The incline dumbbell bench press is a great exercise to improve aesthetics by putting muscle on the upper pecs. However, it can also build a great deal of strength, too. Whether you’re going for strength or size, being able to incline dumbbell bench press more weight is always a good thing.
Programming the Incline Dumbbell Press
Because the incline dumbbell bench press is a compound movement, you’ll want to treat it as a strength and size staple in your program. If strength is your primary goal, then doing 4-5 sets of 5-6 reps would be your best bet.
However, if you have already programmed one strength-based movement into your layout, you could increase the volume on the incline dumbbell bench press a little bit, doing sets of 8-12 reps, instead. Do the strength movement first, then the incline dumbbell bench. This would put more emphasis on hypertrophy than strength, but that’s fine as you will have already done at least one heavy movement for the chest already.
If you’re like most lifters and want a good mix of both strength and muscle mass, 4-6 sets of 6-8 reps fits the bill well. This allows the reps to be low enough to use more weight, but still gets you enough volume to put on size.
If you’re smart, you’ll start on the low end of of that range and build up from there. For instance, if 70lbs dumbbells are heavy for you, start off with 4 sets of 6 reps. Over time, build your way up to 6 sets of 6 reps. Once you can do that, start increasing the reps so that you’re doing 6 sets of 7 reps, then finally 6 sets of 8 reps. At that point, you can bump up the weight until it’s heavy again and ramp back through the process.
What Angle should the Bench be At?
Some lifters have differing opinions at where you should set your bench at. For balanced upper and middle pec development, do your reps with your bench at 45 degrees. Setting the bench lower than that will shift the emphasis lower on the pec. Conversely, setting the bench higher than that will work more of the upper pec.
Just take care when doing an incline dumbbell bench press at too steep of an angle. This will shift the emphasis more to the front head of the deltoids, acting more like an overhead press than an incline dumbbell press. Not only does this take too much emphasis off the chest (which you don’t want), but will limit how much weight you can use (which you also don’t want).
A Note on Movement Pattern
No matter what angle you perform your incline dumbbell bench press at, there is one thing you’ll want to ensure, and that is that your arms are pressing vertically. In other words, if you were to view yourself from the side, your forearms would remain vertical throughout the movement.
What lifters sometimes unknowingly do is press such that their arms are actually angled somewhat forward. So if you were looking at someone from their right side, instead of their arms being perfectly vertical in the contracted position (pointing to the “12:00” position), they’re actually angled to the right a little (pointing to the “1:00” position).
Performing an incline dumbbell bench press like this not only will limit how much weight you can use, but puts a lot of strain on the shoulder – especially the rotator cuff. Do it for too long and/or with too much weight, and you’re going to eventually end up injured.
The incline dumbbell bench press is an excellent movement to build strength and size. There are various sets and reps schemes you can use, but focusing on upping the weight is always a good idea. Regardless, ensure you use proper form. Keep your arms pressing vertically and you’ll not only get stronger and improve your physique, but stave off injuries, as well.