The barbell bench press has long been heralded as the “best chest exercise.”
Virtually every top physique athlete uses it to build an impressive upper body.
However, the traditional barbell bench press isn’t the only exercise you can use to build muscle and strength in your pecs.
There are, in fact, a whole host of exercises (both weighted and unweighted) that can be incorporated into a well-crafted training program to achieve the kind of results you want.
One of our favorite non-barbell chest exercises is the neutral-grip dumbbell bench press.
Learn what it is, why you should consider it, and how to perform it.
What Is a Neutral Grip Bench Press?
The neutral-grip dumbbell bench press is an upper body exercise that strengthens the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
A "neutral grip" refers to your hands facing each other during the exercise.
The neutral grip can be used on presses (bench press, floor press, overhead press) and pulling movements, including neutral grip pull-ups and neutral grip rows.
Neutral grip bench presses are typically performed with a pair of dumbbells, but they can also be performed with a football bar (aka Swiss bar), kettlebells, or even a resistance band.
Why Use a Neutral Grip Bench Press?
The barbell bench press is touted as the king of chest development exercises, but it isn't an ideal fit for all fitness enthusiasts for various reasons.
For some individuals, barbell presses irritate the joints, especially the shoulders and wrists. Others struggle to feel their chest working when performing barbell presses, trending to feel it more in the shoulders or triceps. Lastly, some people don't like using barbells and prefer to use dumbbells, machines, or bodyweight exercises.
The neutral grip bench press is an ideal substitution for the barbell bench press.
Using dumbbells (or kettlebells) allows your arms to rotate naturally. This reduces stress on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists and allows for greater natural movement. They aren't fixed in one place like when performing the barbell bench press.
If you travel a good bit, most hotel gyms usually have a set of dumbbells, which means you can still work your chest, shoulders, and triceps effectively. The average hotel fitness center doesn't stock barbells, weight plates, or power racks (if you find one, let us know!).
Benefits of Using a Neutral Grip Bench Press
Traditional barbell pressing can place undue strain on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows' joints, ligaments, and tendons, mainly if you're training with high volume.
The neutral grip is easier on the joints by allowing the arms to move and rotate naturally, providing the opportunity to train your muscles intensely without wearing down your joints.
Performing exercises with free weights helps you build stability and strength in the target muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) and your supporting muscles.
Also, you'll improve balance and coordination since you're controlling two separate weights. You could also perform the movement one arm at a time, providing a more significant challenge to your core and stabilizer muscles than pressing with a barbell or two dumbbells simultaneously.
Remember that you will still build muscle, strength, and coordination with the barbell bench press. It's just that dumbbell presses provide a different and unique stimulus to your body than that barbell pressing. Long story short, they can both be effective. You can use one or both, depending on your goals and preferences.
Build Equal Strength
Performing bilateral movements like barbell squats and deadlifts squats can lead to muscle imbalances since one side of the body naturally does slightly more work than the other.
Neutral grip presses require each side of your body to work equally hard independently. This is why it's important to incorporate some unilateral movements into every training program. This helps address imbalances from one side to the other, ensuring you have a well-developed, balanced, and structurally sound physique.
Many individuals have difficulty feeling their chest muscles working when performing the barbell bench press; this is especially true for novices and those just getting into barbell training.
Performing a neutral grip dumbbell bench press is a fantastic way to focus on intensely stretching the pecs and the mind-muscle connection to help generate more strength and power in your pressing movements.
In addition to being a better entry exercise for chest development and establishing a strong mind-muscle connection, neutral grip presses also provide tremendous carryover to field sports like football, where athletes actively push and grab competitors.
How to Perform the Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Grab a pair of dumbbells (or kettlebells) off the floor using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Place the ends of the dumbbells in your hip crease, and sit down on the bench.
- Now, lay back on the bench and keep the weights close to your chest, elbows tucked close to your sides.
- Take a deep breath, and press the dumbbells to lockout at the top, maintaining the neutral grip.
- Squeeze your chest muscles at the top to generate an intense contraction, then slowly lower the dumbbells under control to create a deep stretch in the pecs (ideally, the handles should be about level with your chest).
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Variations of the Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press
Typically, the neutral-grip dumbbell press is performed on a flat bench, and both dumbbells are pressed and lowered simultaneously.
However, a few variations can be performed with the neutral grip press.
Neutral Grip Floor Press
You can perform the neutral grip floor press if you don't have a bench.
This pressing variation is great for individuals who feel shoulder discomfort even when performing dumbbell presses on a bench. The floor limits how much shoulder extension takes place, thereby reducing some stress on the joint.
Neutral grip floor presses also place more tension on the triceps as you can’t lower the dumbbells as far as you can when performing them on a bench.
Incline Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
Looking to build more of your upper chest?
Then increase the incline of your bench to 30-45 degrees and perform the neutral grip press.
Alternating Neutral Grip Bench Press
Instead of pressing both dumbbells (or kettlebells) up simultaneously, you will keep one hand next to your chest while the other presses. After lowering the first dumbbell, you press the second one in the air and lower it.
This alternating pattern forces you to work on stability, endurance, and core strength. You also get the benefit of increased time under tension due to the added isometric in each repetition, which promotes greater muscle growth.
Upgrade Your Chest Workouts with the Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press + Steel Pump®!
Neutral-grip dumbbell bench presses are a great addition to your weekly workout routine.
It can be used with the standard barbell bench press or can be substituted for it in your workout plan if the bench press isn't working for you now.
Remember, there is no single exercise you "have" to do to get results or build muscle and strength.
The neutral-grip bench press is one exercise that can help you to build stronger pecs, shoulders, and triceps, but it’s not the only one.
Also, remember it's not the exercise that determines whether you get results in the gym. Your consistency, dedication, and effort ultimately decide whether or not you get stronger, lose weight, etc.
If you want to take your workouts to the next level, have a serving of Steel Pump® on your way to the gym.
Steel Pump® is our top-rated pre-workout supplement containing potent, research-backed ingredients known to boost energy and stamina, enhance nitric oxide production, deliver powerful pumps, and elevate performance, ultimately helping you lift more weight for more reps and get results!