Incline Dumbbell Press – The Best Upper Chest Exercise?

Anyone can build a big chest, but most guys have no idea how to get the right proportions that will give you that truly unstoppable look.

Most guys who work on their chest end up getting a huge lower chest because the lower chest is naturally thicker and more responsive to growth.

But there's nothing impressive about a big lower chest. It makes you look more like you've got man boobs than a muscular chest.

The secret to building the perfect chest, is not to have a sloping chest that sticks out at the bottom, but to have a vertical drop – like a cliff-face – with the upper chest being just as thick as the lower.

And there's none better to help you achieve this than the incline dumbbell press

…But Not The Way Everyone Else Is Doing The Incline Bench Press

I see too many guys at the gym doing the incline barbell press, or they're doing the incline dumbbell press the wrong way.

The trouble with the regular old barbell incline bench press is it targets way too much of the anterior (front) deltoids of the shoulders.

Incline Bench Press Anterior Deltoid Activation
The traditional barbell incline bench press results in too much anterior deltoid involvement

See, EMG studies have shown that the more you incline the bench, the more you involve the anterior deltoids, and the less you involve the chest.

So What's The Solution? How Do You Work The Upper Chest While Minimizing Involvement Of The Shoulders?

Well the secret is a powerful incline dumbbell press tweak that was used by the legendary Steve Reeves to carve out a truly thick set of upper pecs that all his competitors were jealous of.

Who was Steve Reeves? Steve Reeves was the bodybuilding superstar before Arnold. He was one of the biggest icons of modern bodybuilders that ever existed, and has long been considered the pinnacle of the male physique.

Born in 1926, Reeves won every major title of his era, retiring from competitive bodybuilding in 1950.

Steve Reeves Chest
Steve Reeves had perfectly even chest development. He was more concerned about proportionality and looking great, than he was about size.

Now, back in those days, bodybuilding was all about proportionality and achieving the ideal masculine look. Unlike bodybuilding the way it is today, it wasn't about taking steroids and getting as big as you possibly can. Face it, today's competitive bodybuilders look like freaks and women and people in general are repulsed by them.

Even most of Reeve's competitors at the time were open about the fact that Reeves had the perfect male physique.

One of Reeves' most envied body parts was his chest. He had very unique square pec development, with a particularly thick set of upper pecs.

Everyone at the time tried to duplicate Reeve's results. After questioning him, they found that the secret to his success was a special tweak he added to the incline dumbbell press.

Steve Reeves Incline Dumbbell Press
Steve Reeves’ secret to his perfect chest proportions was a special tweak he added to the incline dumbbell press

Steve Reeves' tweak is what truly sets the incline dumbbell press apart from the regular old incline barbell press.

With the incline dumbbell press, not only can you get a greater stretch at the bottom of the movement, but EMG studies have shown that you can get a more intense contraction in your pecs at the top of the movement, if you bring the dumbbells in toward one another at the top.

This is what Steve Reeves was doing long before EMG studies confirmed that it actually works.

By bringing the dumbbells in at the top, not only do you isolate the pecs (as opposed to the anterior deltoids) better than in the incline barbell press, but you also stimulate those inner pec fibers near the midline of your upper chest, to really bring out that pec separation line.

Being able to bring your hands together at the top of the movement using dumbbells, is the secret key that Steve Reeves used to develop a thick upper chest that was the envy of all of his competitors.

Sure, Reeves wasn't the first guy to ever use dumbbells, but he was one of the only guys of that era who was known to use the incline dumbbell press, at a time when everyone else was using barbells.

Nobody else knew that dumbbells allow you to isolate the upper pecs better than a barbell ever could.

How To Perform The Incline Dumbbell Press

You can do the incline dumbbell press with your torso anywhere between a 30 and 45 degree angle to the floor.

If you go much lower than 30 degrees, then you won't be putting enough emphasis on the upper chest. Go higher than 45 degrees, and you'll be putting too much emphasis on the shoulders. Personally, I prefer 45 degrees :p

You will find that you can lift less on an incline press than you can on a flat bench press. This is partly because the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle is naturally thinner and weaker than the lower portion.

