The dumbbell bench press is a great exercise — builds the chest muscles, doesn’t require a ton of equipment, and creates more chest activation than a barbell bench press (when talking about hypertrophy).
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But, being the greedy bastards that we are, we want more. So what about the hex press? Would that reduce shoulder pain, and would it be as effective as a regular chest press?
Hex Press Muscles Worked
Logically, we have to discuss how and why the specific muscles are worked during a Hex Press. If this bad boy is going to help you gain more tension (the good kind) in your chest muscles, we have to also know what other muscles are involved.
We’ll be listing them below from most used to least used:
The pectoralis major is the big boy, the one we all want, and the perfect place for your significant other to put their hand when snuggling you.
The pectoralis major has the main function of abduction/depression of the arm. Basically, it brings the arm forward and across the body.
What does that mean?
Well, put your hand on your chest and bring that arm across your body. Notice your hand rising a bit? Well, that’s the chest “pulling” the joint to move your upper arm.
This is why a lot of chest training is focused on such movements. This is also why a regular barbell bench press could actually tear your chest.
Because your hands are fixed in place, the chest cannot really function how it should, building immense pressure within. If that pressure on the target area becomes too much — POP — goodbye, chest muscles.
A hex press targets the pectoralis major quite well, but perhaps not quite as well as a normal dumbbell bench press due to the arm not moving as much across the body. That said, the tradeoff is less pressure on your shoulder joints.
The pectoralis minor is the smaller of the two muscles but is still massively important for chest strength and chest definition.
The pectoralis minor has a few smaller functions, stabilization, and moving with the scapula. Moving the entire shoulder joint would be controlled by the minor.
This will typically be used and trained with most chest movements, so you don’t need to focus on movements that specifically target this muscle for greater hypertrophy.
The triceps are the meaty eye candies that consist of more than one “head,” but they’ll all be active when doing a hex press (or any other press).
The triceps have two big functions.
First, they’re essential for elbow extension. What this means is you need to have triceps in order to extend/straighten your arms. Thus, all chest press movements require triceps.
Their next function is to look badass. They make up 70% of your upper arm, so if you want big arms, make them grow…
The shoulders are important for all movement of the shoulder joint. Thus, if the arms move, then the shoulders are involved.
When doing a hex press, it’ll mostly be the anterior deltoids (front shoulders) that will be doing the work. The medial deltoids are for lateral raises, whereas the rear delts are used for rowing or retracting movements.
Other Muscles Worked
While doing the hex press, you’ll also work the following muscles and muscle groups:
- The core will be active. The entire abdomen and lower back will be used when doing (any) movements in the gym, even if you do them in a controlled manner. You’ll also be breathing to control your abdomen, which would also target the abs.
- The legs will also be involved. With your feet firmly planted, you should be pressing through your legs into the bench to drive your presses. This means your glutes, quads, and hamstrings will all be used in some capacity.
- The lats will also be slightly active. Many professional benchers say that doing any kind of benching will require strong lats because they have to keep you stable and planted.
- The upper back won’t be active in the pressing movement, but it will be active overall. So it won’t count as an upper back movement, but if your upper back is injured, you should keep it in mind
How to Do a Hex Press Correctly
Of course, you should always make sure you’re warmed up properly and that your starting position is safe. Heavier weights might be tempting but start smaller with safe weights when performing the hex press.
Here’s how to do a hex press:
- Make sure to set the adjustable bench so that it’s flat or at a slight incline.
- Grab the two dumbbells and sit on the seat end of the bench.
- Flick the dumbbells up and hold them above your body. The dumbbells should be touching one another in a neutral position (use a neutral grip).
- Slowly lower the dumbbells until they touch your chest (or as deep as you can comfortably). While doing this, keep your elbows tucked.,
- With palms facing one another still, simply press the dumbbells up.
And that’s it! Some gyms might have a Smith machine hex press, but these are pretty rare, and the setup is exactly the same. Both are great for building lean muscle mass in your upper body. However, the Smith machine hex press might decrease shoulder issues slightly.
5 Hex Press Benefits
All exercises will help you build lean muscle mass. All exercise can help you improve bone density, hormonal levels, and even mental health.
So, we’ll be focusing on the benefits we see specifically with the hex press.
Improved Shoulder Health
Better shoulder health is the main benefit you get from a hex press, specifically when compared to other chest press movements.
