Exercise of the month: dumbbell chest press

The dumbbell chest press is a familiar exercise to most fitness buffs, known for being an effective and efficient upper body strengthener. Muscles worked include: pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders) and triceps (back of the upper arm).

Performing the chest press with dumbbells contributes to improved strength balance, because the arms are working independently and lifting equal amounts of weight.


Lie face up on a mat or bench, feet on the floor and knees bent. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bring the weights straight up over the chest, palms facing toward knees (see photo 1).

Downward phase: Slowly bend the elbows, bringing the upper arms toward the floor until they are almost touching the floor, or if on a bench, until the elbows are just slightly below the chest (photo 2).

Strengthening phase: Slowly press the dumbbells back up until arms are nearly fully extended. Do not lock the elbows.

Beginners: Start with one set of eight to 12 repetitions. Add sets or gradually increase weight as you get stronger.


Don’t arch the back or lift the head up while pressing. Keeping the knees bent and abdominals engaged will help to protect the low back.

When working out with weights, the time that your muscles are under tension is important. Avoid using excessive momentum and instead, use a slow controlled pace. A typical speed of movement would be about two seconds on the more difficult (lifting) phase of the repetition and about four seconds on the easier (lowering) phase.

Although you should use a weight heavy enough so that the muscles are fatigued, you should never experience pain. Pain can be a sign of an existing joint injury or other condition, so listen to body signals and adjust your exercise program accordingly. Even with healthy joints, if you typically work out with heavy weights, start with a lighter warm up set before increasing resistance.

Allow at least one day of rest between working the same muscle groups. The higher the intensity of the workout, the more time you should give yourself for recovery.

The chest press can be performed using a barbell, machines or resistance bands. If no equipment is available, you can substitute pushups. Avoid overgripping the weights, overbending the wrists or allowing the dumbbells to travel too far downward, which can result in over stretching the chest and shoulder muscles. It can also be performed on an incline or decline bench instead of a flat bench or floor.

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Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to marjie@ohtrainer.com.