In most cases, “best” can be a relative term… and will often depend on goals! This article will contain opinions only, so feel free to disagree. But in my opinion there are certain exercises that are more effective in hitting specific body parts, and some that aren’t that great at all!
One muscle group at a time I will go over my favorite exercise and explain why it is my favorite! In Part 1 of this series I will be covering Chest, Shoulders and Triceps!
Chest - Dumbbell Bench Press.
The bench press is almost universally known to be the best check exercise, however most people would probably have said BARBELL bench instead of Dumbbell. I like dumbbell bench here for a couple of reasons:
You can change the angle of your grip quick and easy. From regular grip to neutral grip to anywhere in between. This often results in the exercise feeling a lot better on peoples shoulders than barbell bench press does.
You force each arm to work independently from each other. Have a weaker arm? You’re going to find out about it right away when doing dumbbell bench press. Sometimes when using the bar, the weaker side gets some assistance from the stronger side… which only accentuates the strength discrepancy.
Downsides: The only real downside of dumbbell bench press is getting them into the starting position. If you practice regularly it is not that difficult, but when getting started make sure you have a spotter to grab your wrists and help get those dumbbells into the starting position.
Runner-Ups: Push Ups are of course a great chest exercise, but many people mess up on the form and hit mostly shoulders rather than chest. I am also a huge fan of Cable Machine Chest Press, this type will challenge your stabilizer muscles due to the instability of the cables. The downside is that once you have too much weight on the machine your body must counterbalance by leaning very far in the other direction to make sure you don’t fly backwards!
Shoulders - Seated Dumbbell Military Press (also known as shoulder press)
In this exercise you are sitting in the upright position on the bench, ideally with your back pressed firmly on the back pad. With your elbows out by your sides, you bring the dumbbells down to about ear level then press all the way up until arms are straight. Here’s why I like it best:
This exercise hits the entire shoulder (rear delts, lateral delts, and front delts). Almost no other shoulder exercise will do that all at once.
Again each arm is working independently from each other, you will force a weaker arm to catch up faster this way rather than using a barbell.
The perfect position for the dumbbells in the downward phase is ending right at ear level… so it's almost impossible to do this exercise with a barbell while maintaining good position and a nice neutral spine.
Downsides: Same as with dumbbell bench press, the main downside is getting the dumbbells to the starting position. This seated position is even tougher to get those dumbbells up to shoulder level from your knees! It takes practice and repetitions to figure out how to do it right. This also limits the amount of weight you are able to go up to on this exercise.
Runner-Ups: Standing barbell strict shoulder press is a great shoulder exercise that will also hit the entire shoulder. Sometimes however people will use their legs more and more to help get the reps up, which you should avoid doing if you are targeting just the shoulders. Also, in order to get a full range of motion you have to bring the barbell down in front of your face to chest level, so while moving the head back you have to be SUPER careful and keep that core TIGHT TIGHT TIGHT!
Triceps - Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press (also called Close-Grip)
The Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press is performed by turning the elbows inward nice and close to the body, and turning your palms inward to face each other. The tricep becomes the main mover in this exercise just by making these few slight adjustments, rather than the chest or shoulders. Here’s why I like this exercise the best:
This exercise hits multiple muscle groups all at once (triceps, chest, shoulders), that in itself is a huge benefit compared to doing an exercise that targets only the triceps.
A lot of tricep exercises bother people's elbows due to the angle of flexion and extension at the elbow joint, but this one is fine for almost everybody to perform! If it bugs your elbow a little bit just lessen the range of motion on the way down.
Having a dumbbell in each hand again lets your arms perform this exercise independently from each other, not letting the stronger arm make up for the weaker arm. This will help to correct any muscle imbalances.
Downsides: Honestly there aren’t really many downsides on this one! You will still have to learn how to get the dumbbells into the starting position by yourself, so definitely use a spotter at first. The good news is that this exercise will not be performed at the same weight as a regular dumbbell bench press (its harder because the main mover is now the tricep, a smaller muscle group than the chest/pectorals).
Runner-Ups: I am a huge fan of the standard Cable Machine Tricep Pressdowns using any variety of attachment (v-bar, straight bar, rope, etc)... they will all accomplish the exact same thing but one attachment might hit one head of the tricep slightly harder than a different attachment will. I also really love TRX tricep extensions, when performed properly these will get your triceps working like no other tricep exercise! However, if you feel any pain or pinching in the elbows that means this exercise is not for you and there are other safer options.
That is the end of part 1! Thanks for reading! Next time we will go over my favorite Back and Bicep exercises. Sounds short I know but the back will be broken down into multiple muscle groups (rhomboids, lats, lower back, traps).
As always, let me know if you have any questions!