Dumbbells for a Stronger Chest

Chest Workouts with Dumbbells for a Stronger Chest


Dumbbells can help you strengthen your chest.

Gym wisdom holds that slamming as much weight as you can find on a barbell and bench-pressing it until you’re blue in the face is the only way to create a huge chest.

However, if benching bothers your shoulders, you train at home without a spotter, or you’ve discovered that barbell training doesn’t give you a larger chest, dumbbell work is the solution.

Dumbbell training may not be as exciting as lifting the bar till it bends, but for most people, it’s a better way to build bigger, stronger pecs while also reducing the chance of injury.

We’re about to show you the greatest dumbbell exercises and routines for building a strong chest from the top to the bottom.

What Are the Advantages of Using Dumbbells to Strengthen My Chest?

“It becomes twice difficult to stabilize two weights in your hands,” says Dr. John Rusin, a strength and conditioning coach and author of Functional Hypertrophy Training (available at drjohnrusin.com). That’s a good thing, according to him: the tiny muscles in your shoulder joints learn to stabilize them, while the larger muscles (mostly the pecs) work harder to manage the weights and keep them from wandering in all directions. The following are some of the advantages of dumbbell training for chest development.

Advantages of Using Dumbbells

#1 Dumbbells have a wider range of motion than barbells. 

When you do bench presses with a barbell, the bar comes into contact with your chest before your pectoral muscles have fully stretched. If your aim is to press the most weight possible, that’s not so awful. However, if you want to bulk up and improve your athletic performance, dumbbells are a superior option since they allow you to drop the weights below chest level, extending the pecs and activating more muscle fibers. According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, greater ranges of motion contribute to increased muscle development.

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#2 Dumbbells are easier on your joints than barbells. 

The human body has an amusing feature: it only seems to be symmetrical. In fact, from one side to the other, your shoulders, hips, wrists, and other joints are all somewhat different. When you push the body to move in perfect symmetry, such as when you drop an evenly-weighted bar to the center of your chest, one side will always take on a bit more stress than the other. If you do this frequently enough, your joints on that side will begin to protest.

When working out with dumbbells, all sides of your body can discover their best path. Your wrists are free to rotate, and your elbows and shoulders may go in the direction that feels best to them, thus tailoring the workout to your body. This distributes the exercise’s tension where it belongs: in your muscles, not your joints.

#3 Dumbbells provide a good blend of strength and growth. 

This is a continuation of our previous point. On the barbell bench press, you may feel like your right and left arms are pushing with equal effort, but people are quite adept at compensating by putting a bit more stress on their stronger side while favouring their weaker one. With dumbbells, that’s not possible: your right and left sides must stabilize and push with equal force, and if one side lags behind, you’ll notice it straight away. This guarantees that you never push a set beyond the limits of your weaker side. The strength on both sides eventually equalizes. Dumbbells make performing a few additional reps with it simple if you need to work on the weaker side.

#4 Dumbbells provide more pressure on the pecs. 

When you bench-press a set of dumbbells, you’ll notice that you have to engage your chest muscles at the peak of the exercise to keep the weights from moving outward. When your hands are joined by a steel bar, you don’t have to worry about it. Dumbbell bench presses engage the pectoralis major—the massive slab that makes up the majority of the chest musculature—better than both the barbell bench press and the Smith machine bench press, according to 2017 research.


What Dumbbells Should I Purchase?

Dumbbells should be one of your first purchases if you’re wary of schlepping to the gym and want to establish your own home weight room. In the dumbbell industry, you basically have two options:

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1) Dumbbells that can be adjusted. 

Collars or the movement of a dial or lever can be used to add and hold plates in place.

2)Dumbbells with a fixed weight. 

The weight is held in place by the handle. To cover a range of weight increments, you’ll need various sets of dumbbells.

Fixed-weight dumbbells are cheap, durable, and have a wonderful old-school vibe (your grandfather surely had a pair), but they’re not really practical. If you work out at home, you’ll need at least three pairs of shoes to begin with (light, medium, and heavy), as well as new ones as your muscles become stronger. You’ll start stumbling over dumbbells and wonder why you didn’t pay a little extra upfront for the adjustable type.

However, if you want the real-gym feel of one-piece dumbbells and money and space aren’t an issue, the CAP Barbell Rubber-Coated Hex Dumbbells are hard to beat, since they feel excellent in your hands and won’t scratch your flooring if dropped. A pair of 10-pounders will set you back approximately $25, a pair of 25-pounders will set you back $60, and a pair of 45s would set you back about $110.

You’ll save money in the long term and space right immediately with adjustable dumbbells. Industry-standard PowerBlocks ($160 per bell for the Elite model, adjustable from 5–50 pounds in 2.5 or 5-pound increments) are simple to operate after some practice pushing the weight about. The handles lie in the middle of square-shaped plates on selectorized dumbbells, and you may load and unload them rapidly with the turn of a lever. However, try on a pair before you buy, as some individuals find the handgrips uncomfortable.

