When it comes to building bigger pecs or increasing upper body strength, most people’s go-to exercise is the bench press. It’s a popular exercise with bodybuilders and powerlifters and is even part of the NFL combine. Monday is laughingly often called National Bench Press Day, and a lot of exercisers like to start their training week with this classic barbell move.
But, as effective as the bench press clearly is, there are plenty of other chest exercises you can use to build your upper body. For some lifters, the bench press is actually the cause of shoulder pain, not to mention more than a few torn pecs.
The good news is that even if you love the bench press, you don’t have to get married to it! There are plenty of exercises that are just as effective.
In this guide, we’re going to take an in-depth look at a very useful if lesser-used chest exercise – the close grip dumbbell press, which is also known as the dumbbell squeeze press or crush press.
The close grip dumbbell press is a compound exercise, which means it works several joints and muscles simultaneously. The main muscles involved in the close grip dumbbell press are:
Pectoralis major – known as the pecs for short, these are your main chest muscles. Close grip dumbbell presses work your entire chest, with a slight emphasis on your inner pecs.
Anterior deltoids – the deltoids are your shoulder muscles. The anterior deltoids are located at the front of your shoulder joint. Working with your pecs, the anterior deltoids are very active in close grip dumbbell presses. Anterior deltoid activation increases if you do incline close grip dumbbell presses.
Triceps brachii – usually called the triceps for short, this muscle is located on the back of your upper arm. Like all compound upper body pressing exercises, the triceps are strongly involved in close grip dumbbell presses.
Rotator cuff – the collective term for the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, the rotator cuff is responsible for stabilizing your shoulder joint.
How To Perform The Close Grip Dumbbell Press
To get the best from any exercise, you need to do it properly. Correct exercise technique not only means your workout will be more productive, but it should also reduce your risk of injury. Start light and take time to master the close grip dumbbell press before trying to lift heavier weights. Follow these step-by-step instructions:
- Sit on an exercise bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Using a neutral grip, place and press the dumbbells together. Pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your abs.
- Lie flat on the bench and hold the dumbbells on your chest. Press the weights inward as hard as you can. Tuck your upper arms into your sides.
- Push the weights up and over your chest until your arms are straight but not locked. Keep the tension on your pecs by continuing to press the weights together.
- Lower the dumbbells to your chest and repeat.
- Do not ease up on the inward pressure; keep pushing the dumbbells together for the entire duration of your set.
The Benefits of Close Grip Dumbbell Presses
What makes this exercise so useful? Good question! The main benefits of the close grip dumbbell press are:
Get an effective workout from lighter weights – pushing the dumbbells together increases muscle activation. This is a form of dynamic tension training. Because you’re pressing the weights inward as well as upward, you should find that you can get a great workout even if you use light weights. This is an excellent exercise for home workouts when you may not have access to heavy dumbbells.
Less shoulder pain – compared to regular barbell and dumbbell bench presses, close grip dumbbell presses are much more shoulder-friendly. Keeping your upper arms close to your sides and not using such heavy weights takes a lot of stress off your shoulders. This is a good exercise for anyone who finds regular barbell and dumbbell bench presses uncomfortable.
Hit your inner pecs without cable crossovers – no cable machine? Or just bored of cable crossovers? No problem! Work your inner pecs with close grip dumbbell presses to improve the depth and shape of your chest.
Variety – your body will soon adapt and stop growing if you keep doing the same exercises over and over. The close grip dumbbell press is a good addition to your pec exercise arsenal. Use it to keep your workouts fresh and productive.
Bigger triceps – while the close grip dumbbell press is most definitely a chest exercise, it takes your arms through a large range of motion, which makes it a good triceps exercise too. In the same way that narrow grip barbell bench presses are a useful triceps builder, close grip dumbbell presses are too.
Close Grip Dumbbell Press Variations and Alternatives
You don’t have to stick to the close grip dumbbell press exclusively; there are several variations and alternatives you can use to maximize your chest development. Use these tried-and-tested exercises to avoid training ruts and progress plateaus.
1. Incline close grip dumbbell press
Hit your upper and inner chest at the same time by doing close grip dumbbell presses on an incline bench. Experiment with angles from 15 to 45-degrees. The steeper the angle, the more work your deltoids will have to do. You may also find you are slightly weaker in an inclined position.
2. Decline close grip dumbbell press
Set your bench to a 15 to 20-degree decline to increase lower pec activation. Most lifters find that they are stronger during decline presses than they are for flat and incline. Decline presses involve a slightly shorter range of motion and are usually a little more shoulder-friendly.