  • Lie back on a bench inclined at 30-45 degrees with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
  • Using your thighs to help push the dumbbells up, assume the starting position by lifting the dumbbells to your chest. Use an overhand grip as you would with a barbell.Your elbows should be flared out, with your upper arms at 90° from your torso (see image below).

Here at the bottom of the movement, your hands should be wider than shoulder-width apart, allowing your elbows to go down below the level of your chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press Bottom
  • While breathing out, push the dumbbells up in a slight arch, so the inner bells of each dumbbell touch at the top.
  • Tense your pecs hard at the top, trying for a hard contraction.
Incline Dumbbell Press Top
  • While breathing in, lower the weights back to the starting position, being sure to get a deep stretch at the bottom of the movement.
  • When you are done, place the dumbbells back on your thighs and then on the floor.

Incline Dumbbell Press Video

In this video, I got my chest sculpting buddy Mihailo, to do the incline dumbbell press. I did ask him to do it at 45 degrees, but he went ahead and did it at 30 degrees.

Incline Dumbbell Press

So the key to a powerful set of pecs is to develop a thick upper chest, which gives you that square-cut appearance with a vertical drop.

Upper pec development is tough, and most guys get it wrong by either doing barbell incline work, or neglecting incline presses altogether.

The secret to ultimate upper pec development is to do incline dumbbell presses like good ol' Steve Reeves back in the day when bodybuilding was all about proportionality and looking great as a man.

EMG studies have shown that bringing the dumbbells together at the top, helps not only to isolate the pecs (as opposed to the front deltoids), but also to contract those inner pec fibers, which give you that full upper chest thickness.

Using The Incline Dumbbell Press For Losing Man Boobs

Developing your upper chest is an excellent way to improve the look of your chest if you have man boobs.

Guys with man boobs usually have too much fat overlying their lower chest, making their lower chest seem bigger than it should. By developing your upper chest, you can really improve the way you look by making your lower chest look smaller in comparison.

To really lose man boobs though, as well as using exercises like the incline dumbbell press to develop your upper chest, you also need to lose the fat over that lower chest.

When you lose your man boobs (by using the methods I reveal here) and develop your chest muscles the way Steve Reeves did, you'll soon be able to take off your top and look great at the beach, at the pool, or in a t-shirt out in the summer sun.

Losing man boobs really isn't that hard when you know the right way to go about it. When you discover the secrets on how to lose man boobs naturally, you can feel comfortable in a t-shirt or topless just a few short weeks from now.

The discoveries I've made are somewhat unusual though, but when you get started on these unique methods, I promise you'll never look at your man boobs in the same way again.

You can find out about these unique (somewhat unusual) methods here:

Click here to discover my totally unconventional methods on how to lose man boobs naturally

60 thoughts on “Incline Dumbbell Press – The Best Upper Chest Exercise?”

  1. Good article…I include inclined dumbbell presses in my routine while concentrating on good form. I too believe in proportionality and I like a good upper chest. I hope to become stronger and have a better body ratio soon. Keep up the work,

    • Hi Asoin. If you want to add in some variety, or if you find yourself overtraining your triceps with too many pushing exercises (dips, shoulder presses, flat bench presses etc), then you may also consider doing pullovers. I’ll do a detailed write-up on pullovers in the near future. I was pretty skeptical when I started doing them at first, but did them anyway knowing they were a staple in almost every bodybuilder’s regime back in the classic era. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it’s an amazing builder of the upper chest. It works the upper chest in a whole different plane from any compound pushing exercise.

      If you give it a try, do let me know how it goes ;)

  2. I want to buy the blueprint is it all downloaded even the bonus stiff like hypnosis dvd and can I do push ups on dumbells and nearly touch the floor with my chest to substitute a bench press machine, I can get access to one but trying to do everything in the one room so I can look after the kids, love everything you’ve sent me so far the least I can do is buy the blueprint, I’m 2 weeks into hoot weight training(squats,dead lifts,chin ups,dumbell pushups, shoulder presses and dips) I feel great am I on the right track for reducing man boons? ThanksGarry… Damien

    • Hi Damian, thanks for the comment.

