Here is an unpopular opinion — the dumbbell bench press is not easier than the barbell bench press. I would go as far as to say that you should master the barbell bench press before switching to the dumbbell variation.
Why is that, you ask? The dumbbell bench press involves a slightly more extensive range of motion and requires core and shoulder stability to perform correctly. Contrary to what most people think, chest pressing exercises don’t train the pectoralis major in isolation. A study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that “all bench press variations achieved high elbow and shoulder muscular efforts.” (1)
A common rookie mistake that I often see people make is that they lower the dumbbells too far below the midline, which can strain the shoulder rotator cuffs and increase the risk of injury.
The dumbbell floor press is the perfect progression exercise for the conventional dumbbell press that I often recommend to beginners. It helps you drill the pressing movement mechanics by limiting your range of motion.
After teaching dumbbell floor presses to numerous beginners, I’ve compiled this guide to help you execute this exercise safely and optimize your lifting performance.
Dumbbell Floor Press: Step-By-Step Guide
Here are the steps to perform dumbbell floor presses safely and ensure you get the most out of them:
Step One — Set Up
Place two dumbbells on each side of a yoga mat. Alternatively, you could also perform this exercise on the floor.
Pro Tip: Lifting gloves can make a big difference if your hands sweat. You could also use chalk to keep your hands dry.
Step Two — Lie Down and Grab Dumbbells
Sit on the floor with your knees fully extended. Position the dumbbells on your thighs. Lay back on the exercise mat and bring the dumbbells above your chest while thrusting them with your legs. Fold your legs and place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
The starting position should resemble the conventional dumbbell bench press setup. Keep your spine neutral, chest proud, and shoulder blades depressed. Avoid excessive arching of the lower back.
Pro Tip: Position the dumbbells near the hips as it simplifies the transition, making the kick-up more fluid. Plus, keep your core braced to ensure balance and limit lower back engagement.
Step Three — Initiate the Eccentric Phase
Take a deep breath and slowly lower the dumbbells by flexing the elbows. Your triceps should touch the floor at the bottom of the range of motion. Hold the chest in the full stretched position for a second for optimal chest muscle fiber recruitment.
Pro Tip: The eccentric phase isn’t a race; maintaining control yields better results. Focus on contracting your pecs throughout the range of motion.
Step Four — Initiate the Concentric Phase
Press the dumbbells toward the ceiling by extending the elbows and breathing out sharply. Keep your core braced throughout the range of motion. Converse the dumbbells on the concentrics for optimal chest stimulation.
Pro Tip: Visualizing squeezing the chest can significantly improve the mind-muscle connection.
What Muscles Do Dumbbell Floor Press Work?
During dumbbell floor presses, the pectoralis major is the primary target muscle. This exercise biases the sternal head of the pectoralis major, which is responsible for shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction.
Here are the secondary muscles involved:
- Triceps brachii
- Anterior deltoid
- Serratus anterior
- Biceps brachii
- Forearm muscles
- Stabilizing core muscles
- Scapular stabilizers
What Are the Benefits of Dumbbell Floor Press Exercise?
While dumbbell floor presses (and all pressing exercises in general) have many benefits, I have listed only the most important ones below.
Increased Chest Strength & Size
A dumbbell floor press can help promote hypertrophy and strength gains. Also, exercises like the conventional bench press might be more effective for hypertrophy because of the extended range of motion.
Reduced Shoulder Strain Due to Limited Range of Motion
Dumbbell floor presses limit shoulder strain as they comprise a smaller range of motion. This can be an excellent pressing exercise for people with shoulder issues. By reducing the range of motion, you effectively decrease the chance of injuring your shoulder cartilage. That said, you must consult your doctor before beginning a training program if you are dealing with injuries.
Improved Triceps Development
All pressing exercises involve elbow extension and flexion. The primary muscle responsible for such movement is the triceps brachii, a three-headed muscle on the back of your upper arm. Floor presses are perfect for developing lateral and medial triceps heads.
Exercises such as skull crushers or overhead rope extensions can help develop your long triceps head. (2)
Added Stabilization and Control
Dumbbell floor presses offer better stabilization and control as they involve a limited range of motion and offer a stable base and scapular stabilization.
Dumbbell Floor Press Variations and Alternatives
Below are the best dumbbell floor press alternatives and variations:
Single-Arm Dumbbell Floor Press
Besides training the target muscles, unilateral exercises can help develop the stabilizer muscles (3). The single-arm dumbbell floor press is one of the best variations for combat sports athletes, especially those who want to develop punching power while training their core.
- Pick a dumbbell of appropriate weight.
- Place the dumbbell on the floor and lie down beside it (the side you lie down will depend on the working arm, but for now, let’s stick with the right hand).
- Grab the dumbbell in your right hand and lift it over your chest using your left hand.
- Fully extend the elbow to get in the starting position.
- Keep your legs straight or knees bent, depending on your preference. Planting your feet flat on the floor provides better stabilization and support.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell towards the floor by flexing your working elbow.