3. Close grip dumbbell floor press
If you ever find yourself stuck without a training bench, this could be the variation for you. Simply lie on the floor and do close grip dumbbell presses as described above. Each rep will come to a halt when your upper arms touch the floor, which will reduce your range of motion, taking stress off your shoulders. However, because you’re pressing the dumbbells inward, this variation will still deliver an effective pec workout.
Read more about floor presses here.
4. Svend press
The Svend press is very similar to the close grip dumbbell press because it also involves pressing two weights together. However, instead of dumbbells, you use weight plates for this exercise.
How to do it:
- With your arms bent, press two five or ten-pound weight plates together in front of your chest.
- Push the plates away from you until your arms are straight. Simultaneously press your arms inward, squeezing the plates together.
- Bend your arms and pull the plates back toward your chest, and repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Svend presses can be done standing or lying on a bench or the floor. If you do the lying version, take extra care not to drop the plates.
5. Medicine ball push-ups
Medicine ball push-ups are very similar to close grip dumbbell presses but, instead of lifting dumbbells, you’ll be lifting your own body weight instead. This is also a good balance and core exercise.
How to do it:
- Place a medicine ball on the floor. Squat down and place your hands on the ball on either side of the apex.
- With your arms straight, walk your legs back, so your body is straight. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Bend your arms and lower your chest to the ball. Work hard to maintain your balance and stability. Do not drop your hips or round your lower back.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Put your feet on an exercise bench to make this exercise more challenging, or bend your legs and rest on your knees to make it easier.
- Take care; this exercise can be hard on your wrists.
6. Diamond push-ups
Like close grip dumbbell presses, diamond push-ups are a useful inner pec and triceps exercise. They’re so-called because, with your hands close together, your thumbs and fingers form a diamond shape.
Check out this article to learn how to do diamond push-ups correctly.
7. Close grip barbell bench press
A lot of people view close grip bench presses as a triceps exercise. While they are useful for adding mass to your arms, they’re also an excellent inner chest exercise, just like close grip dumbbell bench presses. Because it’s easier to get into the starting position, and you don’t have to focus on pressing your hands together, you will probably find you can use heavier weights with this variation.
Learn more about close-grip barbell bench presses here.
8. Dumbbell/cable bench press combo
This hybrid exercise works your entire chest by marrying two exercises and training methods together. It’s a little more convoluted than close grip dumbbell presses but still an effective way to build and shape your pecs.
How to do it:
- Place an exercise bench in the middle of a cable crossover machine. Attach straps to the low cables and put the straps around your wrists. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie down.
- Lower the dumbbells to your shoulders and then press them upward and inward. The cables will try to pull your arms apart; don’t let them.
- Lower the dumbbells to your shoulders and repeat.
- This is a tricky exercise that’s probably best done with a spotter on hand. You can do this move on a flat, incline, or decline bench as required.
Close Grip Dumbbell Press Tips
Get even more from this exercise with these handy tips!
Focus on pushing inward – pushing inward is what makes this exercise so effective. Make sure you focus on pressing the weights together as hard as possible to maximize chest muscle activation. You may find that you get a better workout if you use lighter weights. This will allow you to prioritize pressing the dumbbells together.
Use hex dumbbells – while you can do close grip dumbbell presses with round dumbbells, it works better with hex-shaped dumbbells. Using hex dumbbells, you can press the flat surfaces together so the weights are less likely to slip.
Stop just short of complete lockout – keep your pecs under constant pressure by not locking out your arms at the top of each rep. With no mid-rep pause, your pecs will soon start to pump up. Getting a good pump is an integral part of building muscle.
Medium to high reps work best – some exercises are ideal for heavy weights and low reps, such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. Close grip dumbbell presses work best with light to moderate weights and medium to high reps. This is not an exercise for low reps and maximal weights. 12-20 reps per set work especially well.
Close Grip Dumbbell Press – Wrapping Up
There is no denying the effectiveness of regular barbell and dumbbell bench presses. After all, success leaves clues, and millions of lifters have built impressive muscle size and strength with these two moves. However, despite this, most people need more variety in their workouts.
The close grip dumbbell press is a very effective exercise, but many lifters are put off by the idea of using lighter than normal weights. What they fail to realize is that the power of this exercise is the need to push the dumbbells together. THAT’S what makes this exercise so effective. Pushing inward increases muscle activation.
There is no need to give up regular bench presses; they ARE great exercises. But, if you are looking for a way to maintain your progress, you may find that adding close grip bench presses to your chest workouts provides the variation you need.