Men Over 40 Should Use This Bench Press Variation to Build Chest Strength

Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

I’ve suffered from discomfort in my left shoulder for the last 15 years, so for a long time, I largely avoided the classic bench press when I trained my chest. I’d usually do pushups for my pecs and triceps—but that limits how much weight I can work with to develop more muscle growth and strength. It wasn’t until I started personal training with clients that I realized the benefits of a different exercise: the dumbbell bench press. Now I bench all the time, and I’m convinced it’s the better alternative for the older man who wants to put safety first for chest and triceps development.

During a barbell bench press, your shoulders have less freedom to move freely than they do during a dumbbell press, and it’s easy for them to slip into internal rotation, which can cause injuries and shoulder pain over time. To avoid that, you have to learn to “break the bar,” turning your palms toward each other as you press, but this can be tough to master, especially if you’re new to the exercise. A pair of dumbbells isn’t fixed in one place, though, so you’re able to create this motion (and keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your torso) more easily. Ever since I’ve been doing the dumbbell chest press, I’ve had no shoulder irritation and less fear of incurring injury while doing the exercise.

Grab a pair of light dumbbells to start. Lie on your bench with your back flat, holding the dumbbells directly above your shoulders. Engage your glutes and abs, with your feet firmly grounded on the floor. Also, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Again, hold those dumbbells with your elbows out at a 45-degree angle relative to your torso.

From the starting position, just press the weight up. Keep the tension you’ve created in your core and glutes and shoulders consistent throughout the movement. Avoid arching your back, or pressing off the floor. This variation is about building muscle, not pressing as much weight as possible—so if you find yourself straining and breaking form to finish a rep, lower your weight.

For this version of the chest press you’re looking for control and safety to build your pecs and triceps. To get going, try four sets of 6 to 8 reps to start. When doing the exercise I like to use a two count on the concentric and eccentric parts. Also, at the bottom of the press, you can pause for two seconds to get more time under tension, then pressing back up.

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