Dumbbell Exercises for Your Chest

Although it can sometimes be neglected in favor of other workout target zones, your chest is an important muscle to exercise. Without spending ages just doing bench presses, is there a way to work out those muscles?  Yes! The good news is that there are a ton of great dumbbell chest exercises.

Dumbbells are a great way to workout because they can target different areas of your body. They can be scaled in weight to the person and the workout. Whether you want more reps at lower weight for fat burning and toning, or larger weights with more reps for building muscles, you can do that with dumbbells.  

If you want to know how to vary your routine, you hit the right place. This article will teach you all the best dumbbell chest exercises and techniques. You can do them from the gym or the house, so even if you ditch expensive gym memberships you can still keep well fit. 

  • Why Dumbbells

There are a lot of reasons to exercise with dumbbells. In fact, for most people they are a much better way to build muscle strength and toning than the barbell. Double weights are harder to stabilize, so it engages smaller muscles that are under served with bar work and stabilizes joints while making your big muscles, like pectorals, work harder to control these weights than they do with a bar. 

Dumbbells give you’re a larger range of motion. Bars hit the chest before your pecs fully extend in the stretch. It’s okay for pressing huge weight sizes, but not if you’re trying to gain size or improve athletic performance. These let you lower the weights past your chest level, maximizing the pecs and activating more muscles than the barbell engages. The heightened range of motion also allows for muscle growth. 

Dumbbells are also healthier for your joints. While you want to exercise regularly, you always need to balance that with the amount of shock your body has to absorb. Excess shock to joints will rip through cartilage and tendons and lead to disintegration. The funny thing is that joints and muscles aren’t perfectly symmetrical like all the anatomy posters. They have slight differences, and the older you get the more those stand out thanks to use of predominant muscles – for example left versus write hand dominance. 

When you force your body to move perfectly even, like barbells do, one side is going to absorb more stress than the other. Eventually, one side of your joints will be really damaged. Dumbbells allow for variance. Each side can find the best motion when doing the exercise. You can rotate wrists and set elbows and shoulders where they’re most comfortable. This allows you to perfectly customize each exercise to your exact body. The stress then ends up in your muscles, not your joints, which is where they belong. 

Dumbbells are also a much more balanced exercise method. Your body compensate constantly. Each time you are doing something with your body, the stronger and more dominant side will take more stress, easing the burden on the weaker side. With dumbbells, you can’t do that. Each side has to carry its own weight. They have to stabilize individually and you are immediately aware of it if one of your sides starts lagging or getting tired. This lets you make sure your weak side gets exercise without being pushed too hard. Eventually, your sides will begin to even out as you build strength in the weaker side without the overcompensation hiding the weakness. 

Dumbbells actually work your pecs much harder than barbells do, no matter what the numbers say. The chest muscles will contact at the top of your movement with dumbbells so that your weights can’t float outwards. A steel bar isn’t going to gravitate outwards, so you never have to work for that stability. The dumbbells presses will activate pectoralis major muscles, and that’s what makes up most of your chest musculature. 

Finally, dumbbells don’t require spotters. With barbell workouts, you are pressing a maximum weight amount and if you can’t handle the press you could get seriously injured. It requires having a lot of equipment and a safety spotter when you want to push yourself. Dumbbells are portable. You can work form anywhere and they don’t require a spotter. 

  • Types of Dumbbells

There are 2 main types of dumbbells. Fixed dumbbells are the most common type. These have a weight secured to the handle. If you want more than one weight size then you will need to buy sets in multiple weight increments. These are usually very cheap and extremely solid. They can be bumped and tossed around without breaking or being destroyed. 

Unfortunately, fixed dumbbells aren’t very practical. You need several pairs of them for a home workout to get the right effectiveness out of them. You also need to replace the set every time you build strength because building strength will make the weights ineffective for workouts. Eventually, you’ll be tripping over old pairs of dumbbells ands trying (but failing) to sell them off online in garage sales. 

Adjustable dumbbells are a larger up front cost, but they will save you money over time because you won’t need to keep buying so many sets as time goes by. These dumbbells allow you to add plates to them and simply rotate a dial on the collar to keep them in place. These will also save you space because you can use your low, medium, and high weight workout increments on the same set of dumbbells. 

These are also called selectorized dumbbells. On these weights, the handles are in the middle of square shaped plates. You quickly load and unload more plates for weight additions and subtractions. The thing to remember with these is that most sets only go up to 50 pounds, so you may want to get a set that goes up to 50 pounds and them switch to fixed weight dumbbells for more weight. 


