The dumbbell incline press can be an essential addition to your training routine to help build a bigger, stronger upper chest, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise for a prime muscle group. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you grab a set of dumbbells, hit the bench, and get pressing take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Using the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of how easy it is to cheat the angle and how common it is for guys to put their shoulder health at risk. Let’s break down everything you need to know.
Eb says: You’ll see a lot of people arching their backs when they bench-press period — and it’s that much more important on the incline press. If you’re aiming to hit the clavicular fibers of your chest (your upper chest), you need to create a wider upper arm angle relative to torso. The incline press does that if you keep your core tight and don’t arch your back.
But arching your back closes that upper arm angle (and cuts the distance of the actual press too), and that defeats the purpose of the press. So keep your core tight and glue your butt to the bench. These are common bench-pressing rules in general, but they need reinforcement when you’re on the incline press.
Eb says: One of the most common mistakes on the incline press occurs when people slightly press out in front of them instead of pressing straight up. This happens because they misunderstand the purpose of the press. Again, you’re here to open up the upper arm angle relative to torso, not to just simply lie on the bench in different fashion.
So set up for this the way you would for any bench press: Dumbbells directly above shoulders, then drive your shoulders hard into the bench (to tighten your shoulder blades). Turn your elbows slightly forward and you’re ready to go.
Don’t Overdo the Depth
Eb says: Yes, it’s great to touch the dumbbells to your chest, but don’t fixate on that idea. Depending on your shoulder mobility, you may or may not be able to do this. Your goal should be to lower the dumbbells as until your elbows are below your shoulders at least, and you should be able to own and control this position.
But if you can’t touch your shoulders, it’s OK. Once your elbows have dipped below your chest and you’ve proven you own this position, press back up explosively. You’re here for the press back up explosively, and the squeeze at the top of each rep. If you wanted to stretch your chest fibers? You’d just do a chest stretch.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
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