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The barbell bench press and its variations are arguably the best tools to put on chest size and strength. But don’t sleep on using dumbbells to build some chest size and strength. Although you cannot press the same weight as the barbell bench press, dumbbell chest exercises still have their place in your chest workouts.

Barbells lock you into a specific range of motion, while dumbbells do not. Pressing with dumbbells gives you more freedom of movement and the ability to change your grip and the pressing angle for better muscle development. And because you have a dumbbell in each hand working unilaterally, you’ll strengthen muscle/strength imbalances between sides.

You have come to the right place when looking for a dumbbell chest workout to add size and strength and strengthen imbalances between sides. But first, let’s dive into the exercises you’ll be doing in your dumbbell chest workout. 

The Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises

  • Dumbbell Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 
  • Dumbbell Chest Flyes 
  • Crush Press (AKA Squeeze Press)
  • Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press 
  • Renegade Rows/Push-Up Combo 
  • Dumbbell Pullover 
  • Seesaw Chest Press
  • Hip Extension Floor Press

Below are the exercises you’ll be doing in the dumbbell chest workout, starting with the granddaddy of them all, the dumbbell flat bench press. These chest workouts can be done without a bench, though it helps if you have one. We’ll target every part of the chest: upper, middle, and lower chest.

Dumbbell Flat Bench Press

Why Do It: Similar to the barbell bench press, the flat dumbbell bench press variation trains the same muscle groups as the barbell. This dumbbell bench variation is likely the one you’ll use the most weight on for added size and strength.   

How to Do It

  1. Sit upright on the edge of the bench and place a dumbbell on each knee.
  2. Lie down and use your knees and momentum to drive the dumbbells above your chest.
  3. Lower each dumbbell towards your sternum with your upper arm at a 45-degree angle from your torso. 
  4. When your elbows are level with your torso, use your triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles to push the elbows until lockout. Then reset and repeat.

Sets & Reps Suggestions: Two to four sets of between six to 15 reps work well for most lifters. 

dumbbell bench press

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Why Do It: Because the chest is a sizable, fan-like muscle, it helps to change the angle of your press for better muscle development. The incline dumbbell chest press using a 30 or 45-degree angle focuses more on the upper chest (clavicular head) muscle fibers near the clavicle than the regular flat press.

How to Do It: 

  1. Set the weight bench at a 30- or 45-degree incline with a pair of dumbbells at your feet and sit on the edge of the bench. 
  2. Curl the dumbbells to your knees and use your knees to press the dumbbells above your chest as you’re lying back.
  3. Lower the dumbbells with your upper arms at a 45-degree angle from your torso until your elbows are level with it.
  4. Press the dumbbells until your elbows are locked out and reset and repeat. 

Sets & Reps Suggestions: Three to four sets of six to 12 reps. 

incline bench dumbbell shoulder press

Dumbbell Chest Fly 

Why Do It: The dumbbell fly is one of a few chest exercises that take the triceps out of it to focus on the pectorals and anterior shoulder. Here, you will feel the chest muscle stretch and contract through an extensive range of motion for some serious muscle-building potential. 

How to Do It: 

  1. Sit at the edge of the bench with a pair of light dumbbells on your knees.
  2. Lie down and bring the dumbbells together over your chest.
  3. With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms to your sides with control. 
  4. Reverse the motion to engage the chest while bringing the dumbbells together. Reset and repeat.

Sets & Reps Suggestions:  Two to three sets of eight to 15 reps. 

RELATED: Best Dumbbell Exercises

dumbbell fly

Crush Press (AKA Squeeze Press, AKA Close Grip Press)

Why Do It: The crush press gives you all three muscle contractions: the isometric (the squeeze), the eccentric (lowering), and the concentric (“up” phase). This extra tension increases the muscle-building potential and focuses more on the inner pec muscle fibers. (Note: The squeeze press works best with hexagon dumbbells.)

How to Do It: 

  1. Sit upright on the edge of the bench and place a dumbbell on each knee.
  2. Lie down and use your knees and momentum to drive the dumbbells above your chest.
  3. Press the dumbbells together over your chest for the entire set.
  4. Lower the dumbbells down to just above your chest.
  5. Use your triceps and chest to press until your elbows are extended. Reset and repeat. 

