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Incline Dumbbell Press: Why it should be in your routine

If you’re like most gym rats, I bet your chest day revolves around barbell bench presses, push-ups, and chest dips. There’s nothing wrong with these exercises, but if you ask any strength training professional why people lose their motivation while working out, I’m sure lack of variety is one reason that will come up.

The bottom line: if you’ve never tried the incline dumbbell press (also known as the incline dumbbell bench press), you’re missing out.

Here are the reasons why you ought to give the incline dumbbell press a try.

But first, what is the incline dumbbell press?

As the name of the exercise implies, the incline dumbbell press is a variation of the traditional dumbbell bench press, the difference being that you perform the exercise on an incline or adjustable bench instead of a flat bench.

On that note, fitness experts say setting your bench’s angle to roughly 28.9 degrees for the incline dumbbell press stimulates the clavicular portion of the Pectoralis major. Other experts maintain you shouldn’t go beyond 45 degrees. Otherwise, you’ll hit your shoulder muscles instead of your chest.

For best results, set your bench to an angle between 28.9 degrees and 45 degrees whenever you do the incline dumbbell press.

What muscles does the incline dumbbell press work?

Here are the four muscle groups that the incline dumbbell press targets:

  • Pectoralis major: Called “pecs” for short, this is the large upper chest muscle that assists in the lateral, vertical, and rotational motion of your arms. It also helps pull the ribcage so your lungs can expand whenever you do deep breathing.
  • Deltoids: This is the major shoulder muscle which assists in arm movement. The delts also stabilize the glenohumeral joint that helps improves the quality of your arm movements.
  • Triceps: These are posterior arm muscles which help extend your arm at the elbow joint. Aside from the big chest muscles, prominent arm muscles make you stand out and make for a great first impression.
  • Biceps: The biceps are the muscles on the front of your upper arms. They act as stabilizer muscles when you do incline dumbbell presses. Their primary functions are shoulder extension and elbow flexion.

Why should you try the incline dumbbell press?

I’m giving you six reasons why you should try the incline dumbbell press on your next chest day:

  1. It builds your upper chest muscles. Setting your adjustable bench to 28.9 degrees whenever you do incline dumbbell presses hits your upper chest area effectively. Other chest exercises such as barbell bench presses, incline pushups, and dumbbell chest flys neglect this muscle. If you want to develop your upper chest, make the incline dumbbell press your go-to chest exercise.
  2. It also works your shoulders and arms. Aside from giving you an impressive set of pecs, the incline dumbbell press also helps in developing and strengthening your deltoids and triceps.
  3. It corrects muscular imbalances: Muscular imbalance occurs when one muscle group, say your right bicep, feels tight due to overuse, while the other muscle, the left bicep, feels weak because you’re not using it as much. Whenever you use dumbbells, you give equal emphasis on both your arms. As a result, you end up strengthening both arms and correcting muscular imbalances.
  4. It is a safer alternative to barbell bench presses: For many bodybuilding aficionados, the barbell bench press is king. True, it’s one of the best compound exercises which will help you grow bigger muscles and achieve your fitness goals. However, one wrong move may result in you getting trapped under the weight of the bar. This isn’t the case when you do incline dumbbell presses. For example, if you’re trying to muster all your strength in cranking out one last rep but cannot, you can simply drop the dumbbells on your floor mat. Doing this with a heavy barbell is difficult, if not impossible, especially if there’s no spotter around.
  5. It provides variety for chest day: If your chest routine is starting to feel like a chore, then it may be time to tweak your program. Incline dumbbell presses might just be the refreshing twist you need to keep your chest day interesting enough so you can keep yourself motivated in the gym. Variety helps in producing great results.
  6. It utilizes basic movements: Incline dumbbell presses require three basic movements which beginners can easily do: lie on an adjustable bench, lift the dumbbells, and bring them down again. Simple and foolproof!

Incline dumbbell press vs. flat and decline dumbbell presses

In this section, we will explore how the incline dumbbell bench press stacks up against its flat and decline counterparts. This analysis will give you an idea which dumbbell chest exercise is more aligned to your needs and preferences.

To start things off, the flat or regular dumbbell bench press is a straightforward variation of the barbell bench press, except you’re using dumbbells. You just need to lie on a flat bench and lift the dumbbells.

While the incline dumbbell press hits your upper chest muscles, the regular dumbbell bench press stimulates the middle portion. Fitness experts argue it’s more challenging to do the former because you’re lifting the dumbbells at an inclined angle. It’s also more difficult to crank heavier reps because the incline increases the resistance.

The decline dumbbell press—a variation where you execute the pressing movement at a decline angle—targets the sternal region or the lower part of your pectoral muscles. It’s also challenging to execute because the decline angle requires you to exert more force in pushing the dumbbells upward. Just like its inclined counterpart, lifting heavy reps for the decline dumbbell press is also more difficult compared to the regular dumbbell press.

In terms of muscles worked, all three variations hit your chest muscles and triceps, but the incline dumbbell press also targets your deltoids. The farther up you set the incline, the more you hit your shoulder muscles. Once you’ve set the adjustable bench to a full 90-degree angle, you’re already set for the dumbbell shoulder press.

To sum it up, each variation of the dumbbell press stimulates a specific portion of your chest muscles. You can apply this knowledge to your advantage by incorporating at least two variations in your chest day program. That way, you can achieve a more chiseled and developed chest.

These dumbbell press variations also have varying degrees of difficulty. Again, you can use this to your advantage. If you hit a plateau with, say, the flat bench version, kick things up a notch and do the incline or decline dumbbell press for a change.

How do you do the incline dumbbell press?

These are the steps in doing the incline dumbbell press:

  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie on your back on an adjustable bench set to an angle between 28.9 degrees and 45 degrees. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and maintain a neutral spine at all times.
  2. Pull your shoulders down and back so you place them firmly on the bench. Ensure you’re holding the dumbbells with a pronated grip (palms facing forward) Your upper arms and forearms should be perpendicular to one another. Your triceps should also be parallel to the floor. Look up at the ceiling. This is your starting position.
  3. On an exhale, lift the dumbbells upward. Make sure they’re roughly six inches apart at full extension. Refrain from locking out your elbows so you don’t overextend them.
  4. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.

Tip: You can also try doing alternating incline dumbbell presses. Once you reach step 3, lift both dumbbells up simultaneously. Once again, make sure the dumbbells are at least six inches apart. Don’t lock out your elbows.

Next, lower the dumbbell in your right hand back to the starting position and press it up. Do the same thing with the dumbbell in your left hand before you switch to the right side. Repeat until you reach your desired number of repetitions.

The Final Takeaway

If you want to spice things up on chest day, try doing the incline dumbbell press. It should exceed your expectations and, when done right, allow you to reap its many benefits. Building your upper chest muscles, stimulating your shoulders and arms, and correcting muscular imbalances in a safer way than the barbell bench press doesn’t get any better than this!

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