Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is a staple exercise in a complete chest-building workout routine.

But it can also be one of the most intimidating exercises for beginners because the angle of the bench makes it feel awkward. Even experienced lifters can make mistakes with this movement.

In this article, I break down the incline dumbbell press and teach you the proper technique. So you can master the movement and build an impressive chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press

What Is An Incline Dumbbell Press?

An incline dumbbell press is a variation of the bench press exercise. It’s performed on an incline bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand.

For this reason, this exercise is also called an incline dumbbell bench press or an incline dumbbell chest press.

Using dumbbells instead of a barbell changes the mechanics of your arms during the movement. And the angle of the bench uses specific parts of the chest muscles.

Incline Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

Like all bench press movements, the incline dumbbell press primarily targets the pectorals. And the triceps are used to extend the arms.

But the inclined angle specifically targets the muscles of the upper chest. In addition, the angle can also bring the anterior deltoid into play (the front of the shoulder) depending on how steep it is.

Incline Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

Incline Dumbbell Press Angle

The steeper the incline, the more your shoulders get used in the pressing movement. For example, a shoulder press uses a bench with a nearly vertical back.

You should set the back of the bench at an angle between 15 and 45-degrees for an incline press. Of course, you probably don’t bring a protractor to the gym, so just eyeball the angle as best you can.

Incline Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

In the picture above, I have the bench set about halfway between 15 and 45-degrees, which would be an angle of approximately 30-degrees. This incline is good for targeting the upper chest while minimizing shoulder and mid-chest involvement.

Low Incline vs High Incline Dumbbell Press

A lower incline of about 15-degrees targets the mid to upper chest. At this angle, you can also lift heavier weights which maximizes size and strength gains.

On the other hand, an angle of 45-degrees isolates the upper chest more. But you can’t lift as much weight. So this angle is better for sculpting and defining your upper chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press Benefits & Limitations

The incline dumbbell press has some advantages over traditional barbell presses. For one, you have to stabilize each dumbbell independently, which improves balance and coordination.

In addition, you can go lower with dumbbells since there is no bar to hit your chest. And the movement pattern is more natural because your arms move in an arc.

However, you can go quite a bit heavier on a barbell incline bench press. So dumbbells are not as good for building mass and strength.


  • Each arm works independently, more stabilizer muscles recruited
  • Greater potential range of motion compared to barbell
  • More natural movement path compared to machines


  • Can’t do as much weight compared to a barbell

How To Do Incline Dumbbell Press

First, grab the dumbbells and set them on your thighs. Next, lean back and kick them up towards your shoulders. Then press the dumbbells up to arm’s length.

Now lower the dumbbells by bending at the elbows and moving your hands out and down towards your chest. Stop when you feel a good stretch through your chest.

Press the dumbbells back up and in until your arms are fully extended again. Repeat for the desired number of reps and carefully drop the dumbbells.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Grab the dumbbells and sit with one on each thigh
  2. Lean back and kick the dumbbells up to your shoulders
  3. Press the dumbbells up to arm’s length
  4. Lower the dumbbells out and down to your chest
  5. Press the dumbbells back up to full arm extension
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps and carefully drop the dumbbells

Incline Dumbbell Press Video

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Incline Dumbbell Press Form

When doing a dumbbell press, there are a lot of moving body parts to think about. So here are some tips to help you master proper form.

As you press the dumbbells up and down, think about making an arc. Move your hands out and down as you lower the weight. Then up and in as you press it back up.

Incline Dumbbell Press Form

As you perform the exercise, try to keep the dumbbell handles level. As if they were connected on a single bar but could slide in and out.

Also, keep your elbows directly under your hands. This way your forearms stay vertical throughout the exercise and distribute the load straight down.

At the top of the exercise, you don’t necessarily have to touch the dumbbells together. Instead, focus on pulling your elbows in to contract your chest muscles.

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Incline Dumbbell Press Alternative

You don’t have to include the dumbbell incline press in every single chest workout. Several incline press variations allow you to mix it up. And there are alternative exercises for targeting specific parts of your chest.

Incline Barbell Press

The incline barbell bench press is a popular chest exercise for developing strength and size in the upper chest.

You can use an adjustable bench like you would for an incline dumbbell press. Or some gyms have benches specifically designed for doing the barbell incline press.

Incline Smith Machine Press

The incline Smith machine press is identical to the barbell press except that the bar moves on guide rails. The guide rails make it easier to balance the bar and put more load on your pectorals.

Incline Dumbbell Hex Press

The hex press involves holding the dumbbells together in a neutral position throughout the pressing movement. With this variation, you specifically target the inner pectorals.

When you combine the hex press with an incline bench, you can pinpoint the upper and inner chest.

Incline Plate Press

Another way to target the inner chest is with an exercise called a plate press. It’s also called a squeeze press since it involves squeezing a weight plate between your hands while you perform the pressing movement.

The incline plate press is another great exercise for targeting the upper and inner chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press vs Flat

The incline dumbbell press should be a staple exercise in your chest routine. And you can even mix it up with some of the other incline press movements mentioned above.

However, you also need to incorporate plenty of flat bench press exercises if you want to build a well proportioned and aesthetic-looking chest. Click here to learn how more about incline bench press vs flat bench press.

Incline Dumbbell Press vs Flat Dumbbell Press
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With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better chest. And if you found this article informative, be sure to check out my other workout tips below!

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