10 DB Bench Variations for Strength and Mass

Dustin Myers

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As much as I love a good old fashioned straight bar bench press, I have always felt more direct strength and aesthetic benefit from dumbbell bench press.  There are several reasons for this - you must recruit more stabilizing muscles to balance the weights than with a straight barbell, increased range of motion, a more natural hand position, etc.  But what happens if you get to the point where your strength has surpassed the heaviest set of dumbbells at your gym?  You can always add another 2.5 or 5lb plate to the barbell, but if your gym’s dumbbell rack maxes out at 100s, there is only so much you can do once you are strong enough to press the 100s for 15 to 20 reps.  While you are still able to encourage hypertrophy and get a massive pump, you may no longer be increasing your pressing strength.  The solution?  Try a few of these killer dumbbell bench variations and watch your strength skyrocket.

Regular

Just in case you are not familiar with technique on the standard DB Press - as you press the weight, keep your lats engaged so your elbows don’t flare out.  Keep your hips in contact with the bench and your feet flat on the ground, do not dance around.  Touch the dumbbells together at the top and lower under control.  The biggest mistake I see people make?  Coming down too high on the chest.  Imagine the handles have a barbell between them and picture where that bar would hit your chest below the pecs and across the sternum.  Your dumbbells should fall along that line.

Pause Reps

When using pause reps, make sure to keep everything tight, don’t just collapse at the bottom and let the weights fall onto you.  I always think of “pulling down” the dumbbells in to my lats and then squeezing while I pause for 3 seconds, then explode up.  Try doing 3 x 5 with a 3 second pause at the bottom of each rep.

Negatives

There are two different ways you can utilize negatives.  The most common way is to add a 6-10 second negative to the last rep of a set once you are at failure.  In my opinion, the most useful way is to do an entire low rep set (3-5 reps) of 6 second negatives.  If the weight is light for you, control the weight for 6 seconds on the way down and then explode up.  If the weight is challenging, have your partner spot your wrists and assist the concentric portion of the rep.  Either way, after 3-5 reps you should be absolutely toast.

Iso-lateral

Start by pressing both dumbbells up and then keep one locked out at the top as you press the other side.  Complete the rep then switch sides.  This adds an element of stability and balance and makes the reps very challenging.

Single Arm

If you thought iso-lateral db presses were challenging from a balance standpoint, wait until you try these.  The core and glute strength required for heavy single arm db press is immense.  Start by pressing a single dumbbell up and place your other arm across your stomach.  Tighten up your glutes and press your feet down hard in to the floor.  Do not allow your hips to twist as you press.

Floor Press

This is a DB bench press variation that is done while laying on the floor.  Since your elbows will hit the ground at the half way point, you will only do the top half of the press which is where the triceps are required to lock out the weight.  It is important to let the bar follow the same pathway as if you were doing a full press - do not flair out your elbows and bring the weight straight down, as that will strain the rotator cuff.

1/4 rep

Start by lowering the DBs all of the way to your chest, then come up 1/4 of the way and pause for a split second before lowering the weight all the way then pressing straight up.  that extra 1/4 rep pump makes a big difference and gives you a great stretch thru the pecs.  Shoot for sets of 5-6 reps.  Another challenging addition is to hold the 1/4 rep position for a 3 second pause before finishing the rep.

Swiss Twist

This is a great functional single arm press done on a swiss ball that will test your core strength.  Start with a weight roughly 1/2 - 2/3 that you would normally use on a single arm press.  Lay on a swiss ball and perform a press, twisting at the top and bringing one shoulder off of the ball to reach the dumbbell as high as possible.  shoot for slow controlled sets of 6-8 reps.

Pulse

Remember the 1/4 rep presses?  Take a heavy weight that you can normally do 10 reps with and do strictly the bottom 1/4 range of motion.  See if you can pump out double the amount of pulse reps that you would normally do if it was full reps.  The catch?  no stopping or locking out between reps.

Underhand Reverse Grip

Similar to a reverse grip barbell press, twist the dumbbells to an underhand position and press.  This will allow you to get a killer pec contraction at the top and also really learn to “push” with your lats.  You will need to start light until you master the positioning.  Shoot for sets of 8-12.

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