This article is all about the dumbbell floor press, an effective strength & muscle-building exercise that anyone can perform.
It discusses the unique health & safety benefits the dumbbell floor press offers and its advantages over its popular offspring, the bench press.
How-to videos included.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
About the dumbbell floor press
Research the history of strength training and you’ll discover that the floor press exercise existed a few decades prior to the bench press. (1)
It was the most popular chest-building exercise at least as far back as 1899, while early versions of our modern bench press started popping up in the early 1940s. (2)
George Hackenschmidt. In 1899 he set a floor press record of 362 lb. that lasted nearly 20 years.
Type of exercise
The floor press, whether using a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, is an upper-body compound exercise, meaning that it uses multiple joints & muscle groups. (3)
What muscles does the dumbbell floor press work?
These are the muscles used to perform the dumbbell floor press:
- Chest – pectoralis major, pectoralis minor
- Shoulders – anterior deltoid
- Serratus anterior
(source: National Strength & Conditioning Assn.)
Effective exercise that’s easy to perform
The dumbbell floor press is a great exercise choice for many people, including anyone who:
- is over 50 looking to build strength & muscle
- is dealing with shoulder impingement or pain
- has wrist or elbow joint issues when benching
- has no barbell or bench press at home
- has no gym membership
- trains alone without a spotter
- belongs to a gym where the benches are always taken
Last update on 2023-01-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
How to perform the dumbbell floor press
I’ll dive into the technique details in a sec along with a couple of instructional videos, but here’s a short 15-second clip showing just the exercise’s motion itself.
Proper Set up
You can go heavy with the dumbbells for the reasons I discussed earlier.
The shorter range of motion and high degree of “spotter-free” safety means you can get after it hard with this exercise.
That said, all the suggested muscle-building rep ranges I came across for this exercise were from 6-15.
Yet you’ll likely find (when you’re lifting heavy with lower reps) that the limitation that holds you back is just getting those big dumbbells into their starting position in the first place.
So here are two helpful videos that each demonstrate an easy setup method.
Choose whichever one you find easier to perform.
Floor press setup variation #1
The dumbbell floor press setup segment in this video starts at the 7:01 minute mark, and ends at 8:46. If I copied the link correctly, the video should start right at 7:01 when you play it.
Some people find this hip bridge technique easier than trying to lift the really heavy dumbbells onto their thighs with their arms while already seated on the floor.
Here’s the setup sequence:
- Stand the dumbbells up vertically (if they’re heavy)
- Position them just outside where your hips will be
- Lay down between them
- Bring them close to your hips
- One at a time (with your elbows on the floor)
- tip them into your hip crease
- bridge them into position with your hips
45 degree angle of arms & elbows
Note the 45 degree angle of the arms away from the body down to the elbow.
This is a very natural position and is important for shoulder health.
Pulling your elbows up & back to where they’re in line with your shoulders – like some people do when they’re benching – is a bad idea.
See how the palms are not rotated outward to face forward, like they would be if you were gripping a barbell.
Instead, they are in a neutral grip where they’re more facing towards each other. This is important too.
Body part keys
Shoulders – are down and shoulder blades are pressed into the floor.
Back – your back remains flush against the floor throughout the exercise; no arching.
Legs – the strictest form of this exercise is done with straight legs. This engages more core muscles, and they’ll be working to stabilize you during the exercise.
Bent legs – the dumbbell floor press can also be done with bent legs, as you see Bernardo doing in the video. Just remember to avoid any cheating by keeping your back & hips flat on the floor, and your legs completely quiet throughout the exercise.
Floor press variation #2
And here’s a clip demonstrating another way to get the dumbbells into position.
For what it’s worth, this is the setup method that’s easier for me to use.
The dumbbell setup portion runs from 5:33 – 6:14. This video is set up to start at that point, but if YouTube overrides it just forward to 5:33.
While watching the video, there’s one thing to notice besides his setup – it’s his arm & hand positions when he’s lifting.
He’s not going with the 45-degree angle of the arms and the neutral grip hand position I discussed earlier.
You don’t need to copy these positions of his, and here’s why.
He is using this exercise specifically to increase his regular bench press strength, so his dumbbell handles are following the same line that a barbell would have.
As you can see from his size he’s a powerlifter, so he has a different set of goals in mind with this exercise compared to me (& likely you too).
You’ll probably prefer to save your shoulder joints from any possible strain by following the Technique Checklist I outlined earlier instead of copying his arm & hand positions.
But I do like the way he gets the heavier dumbbells set up before beginning the exercise.
Dumbbell floor press benefits
Here are several benefits that a dumbbell floor press provides for anyone looking to build muscle & strength in their upper body, particularly in their chest & triceps.
1. Builds upper body strength for everyone
The dumbbell floor press is a powerful muscle & strength-building exercise that’s both very easy & very safe for anyone to use in their workout routine:
- people with shoulder or other joint pain
- advanced trainees looking to add volume without excessive shoulder loading
2. Multi-joint / compound exercise
As mentioned earlier, the floor press works the chest, triceps, shoulders, & serratus.
