How to Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Single arm dumbbell bench

Whether you’re exercising for fitness, fat loss, or improved sports performance, strength training is a must. It doesn’t matter much if you lift weights, do bodyweight exercises, or work out with resistance bands, overloading your muscles will make you stronger, and being stronger is hugely beneficial.

There are lots of strength training exercises to choose from, including squats, leg presses and lunges, pull-ups and pulldowns, push-ups and bench presses, biceps curls, and triceps pushdowns.

They’re all similarly beneficial, and you’ll get great results from your workouts if you do them regularly coupled with great supplements.

However, these and many other strength training exercises share a common drawback; they’re all bilateral exercises. This means they train both sides of your body at once, either two legs or two arms.

While this is an acceptable way to work out, it’s not how your body tends to work in nature. Many daily and sporting activities are unilateral or one-sided. Running, walking, throwing, kicking – they all use one limb at a time.

Because of this, many traditional bilateral exercises are not very functional. After all, when was the last time you did two-footed jumps up a flight of stairs or threw a punch with both hands at the same time?

The good news is that there are plenty of unilateral strength training exercises you can add to your workouts, and in this article, we’re going to tell you all about the single-arm dumbbell bench press.

How to Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Get the most from this challenging but effective exercise by doing it correctly. Not only will you get better results, but you’ll also reduce your risk of injury.

Man holding a single dumbbell

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in one hand, sit and then lie on a flat exercise bench. Place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, brace your abs, and hold the dumbbell at arms’ length over your shoulder.
  2. Hold the dumbbell with your palms facing down your body or turned inward as preferred. Pull your shoulder down and back for stability.
  3. Bend your arms and lower the weight down to the front of your shoulder. Press your feet into the floor and brace your abs to stabilize your body. Inhale as you lower the weight.
  4. Without bouncing the dumbbell off your shoulder, press the weight back up to arms’ length, exhaling as you do so.
  5. Lower and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  6. Swap arms and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.

Variations of This Exercise

  • Incline single-arm dumbbell bench press
  • Single-arm floor press
  • Single-arm kettlebell bench press
  • Single-arm kettlebell floor press
  • Single-arm standing cable chest press

Muscles Worked

The single-arm dumbbell bench press is a compound upper body exercise, which means it uses multiple joints and muscles simultaneously. The main muscles worked during this exercise are:

Pectoralis Major

Known as the pecs for short, this is the large, fan-shaped muscle of your upper chest. Its primary roles are horizontal flexion, adduction, and medial rotation of the shoulder joint.

Anterior Deltoids

Located on the front of your shoulder, there are three deltoids, with the other two being posterior (rear) and medial (middle). The anterior deltoids work with your pecs to horizontally flex the shoulder joint.

Triceps Brachii

Known as the triceps for short, this muscle is located on the back of your upper arm and is responsible for extending your elbow.


This is the collective term for the muscles that form your midsection, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominus, and erector spinae. During single-arm dumbbell bench presses, these muscles work together to keep your body straight and tight and stop you from rolling sideways.


Single-arm dumbbell bench presses are a very beneficial exercise. Reasons to start doing this exercise include:

Identify and Fix Left-to-Right Strength Imbalances

It’s perfectly normal to have one arm stronger than the other but, if strength discrepancies become too significant, postural issues and injuries can be the result. Unilateral dumbbell bench presses mean you can test and address any imbalances. Keto Body Tone is a great supplement to help with this also.

Full-Body Exercise

Three women holding dumbbells over head

You’ll need to use your entire body to stabilize yourself during single-arm dumbbell bench presses.

If you don’t, you’ll soon find yourself rolling to one side.

You’ll need to drive your feet hard into the floor, brace your legs and abs, and stabilize your upper body too.

You should feel every muscle working, from your arms to your legs via your middle.


Do you only have one dumbbell or kettlebell to work with? No problem! You can get a great workout despite such limited gym equipment. Using just one dumbbell, you can train your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and doing this exercise on the floor means you don’t even need a bench!

Build Strength, Muscle Mass, or Endurance

Whatever your training goal is, this exercise can help you achieve it. Use a heavyweight and do sets of 3-5 to get stronger, moderate weight and sets of 6-12 to build muscle mass, or a lightweight and sets of 13-20 reps to improve your endurance. Adapt the exercise to your training needs.


One of the best ways to avoid training plateaus and ruts is to make your workouts varied. This means changing your program every few weeks. 

Switching from barbell bench presses to using dumbbells is one option, and then you can go from using two dumbbells to one for even more variety.


With single-arm dumbbell bench presses, you have an arm free, so you can use it to self-spot yourself if you are unable to complete a repetition because of muscular failure.

Dropping a heavy dumbbell on your face or chest is no one’s idea of fun, and having a hand free means you can train in comparative safety, even if you are on your own. Just grip your own wrists to guide the weight.

Bottom Line

The single-arm dumbbell bench press is an unusual exercise, and you won’t see many people doing it. Most exercisers prefer barbell bench presses, dumbbell bench presses with two weights, or the chest press machine.

However, if you want to develop both sides of your body equally, work more muscles, or spice up an otherwise repetitive upper body workout, single-arm dumbbell bench presses are a worthy and valuable addition to your strength training program.

They’re ideal for home and gym training, and you can also do them on the floor or use a kettlebell.

The next time you are due to do dumbbell bench presses, leave one weight in the rack and use a single dumbbell instead. You’ll quickly discover that this exercise is harder than it looks and, when it comes to effective training, harder is almost always better.