How To Do The Hammer Press

Man performing hammer press with dumbbells on a weights bench set at an incline
(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

While the classic bench press is undoubtedly one of the best chest exercises, you can have too much of a good thing, and there’s one compelling reason to occasionally switch up your workouts to do the hammer press instead, which is your shoulder health.

Both the barbell and dumbbell bench press place more strain on your shoulders than the hammer press, and the shoulders are always an area of the body to be careful with, since it's a delicate joint that’s prone to injury.

If you are concerned about your shoulders but still want to work your chest and triceps, the hammer press is a great option. It changes the grip so your palms face each other (also known as a neutral grip), reducing the stress on the shoulders. The move also places more demands on your triceps than your chest muscles, but rest assured your pecs are still getting a good pump.

By using dumbbells instead of a barbell for your chest presses, you can also identify and then work on any strength imbalances in your body. If your right side is doing all the work in your bench press, the hammer press will quickly reveal that when your left side struggles to complete half the reps in your set.

Below you’ll find a form guide for the hammer press, along with some of its most common variations, plus a couple of training plans that involve the exercise for you to try.

How To Do The Hammer Press

Man demonstrates two positions of the hammer grip dumbbell bench press

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Lie on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells up to the sides of your chest, keeping your grip neutral. Press the dumbbells up above your chest until your arms are fully extended. Bring the weights back down slowly until you feel a stretch in your chest, then press them overhead again.

Hammer Press Variations

Incline hammer press

Man demonstrates two positions of the incline hammer press using dumbbells

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

If you do the hammer press on a bench set at an incline, the upper chest muscles will take more of the workload. Set up a bench at a 45° angle and then lie holding a dumbbell in each hand by your chest with a neutral grip. Press the weights up above your chest, then bring them back down under control.

Workouts Which Feature The Hammer Press

Two-Week Workout Plan To Build Muscle

This two-week training plan will help you to build strength and size in your upper body, with the incline hammer press included in the chest workout. There are three workouts to do each week, one focuses on your chest, another your back and shoulders, and the third on your biceps and tris.

See the two-week workout plan

Four-Week Upper-Body Workout Plan

If you’re ready to commit a longer period to training your upper body, then clear your schedule for this four-week plan. There are four workouts a week and the chest and triceps session incorporates the hammer press into a superset that goes particularly hard on your triceps.

See the upper-body workout plan

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.