Chest Training – Decline Dumbbell Press

The decline dumbbell press is a highly effective exercise to build bench press power and chest muscle size. Using dumbbells versus a barbell forces you to stabilize the weight taxing your muscles to a greater degree. Adding this exercise to your training program will make a difference in your pressing power.

Purpose of this Exercise

As with other bench pressing exercises, decline dumbbell presses work primarily your pectoralis major (pecs). Decline dumbbell presses emphasize the lower portion of your pecs. They also exercise your triceps and anterior deltoids (delts).

Performing the decline bench press with dumbbells instead of a barbell helps you train your stabilizer muscles*. Because you don’t have the guided path provided by machine exercises, or even the barbell to stabilize the bar laterally, you must use your own musculature to guide the dumbbells straight up and down to perform the exercise. This translates to greater control and greater power when you do perform your barbell exercises, such as the bench press.

*What are stabilizer muscles? Your stabilizers assist the primary muscles perform the movement by helping guide the weight along the correct path. For decline dumbbell presses your stabilizer muscles are your biceps and latissimus dorsi (lats), and to a lesser degree your delts(1).

Exercise Technique:

While similar to the dumbbell press, decline dumbbell presses may seem awkward at first. Perform the exercise with a relatively light weight until you are able to fully control the dumbbells through the correct range of motion. Once you master the movement you will likely be able to press more weight than on the flat or incline bench. This can be attributed to an inherently shorter range of motion and the larger mass of your pecs supporting the weight at the decline angle.

Setup for the Exercise:

  • If your bench has adjustable pads to anchor your legs in, set them to a position that is comfortable and adjust the bench to an angle between approximately 20 and 40 degrees.

Decline Bench – angle is set too high

Decline Bench – maximum angle for a decline bench exercise

  • Lie on the bench and have a workout partner hand you the dumbbells (I have never personally figured out how to get into the bench without this assistance). As they are being handed to you, pull the dumbbells in close to your body until you’re ready to start the exercise.

Hold the dumbbells close to your body as they are handed off to you

  • Make sure your grip is centered on the dumbbells before starting the exercise. If not centered, the dumbbells may start to twist out of your grip, reducing the number of repetitions you can complete.
  • The dumbbell should rest across the base of your palm so that the force of the weight drives down through your wrists and forearms. Resting the dumbbell higher in your palm reduces your leverage and places unnecessary strain on your wrists.

Exercise Execution:

  • Start with the dumbbells in line with each other and the inner edge of the dumbbell just touching the lower portion of your pecs.

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and keep your lats tight throughout the exercise to help stabilize the weight.
  • Press the dumbbells off your chest explosively and drive up until your elbows are locked out. Keep your shoulders planted on the bench as you lock out.
  • Concentrate on pressing the dumbbells straight up toward the ceiling. Do not let them drift toward your head, feet, or outward.
  • You do not have to bring the dumbbells together, touching them at the top of the exercises. Locking the exercise out without touching the dumbbells maintains tension on your chest and triceps, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

  • Pause briefly with your arms locked out. Inhale while locked out, then bring them back down quickly, but smooth and controlled.
  • Pause again with the dumbbells lightly touching your lower pecs before pressing them back up. Begin to exhale as you press the dumbbells past your sticking point.
  • Select a weight that you can control through the correct range of motion. If the weight is too heavy and you allow it to drift out of the correct path, you may place unnecessary strain on your shoulders.
  • As you reach fatigue it will be more difficult to press the dumbbells along the proper path. While assisting you with your final repetitions, your spotter must help guide the dumbbells to keep them from drifting out of line. If you are unable to maintain proper form as you tire, end your set to reduce your risk of injury.

Exercise Safety:

  • Make sure you are in good enough health to perform this exercise technique properly. Consult with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program.
  • Always use weight that you are able to properly control using proper lifting technique.
  • Use a knowledgeable spotter to ensure you continue lifting through the proper range of motion as you become fatigued.

Additional Chest and Tricep Exercises

You may want to check out these powerlifting tips to make even greater improvements to your bench pressing exercises:


1. “How Can One Strengthen Stabilizer Muscles”, “Workout of the Week”. Web, Dec 12, 2010.

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If you’re new to lifting weights, keep your exercise routines simple. You don’t need complex routines and exercises to build significant strength and size. Your basic compound lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press will give you a great foundation to build on. Follow my Brute Force basic rules on strength training:

  1. Work on perfecting your technique – strive for ‘perfect’ form with every repetition
  2. Set up a balanced training program centered on your big compound lifts (and your individual training goals)
  3. Establish a good diet with plenty of protein and sufficient calories
  4. Expect steady progression – lift what your body’s ready for


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