- Your tricep should touch the floor at the bottom of the range of motion.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Pro Tip: Actively pressing the non-working arm into the floor enhances core stability and reinforces the mind-muscle connection, ensuring better control during each rep.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is one of the best chest builders. It involves a more extensive range of motion, leading to better chest fiber stimulation.
- Pick two dumbbells of appropriate weight.
- Sit at the edge of a flat bench and place both dumbbells vertically at the bottom of your thighs.
- Get into the starting position while holding the dumbbells with a pronated grip above your chest.
- Start the exercise by lowering the dumbbells towards your chest by bending your elbows.
- Pause at the bottom of the ROM for one second.
- Reverse the motion to return the weights to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Brace your core throughout the exercise for better balance. Keep the reps slow and controlled, and avoid fully extending your elbows at the top to keep constant tension on your pecs.
Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is one of the three big lifts in powerlifting, the other two being deadlifts and squats. This exercise allows experienced lifters to go super heavy.
- Load the barbell with an appropriate weight.
- Lay down on the bench on your back and take a little wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Plant your feet on the floor for added stabilization and support.
- Unrack the barbell, preferably with the help of a spotter, if you are performing anything above or close to 80% of your 1RM (one-rep max).
- Start the exercise by lowering the loaded barbell towards your chest by bending your elbows.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position when the barbell barely touches your chest.
Pro Tip: Engage the lats during the barbell bench press for better stability.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
Single-arm dumbbell bench press is a more challenging unilateral variation of the regular dumbbell bench press exercise. It requires more core and hip strength to execute, making it great for sports such as handball, basketball, and even some punching sports.
- Pick a dumbbell of appropriate weight.
- Lie on the flat bench and place your feet firmly on the ground for better stability.
- Pick a dumbbell with your right hand and place it above your chest in the starting position.
- Start the exercise by lowering the dumbbell towards your chest.
- When the dumbbell reaches the level of your chest, quickly reverse the motion to return it to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Pro Tip: Squeeze your core and glutes for better stability and balance throughout the exercise.
Are dumbbell presses on the floor effective?
The dumbbell floor press is a highly effective exercise that can help build bigger and stronger upper body muscles, including the pectoralis major, triceps brachii, and anterior deltoid, despite its restricted range of motion.
In addition, dumbbell floor presses are excellent for developing explosive strength, which is why so many MMA fighters and combat sports utilize this exercise in their strength and conditioning workouts.
How much weight should I use for the floor press?
The weight you should use for the floor press depends on your current fitness level and goals. For example, anything below 60% of your 1RM will mainly develop your endurance. Between 60 and 80% is the best range for developing muscle hypertrophy. In comparison, anything above 80% is perfect for strength and power development. Now, for the repetitions, anything between 12 and 25 reps is perfect for developing endurance. Between six and 12 reps is ideal for muscle hypertrophy, while below six is excellent for strength and power development.
Is the floor press a better chest exercise than a regular bench press?
In terms of hypertrophy, the dumbbell floor press isn’t necessarily better for your chest than the regular bench press. The dumbbell floor press involves a limited range of motion. This is why using floor presses for strength and power gains and traditional bench presses for hypertrophy is better. The dumbbell floor press is also better for beginners to drill the pressing movement mechanics.
Can a dumbbell floor press build a chest?
Dumbbell floor presses can help you build a bigger chest. However, they are much better for strength workouts. For example, I would always prefer to perform dumbbell floor presses with more than 80% of my 1RM since that is the best way to build strength. Beginners can use floor presses to progress to the regular bench press.
Are unilateral variations of dumbbell floor presses effective?
Unilateral exercises are great since they work on your core and stabilizer muscles, adding to your overall functionality. So, from that perspective, single-arm dumbbell floor presses are great since they will simultaneously work your chest and triceps while forcing you to maintain balance by activating your core and hips.
Dumbbell floor presses are excellent for various reasons. They involve a limited range of motion and provide better stability, which is excellent for beginners. You can easily implement them into your pushing workouts to further increase your strength and power output.
Dumbbell floor presses are also great for biasing hypertrophy. Also, you can perform dumbbell floor press alternatives to improve your pushing performance and minimize the chance of injuries.
In the comments below, let me know your biggest challenges when performing dumbbell floor presses.
- Mausehund L, Werkhausen A, Bartsch J, Krosshaug T. Understanding Bench Press Biomechanics-The Necessity of Measuring Lateral Barbell Forces. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Oct 1;36(10):2685-2695. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003948. Epub 2021 Feb 4. PMID: 33555823.
- Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018;52(3):201-205. doi:10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005
- Liao KF, Nassis GP, Bishop C, Yang W, Bian C, Li YM. Effects of unilateral vs. bilateral resistance training interventions on measures of strength, jump, linear and change of direction speed: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biol Sport. 2022;39(3):485-497. doi:10.5114/biolsport.2022.107024