Best dumbbell chest exercises

The 9 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises for Building Amazing Pecs

Did you know that you can add serious mass and definition solely with chest dumbbell workouts?

You wouldn’t think that these trusty weights alone can do the trick to transform and define your chest muscles, but they really can.

The reason is simple:

Using a range of dumbbell chest exercises can target the inner, outer, lower and upper pectoral muscles, meaning you get both size and shape.

Chest workouts with dumbbells can result in the explosive and powerful muscles you’ve been craving.

Now let’s get to work and learn about 9 of the best dumbbell exercises for building chest muscles.

Check out my post on the best dumbbells if you haven’t yet picked up any for the home.


Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press is by far the most important exercise to develop a powerful chest, especially if you’re new to lifting — but they’re not just for newbies.

Far from it.

Sometimes referred to as a ‘dumbbell bench’, it’s many lifters go-to choice of chest exercise with free weights.

This is especially true as it can be such an effective chest exercise for the home.

Where the traditional bench press helps build pectoral muscles quite well, dumbbells require more concentration and equal strength from each side, thus shaping and strengthening the pecs more effectively and evenly.


If your max bench is 80kg, you will not be able to press 40kg dumbbells on each side.

Because of the added difficulty of operating each dumbbell individually, you will need to halve your max bench and then knock another 10-15% off for your dumbbell chest press weight.


Swiss Ball Chest Press

This workout is just like the dumbbell chest press, except with this motion you’ll need to place your shoulders on a Swiss ball and your feet firmly on the ground.

Engaging on the ball requires a lot of balance and will work on your core stabilisation and balance.

It may seem difficult at first, but don’t give up!

Start with a slightly lighter weight than usual, and once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be able to target your chest effectively whilst also strengthening the core.


Incline Chest Press

If you’re looking to build the upper half of your pecs, this effective dumbbell exercise is for you.

You’ll need to tilt your chair or bench to 45 degrees for this one, which is the optimum angle for incline press.

Whilst you won’t be able to lift quite as much when pressing at an incline, the effectiveness of shaping the upper chest — even at a lower weight — is second-to-none.

You will also start to work the shoulders slightly with this exercise, but remember to ensure through good form that the emphasis is on the upper chest.


Decline Chest Press

For this version of the chest press with free weights, the bench needs to be declined (as opposed to inclined) so you can work on the lower part of your chest muscles.

The bench will need to be able to lock your feet or legs in place, or you’ll need someone willing to hold you steady whilst you do it — we recommend the former.

Similar to incline, you will likely not be able to lift your maximum at this angle — but even lifting a lighter weight will have serious effect.


Dumbbell Fly

Work the outer and middle part of your chest with this extremely effective pec-stretching workout.

You’ll need to keep the weight lighter than you would be chest pressing with, but it will add shape and size to your chest.

If you overdo it on the weight, it may cause unnecessary pain and injury.

The process is simple, lie on your back on a bench and do a rep like you would with the standard chest press.

However, instead of bringing them back into your chest, you’re going to want to bring the weights out wide with your arms out to your sides, keeping the elbows slightly bent, and then back up to the middle again. Squeeze your chest slightly at this point for maximum effect.

Only bring the weights back into your chest when you’ve finished your target rep count.

Dumbbell flies are also great for helping to chisel out a line down the middle of your chest.

Mix this up with both incline and decline fly, this will allow you to experience a longer range of motion as opposed to just the flat barbell bench press.


Dumbbell Pullover

Pullovers focus on your lower chest muscles, lats, and triceps.

The pulling movement of this exercise will extend the rib cage and dig into the lower chest.

Like with most of these exercises, lie flat against a bench and, in a controlled manner, slowly lift the weight above your head and then back towards the chest.

Raising the dumbbell straight up until your arms are perpendicular to the floor and then lowering them will work on your upper chest muscles.


Once you have this exercise down try it on a Swiss ball — it will really hit your lats and abs as secondary muscles!

If you need to alleviate any back pain, try placing your upper back on the bench more. This way you’ll have more back support and relieve any pressure on the lower back.


Bent-Arm Pullover

Continue to work your lats, shoulders, and triceps with another variation of the pullover exercise.

With this one you’re going to want to repeat almost the exact same exercise as the regular pullover listed above, but — no prizes for guesses here — with bent arms this time.

Remember not to flex your elbows out and maintain good form the whole way through each rep.


One-Arm Incline Chest Press

The one-arm incline chest press is the same exercise as the incline dumbbell chest press that we mentioned earlier in this article, except you’ll only be using one dumbbell at a time.

By focusing on lifting one dumbbell at a time, you’ll be intensifying the workout and in turn will tear up those upper pec muscles.


Implement Fat Gripz

Whilst not strictly an exercise for your chest, Fat Gripz can seriously help to improve your grip strength as well as the size of your arms.

In time, this will help to build your overall strength — meaning you’re benching more, and building your chest muscles further.


Creative Commons images via Flickr. Sunga’s Fitness Shoot by A&A Photography and Chest Press via sportsandsocial. 

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