      Yes, everything in the Chest Sculpting Blueprint is downloadable to your computer, including the hypnosis audio and exercise DVDs. I actually prefer pushups to the bench press because pushups are more of a full-body workout (having to maintain your posture while you move your whole body, as opposed to just moving your arms). Just be sure to progressively increase the weight by adding weights into a backpack.

      Your training regime sounds pretty solid. Chinups are great for both the chest and back. Try to make dips your first pushing exercise, since it is the most demanding.


  3. Hi Garry,
    I have started to workout in gym as per your advice. ( Bench press, dead lift, shoulder press, barbell squat, shoulder press) . Is it ok to stretch before and after the workout?

    • Hi Raghu

      It’s great to hear you’ve started working out, let me know how you get on. Stretching is perfectly fine, in fact I encourage it. Stretching has multiple different benefits, like helping to stimulate muscle growth, improving flexibility, reducing chances of injury, improving blood flow, etc.

  4. o agree with you about bringing the dumbbells together at the top of the press, but after my gym switched from metal to those rubber-coated dumbbells, I stopped because of the annoying “bounce”. And then after reflecting on the physics of the movement, it occurred to me that tension largely leaves the pecs as the arms become vertical, and especially as they tilt inward as the dumbbells come together. I was able to easily feel this when I experimented. I even got fewer reps with the weights I had previously been bringing together, which I deduced was because my po ecstatic no longer got the partial rest they had been getting at the end of every rep. Having stuck with this new “constant tension” technique for about 18 months, I notice a new thickness in the pectorals. And I’m no beginner, I’ve been lifting intensely for twenty years. I have preferred and focused on dumbbell pressing when I received poor results from my first several years of barbell focus.
    I do think the db incline press is a great movement, particularly at 30 degrees, but I would question the efficacy of bring the dumbbells together each rep. I do believe in training the full-range and all functions of the pec, but I train the arm crossing the midline of the body function with the cable crossover (either an actual crissover). I should mention that I only tweaked my flat and incline db press form. I was doing all the other same exercises for chest I had done for years, the same body part split, the same frequency, everything identical except the new dumbbell pressing form where I never reach fully vertical with my arms. The middle region is growing as well. 
    Also, could you please share which emg studies you have seen indicate that bringing the dumbbells together better isolate the pecs, and contract the inner region better? I have been scouring the Web and have not encountered such a study. I’m not saying there isn’t one, I would just love to see it, or them. I know that what I feel during a movement can vary from or even contradict an EMG, and stretch of tendons and ligaments and such can confuse matters for example.
    If you were referring to the Bret Contreras study, I was not aware that he specified dumbbell touching as part of his form. Perhaps you assumed this? I know the accompanying picture suggests that, but who knows if he selected the picture. It is not him in it.
    Anyway, thanks for an interesting article and I would love to hear your rebuttal of my points as I try to train as intelligently as possible and will be the first to admit if I am wrong.

  5. Looks like my comment’s first sentence submitted clipped. I had typed ” I used to agree with you about bringing the dumbbells together…”

  6. And I meant to say that I believe “my pectorals got a partial rest” when I used to bring the dumbbells together. It is my understanding that the force is directed downward due to the earth’s gravity, and when supported by vertical arms or squeezed in while holding dumbbells, the tension is negligible and not much different in that final squeeze whether the dumbbells were 100 lbs or 50.

  7. Hi Garry!
    Really l am very much convinced with this upper pec exercise. As you have narrated l have always been doing pushups, barbell bench presses etc. and have a good combination of  lower pecs with reasonable shoulders but lacking upper portion of chest. I am very busy banker by profession and  a 59 years old YOUNG man with 4 abs. still striving hard to remain fit and good looking. I still have an ambition of clear visible chest line. I am sure that this exercise will help me to achieve my goal. Thanks a lot for this help, may God bless you.
    Muhammad Jamil

  8. Hi Gary,
        I live in an apartment complex in a small town.  We have an onsite gym but unfortunately no free weights. The only resistance available is cable machines. Any suggestions on applying this and the pullover workout to machines?

