How to Do Incline Dumbbell Press: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Incline Dumbbell Press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Incline Dumbbell Press

Muscles worked in incline dumbbell press

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Incline Dumbbell Press

  1. Adjust the incline of a bench to be around 30-45 degrees.
  2. Sit down and lift a pair of dumbbells to the starting position.
  3. Press the dumbbells up to straight arms while exhaling.
  4. Inhale at the top or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is a mixture of the dumbbell chest press and the shoulder press, and both the front deltoids and the upper portions of the chest muscles are worked in this exercise. Thanks to the inclination of the bench, many experience this exercise as easy on their shoulders and that they can get a nice, long range of motion.

Which Muscles Do the Incline Dumbbell Press Work?

The incline dumbbell press primarily works your chest and front deltoids, and secondarily works your triceps.

Muscles worked in incline dumbbell press

The incline dumbbell press challenges your balance and coordination a bit more than incline presses performed with a barbell.

Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Press

  • Great for building muscle and strength. The incline dumbbell press works your chest and front delts through a long range of motion and in a stable position. That is a great recipe for muscle growth! Also, your triceps get some work as secondary movers.
  • Builds your upper chest. The incline dumbbell press works your upper chest muscles more than flat pressing exercises do. Adding incline presses to your program is therefore an effective way to develop your entire pecs.
  • Prevent muscle imbalance. Since you’re using dumbbells, the incline dumbbell press can be used to find and fix muscle imbalances from side to side. Let your weaker side set the pace, and it will soon catch up to your strong side.
  • Easy on the shoulders. Many find that incline pressing is easier on the shoulders than, for example, flat dumbbell pressing or bench pressing is.

Incline Dumbbell Press: Proper Form & Technique

The incline press is an effective compound exercise. It’s quite straightforward, but we’ll give you a few tips and tricks before you get going.

Incline dumbbell press starting position
Incline dumbbell press starting position
Incline dumbbell press bottom position
Incline dumbbell press bottom position

Bench Angle

There is no exact rule of which angle your bench should be at, but most like it around 30-45 degrees. If you have it too upright, it will be more like a shoulder press. If you have it almost flat, it will feel like a regular dumbbell chest press. You can also adjust the angle depending on where you want to add the most load. If you want more load on your shoulders, the bench should be more upright.


Make sure to retract your shoulder blades so that you’ll have your entire upper body stabilized. Place your feet comfortably on the floor, and keep your entire foot on the floor during the entire movement.


Start with the dumbbells straight above your shoulders, and lower them with control. Go as far down as possible, until the dumbbells are in line with your upper chest, and press them back up with a controlled movement.

Common Mistakes in the Incline Dumbbell Press

  • Insufficient range of motion. It’s easy to get greedy and pick a weight that’s too heavy and therefore start to cheat on the range of motion. Lower the dumbbells until the dumbbells are in line with your upper chest, and fully extend your arms during the press to maximize the chest engagement.
  • Not keeping your wrist straight. By not keeping your wrists straight, you’ll place unnecessary load on your wrist joints and also lose some stability in the movement.

Incline Dumbbell Press Alternatives

The incline dumbbell press has two very similar alternatives, and we’ll go through them below.

Incline Press with Dumbbells vs. Barbell

Incline pressing with dumbbells vs. barbell.
Incline pressing with dumbbells vs. barbell.

There are three main differences between using dumbbells compared to a barbell (like in the incline bench press):

  • Dumbbells allow for a personalized range of motion. With barbells, you are fixed into one bar path which may or may not suit your anatomy. With dumbbells, you get another degree of freedom, which makes it easier for you to find a range of motion that suits you. If incline bench pressing feels awkward on your shoulders, try switching the barbell out for dumbbells.
  • Barbells are more stable. Depending on your goal, this can be a pro or a con. Greater stability usually means that you are able to tire out your muscles further before your balance becomes an issue, which is good for building muscle. On the other hand, dumbbells might be stable enough for muscle growth. Additionally, because of their greater instability, you will train shoulder stability and coordination to a greater degree, including working your rotator cuffs more.
  • Finding and fixing muscle imbalances. As previously mentioned in the benefits of incline dumbbell pressing above, the dumbbells will make it easier for you to find and address any side-to-side differences in strength.
Smith machine incline bench press
Incline Bench Press
Barbell incline bench press

As for the smith machine incline bench press – this will add even more stability since the bar path is fixed (and also completely straight, while the barbell incline bench press has a bar path that’s slightly arched). As mentioned above, this could be both a pro or a con, depending on your goal and purpose with the exercise.

All in all, the incline dumbbell press is a great exercise for developing your chest, front delts, and triceps, while simultaneously feeling easier on your shoulders than many other pressing exercises.

Training Programs & Workouts that Include the Incline Dumbbell Press

All these and many more programs and workouts are available in our workout log app StrengthLog.

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