Bowflex Select Dumbbells are another customizable alternative, with weights ranging from 5 to 52 pounds in 2.5 or 5–pound increments. They function in the same way as the PowerBlocks and are approximately the same price (about $300 for a pair), but they’re a little easier to use and feel better in your hands.

If you’re looking for a traditional strongman feel but don’t want to spend three bills on hand weights, a pair of York Fitness Cast Iron Dumbbells are a great option. You use these guys to load and unload plates like mini-barbells, twisting the collars into position around the threaded bars’ ends. They’re not as practical as the other adjustable alternatives, but they’re a lot less expensive at around $120.00 for a 5 to 45-pound set.

Another thing to consider when choosing between adjustable and fixed dumbbells is that it may be beneficial to have both. Most selectorized systems only go up to around 50 pounds, and those that do go higher are usually lengthy, thick, and difficult to use. It’s a good idea to acquire a selectorized set that goes up to 50 pounds and then fixed-weight dumbbells for every increment you require beyond that to save space and money.

What Dumbbell Chest Exercises Can I Do?

Any chest exercise that can be done with a barbell may also be done with dumbbells. Here are some of our favourites from Rusin, many of which are basic plays you’re undoubtedly already acquainted with but with a unique twist that results in even bigger winnings. We divided them into groups based on whatever part of the chest they highlight the most.

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Upper Chest Dimensions

#1 Dumbbell Bench Press with a Slight Incline

Step 1: Place two or three heavy barbell plates, or a small box or step, on one end of a flat workout bench. The angle should preferably be less than 30 degrees.

Step 2: Lie back on the bench with your head at the raised end and two dumbbells over your chest at arm’s length.

Step 3: Lower the dumbbells until they are near to the sides of your chest by slowly bending your elbows and pulling your shoulder blades together on the bench. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle to your body in the down position, not straight out to the sides.

Step 4: Hold the extended posture for a moment before pushing the dumbbells back up, flexing your chest as you do so.

According to Rusin, standard incline bench presses place your hips in a flexed—or bent—position. This effectively removes your entire lower body from the activity, which isn’t always desirable. By slightly raising the bench, you may include leg drive into the exercise, just like you would (or should) with a flat barbell bench press. This essentially transforms the action into a full-body workout, allowing you to lift the greater weight.

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The inclination also strengthens the pectoral fibers that connect to the collarbone.

#2 Incline Fly-Press

Step 1: Stack two or three heavy barbell plates on one end of a flat workout bench (the same as you did for incline press described above).

Step 2: Lie back on the bench, your head lifted, and two medium-heavy dumbbells at arm’s length above your chest, palms facing inward.

Step 3: Lower the dumbbells out to the sides slowly, bending your elbows and pushing your shoulder blades together until your chest is stretched and your elbows are at roughly a 90-degree angle. (Limit the range of motion if you have shoulder ache while completely extended.

Step 4: Reverse the exercise, squeezing your pecs while completely straightening your arms, to return to the beginning position.

Standard flyes are excellent for increasing muscle, but they are quite taxing on the shoulders. According to Rusin, bending the arms as you drop the weights keeps the load on the pecs while removing it from the shoulder joints.

Middle and Inner-Chest:

#3 Press Crush (aka Squeeze Press)

Step 1: Lie back on a flat workout bench with your hands facing each other, holding two heavy weights on your chest.

Step 2: In the middle of your chest, press the dumbbells together (this is your starting position).

Step 3: Push the dumbbells to arm’s length over your chest while keeping them squeezed together. Squeeze your chest muscles for a second.

Step 4: Return to the starting position by slowly reversing the movement.

Crush presses cause the pecs to contract intensely in a shorter posture. This is in contrast to flyes and dumbbell pressing activities, in which the weights fall beyond your chest, emphasizing a muscular stretch. Squeeze strongly at the top of crush presses to produce a similar effect to cable crossovers, but without the requirement for two sophisticated cable stations.

#4 Fly-Press 

Step 1: Lie back on an exercise bench with your hands facing inward and two dumbbells at arm’s length above your chest. This is where you’ll begin.

Step 2: Lower the dumbbells to your sides slowly, bending your elbows and pushing your shoulder blades together, until your chest is pleasantly stretched and your elbows are at roughly a 90-degree angle. (If you have shoulder pain in the fully extended posture, restrict your range of motion.)

Step 3: Reverse the exercise, squeezing your pecs while completely straightening your arms, until you return to the beginning position.

Flyes completely eliminate the triceps, isolating the pecs and training them hardest in the fully extended position—where the most muscle fibers may be activated.