    • Hey Stephen.

      It sucks that they don’t have any free weights at your gym. However, cables are almost just as good as free weights, and sometimes even better. You just need a little creativity to emulate the same exercise you would normally do with free weights. With the pullover exercise for example, with a cable, you can do it standing using a high position pulley. Simply stand facing away from the pulley, hold the handle above your head with both hands, and pull forward in an arc-like motion, just like you would with a dumbbell lying down.

      For this to work, the pulley has to be higher than the level of your head, and you have to be standing with your back right up against it. This is to prevent the wire from touching your head as you move your arms down and forward. You will likely still have to move your head out of the way by tilting it sideways. This is not a problem, as long as you alternate your head movements from left to right with each rep.

      • Thank you very much Gary. I’ve been doing the upper chest exercise similarly standing off to the side with my back to the pulley and pushing up and out at a 45º angle. Unfortunately I can only do one side at a time. Is this ok as long as I keep the same reps and pace?

        • Hey Stephen. One side at a time is no problem, as long as you alternate equally between each side, so both sides are balanced in both volume and intensity. The main thing here is not to work one side more than the other, as this would lead to muscle imbalance, and predispose you to injury.

  9. Wow. I have been wondering how to improve my chest. I just returned working out in a gym just a month ago, I never knew a program or best reps that would help me improve with my chest. Thanks for the articles, but you know I am struggling with my chest to work on it, though I have been consistent with the basics. I have been dieting also but it’s hard to gain an improvement about it. Would you care to suggest some nice tips? I also have problems with the recovery of my strength every after work out that makes me hard to lift the next work out. Any suggestion for that?

    Thank you very much for the informative article, God Bless.

    • Hi Berting.

      I’ve sent you an email detailing some general advice on losing man boobs.

      When it comes to strength recovery after your workout, it’s all down to how hard you push yourself and how often you train. I generally advise doing resistance training no more than 3-4 days a week, on non-consecutive days. You also shouldn’t train to failure (always finish with 1 rep left in the tank), as this can increase your muscle’s recovery period by more than 48 hours.

  10. Are diamond pushups better than bench press for adding size? Since it is a difficult push-up, doing more than five won't be easy per set, that is. So will it help in hypertrophy?

    • Diamond pushups are not better for adding size than regular pushups or regular bench presses. What they are good at, is hitting the inner portion of your pecs, so you can get that midline pec separation line. But if you want to hit the inner pecs, then you are likely better off doing cable crossovers, with your hands going beyond the midline by crossing over one another.

  11. Hi Gary. I have a shoulder problem so I don’t prefer bringing my elbows too far down or flaring them while doing presses. In fact I only do floor dumbell presses. I don’t have access to an incline bench either. What would be a good upper chest exercise for me?
    Martand india.

    • Dumbbell pullovers from the edge of your bed. If you have a shoulder problem, then it might be best to avoid flaring your elbows. Flaring your elbows and bringing your elbows down, puts your shoulders is a weak position. This can be dangerous if you have a pre-existing shoulder injury/problem, or if you are overtraining or lifting too heavy. However, the fact that your shoulders are in a weak position, is a signal in itself to make your chest muscles work harder – since the chest muscles play a large role in stabilizing and moving the shoulder joint.

  12. Mate-I have a big chest (111cms) but not good upper chest development. Read your article on dumbbell presses re Steeve REES. HAVE BEEN TRAINING FOR YEARS BUT NOT GOOD UPPER CHEST. would LIKE VERY much to get it..
    As well as the dumbbell presses should I also do:1.dumbell pullover on inclined bench 2.Dumbell pullover across horizontal bench 3. Cables from high level in the form of flies?
    How many times a week should I train the upper chest and how many sets?
    Many thanks Garry. I live in Australia

    • Hi Barry

      Yes, dumbbell pullovers are some of the best exercises for developing the upper chest. If you have access to an incline bench, then even better. There’s no need to do it both on a flat AND incline bench, either one will do. With cables, I would suggest you have the pulley in a LOW position, and pull upwards in the form of flys – this would target the upper chest.

