Dumbbell Bench Press and Push-Ups are two exercises that are commonly used to build upper body strength. Although both exercises primarily target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, there are several differences that set them apart.
Some advantages are obvious, Push-Ups don’t require any equipment while Dumbbells may be easier to scale up in weight. However, is one better than the other for improving strength? What about better for beginners?
In this article, I’m doing a deep dive into both exercises. First, I’ll teach you to do both exercises properly with coaching tips and explain their benefits. Then, I’ll compare Dumbbell Bench Press and Push-Ups side-by-side so you can get a better idea of which (or both) you should be including in your workouts.
First, Dumbbell Bench Press.
Dumbbell Bench Press
- Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
- Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your butt on the bench.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
- The dumbbells should be slightly angled (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
- Press the dumbbells up.
- Control the dumbbells down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbells in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
- The dumbbells will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
- Once contact is made, drive the dumbbells back up.
- When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.
- The best way to finish a set is to bring the dumbbells back to your thighs and stand up with them. Or have a lifting partner take them from you.
Dumbbell Bench Press is a very shoulder-friendly pressing movement. Because the implement is a dumbbell, the range of motion is increased, the shear force on the shoulder is decreased, and the shoulder stabilizing muscles are engaged.
Remember to finish your sets with awareness so that you and your training partner/fellow gym members stay safe and injury-free.
Do not over arch the back or let your butt come off the bench. Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.
Need a substitute for Dumbbell Bench Press? Here are some of my favorite Dumbbell Bench Press alternatives.
Benefits of Dumbbell Bench Press
Some of the benefits of Dumbbell Bench Press include:
- Dumbbell Bench allows for a greater range of motion than a barbell Bench Press, which can help to target the muscles more effectively.
- Dumbbell Bench Press can help to improve muscle imbalances, as each arm is working independently during the exercise.
- It can be performed with lighter weights, which can be useful for beginners or those who are recovering from an injury.
- It can help to improve overall upper body strength and hypertrophy.
Overall, the dumbbell bench press is a versatile exercise that can be incorporated into a variety of strength training routines to help improve overall upper body strength and muscle development.
For modification purposes though:
- Med ball
- Bench or box
- Lie face down on the floor.
- Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
- Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
- Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
- Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
- Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
- Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
- Lock out your push-up and pause.
- Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground. Do not fully relax at the bottom of the push-up unless your program specifies.
Take your time and master the Push-Up. The benefits of doing sound push-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.
Keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.
I would highly recommend this movement to any athlete. It provides all the benefits a pressing movement can offer with minimal risk.
If you want to add some variety to your workouts here are 11 Push-Up alternatives you may want to try out.
By far the biggest mistake I see in the push-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Push all the way up and slowly lower yourself back to about an inch of the ground.
Elbow angle. Another common mistake in pressing movements is lifters letting those elbows flare. Remember to keep your elbows at 45 degrees to keep your shoulders healthy.
Another mistake is lifters go too fast with their push-ups. Push-ups are commonly programmed for strength and hypertrophy. This means time under tension is key. Take them slow and perfect the movement to yield maximal results.
Benefits of Push-ups
Some of the key benefits of push-ups include:
- Strengthens the upper body: Push-ups are an excellent way to build strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms.
- Increases muscle endurance: Push-ups can help to improve your muscle endurance by challenging your upper body muscles to work for an extended period of time.
- Can be done anywhere: One of the great things about Push-ups is that they can be done almost anywhere with no equipment needed, making them a convenient exercise to incorporate into your fitness routine.
- Improves overall functional strength: Push-ups require a combination of strength and stability, which can translate to improved functional strength in everyday activities.
In addition to these physical benefits, push-ups can also be a great way to boost your mental toughness and confidence.
Dumbbell Bench Press vs Push-Ups: Which is Better?
Now, let’s look at these two chest exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength: Toss-Up
There is a caveat to my saying the two exercises are basically a tie for improving strength. This is assuming the ability to modify Push-Ups and add resistance as you get stronger.
If we’re talking strictly bodyweight Push-Ups then the answer would be Dumbbell Bench Press only because of the ability to continue to go up in weight as needed. Bodyweight Push-Ups at a certain point will turn into more of a muscular endurance exercise vs a pure strength-building exercise.
However, if resistance can be added (for example, placing a 45-pound plate on the back) then the two exercises basically become a toss-up.
Push-Ups are, in my opinion, severely underestimated in just how much strength they can develop – especially if you have a weight plate or two sitting on your back.
Better For Beginners: Push-Ups
This one is easy. A beginner can get so much value from emphasizing Push-Ups it’s ridiculous. Not only will you build strength quickly, but you’ll also start to improve core stability without even realizing it.
When I first start working with freshmen athletes in the weight room, Push-Ups are an absolute staple in their workouts. I’ll throw them in as part of warm-ups, within the workouts themselves and even at the end of a workout as part of a finisher or competition.
That’s all not to say beginners can’t get value from Dumbbell Bench Press – they absolutely can. They simply lose the head-to-head when compared to Push-Ups.
Need a Training Program?
Coach Horton has 20 years of experience training elite level athletes at schools like the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. He has also written plenty of programs for other coaches and friends and family.
So, whether you need a program to improve your performance in your sport or you just want to look good at the beach, there is a program designed just for you.
I’ve just spent the entire last section of this article comparing Dumbbell Bench Press vs Push-Ups. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both are excellent exercises for building strength and hypertrophy. And, both exercises actually complement each other well and incorporating both into your training can also add much-needed variety.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Dumbbell Bench Press and Push-Ups into your training plan.