Choose any chest press variation such as flat, incline, or decline bench press. Use dumbbells held in the neutral position (palms facing each other) with your elbows tucked close to your sides.
Ramp up in weight and to determine how much you can handle. Note the weight. You should be able to handle at least 80% of your normal barbell load when combining the weight of the dumbbells. If you typically bench 200 pounds on an incline barbell press, then you should be able to handle 80-pound dumbbells in a similar fashion.
This tucked-elbow position may feel strange at first, but this actually represents proper mechanics for any bench press variation whether it's with a barbell, dumbbells, or any other loading mechanism.
If you fail this test, start adding these dumbbell presses into your routine. More importantly, work on pulling your scapula down and back on any and all pressing movements and tuck your elbows by activating your lats.
A good dose of upper back work and shoulder stabilization training is also warranted. Because most individuals lack proper lat strength, stability, and motor control in their upper torso, this position often feels very weak. In fact, it's not uncommon for someone with a 300+ bench press to struggle with 100-pound dumbbells. This would indicate they've become very efficient with faulty movement mechanics – a common problem even for advanced lifters.
Besides requiring the lifter to stabilize each side individually, this dumbbell variation confines them more closely into the correct position while eliminating their ability to use the compensation patterns and momentum they've so desperately relied on over the years.