Sets & Reps Suggestions: Two to three sets of eight to 12 reps. 

close grip dumbbell bench press

Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press 

Why Do It: The dumbbell floor press is just like the dumbbell version but done on the floor. Doing so limits the range of motion, which is good if shoulder issues are a problem. Plus, this chest press variation focuses on triceps lockout strength and strengthens imbalances between sides.

How to Do It: 

  1. Lie on the floor with a dumbbell to your left hand side.
  2. Roll over, grip the dumbbell with both hands, and roll onto your back.
  3. Press the dumbbell with both hands and take the right hand off.
  4. Lower the dumbbell until your upper arm touches the floor, and then press using your chest and triceps. Reset and repeat. 

Sets & Reps Suggestions: Three to four sets of between six to 15 reps 

Gif of dumbbell floor chest press

Renegade Rows/Push-Up Combo

Why Do It: The renegade row and push-up combo is the real upper-body deal. You’ll train your chest, triceps, core, biceps, upper back, and deltoids here. You will not be able to use a lot of weight on the row, but this exercise works more total muscle while improving core strength. (Note: This exercise works best with hexagon dumbbells.) 

How to Do It: 

  1. Assume the front plank position with a dumbbell in each hand shoulder-width apart and feet wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Without twisting the hips, row one dumbbell to your side, lower it, and do the row on the other side. 
  3. Then perform a push-up, keeping your upper arms 45 degrees from your torso until your chest hovers above the ground. 
  4. Push- up until your elbows are extended. That is one rep and reset and repeat. 

Sets& Reps Suggestions: Two to three sets of six to 12 reps will give you all you can handle.  

dumbbell renegade row

Dumbbell Pullover 

Why Do It: The dumbbell pullover is a chest and lats exercise, giving you more bang for your upper-body buck. This exercise trains the chest, upper back, deltoids, and anterior core. Like the exercise above, you cannot use a ton of weight, but you will be training more upper-body muscles with the dumbbell pullover. 

How to Do It: 

  1. The setup is like the hip thrust; put your upper back lengthwise on a weight bench and engage your glutes and core. 
  2. Ensure your knees are at a 90-degree position, and then hold the dumbbell underneath with both hands above your head. 
  3. Keep a straight line from shoulders to knees and a soft bend in your elbows; lower your arms behind your head while keeping your elbows pointed forward. 
  4. Lower to your preferred depth while keeping a good posture. 
  5. Pull the dumbbell over your body and back to the starting position. 

Sets & Reps Suggestions:  Three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps

woman doing a dumbbell pullover

Seesaw (Alternating) Chest Press

Why Do It: Remember the see-saw as a child? The adult version is the seesaw chest press, and this will strengthen your chest, triceps, and shoulders. As you press one dumbbell while lowering the other, you’ll train your anti-rotation strength, which helps your lower back. 

How to Do It: 

  1. Sit upright on the edge of the bench and place a dumbbell on each knee.
  2. Lie down and use your knees and momentum to drive the dumbbells above your chest.
  3. Lower the right arm down and then press up as you lower the left arm down.
  4. Then press with the left arm as you lower the right arm down. That’s one rep.

Note: You can do a variation of this exercise holding both weights in the upright position, lowering one at a time.

Sets & Reps Suggestions:  Three sets of six to 12 reps work well. 

see saw chest press

Hip Extension Floor Press

Why Do It:  Doing a floor press in the hip extension position mimics a decline press, which seems to have gotten out of vogue in recent years. Here you’ll work your chest (lower chest muscle fibers), triceps, and shoulders while strengthening the glutes and hamstrings isometrically. It’s as close to a full-body exercise as you’ll find here. You’ll have less stability here, but you’ll be training more total-body muscle. 

How to Do It: 

  1. Lie on the floor with a dumbbell on your right-hand side.
  2. Roll over, grip the dumbbell with both hands, and perform a hip extension.
  3. Press with both hands and take your left hand off.
  4. While maintaining the hip extension, lower until your right upper arm touches the ground and press until lockout.  
  5. Do all the reps on one side and then repeat on the left-hand side. 

Sets & Reps Suggestions: Two to three sets of eight to 15 reps on both sides.  

hip extension floor press

Try This Dumbbell Chest Workout at Home

Perform a warm-up before doing this workout.