Lower Chest:

#5 Floor Press with a 45-Degree Dumbbell

Step 1: Lie on your back on the floor and place two dumbbells at arm’s length across your chest. You may either lie back from a sitting posture with the dumbbells in your hands, or have a partner hand them to you.

Step 2: Rotate your wrists such that your thumb sides are closer together than your pinky sides (as if you were gripping a steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock). This is where you’ll begin.

Step 3: Lower the weights slowly, keeping your elbows close to your sides, until your triceps make gentle contact with the floor.

Step 4: Return the weights to their initial position.

The floor press is similar to the crush press in that it works the pecs when they are shortened. They’re a fantastic alternative for persons with shoulder problems since the range of motion is limited, resulting in less stretch on the shoulders.

#6 Dumbbell Bench Press with Feet-Up Slight Decline

Step 1: Place two or three heavy barbell plates on one end of a flat workout bench.

Step 2: Lie back on the bench with your head at the bottom and two heavy dumbbells at arm’s length above your chest. Place your feet on the bench flat.

Step 3: Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest by slowly bending your elbows and pulling your shoulder blades together on the bench.

Step 4: Pause in the stretched position before returning the weights to the beginning position.

The small descent works the pecs while keeping the shoulders in a neutral—or centered—position. This balanced position allows for maximum muscular drive, while the declining angle activates more muscle fibers that link to the sternum (targeting the lower chest). Do you want to bulk up on a chest exercise? Select this one. It’s safer than doing heavy weighted flat or incline presses.

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How Should I Warm Up Before a Dumbbell Chest Exercise?

Warm up your chest, shoulders, and elbows before training your pecs with these Onnit Durability movements. Cristian Plascencia, our Durability Coach, displays the Raffiki elbow, arm screw, and mobile table drills.

Beginner Dumbbell Chest Workout

Beginner Dumbbell Chest Workout

Start with this easy, two-move routine if you’re new to the iron game and want to grow your chest using dumbbells. It may be done as part of a full-body exercise or on an upper-body day. Perform each pushup rep at a methodical speed, stopping before you hit failure on your first set. Get as many reps as you can on the last effort. Then perform the second motion, leaving a few repetitions in the tank on all of your sets. This workout can be done up to three times per week on nonconsecutive days.

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1 Pushup

Sets: 2 sets: On the first set, stop two reps shy of failure; on the last set, do as many reps as feasible.

Step 1: Put your hands on the floor or a sturdy elevated platform (a bench, box, or table works well—the higher the surface, the simpler the exercise). Set them somewhat wider than your shoulder width, and the same for your feet. Your arms should be locked out and your body should be straight from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Tuck your tailbone in, support your core, and press your glutes to get your pelvis perpendicular to the floor.

Step 2: While keeping your body straight and your head neutral, simultaneously bend your arms and retract your shoulder blades until your chest is just above the floor—or as far as you can go without compromising proper form.

Step 3: Return to the starting position, widening your shoulder blades at the peak of the action. (Imagine yourself pushing through the floor.)

  • 2 Fly-Presses on an Incline
  • 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps
  • Follow the steps outlined above.

The most frequently asked questions about

What Is the Most Effective Dumbbell Chest Exercise?

Try one of the routines below if you want to create some major pressing strength and size in your chest. Each is tailored to a certain purpose and level of experience.

How Many Chest Exercises Should You Perform in a Single Workout?

Perform 1-4 chest exercises every workout, with 2-3 distinct chest exercises in a single training session being the most ideal range. Why? Most lifters will have reduced returns, excessive “junk” volume, and inadequate quality volume if they practice more than 3-4 different motions.

Is it true that all chest exercises are created equal?

No, not every chest workout is the same.

Long-term muscular growth requires an understanding of which motions are better for larger loads, which ones are ideal for chest isolation, and which ones may or may not be best for you (and your joints).

It’s crucial to be able to FEEL the muscles stretching under load (a deep stretch), completely contracting throughout the range of motion, and fatiguing down as the repetitions go.

Should You Lift Heavy Weights to Build Your Chest Muscles?

Yes, however, if you have shoulder issues or discomfort when performing heavy pressing exercises, you should seek medical help and/or seek out a trained fitness trainer who can teach you appropriate techniques.

Training in the 5-10 repeat rep range may be characterized as lifting large weights (compared to one’s maximum strength). When it comes to total muscle growth, most lifters don’t need to train in the 1-3 repetition range (and general strength).

Why don’t you do more than four chest exercises in a single workout?

While variation is vital in a training program, too much diversity might hinder your ability to accomplish quality reps and work sets to maximize muscle exhaustion. To put it another way, doing more exercises for the purpose of diversity will result in you doing too much volume, not enough quality work sets of a specific action, and limiting total chest growth…not to mention spending all day at the gym.

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