Because of the “elbows tucked” situation, you have almost zero stress on the shoulders. This means you gain greater overall chest strength with a lower risk of messing up your shoulders.
A Better Training Plan
It allows you for a better training plan because your shoulders can handle more now! Your training program can now have more specific shoulder and chest movements. This added volume could lead to more muscle mass over time.
You should always choose the movements that allow you the most amount of muscle growth with the least amount of pain and discomfort. This not only is safer but — as mentioned — it also allows you to put more volume into other muscles.
It Works the Entire Chest
The dumbbell hex press works the entire chest, whereas other chest movements might only work the upper chest or lower chest. Most movements on a flat bench will do this. If you want to target different parts of the chest, you’d simply adjust the angle of the bench backrest.
It’s a Safer Option
It’s far safer than a barbell bench which, as we discussed, can lead to tearing a pectoralis major. This means a safer way to improve body composition and strength with a lower risk of tearing a muscle.
While many would have you believe that a barbell bench press is essential for muscle growth or strength, it isn’t. No movement is essential for anything, but movement is essential.
A Lower Risk of Injury
With lighter weights, you also run a smaller risk of injury compared to a normal press. This will massively increase your longevity in the gym.
8 Dumbbell Hex Press Exercise Alternatives
There are several movements that could be used instead of the dumbbell hex press. Keep in mind, while these are alternative chest exercises, you should still use the ones that suit your body best.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is still one of the best chest activation movements on the planet. It involves inward arm force, you can add a bunch of loads (depending on how heavy your dumbbells are), and a dumbbell press is a lot easier to learn than a hex press.
Dumbbell flyes are another great option. As far as muscle activation goes, without using secondary muscles, this is as good as it gets. However, this might target the anterior deltoid more than regular presses, so if your deltoids aren’t so friendly, this might not be a good option.
Machine Chest Press
A machine chest press is another exceptional option. Many refer to this as a “squeeze press” because of the amount of overload you can apply to the specific muscle group. More tension can lead to better muscle definition and growth.
Hammer Chest Press
The hammer chest press could do what the machine chest press does as well. Most of these (and number 3) usually also have neutral grip variations. Studies show that neither grip is better for chest activation, but both are effective (as long as it’s done with controlled movement).
Smith Machine Movements
Smith machine movements, like incline, decline, and flat bench, can all allow you to target the main muscles. These will certainly apply more pressure to the shoulders than a hex press, so make sure you’re ready for a shoulder workout.
Cable movements, such as a fly or press, are exactly the same as the dumbbell variations. While standing, you might have less pushing power compared to if you were sitting with back support. They might also offer a more constant load compared to dumbbells, which could be beneficial.
Bodyweight movements at home can also be considered! While training with weights is exceptional for muscle definition and strength, if you don’t have ’em, just hop on the floor, and give me 20! Push-ups, incline push-ups, and even shoulder push-ups can target the chest.
Smith Machine Hex Press
The Smith machine hex press is something to consider, but again, these are rare to find… Both will target the same muscles, but the Smith machine might offer you a greater chance to overload the muscles.
Here’s what it looks like:
The hex press works, but at the end of the day, anything that works with a neutral grip has been designed to minimize stress on joints. However, while this is great for joints, this might not be the best thing for growth.
This is the opposite of the bench press in a sense. There’s far less risk of injuries, but the gains might not be as good. Whenever designing a workout, choose the correct movements to target the correct muscles.
Is Hex Press Good for the Upper Chest?
The hex press works the entire chest, including the upper and inner chest. While it may not specifically target these compared to other movements, it will still overload the entire chest. One thing you can do to change the loading profile is to change the angle of the backrest, such as adjusting it to an incline or decline setting.
Is Dumbbell Hex Press Good?
Yes, the dumbbell hex press is good. Depending on what your goal is, you might need to use different exercises, and the dumbbell hex press is exceptional for overloading the chest (which is great for mind-muscle connection) without overloading the joints.
Does the Hex Press Target the Triceps More?
No, the hex press does not target the triceps more. This is a big misconception, but it has never been proven. If you want to target the triceps, you should use a different exercise that targets them specifically, and your fitness goals should determine what your movements are.
Hex Press vs Dumbbell Press
The hex and dumbbell press both have their benefits and their drawbacks. Ideally, you’d only use a hex press when you’re struggling with joint issues, but there is another situation you might need it. If you simply cannot get stronger with normal dumbbells anymore, you might want to switch over to the dumbbell hex press.