Compound exercises that involve multiple muscles offer a few advantages over an isolation exercise, like sitting in a leg extension machine for example. (5)
Compound multi-joint exercises:
- burn more calories
- elevate the heart better
- provide better functional (day-to-day) strength
3. You don’t need a bench
Since you’re doing these dumbbell presses on the floor, you don’t need to have a bench press in your home in order to build strength & muscle in your upper body.
And what if your gym is always packed when you go to work out and all of the benches are being used?
All you need to do is grab a pair of dumbbells, find a quiet corner of the floor somewhere, and you can get in a great chest & triceps workout.
4. You don’t need a spotter
The floor press is a very safe exercise, so much so that you don’t need anyone to spot your set in the event that you fail on a rep.
On a regular bench press, failing on a rep without a spotter can have disastrous consequences since you’ll be trapped under all that weight.
But if you can’t complete a rep during a floor press, you simply let gravity help you lower the dumbbells til they reach the floor and let go.
This built-in safety net allows you to work with heavier weight confidently, and to achieve higher training intensity in your routine.
5. A shoulder-friendly press
The proper set up of the dumbbell floor press reduces both the risk of shoulder injury and the pain associated with preexisting shoulder issues that regular bench pressing is known to aggravate.
Barbell bench press can cause shoulder problems
Some people use incorrect form while benching, such as an excessive flaring out of the elbows.
This can place the shoulder joint under excessive strain and in harm’s way.
Another normal function of the bench press that can cause shoulder pain is simply having to hold the bar with hands that are in line with their shoulder joints and wrists rotated outwards.
This isn’t a natural position and thus the potential for joint strains exists for some people, depending on their skeletal type. (6)
The other potential pain generator within the regular bench press exercise occurs when the bar is fully lowered and close to the chest.
This has a tendency to negatively affect some people’s shoulder joints, especially those with longer arms.
The elbows are so far below the torso that the rotator cuff is in a compromised, hyperextended position.
Shoulder impingement makes bench pressing difficult
There are a lot of people with existing pain in their shoulder joints who have a tough time bench pressing without discomfort.
This is often due to rotator cuff misuse, overuse, or impingements caused by bone on tendons or bursa. (7)
Again, the bottom of the bench press’ range of motion is where the trouble lies, when the shoulder joint is being stretched back behind itself.
Dumbbell floor press reduces shoulder strain
On the other hand, the dumbbell floor press alleviates all of those issues when done correctly.
The hands are allowed their natural, neutral-grip position with the palms (sort of) facing each other.
The elbows rest on the floor not too far from your body with the arms relaxed & naturally angling out at 45 degrees.
Maintaining this position throughout the dumbbell floor press movement takes the majority of strain off the shoulder joint as does the floor, which limits the elbows’ range of motion and prevents any overextension by the shoulders.
All this allows people with existing shoulder impingement or pain to perform the dumbbell floor press without issue.
6. Easy on the wrists & elbows too
The same dumbbell floor press advantages that provide benefit to our shoulders also work for our wrist & elbow joints too.
The wrists benefit from the neutral grip and the elbows benefit from both the 45 degree angle of the arms and the range of motion restriction provided by the floor.
7. Chest focus
When properly performed the dumbbell floor press insures the focus of the exercise is on the chest.
This can make it a more effective exercise for chest muscles than regular benching for some body types for whom normal bench presses aren’t very effective.
Bench press can work shoulders more than chest
For many of us, even with good form when we bench, our shoulders get more activation.
In other words, we’re trying to build our chest muscles but we activate our anterior deltoids (front shoulder muscles) more instead.
Floor press eliminates bench press cheating
By keeping the legs straight during a dumbbell floor press – or if bent, then totally quiet – you eliminate any typical bench press cheating help from leg drive or an arched back.
This increases the use of stabilizing muscles but more importantly, it also puts the focus of the work squarely on the chest muscles.
The floor helps keep things honest as well.
By limiting the range of motion it prevents any bouncing or ‘boomerang-ing’ of the weight at the bottom of the movement. Lacking the benefit of momentum, the muscles work harder, which is always a good thing.
Here are answers to a couple of common questions asked about the dumbbell floor press.
Is the dumbbell floor press effective?
The dumbbell floor press can increase the strength of your upper body’s pushing muscles without you needing a spotter, which makes it effective for increasing the amount of weight you can bench press.
Can you build muscle with floor press?
The dumbbell floor press is a great muscle-building exercise for your chest & shoulder muscles, & makes a good substitute for the bench press when you don't have access to a barbell or weight plates.
Related dumbbell workouts & exercises here on heydayDo
I hope that my article on the benefits of the dumbbell floor press is useful to you, and that the technique guide and how-to videos are helpful too.
I wish you well on your fitness journey.