Dumbbell bench presses are a common variation of the gold-standard barbell bench press, offering a suitable alternative if you want a slightly different training stimulus. But dumbbells are harder to control than a barbell. This may reduce the amount of weight you can use, while offering a slightly longer range of motion.
While most lifters do dumbbell benches with a palms-forward grip, occasionally you'll see individuals using a hammer-style grip. Are they screwing up the lift, or have they figured out a better way to do it?
The answer has a lot to do with elbow position. The standard, palms-forward version of the dumbbell bench press keeps your elbows out wide from your body, much like the barbell bench press. That elbow position focuses the move on the middle of the pectoral region as well as on the triceps and front delts.
But when you switch to a hammer grip, watch where the elbows go as you lower the weights. Since the elbows need to stay directly under the weights to control them, they stay much closer to your sides, kind of like a close-grip bench press.
That subtle difference has larger implications as to how the exercise affects muscle recruitment. Taking a neutral grip on the dumbbell bench press places even more emphasis on the triceps. What's more, it shifts the pectoral emphasis to the inner-pec region, again mimicking the close-grip bench.
So even a slight change in hand position can re-direct the emphasis of the movement (although not completely, it should be remembered).
When to Go Neutral
Neutral-grip dumbbell benches are a great multijoint triceps exercise to replace the barbell on triceps day. They’re also an inner-pec-focused exercise you can do toward the end of your chest workout to give your arm extensors a great pump.
If you're doing the movement for triceps, it should go at the front of your workout. Try 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. With chest, push it further back in your training; you won't want heavily fatigued triceps with so many presses in your routine still to go.