      I would suggest you train the chest three to four days a week, training on alternate days. In terms of sets and reps, if you want to increase the size of your chest muscles, there are many different hypertrophy protocols you can choose from. I’d do multiple sets of 8-15 reps. You might try 3 sets of 10 reps, or even Vince Gironda’s famous 8×8 protocol for example.

  13. Hello Sir,
    I don’t have any access to gym. I mostly do free hand exercises at home including, incline and decline pushup, dips. But can you give me some idea how to do incline dumbbells at home? I am 18 years of age and i live in India.

    • Hi Rohan

      One thing you can do is to get a stability ball. These are great for doing dumbbell incline presses on. They are low cost, easy to store (when I had one I used to tuck it away on top of my wardrobe), and can be used for many different exercises to replace the bench. The only downside is, on a stability ball, you can’t lift very heavy weights on a barbell.

  14. HI David

    Thanks so much for the article, truly helpful. It made me realise I need to ditch incline barbell and replace it with incline dumbbell press. The only question I have is where do fly’s come into this? As I’ve heard fly’s are very important in achieving the overall shape of the chest, I normally do these at the end of my routine.

    Also what are your thoughts on decline bench exercises, if I already have decent mass on my lower chest do you think decline is a good idea.

    Best Wishes

    • Hi Attiq

      Flys are a good isolation exercise for the outer pecs, but they are only necessary in the advanced stages, when you already have a good deal of mass in your chest and are looking to refine the shape of your chest.

      Studies show that decline presses don’t isolate the lower pecs, but work the upper pecs just as much. You don’t need to do both flat bench presses and decline presses, just pick one or the other. You can look at dips as an extreme form of decline press, and I talk about the benefits of dips in this article.

    • Hey Mayur. To get that perfect separation line between your lower chest and your abdomen, the most important thing is body fat reduction, you need to lose both chest fat and abdominal fat. The following article will help you do this, the info on losing chest fat through hormonal methods, will also help you lose abdominal fat:

      If you have a bench at home, then the incline dumbbell press is an excellent exercise for the upper chest. If you don’t have a bench, then you can use an exercise ball instead of a bench, just put the ball against a wall and angle yourself at, say, 45 degrees and push up with a set of dumbbells.

      Exercise balls are very cheap, but if you don’t have room for one at home, then the dumbbell pullover is a PHENOMENAL exercise for the upper chest! You can also do decline pushups with your feet elevated.

  15. Hey Garry, I recently started using the incline dumbbell press (because of this great article) My question to you is what is the recommended number I should do to see results. I’m 6’3 300 pounds. I am currently doing 50 (5 sets of 10) starting with 20 pounds and than 25 etc., ending with 40 pound dumbells. What would you recommend?

    • Hi Christian. Which rep and set scheme you use depends on what you want to achieve. Generally you should always be doing multiple sets, because studies show that multiple sets are better than single sets, whether you are after strength or muscle hypertrophy. With resistance training, there are generally 3 things you can achieve:

      1. Strength – heavy weight and low reps
      2. Hypertrophy – moderate weight and moderate reps
      3. Endurance – light weight and high reps

      If you want bigger upper chest muscles because you want to improve the appearance of your chest, then you want to stick to hypertrophy training to begin with. For hypertrophy, I generally recommend doing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. This is just a general guide though, other rep schemes can work too, like the 5 sets of 10 you mention. There’s also Vince Gironda’s 8×8, which works really well for hypertrophy. Vince did mention though, not to stick to 8×8 for too long, as it would lead to overtraining. Though 5×10 can work, it’s a little too much volume, and falls more into the realm of endurance training rather than hypertrophy.

