Benefits of the Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
We often turn to the apparent exercises for chest growth: flat bench, incline press, and flyes. While significant, these movements alone aren’t always enough to stimulate all areas of our pectorals and build them up.
The decline bench press is an overlooked movement that offers more benefits than most people imagine. Decline pressing is a movement where you place a bench in a decline setting and secure your legs in a higher position. In doing so, you press the weight at a unique angle that allows you to emphasize the lower portion of your chest.
Doing the decline press with a pair of dumbbells is even more beneficial. You train through a slightly longer range of motion, and you force both sides of your body to work independently. The overload potential is impressive, you emphasize both pectorals evenly, and you reduce the risk of side-to-side imbalances from occurring.
How to do a Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
- Adjust the bench at around 30 degrees of decline and grab a pair of moderately-heavy dumbbells.
- With both dumbbells in your hands and close to your body, carefully get on the bench and secure your legs.
- As you’re sitting upright with the dumbbells resting atop your thighs, bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
- Lower yourself slowly and make sure that your legs are secured and that your shoulders and head are in contact with the bench. Maintain your upper back position as you lie down.
- Bring both dumbbells to your sides but avoid flaring your elbows out.
- Take another breath and push both dumbbells up as you engage your chest and triceps.
- Press up and in until your elbows lockout, and both dumbbells touch lightly.
- Exhale and slowly bring the dumbbells back to your sides.
- Take another breath and press up again.
What muscles does dumbbell decline bench activate?
The primary muscle group that works during a dumbbell decline bench press is the chest (pectorals) (1). Our chest muscles cover the front of the upper torso and insert into the humerus (the large upper arm bone). Our pectorals work during arm adduction and extension thanks to their position, origin, and insertion points (2). Decline pressing emphasizes the lower and middle region of our pectorals because of muscle fiber orientation. The fibers in the lower chest move horizontally and up. So, exercises that force our arms to move in the opposite direction (horizontally and down) stimulate that area well.
The dumbbell decline press is also fantastic for the front deltoid head, which assists our chest in arm extension (1). The middle deltoid head also works to some degree but mostly to keep the shoulder joint stable.
Aside from our pectorals and deltoids, the decline bench press involves the triceps (1). As we press the dumbbells up, our triceps contribute significantly, allowing us to extend our arms and finish each repetition. The closer we get to the top position, the more our triceps take over the movement.
The rectus and transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and glutes also contribute to the decline press. Collectively referred to as the ‘core,’ these muscles contract isometrically to keep us in a stable position as we press.
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press Tips
An important tip to follow is to start with a pair of light dumbbells. You might have a lot of experience with the bench press, but the decline version takes time to learn. Focus on proper form and muscle activation by starting with a lightweight.
Be careful not to hit the dumbbells together at the top position. Doing so can lead to instability, worsen your form or force you to stop the set early on. Instead, press the dumbbells up carefully and only tap them at the top. As with any other pressing movement, bring your shoulder blades back and down. Doing so is essential for shoulder stability and proper pectoral activation.
Once you’ve positioned yourself and are ready to start pressing, push the weight directly up so the dumbbells end up over your chest at the top position. A mistake here is to press the dumbbells up and back, which brings them over your head, reduces chest activation, and shifts the emphasis on your shoulders.
Variations and Modifications of the Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
1. Decline Barbell Bench Press
The most popular alternative to the decline dumbbell press is the barbell version. The exercise is identical in many ways because the range of motion is similar, and you train the same muscle groups. Decline barbell pressing is also useful for causing greater mechanical tension in your upper body because you can work with more weight (3).
2. Decline Dumbbell Chest Fly
The chest fly is a great isolation movement for working the pectorals. By doing the exercise on a decline bench, you can emphasize the middle and lower regions better. Plus, declined chest flyes are beneficial for introducing yourself to decline work before learning how to press.
3. Decline Dumbbell Squeeze Press
The dumbbell squeeze press is a neat variation that can result in slightly better pectoral activation. The goal of the movement is to hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip and press them together. Consciously move both dumbbells up and into one another throughout each repetition.
Mistakes to Avoid
The most common mistake related to the decline press is using too much weight. For example, trainees often reason that if they can incline or flat press a certain weight, they should use it for the decline press. As mentioned above, the decline press takes some time to get used to, so start with a lighter weight that lets you practice proper form comfortably.
Another mistake to avoid with the decline press is flaring your elbows out. Doing so is wrong because it puts your shoulders in a weak and compromised position. Plus, flared elbows prevent you from lifting as much weight as possible because the dumbbells are farther from your body. To avoid this weak and compromised position, keep your elbows tucked in throughout each repetition.
You also need to be careful not to round your shoulder while decline bench pressing. Setting yourself up on the decline bench is more difficult and can lead to pressing with a rounded upper back. The issue is, rounded shoulders are more unstable, which can be problematic when you start using heavier dumbbells. Avoid this mistake by bringing your shoulder blades back and digging them into the bench before each set.
Similar Exercises to the Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
Bench Press (Dumbbell)
Flat and decline dumbbell bench presses are similar because they have the same range of motion and work the same muscles. Both movements also offer the same overloading potential and force both sides of the body to work independently. The primary difference is the torso angle, which allows you to emphasize your lower chest slightly better when decline pressing.
Incline Push Up
Incline push-ups are a fantastic exercise for training your chest even if you don’t have any available equipment. All you need is something sturdy to press off of, such as a chair.
The incline push-up is similar to decline bench pressing because you emphasize the lower chest on both exercises. Having your angle at an incline allows you to better target the muscle fibers in the lower chest, resulting in more balanced pec development.
Chest dips are another effective movement for building your pectorals, shoulders, and triceps. Similar to dumbbell decline bench press, your body’s position and angle of pressing allow you to emphasize the lower chest.