While the flat-bench dumbbell press – the dumbbell alternative of the barbell bench press and one of the best multi-joint chest presses for the mid-pec region – is commonly done with a palms-forward grip, on occasion you’ll see a trainer do the movement with a neutral grip (hands facing each other).
This subtle shift in hand positioning may seem almost irrelevant, when in fact, it has a rather significant effect on muscle recruitment that could be stalling your chest development!
Here’s what to watch for. First, remember that to control the dumbbells, your elbows must be stacked directly below your hands to balance the weights. Which makes sense, because if the dumbbells are in front of your elbows in the vertical plane, you’ll lose control and the weights will fall to the floor. With the traditional version of the flat-bench dumbbell press, called a pronated hand position, your elbows are pointed directly out to your sides, about 90 degrees.
But watch what happens when you use a neutral grip instead. The weights are now closer to your sides and, therefore, your elbows have to be drawn in. Essentially, that repositions the elbows much closer to your sides.
You might recognize a very similar elbow position when doing the close-grip bench press, an exercise that focuses primarily on the triceps and inner chest. But what you should remember here is that any exercise that keeps your elbows tight to your sides is a more effective triceps exercise (while also having a longer range of motion). Movements in which your elbows stay out wide reduce the emphasis on the elbow extensors while placing more on the pecs. Hence, if it’s chest day, skip the neutral-grip hand position with your dumbbells unless you’re specifically focusing on the inner-pec region.
On chest day, to keep the focus on the pecs, use a wide palms-forward grip, not unlike what you’re already doing with your barbell presses for chest. That should keep it easy to remember!
Bonus Tip for Triceps!
Here’s another important tip. Whenever you’re doing triceps exercises – like skullcrushers, pressdowns, close-grip benches, dips and overhead extensions – work to keep your elbows tight to your sides as you execute the motion. You really want to minimize elbow flare in order to maximize the stimulus on the triceps! Once those elbows start going out wide, the pecs start picking up more of the workload.