfect for overloading the muscles at the end of the movement.
When performing the dumbbell incline press only go as far as you find comfortable.
When it comes to depth and how low you should drop the dumbbells, this depends on your mobility.
If you have good mobility to your upper arms then you’ll want to go as deep as possible for maximum muscle contraction.
If you’re not sure, pay attention to where you feel the tension.
If, as you lower the dumbbells, tension seems to shift from your upper chest to your shoulders and upper back then you should decrease the range of motion.
At the very minimum, you’ll want to aim for a 90 degree bend at your elbow joints.
They key thing to remember is that if you no longer feel recruitment of your chest, then you’re probably going to deep.
However, with good form and a controlled rep range, the incline chest press with dumbbells can work many muscles across your upper body making it a valuable addition to your chest and triceps training.