This is one of my favourite exercises for the chest. In fact, it’s my favourite exercise since the only other alternative is the bench press. I much prefer using dumbells because I get a better stretch in the muscles and they work each pectoral muscle independently. The strong one can’t help the weak one.
Dumbell presses are a very hard exercise to do for beginners or if you’ve been out of the gym for a long time. You need to balance each weight independently. It takes some practice to get right but after that it’s well worth it.
Sit on a flat bench, lift the weight onto your knees; when you’re ready, give them a push with your knees, one dumbbell after the other, while at the same time lifting them with your arms and lying back. This is a little trick to lift very heavy dumbells into position when you wouldn’t be able to lift them with one arm each or when you don’t have a spotter around. If you lie down first and then try to lift the dumbells, you’ll find it’s much harder.
Lying on the bench in the correct position you’d adopt for the bench press, i.e. with your chest out, shoulders pulled back, back arched, feet flat on the ground, start with the dumbells at the top held in a neutral position. Lower them smoothly while breathing in. See this article on how to breath. At the bottom, reverse direction without stopping, push hard up and expel your breath forcefully. You don’t have to make the dumbells touch at the top.
You want to start the exercise by lowering the dumbells so you get a feel for how heavy they are and be prepared mentally for that. Be careful of not lowering the dumbells excessively at the bottom, especially if they are very heavy for you or you may tear a muscle.
We mentioned the stretching benefit already and the fact that dumbells work each side independently.
The balancing action might make it an exercise avoided by novices and also prevent you from lifting as heavy as you would with a bar but this is an advantage in itself as you make the muscle work harder and in a different way.
Finally, the ace that the dumbbell press has over the bar is that the triceps are recruited to a much lesser extent. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the shoulder muscles.
Of course, you can do it inclined and declined.
Use a gym ball instead of a bench.
Change your grip: hands facing each other or facing your feet. Add a twist: start with your hands facing your feet and rotate them as you push up so they end up facing each other in a kind of flyes movement. Quite hard to do with heavy weights. See this article for over 100 exercises and variations to work the pecs.
The dumbbell chest press is an all-round excellent exercise and better than the bench press for me.