Hex Press: What it is, Muscles Worked, and Benefits

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 28, 2022

When it comes to exercising the chest muscles, the dumbbell hex press is one of those exercises that is sometimes overlooked. While the dumbbell and barbell bench press workouts might assist target the chest, they don't specifically target the inner chest area.

As with any chest press, the hex press targets the pectoralis major muscle, but it also recruits the triceps and anterior and lateral deltoids. It helps with improving strength and muscle mass and develops the inner chest to gain better muscle definition and separation.

Education on the proper execution of the hex press would prove beneficial to build a bigger and more solid chest while reducing the risk of injury.

What is a Hex Press?

A hex press is a variation of a dumbbell bench press wherein the lifter ensures that both dumbbells will be in contact throughout the process of the lift. It is ideally done with hexagonal dumbbells, and when performed the flat faces of the dumbells remain in contact with each other; thus its name.

dumbbell hex press

The dumbbell hex press puts more strain on the chest than a typical bench press. This implies that it places more tension and requires more pushing power from the pectoral muscle fibers, which then results in improved muscle growth and overall muscle strength.

The hex press is done by grabbing the dumbbells with a neutral grip, laying down with the back flat on the bench, then placing both weights in contact with each other while it is laying or resting on the individual's chest.

To begin, lift the weights horizontal to the lifter’s shoulders while still maintaining both weights in contact with each other. Then press the dumbbells back down to the chest to finish a repetition, and repeat the steps until a set is completed.

Muscles Worked by the Hex Press

Like most chest exercises the hex press works on the individual's major muscle group of the chest. It primarily focuses on the pectoralis major but also includes other muscles like the anterior and lateral deltoids and triceps.

dumbbell hex press muscles

Pectoralis major

The performance of the hex press requires both dumbbells to be in contact with each other all throughout the exercise. The main function of the pectoralis major muscle is to adduct and rotation of the arm forward. This muscle acts to enable and maintain the contact of the weights by adducting the arms as it is lifted and lowered down throughout the exercise. 

Anterior deltoid and lateral deltoid

The main action of the deltoid muscle is to abduct and lift the arm front, side, and backward.  This muscle is responsible for lifting the arms forward from the body during the hex press. 

Triceps brachii

The triceps brachii is responsible for elbow extension. During a hex press, this muscle works to straighten the elbows as the weight is lifted off the chest. It also contracts eccentrically to bring the weight back down in a controlled manner.

Benefits of the Hex press

The hex press is a great variation of the dumbbell bench in addition to an individual’s routine workout to sculpt the pectorals and gain the preferred size and shape.

This exercise is capable of isolating the inner chest in order to better develop muscle definition and separation between the left and right pectoral muscles. It also helps the individual improve an overall body composition as the hex press builds more muscle mass.

Body composition 

Body composition is the percentage of fat, bone, and muscle mass in an individual’s body. Having a good body composition determines the health level of an individual. The hex press is capable of assisting in the improvement of body composition as it has the ability to increase lean muscle mass and break down fat at the same time.  

Shoulder ease

Unlike in other chest workouts, as in the dumbbell bench press, the chest is not in tension or does not receive the pressure of the weight all throughout the exercise. As soon as the weight reaches the peak height, more of the tension is placed on the bones, such as the elbows and shoulders, giving the chest less work to stabilize the weight. 

Improves Triceps Tension

Compared to a regular chest press, the hex press puts more pressure on the triceps. Aside from working primarily on the lifter’s chest, the hex press also engages the triceps. It is able to exert pressure on the triceps as the weights are lifted and lowered throughout the exercise. 

Because the performance of the hex press relieves the shoulders of tension, the muscles work to compensate and are forced to receive that pressure. This also relieves pressure from the anterior deltoids and will be transferred to the triceps and pecs muscles instead, thus causing more tension and muscle tearing leading to muscle growth. 

Improvement on Contraction

The hex press, due to its performance, is able to give more pressure to the inner chest compared to other regular chest presses. Keeping the weights together for the whole movement requires the pectoral muscles to be active at all phases of the exercise.

This will require more tension and contraction from the muscle fibers of the chest to lift up the weights, which will cause greater muscle growth, and increased chest muscle strength. While doing other exercises for the chest, the weight of the object used may be limited, thus less tension may be produced.

Compared to other exercises such as the normal bench press or the flies, the hex press allows for heavier weights to be used. This permits a higher strength increase that will assist the individual to lift heavier weights while doing other exercises, such as those mentioned above.

Less Prone to Injury

The hex press has an upper hand compared to other presses in terms of the safety that it can provide for lifters, especially for individuals who have problems with the mobility of their shoulders. 

The hex press uses a neutral grip; the use of this grip gives the shoulder more ease and also brings with it safety and comfortability as well. In particular, for lifters who have a shoulder problem, the neutral grip used by hex press also limits or even frees the individuals from performing rotations of the shoulder joint.

As mentioned above pressure and tension are also removed from the shoulders as it is transferred to the muscles instead such as the triceps, pecs, and other muscles of the chest. 

Promotes Better Breathing

Because the hex press works the pectoralis major muscle which is attached to the ribs, it also aids in breathing. As an accessory muscle to respiration, the pectoralis major aid the movement of the ribs upon inspiration and expiration.

The Inclined Dumbbell Hex Press

The inclined dumbbell hex press is a variation of the hex press that works the upper chest more than a classic hex press. It requires the bench to be inclined at a 15 - 30 degree angle, which would make it more comparable to a shoulder press. This is usually performed to work the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle.

incline dumbbell hex press

Because of the angle at which the exercise is performed, less stress is put on the rotator cuff muscles, but the deltoids work harder as well.

An inclined dumbbell hex press is performed by sitting on the bench with the back inclined at a 15 - 30 degree angle. The dumbells are brought to the chest and held with a neutral grip. The weights must be in contact with each other all throughout the exercise.

With the weights kept together, the dumbbells are lifted by contracting the pectoral muscles and deltoids, assisted by the triceps to fully extend the elbows. The weights are pulled back down in a slow, controlled movement until it reaches the chest, and the movement is repeated until the set is completed.

Final Thoughts

The hex press is an excellent supplementary exercise to polish and shape the inner chest. It adds diversity to a regimen as the inward arm force and neutral grip distinguish it from other chest workouts.

Because it increases chest and triceps tension, it is preferable to perform hex presses after other chest workouts so as to not limit the weight that can be utilized for those exercises. Sacrificing a bit of weight is acceptable for as long as the technique remains uncompromised.

References

1. Solstad TE, Andersen V, Shaw M, Hoel EM, Vonheim A, Saeterbakken AH. A Comparison of Muscle Activation between Barbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Flyes in Resistance-Trained Males. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Nov 19;19(4):645-651. PMID: 33239937; PMCID: PMC7675616.

2. John F. Graham (August 2000). "Dumbbell bench press". Strength and Conditioning Journal. 22 (4): 71

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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