Bench Press Decline

Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Grasp two dumbbells with a closed, neutral grip.
  2. Sit up straight up at the top end of a decline bench (angled -15 degrees) and rest the dumbbells vertically on your upper thighs.
  3. In a controlled fashion, lean backward to lie on the bench.
  4. Position dumbbells close to your body with elbows bent.
  5. Ensure that the back of your head, shoulder blades/upper back, and glute region/lower back are in contact with the bench throughout the entire exercise.
  6. (If a spotter is present, signal the spotter for assistance by providing support at the elbows.)
  7. Extend elbows (without locking elbows), lifting the dumbbells and positioning them above your shoulders.

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

  1. In a controlled fashion, allow the elbows to bend while lowering the dumbbells as you flare your elbows out to the side.
  2. Lower the dumbbells until your elbows form a 90-degree angle.
  3. Maintain the wrists rigid and directly above the elbows throughout the entire movement.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

    1. Extend elbows, pushing the dumbbells upward, returning to starting position (do not lock elbows).
    2. When your set is complete, sit up and return the dumbbells to a vertical position on your upper thighs and sit up.
    3. If a spotter is present, they should assist with the initial lift of the dumbbells, if necessary, by placing their hands lightly on your elbows. Once the lifter has control of the dumbbells, the spotter should maintain their hands near the elbows as the dumbbells descend and ascend. The spotter must position himself or herself in a stable stance throughout the lifter’s set.
Do not arch your back throughout the lift and descent. Do not forcefully touch the dumbbells together at the end of the upward phase. They do not have to touch to complete a repetition. Do not bounce the dumbbells off of the chest at the bottom of the movement when proceeding to the next repetition/concentric phase. Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric/phase phase and inhale during the eccentric/lowering phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Pectoralis major
  • Synergists: Triceps brachii, anterior deltoid, anconeus, coracobrachialis
  • Stabilizers: Wrist flexors and extensors, rotator cuff muscles, abdominal muscles
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance
  • Mechanics: Horizontal shoulder adduction and elbow extension
  • Equipment: Two dumbbells and a decline bench
  • Lever: 1st class lever
  • Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Bench Press Decline

    What Is A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press?

    A decline dumbbell bench press is a resistance exercise, which involves the primary horizontal shoulder adductor, the pectoralis major. This exercise is performed with two dumbbells. It is performed lying face up on a decline bench.

    The concentric portion of the lift is horizontal shoulder adduction and elbow extension, which involves the lifting of the weight. The eccentric portion is horizontal shoulder abduction and elbow flexion, which involves the descent of the weight.

    The purpose of the decline dumbbell bench press is to strengthen the pectoralis major while promoting hypertrophy (increases in size) of this muscle.

    Why Do A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press?

    Decline dumbbell bench presses increase the size and strength of the upper (clavicular) and lower (sternocostal) heads of the pectoralis major. The decline position allows the lifter to vary their bench press angle. Targeting muscle fibers of the pectoralis major from different angles optimizes muscle fiber activation in a well-strategized training program. Therefore, the decline dumbbell bench press is a staple exercise to develop the chest. The triceps and anterior deltoid are also activated in this movement.

    Performing decline bench press with dumbbells allows the lifter to extend both elbows independently, resulting in higher muscle fiber activation of the right and left pectoralis major. In addition, dumbbell presses may identify weaknesses of either side, if present. Decline bench press with dumbbells will also provide an alternative to the barbell that is easier on the shoulders and wrists. Dumbbell bench press complements barbell bench press performance.

    The decline dumbbell bench press serves not only as an exercise to improve aesthetics of the pectoral muscle, but also as a valuable training tool for sports that entail pushing and throwing.

    Anatomy Of A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

    The pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle that spans across the chest, forming the front portion of the axillary fold (arm pit). It is divided into two parts: clavicular and sternal. Its origin is located at the sternal end of the clavicle, the sternum, rib cartilage (ribs 1-6 [or 7]), and the aponeurosis of the external oblique. The fibers of the pectoralis major converge at the point of insertion located at the greater tubercle of the humerus. The pectoralis major aids in pushing movements as the shoulder adducts the arm against resistance. The shoulder adducts as the dumbbells are pressed upward.

    The decline positioning of this exercise induces greater activation of the lower fibers of the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major.1 Therefore, decline bench presses are an effective exercise for developing the lower region of the chest.

