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Problem with First Rep on DB Press


I like to do heavy DB presses as I believe they build my chest better than BB presses. I am having a problem progressing in weight that I was hoping someone could help me with. I have no problem kicking back the heavier DBs to my chest while I lay back on the bench, however I have a great deal of trouble getting them up in the air for that first rep.

If I kick them up so that my arms are at least partially extended by the time my back hits the bench, I can bang out 8-10 reps no problem with good ROM. I have tried going lighter and doing multiple reps from a dead stop flat against my chest in an effort to build that up, but after a while I will develop a slight shoulder pain and will need to stop. And yes, a spot helps, but one is not always available in my gym.


Just get a spotter


I've never seen someone struggle with the first rep of an 8-10 rep set if they are doing a full range of motion. I would bet what you think is "good ROM" is really just a half rep. Sure, you don't have the stretch reflex on that first one, but it really shouldn't make THAT big a difference like it would if you were doing 3 rep sets (for some reason).


I go down so that my upper arms are just below parallel. Any more than that and I will develop shoulder pain.


Ahh, I've seen this problem before. It seems the vast majority of people at my gym need help to get the first rep up on dumbbells and I know why. You partially figured out the problem and started doing your reps close to how I prefer to do them.

This is how you should db press to avoid those 2 problems you're having. Lay back with dumbbells, rest them on your chest, tuck your elbows to about 45 degrees to your body and slightly rotate your hands so the dumbbells are also at about 30-45ish degrees to your body. When you press up, you can rotate your hands back the other way so that the ends of the dumbbells are parallel to each other, squeeze your chest at the top, then lower back to the starting position.

I've had a lot of guys at my gym start dumbbell pressing in this manner compared to the elbows flared, not coming down all the way that you mostly see (were probably doing yourself) and they ALL have said it feels significantly better on their shoulders, they feel it in their chest more and have been coming back to me saying their chests are growing more.

Give it a try, it should help you build the strength you need to always get the first rep on your own, alleviate your shoulder issue, as well as result in better chest development. If you need a spotter on dumbbell presses, you're doing something wrong, IMO, of course with the exception of doing shoulder presses with 100+ plus dumbbells where it's just a pain in the ass getting them up to the starting position.

On a side note I'd highly recommend you do the DC stretches to stay flexible/stretch fascia as well as the broomstick/towel stretch to decrease the likelihood of shoulder issues.


Personally, I

a)Stopped doing less than a 5RM on DB presses, I'll stick with Barbells when going heavy

b)When needed, I cheat the concentric of the first rep, i.e. my butt will rise so I can get the DB's up for the first rep. Not for everyone, but I have no problem with it.


I've found that with hexagonal or multi-plate DBs, I can place them next to each other on my chest, squeeze them together, and get them up in position more easily.


I wish there was a simple fix like others, even KingBeef mentioned.

But there's not. I have always sucked ass at getting these in position and probably always will.

I've tried this, that, and some of everything else you can think of. But the fact is when I start going heavy on DB presses... it's just an ugly fucking motion getting them into position. One of the big reasons I don't do them.



What is your shoulder pain like? I've had chronic shoulder pain on and off for about 5 years, but you can train around it. What KingBeef said is a great start.


Rotator cuff impingement I think. A dull pain in the upper arm near my shoulder, only on my left side, that hurts when I raise or twist my arm. Sleeping on the arm sometimes worsens the pain in the morning. I have lived with it for some years, and the only cure seems to be to stop doing what aggravates it. It usually only lasts a week or so at most when it flares up.

I'll try KingBeef's suggestions.


Try to make the kick-up, fall back, and initial press all one continuous motion. I've found this helps me with sets in the 8-10 range you were talking about.


If you aren't already doing prehab for it, I strongly suggest it. Also, try these at the end of your workout:

Those have helped me far more than anything for my shoulder pain, which is very similar to yours. Keep the weight really light (5 pounds) and form strict; it's a lower trap strengthener, which in theory will pull your scapula back into proper position and open up sub-acromion space.


This is a new one for me. Thanks HT!


KingBeef, could you possibly post a video of what you explained? I'm kinda having a similar problem, and would like to see you or someone demonstrate how to properly start the movement. I'm having a bit of difficulty understanding what you explained.


Sorry to ressurect this post, but I just wanted to thank KingBeef for the advise. I have been doing something similar to what you explained - flaring my elbows out slightly at the bottom of the first rep, and rotating the dumbbells out (to a palms facing forward grip) while pressing upwards. The first rep is so much easier this way. I think before I was basically trying to close-grip the dumbells on the first rep, taking the chest out of the movement. I hope this may also help others with the same problem. Thanks again KingBeef!