Here are three supersets. Do each superset for two to three rounds, resting a little between exercises. There will be a rep range for each exercise. Start at the lower end of the rep range and go up by one to two reps each time. If you are a beginner, start with light weights and gradually move to heavy weights. One way to do this is that once you have reached the upper rep range, go up in weight and down in reps and start the process again. 

dumbbell chest workout

Dumbbell Chest Workout at Home

Two to Three Rounds: 

  • 1A. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press: 8 to 15 reps
  • 1B. Dumbbell Pullover: 10 to 15 reps
  • 2A. Renegade Row Push-Up Combo: 6 to 10 reps
  • 2B. Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press: 8 reps on both sides
  • 3A. Crush Press: 8 to 12 reps
  • 3B. Hip Extension Floor Press: 8 reps on both sides

Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Chest Workouts 

Barbells are great for building the chest, but so are chest workouts with dumbbells. Here are the benefits of using dumbbells for your chest workout.

Bigger Range of Motion 

When performing any barbell bench press variation, the bar has a stopping point: the chest. But not with the dumbbell bench press, as you can sink lower into the eccentric contraction because the dumbbells are on either side of you. This allows your scapula to move freely and engage the serratus anterior, an important muscle for shoulder health and mobility. 

Build Greater Stability 

The range of motion is fixed on the barbell press, allowing you to lift heavier weights but not with dumbbells. The lifting path is not fixed during a dumbbell press, and the core and shoulder stabilizers like the rotator cuff and muscles between your shoulder blades are engaged more to help build better stability. 

NordicTrack 55lb Adjustable Dumbbells

Less Stress on Joints 

Some exercisers find the barbell bench press stressful on their shoulder joints due to the fixed range of motion, locking your joints into a specific range of motion. But not with dumbbells because they have more freedom of movement, allowing your joint some breathing room. 

Balanced Hypertrophy and Strength

Bilateral chest training is excellent for strength and muscle gains but can mask strength imbalances between sides. With dumbbells, you’re lifting each one unilaterally; this uncovers these imbalances and allows you to strengthen them. When you do, it helps to improve muscular development between the sides for balanced muscle growth and strength. 

Focusing on unilateral pressing in your workout routine further improves your balance and strength between sides. 

Dumbbells Work Some Muscles Better Than Barbells 

Some equipment does better activating specific muscles while doing the same exercise. According to this 2019 study1, dumbbells engage the pectoralis major, and pectoralis minor better during a press than barbell does. This fact becomes vital if you want to add more size to your chest. 

Dumbbell Chest Workouts: Final Thoughts 

You don’t always need a barbell and weight bench to build a strong and muscular chest. You can get all the benefits of the barbell bench press and more using a pair of dumbbells. More being:

  • Better unilateral strength
  • Less stressful on joints
  • More freedom of movement
  • Better muscle activation of the chest

Next time you cannot get to the gym or want a change of pace, take the dumbbell at-home chest workout for a spin. You will be pleased with the results. 

Flybird Adjustable Dumbells in use bench press

FAQs: Dumbbell Chest Workout

Can you build chest with just dumbbells?

Yes, you can build a chest with dumbbells, which may do a better job than bodyweight, barbells, and the smith machine. This study1 suggests dumbbells engage the chest better than Smith machines and barbells. 

What is the most effective chest workout with dumbbells?

The pectoral muscles are large, fan-like muscles with muscle fibers running at different angles. The most effective chest workout with dumbbells means targeting the chest muscle from various positions like flat, incline, and decline presses.  

What should I do on chest day with dumbbells?

When you’re working your chest with dumbbells, you need to perform a combination of presses, flyes, and pullovers to attack the chest from multiple angles and body positions—also, program some unilateral exercises to strengthen imbalances between sides for improved muscular development. 

Is dumbbells or barbells better for chest workout?

One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Dumbbells offer wider range of motion while barbells allow for heavier weights. A good training program should consist of chest workouts with dumbbells and barbells.

References

  1. Farias DA, Willardson JM, Paz GA, Bezerra ES, Miranda H. Maximal Strength Performance and Muscle Activation for the Bench Press and Triceps Extension Exercises Adopting Dumbbell, Barbell, and Machine Modalities Over Multiple Sets. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jul;31(7):1879-1887. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001651. PMID: 27669189.

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