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Progress your way up the dumbbell rack.
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The bench press carries a certain stigma as the amount of weight pressed is often seen as a measure of fitness success. As a beginner, it's important not to aim for the heaviest weight. Instead, ease into things by performing the bench press with lighter weight dumbbells. Using dumbbells gives a greater range of motion; your shoulders move more freely and you increase core activation, notes strength coach Eric Cressey. The trick is to find the perfect weight to allow you to maintain good form and get results.
Before you reach for big dumbbells, master the bench press with light weights using proper form. Slowly build up as your strength improves.
Refine Your Technique First
Before getting carried away and reaching for the monster dumbbells at the end of the weight rack, make sure your technique is perfect. Start with your hands in line with your chest and a dumbbell in each one. Your palms should be facing the ceiling. Press your hands up until your arms are straight and the dumbbells are nearly touching at the top, then lower them under control. If you either can't press the weights up, or can't lower them with control, you need to move to lighter dumbbells.
Go Light in the Beginning
If you're completely new to the bench press or to weight training, your best bet is to go light. Even if that means your ego takes a hit, you're better off starting too light rather than too heavy. Women should try the move with 5- to 10-pound dumbbells, while beginner men should be able to manage 10- to 15-pound dumbbells.
Progress with Time
Experienced bench pressers switching to dumbbell presses instead should be able to manage more weight. Dumbbells are harder to balance than barbells as each arm works individually, so you won't be able to lift the same as on a barbell press, but you should have an idea of how much weight you can use. Start with around 70 percent of your bench pressing weight, so if you can bench press 100 pounds for 10 repetitions, use 70 pounds in total on the dumbbell press, so a 35-pound dumbbell in each hand.
Make Some Gains
Getting stronger and increasing muscular endurance is all about challenging yourself, not only by increasing your sets and reps or reducing your rest, but by lifting heavier weights too. If you're training for strength and power, perform lower reps with heavier weights, such as three to five sets of five to eight. For more endurance and fitness-based training, opt for two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps. Once you can hit the top set and rep range, so five sets of eight for strength or three sets of 15 for endurance, switch to the next heavier set of dumbbells and start at the lower number of sets and reps before working your way back up.