Skip to content
Home » Strength Training

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press, Why They’re Great for Strength/Mobility

The alternating dumbbell bench press is a seriously slept-on bench press variation. This exercise is similar to a traditional dumbbell press, but you’ll only be pressing one dumbbell at a time while holding the other in a static position.

From a strength coaching point of view, I like alternating dumbbell bench presses because they deliver a high stimulus with less weight and they can be great for working on core strength indirectly.

I also like that you can use alternating dumbbell bench presses as main movements for a workout or as an accessory if your goals revolve around hypertrophy and accumulation of reps.

Report Card: Get the Quick Facts

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Profile

How To Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Experience Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, Weight Bench
  • Exercise Type: Horizontal Press
  • Similar Variations: Dumbbell Bench Press, Alternating Dumbbell Press

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Muscles Trained

  • Primary Muscles: Pectoralis Major
  • Secondary Muscles: Triceps, Anterior Delts, Core

Pros

  1. Awesome for accumulating additional pressing volume while also challenging the core.
  2. Useful for beginners and intermediates who are learning dumbbell bench press mechanics and how to stabilize dumbbells.
  3. Great for driving a high strength and hypertrophy stimulus while keeping dumbbell weights lighter.

Cons

  1. In general, you can’t press as heavily for strength goals with this variation compared to a traditional dumbbell bench press.
  2. Shoulder stability and core strength will be limiters regarding how much you can do.
  3. Some weight benches may not align with this exercise in the event they’re too skinny, making it tougher to stabilize.
How To Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

Start with the arms extended

Kick your dumbbells up one at a time. You’ll start your alternating dumbbell press set with both arms extended in a locked-out position and set your hand position accordingly.

This is important as it lets you settle the weight and get into a comfortable position on the bench before starting your set. Plus, this allows you to properly brace and think about which dumbbell you’re going to start with.

Bring one arm down and keep the other locked

Bring one arm down in a normal bench press movement pattern while leaving the other arm locked out. Your goal should be controlling your tempo and the range of motion you’re working through.

How To Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

You’ll also want to maintain a fairly braced torso position so the dumbbells don’t pull you out of place when lowering them. Use a brace that makes sense for the weight you’re using. If it’s lighter there’s no need to overly brace.

Press and alternate arms

Once you’ve locked out the arm that you started your rep with, you’ll then switch arms to repeat this process on the other side of the body. You can count reps in two ways.

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Form

You can count reps for each side, so if you had a set of 20, then you would do 10 reps on each side. You could also do 1-rep equals the completion of both arms, so 10-reps would be 20 total presses.

It doesn’t really matter either way, but I would suggest staying consistent with the rep scheme you use so there’s never confusion. With my clients, I’ll typically do the former and program something like 20 total reps/10 ea side.

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Tips

Below are some of my favorite coaching tips that I use and give to the lifters and clients I work with.

Pick a hand position that works best for you.

Don’t limit yourself to only using “one” hand position. At times, I think lifters can box themselves into only using a singular hand position when doing dumbbell bench presses.

In reality, you can use multiple hand positions and achieve benefits from the dumbbell bench press. For example, you can go neutral, pronated, and anywhere in between.

I typically prefer to perform my dumbbell bench presses with a 45-degree hand angle. This feels best for my shoulders and allows me to achieve the ranges of motion I’m after with comfort.

Bench Press Brain Gains: Read more about the core differences between the dumbbell versus barbell bench press.

Smooth Is Strong, Quality Over Quantity

I typically like to use and program tempos with the alternating dumbbell bench press. This is because lifters can sometimes rush reps which pulls their torso out of position with this exercise.

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Tips

To perform alternating dumbbell bench presses efficiently, there is a core component that should be considered. If you’re dive-bombing reps then there’s a good chance you’re pulling your torso side to side and likely wasting energy resetting.

Instead, try using a smooth 2-4 second tempo during the eccentric or lowering portion of your reps. This will help slow you down and ensure you’re working through a quality range of motion (ROM) with control keeping tension on the pec muscles.

Start Light Then Build Up

In general, compared to a traditional dumbbell bench press you’ll be pressing lighter weight with the alternating dumbbell bench press. I’ve had some beginners reach for their normal working weight this exercise and learn the hard way.

Since you’re performing these presses one arm at a time, you’ll want to start lighter and ease into this exercise’s nuances. This will help you establish how much you need to brace for different weights and establish the ROM you want to work through.

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press Programming Tips

For example, since you’re performing one arm at a time you can usually get a little more ROM with your eccentric. Start lighter and feel this out so you can be consistent with your reps moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
Are alternating dumbbell bench presses good for beginners?

A:
The alternating dumbbell bench press can be a good exercise for beginners for a few reasons. They can help build horizontal pressing strength and hypertrophy, and will passively train the core as well.

Q:
Can you use alternating dumbbell bench presses for hypertrophy?

A:
If you're a beginner or intermediate lifter then you can use the alternating dumbbell bench press for hypertrophy. For advanced lifters they can, too, however, they'll to consider the stimulus they're achieving and if it's enough per their needs.

Takeaway Thoughts

The alternating dumbbell bench press can be a good bench press variation for a variety of reasons. These reasons revolve around this exercise’s ability to improve strength, hypertrophy, and stability.

When programming alternating dumbbell bench presses, I would suggest starting lighter and using a tempo to assess how pressing with one arm will change your bench mechanics.

If you have additional questions about this exercise, drop a comment below or reach out via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *