An exercise I often neglect is the dumbbell chest press, so when my editor asked me to take on the challenge of doing 100 reps a day for a week, I definitely wasn’t prepared — spoiler: this wasn’t one of the easier challenges I’ve done for Tom’s Guide.
The chest press is a brilliant exercise, not only for building the chest muscles (also known as the pectorals, or ‘pecs’) but also for targeting various other muscles in the upper body. The chest press is a compound exercise, in that it recruits multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time. It’s great for building strength and helping to grow muscles, especially if you factor in progressive overload — the consistent increase in weight and/or reps.
But how do you do a dumbbell chest press? Grab a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells and lie back on a bench. Keep your feet firmly on the floor and hold the dumbbells above your chest — one in each hand — with your palms facing up. Be sure to keep the dumbbells over your chest as you do this movement; it is a chest press after all, not a face press!
Next, press the dumbbells up, locking out the elbows. Then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your chest, keeping the elbows wide as you do so. And voila, that’s one rep!
Of course, it’s not just dumbbells that can be used for the chest press. More often than not, you’ll see this exercise being done with a barbell. The exercise also goes by the name bench press.
But what would happen when I did 100 reps a day for a week? Read on to find out.
I did 100 dumbbell chest presses a day for a week — here's what happened
My triceps were attacked
The chest press works several muscles, including the triceps, which run along the back of the arms. On day one of my dumbbell chest press challenge, it certainly woke up my sleepy triceps which started firing up after just a few reps. Strong triceps not only help make everyday activities like carrying shopping or pushing heavy items that little bit easier, but they also help with sports such as swimming and rowing. I opted to go swimming after one of my chest press sessions and to sum up my swim in one word: painful.
I experienced a whole new type of soreness
As a personal trainer and marathon runner, I’ve experienced every type of DOMs or muscle soreness thanks to exercise, but boy did my chest hurt after just three days of performing 100 dumbbell chest presses. It’s a hard pain to explain; imagine going to open a cupboard door and feeling a tug across your chest. Or running and feeling super heavy in your upper body.
The cure? Deep Heat cream, stretching, and as with most things time.
Yes, I skipped a day
Why? Because everything hurt, and the thought of picking up dumbbells to do 100 chest presses filled me with fear. So yes, I hold my hands up, I cheated. Instead of 100 dumbbell chest presses, I opted for a total lower body day.
I created various upper-body supersets
I love a superset, which is two movements performed back to back with no rest in between. The target here is to keep muscles under tension for as long as possible, in a bid to help them grow and become stronger.
During this week, I created a few supersets involving the dumbbell chest press. As the chest press is a push movement, it pairs well with a pull movement. I like my supersets to be time efficient, so pairing a push and pull works well as the push muscles can rest when the pull muscles are working, and vice versa. The chest press paired well with the barbell row or the lat pull-down.
You can vary the exercise
After two days of doing 100 dumbbell chest presses, I was starting to tire at the movement. It’s not a particularly thrilling exercise. To mix things up, I changed my bench from being flat to being at an incline. From this position, I noticed that there was far less pressure on my pectorals and more pressure on my shoulders.
I also opted for the standing chest press. For this exercise, I had to choose a significantly lower weight when it came to my dumbbells. From a standing position, I held the dumbbells at chest height, elbows wide, and palms facing forward. Then, keeping the core tight and body stable, I pressed the dumbbells forward, locking out my elbows. Then, I slowly returned the dumbbells to chest height.
I did 100 dumbbell chest presses a day for a week — the verdict
If you’re anything like me and have often swerved the chest press in the gym, doing them every day will quickly make you realize that the chest muscles need working. The DOMs I felt lasted for days, and I noticed I was weaker on the dumbbell chest press than with other upper body exercises such as bicep curls or the shoulder press.
I like to try and remain fairly balanced, targeting all the muscles in my body to ensure that there are no weak areas — I don’t want some muscles to take more of the strain than others. Therefore, I will definitely be continuing to include the chest press in my upper body workouts; no more skipping chest day for me.
As a female, I found there was something pretty exciting about doing the chest press — it’s a ‘bro’ move. At my gym, men seem pretty hooked on the number of kgs they can bench, and wear this number like a badge of honor. On some days, doing 100 dumbbell chest presses felt pretty rewarding.
Would I recommend doing 100 dumbbell chest presses a day for a week? Definitely not. Your muscles need time to recover, repair, and come back stronger. Yet I’d definitely recommend working a smaller number of reps into your upper body workouts, this way, you can likely go a little heavier on the weight, and work harder. Happy benching!
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Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.