      There’s little point in starting with a lighter weight and increasing the weight in subsequent sets. This is called pyramid training, and I really don’t see the benefit to it. Reverse pyramid training is better, where you start with a heavy weight and end with the lightest weight. This acts as a sort of hybrid training, where you train for a little bit of strength and a little bit of hypertrophy. But it’s better to stick to either strength training entirely or hypertrophy training entirely, that way you get in either a GOOD strength workout, or a GOOD hypertrophy workout. So it’s best to stick to the same weight throughout the sets – a moderately heavy weight that you can lift through 3 to 4 sets of 8-12 reps.

      My favorite for hypertrophy is 3 sets of 10 reps, but this does depend on the muscle group involved. Some muscle groups in the body actually grow better with a lower rep range and heavier weight, and other muscle groups respond better to a slightly higher rep range and lower weight.

      To find out about this in more detail, take a look at the Chest Sculpting Blueprint here:

  16. Garry, thanks for the helpful article on this. What would be a good way to do this with a TRX and just bodyweight and even kettlebells?

    • Hi Ray. TRX provides an excellent bodyweight alternative that simulates the incline dumbbell press. Simply use a ceiling suspension to do pushups, bringing your hands in as you push out – like this guy is doing in this video:

      Try to elevate your feet as well, so you target more of your upper pecs.

      With kettlebells, you can use them on a bench. Use a couple of kettlebells in place of dumbbells.

  17. Hi Gary,

    Good article pal, I’ve been training on and off since I was 16 I’m now 32, I have great front and side deltoid development and triceps are very strong, yet my upper chest isn’t great. I don’t do flat bench I haven’t for years my chest day incline dumbbell press 4 sets 10-12 at with 45kg dembells incline flys 25kg db’s and cables, then into incline session. I do fell that with my shoulders and tricep being very strong features that they are taking a lot of the strain of the weights and not my chest. Any ideas ??

    • Hi Tony.

      Do this, I promise you’ll get some amazing results in your upper chest:

      – Do squats, 3 sets of 8 reps, with a 1.5-2 minute rest interval.
      – Immediately after squats, do 3 sets of 8 dumbbell pullovers, being sure to use progressive loading over time (1-1.5 min rest interval)

      I’ve found the testosterone boost you get form doing leg training, has the greatest effect on the exercise you do immediately after. The good thing about dumbbell pullovers is it isolates the upper chest, and bypasses both the shoulders and triceps.

      An alternative unlikely exercise that builds the upper chest, while bypassing the triceps and shoulders, is the chinup. Both these exercises involve the movement of chest extension. The dumbbell pullover isolates the upper chest, while the chinup stimulates the entire chest.

  18. Hi Sir,
    Actually I want to make a perfect square chest. I’m 20 years old and has shoulders 38 inch. And height of 5.7
    Actually I want a proper exercise schedule so that I can make a perfect square chest. I have a bit bulky lower chest. I want exercise which don’t affect my height and also if possible other than square chest exercise. Please suggest some exercise or something which will boost my height. I’m from India

  19. hey Garry

    i have bought ur programe “how to loose man boobs natuarally” , the first thing i want to tell u that book is superb and very very informative i dont know where the night was gone reading the book i couldnt stop myself reading the book whole night.

    It has given a totally new look to make the physique.i have already started working on weight training as per the book but i am struggling with the diet especially with the protein intake since i am pure vegetarian. And u mentioned in the book that it gonna be very difficult as a vegetarian to loose chest is there any alternative for that??

    And one more can i take pulses or it should be avoided??

    • Hi Harshad. It’s more difficult as a vegetarian, but not impossible. One of the main issues is your reliance on grains as a vegetarian. I see a lot of vegetarians who are overweight and who have man boobs. Too much reliance on grains and low testosterone due to no animal fats are largely to blame. I would advise you to eat lots of eggs, get yourself some whey protein, and avoid grains as much as you can. Replace rice and pasta with vegetables, nuts, seeds, and eggs.

      I generally advise non-vegetarians with man boobs to avoid pulses (legumes). Legumes are a bit of a grey area, since they have a good micronutrient and protein content, yet they are very carb dense. As a vegetarian though, legumes are good if you are using them to replace grains. But do moderate your intake.


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