1. Half Kneeling Chest Press

This workout is good for every part of your body. It strengthens your legs as you lunge. It stabilizes and tones your core to balance. And yes, it works your chest. This keeps you as off balanced as you are in real world situations, where nothing is perfectly symmetrical.

Do this exercise by kneeling with a leg forward. Keep your core tight and your upward knee straight. Press the bells in front of your chest. When your arm returns to starting position, squeeze your core and stabilize your hip with the ground so it won’t turn the dumbbell.

2. Inclined Dumbbell Bench Press

Typically, people use the bench press to get the biggest number. Prove how jacked you are by benching women or benching hundreds and hundreds of pounds. There are other ways to bench that will work different muscles. 

Pressing from an incline actually works your clavicles. The clavicular head muscle on your upper chest will allow your pecs to really pop.  To do this exercise, lie with your upper body at a 45-degree incline. Hold the dumbbells above your chest with straight arms and palms facing your feet. Lower the weights to the level of your chest and press them back up to the starting position. Move slowly to increase resistance and strength. 

The other advantage to inclined bench presses is that they will turn the press into a full body exercise. Leg drives now become part of your movement. This lets legs, core, and pecs work along with the clavicles. 

3. Close Grip Press

Barbells are more stable than dumbbells, but you can still do some very great work with dumbbells. Lying in a flat bench press position, you can build raw strength by a closer press. Protect your shoulders while increasing your strength by using a very close grip. Instead of holding weights farther apart, keep them just at shoulder width or closer. This works a different set of muscles. It is also the friendliest version of a bench press to joint rehabilitation. 

4. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

While the inclined dumbbell bench press exercises the upper extremities of your chest, the declined dumbbell bench press focuses on your lower chest. This is a quick way to build size. 

Lie down in a downward facing 45-degree angle. Hook your shins under something stable for leg support. Hold the dumbbells above your chest with straight arms. Your palms should be facing your feet and the weights should be lined up just outside your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells to your chest, pause, then press them back up to starting position. 


5. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Carrying on with the bench workout, the single armed presses will also exercise chest muscles. Although you only feel like you’re lifting and working one side, it’s a great total workout because the half of your body that isn’t pressing has to engage to stay flat on the chest instead of pulling up with the weight. This sculpts not only your chest but also your abs. 

Lie flat on the bench with a dumbbell in one hand. Press it directly over your chest until your arm is straight. Lower it down to the same side of your chest that you’re lifting from and press it back up. When you finish that side, switch hands and repeat. 

6. Lying Fly

Fly presses remove your triceps from the exercise and concentrate the burn on the pecs, where you want to get the work done. These work hard from the fully stretched position because the maximum amount of muscles possible are engaged.

The lying fly will work different muscles as well. Lie down flat and have a dumbbell in each hand. Your elbows should arch slightly. This exercise utilizes the same motion you would use to clap your hands form this position. 

Raise the dumbbells until they are side by side on top of you, with your palms facing inwards. Then lower them back. Maintain the same elbow angle throughout the entire exercise. To engage different muscles, you can do this exercise at an incline. 

7. Crush Press

A crushed press will force your pec muscles to contract from a shortened position, which works the muscles harder. This contrasts well with the flys and dumbbells presses, where the weights lower past your chest, which are exercises to stretch your muscles. The harder you squeeze, the better it will work. The squeeze mimics the way cable crossovers work, but you can do them without the extra machinery.

Lie flat on your back and hold the dumbbells on your chest with your palms facing each other. Press the dumbbells together and make sure they’re in the center of your chest. From this starting position, you will push the dumbbells upwards to arms length over your chest, keeping them pressed together. Reverse the movement and bring them back down slowly to complete the movement. 

8. Dumbbell Row

Rowing is great for arms, chest, and core muscles. You don’t need a rowing machine to make this work, though. This total body exercise will work your lats and your chest while giving your hamstrings a great stretch. It also lets you work on your balance. 

For this exercise, stand on one side and grab on to a stable surface with one hand. Drop your chest and lift the leg that is opposite to your free hand. Use your free hand to grab a dumbbell. Pull the dumbbell in to the side of your waist then lower it. When you complete your reps, switch sides and to the same for the other side of your body. 


9. Dumbbell Hang Snatch

This exercise is primarily built to work your hips, but your chest also gets a great workout with this exercise. It provides all of the necessary stability to catch the weight in this exercise. Make sure you master your form with a lighter weight before moving to heavier ones.

Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Hold the dumbbell straight down in front of you Keep your back flat and your chest forward and engaged. Push your hips backwards and down to lower the weight between your legs. Extend your hips quickly and pull the dumbbells straight up in one fluid and explosive motion. When the weight reaches the pinnacle of height, drop your body down underneath and catch it overhead. Then, lower back to the starting position. 

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