    The triceps brachii is located on the back of the upper arm, originating at the shoulder and inserting in the elbow joint. It consists of three heads, the long, medial and lateral head. The medial head lies beneath the long and lateral head. The long head origin is located at the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula (shoulder blade). The original of the lateral head is located at the posterior shaft of the humerus. The medial head origin is located at the radial groove of the posterior humeral shaft.

    The long and lateral heads make up the “horseshoe” portion of the triceps. All three heads merge, sharing insertion into the olecranon process of the ulna, located at the elbow joint.
    The triceps brachii extend the elbow joint. The long head assists in arm adduction as with the bench press pushing motion.

    The deltoid is a thick, multipennate muscle that forms a curtain around the shoulder. It is the primary muscle involved with arm abduction and the anterior fibers are a primary shoulder flexor. The anterior deltoid is a primary synergist of the pectoralis. When developed, the deltoids give the shoulder their round shape. The origin of the deltoid is located at the insertion of the trapezius, lateral third of the clavicle and the acromion spine of the scapula. Its insertion is located at the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus.

    The anconeus is a short, triangular muscle located at the elbow joint. Its origin is located at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus, inserting at the lateral aspect of the olecranon process of the ulna.

    Like the anterior fibers of the deltoid, the coracobrachialis is a synergist pectoralis major with horizontal shoulder adduction. It is a small muscle originating at the coracoid process of the scapula and inserting half way down the shaft of the humerus.

    The wrist flexors and extensors stabilize the wrists, the abdominals stabilize the torso and the rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder girdle.

    1. Lauver JD, Cayot TE, Scheuermann BW. (2015). Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 23:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]

    Variations Of A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

    Barbell decline bench press.

    How To Improve Your Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

    To minimize negative stress on your shoulder joint, do not allow the elbows to drop below the level of the torso. The elbows will form a 90-degree angle as the dumbbells are lowered and reach the level of the torso.

    Utilizing a spotter can ensure the safety of dumbbell bench press execution. They can also monitor your technique.

    Focus on the concentric portion of the contraction, concentrating on “squeezing” as arms are fully extending as you push the dumbbells upward.

    Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the eccentric portion of the contraction, may also be incorporated in a training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue.

    In order to improve pushing performance through “sticking points”, partial repetition ranges may be implemented to improve full range of motion of the bench press. Strategically varying your grip width (narrow, standard and wide grip) and hand positioning (supinated grip, pronated grip) can improve overall bench press performance.

    Varying your bench press angles (e.g. flat bench, incline bench) can optimize fiber activation of all portions of the pectoralis major.

    It is important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). It is also important to allow adequate recovery days in between chest and triceps training to allow muscles to repair.

    Common Mistakes When Doing A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

    Lowering the dumbbells too low should be avoided as it results in excessive shoulder extension and horizontal abduction, which can place great stress on the shoulder joint. Ensure that the upper arms do not pass the level of the torso when lowering the dumbbells. 2

    Bouncing the dumbbells together at the top of the upward phase is unnecessary. Although the dumbbells will move closer one another as the elbows fully extend, it is not necessary for them to touch.

    When initiating the lift to assume the starting position, swinging the dumbbells upward may compromise the biceps tendon if the dumbbells are heavier. When the set is complete, extending the shoulders from the lying position to lower the dumbbells to the floor can compromise the shoulder joint. Dropping the dumbbells is also inadvisable as it is frowned upon and can damage the dumbbells and the facility. Sitting upward on the decline bench and extending elbows to place weights on each side of the bench is a better alternative for the safety (and reputation) of the lifter.

    It is very common to observe an individual arching their back in efforts of lifting the weight with more ease. This technique should only be performed by weightlifting professionals and can compromise the safety of lifters.

    Lifting heavier weight without a trained spotter. With moderate to heavy weight loads, a trained spotter should monitor the lifter throughout their set for optimal safety.

    2. Reinold MM, Gill TJ, Wilk KE et al. (2010). Current concepts in the evaluation and treatment of the shoulder in overhead throwing athletes, Part 2. Sports Health. 2(2):101-115.

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding A Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

    If proper technique is not adhered to (e.g. arching of the back, lowering the upper arms past the level of the torso, dropping the weight quickly instead of controlling the descent on the eccentric portion of the lift), the likelihood of injury increases.

    If proper technique and recovery are not adhered to, impingement syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, biceps tendonitis/biceps tendinosis, pectoralis major tears and/or glenoid labrum tears may result. It is best to avoid bench press exercises when addressing impingement syndrome/rotator cuff injury unless advised by a physical therapist.