View Full Version : Dumbbell Bench Press

10-24-2007, 10:55 AM
Hey Mark,

In "Starting Strength" you wrote the following regarding the bench press:

In fact, the dumbbell version of the exercise, which actually predates the barbell version due to its less specialized equipment requirements, is probably a better exercise for most purposes other than powerlifting competition. This is especially true if the weights used are sufficiently heavy, challenging the ability of the lifter to actually finish a set.

Based on the above, and given the fact that I am not a powerlifter, I've replaced the barbell bench press in my routine with the dumbbell bench press. I have a few questions about this.

1) In your opinion, is this a good idea?

2) Is programming for the dumbbell bench press the same as for the barbell bench press? (i.e. sets of 5 across)

3) Do you have any specific points on how to properly execute the dumbbell bench press? (Range of motion, bounce out of the bottom, etc.)

Thanks for your time,


Mark Rippetoe
10-24-2007, 07:31 PM
1.) Sure. But you have to approach it as a "lift", not an assistance exercise.

2.) Programming would be the same. The main limitation in training with dumbbells is that you are usually at the mercy of the dumbbell rack in the gym, in that you have little control over your incremental increases -- you have to use what's there, and the next jump up may be too big. This can be addressed with magnets in the appropriate weights.

3.) Take the dumbbells out of the rack, and learn to get in position on the bench from a standing position, NOT by laying down and getting the dumbbells off the floor or from spotters. Likewise, at the end of the set, finish the last rep and learn to stand back up with the dumbbells without lowering them to the floor. This will prevent lots of shoulder injuries. Don't slam the dumbbells together at the top, at least not MY dumbbells. Keep them in line like they are a bar and touch the inside edge of the plates to your chest right over your armpit to ensure a full range of motion. The bottom rebounds to the same extent a bench press does, which is to say you "bounce" off of your pec/shoulder tightness, not off of contact with your shoulders.

Good luck.

10-25-2007, 01:29 AM
hey mark, i was wondering what your views on dumbbell military pressing are, since it is similar to the bench press in some regards.

i'm partly asking because of curiosity, but i'm mostly asking because i do not think i can barbell military press anymore. i recently took 6 weeks off from pressing and 3 weeks off from any upperbody work at all because i had injured my left elbow.

shortly before it became a full-blown injury, i would notice a clicking in my left elbow (sounded like tendons were being moved around) as soon as i started the pressing motion upwards.

my first press workout coming back was normal, so i thought everything was fine. however, today i started to hear the clicking again and so i immediately stopped the movement. i tried pressing 25lb dumbbells and they seem to be a lot easier on my elbow.

what do you think of this as an alternative to barbell pressing?

thanks a lot.

10-25-2007, 01:53 PM

You've essentially described exactly what I have been doing. I've been using the dumbbell bench press as one of my main "lifts" in place of the barbell bench press, using heavy sets of 5 across. My gym has dumbbells at 2.5lb increments up to 50lb and 5lb increments thereafter, up to 100lb. Since I'm using more than 50lb, I use a set of PlateMate magnets that keep my jumps to 2.5lb, or less than 5%.

Thanks again,


10-26-2007, 04:43 PM
I like it! with racking dbumbells I see a few different ways people use them and I am sure it is damaging them..learning to stand and sit holding dumbells is a concern of mine for a while, I think it is great but I never know if i'm stressing something by doing it incorrectly, for this I would love to see a video demo, appreciate your input.

10-29-2007, 04:27 PM
or would you recommend the incline bench press instead of dumbbells military press? thanks.

Mark Rippetoe
11-01-2007, 07:27 PM
I never recommend incline anything, due to the fact that standing anything is better. Dumbbell presses are completely analagous to dumbbell bench presses, for the same reasons, and they should be programmed the same way.

11-02-2007, 09:02 AM
I remember reading in another thread that the barbell press works the external rotators in the locked out position. Is the same true for the dumbbell press?


Mark Rippetoe
11-02-2007, 08:03 PM
Of course. The lockout position contracts all the posterior cuff isometrically, and unless your humerus is quite externally rotated into some weird position named after a bodybuilder, your cuff muscles are working as hard as the weight is heavy.

12-17-2007, 09:25 PM
After plateauing on SS, I've been using dumbbells with platemate magnets and programming my dumbbell bench like the barbell bench (Texas method ideology - 5x5 Monday, and 1x5 Friday, with 5x5 press on Wednesday), and so far everything's been working great.

I've got 2 questions:

1) My current plan is to get 100lbs (the max weight of our dumbbells) for a set of 5, and then find a spotter and start over with bench. In your experience, how do dumbbell bench weights translate to barbell bench weights? Also, how should one begin programming the barbell bench after doing only dumbbell bench?

1) To get in position, I pick up the dumbbells off the floor, sit down with them on my thighs, and lay down while moving the dumbbells to my side, then press up. So the beginning position for the first rep is much different than during barbell bench, since I'm starting at the bottom of the movement. I wanted to make sure that this is the correct set up, since I've seen some guys laying down with their arms extended over their chest, albeit with smaller weights. But that seems insane.

Mark Rippetoe
12-24-2007, 03:09 PM
1. You're on your own. I have no experience with this specific situation, so just start back where you can and go up from there.

2. I like the other guy's way much better, and that's the one I teach. I start from a standing position with the dumbbells held in contact with my thighs, back flat, knees bent, and then lay back on the bench with a rolling motion, making damn sure to keep the elbows locked. This is much safer, since you will not hurt your shoulders by starting unstable dumbbells from the bottom, and you get the eccentric rebound on the first rep like a regular BB bench.

More importantly, I finish in the top position as well, and lower the dumbbells back to my thighs with straight locked elbows in a reverse of the rocking motion that put me down on the bench. This motion stands me up into the position I started. It is MUCH safer (if you can learn how to do it) than stopping at the bottom and having to either sit up with the dumbbells or lower them to the floor at the end of a hard set. Many shoulder injuries have resulted from lowering heavy dumbbells to the floor one at a time at the end of a set to failure. My advice is to stop on the rep before you know you're going to fail with the DBs at the top and then lower them back to the thighs with straight elbows while you stand up. Of course, if you're only benching the 40s, this doesn't matter, but the 100s will hurt you if you do them wrong.

12-27-2007, 02:36 PM
Do you mean for your elbows to be fully extended and locked out? Or perhaps bent and 'locked' in place - not moving down. I had no luck searching youtube for sample videos, and I'm afraid that if I roll down with enough momentum to get fully extended elbows above my head, they'll overshoot and land somewhere behind me. At least I didn't feel very secure trying this with bigger weights yesterday.

Mark Rippetoe
12-27-2007, 03:54 PM
Your elbows will be locked in place, and the backward momentum will be dampened as you rotate back into place on the bench. It takes a little practice, but hey, I'm an old guy and I can do it.