Eight Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Chest

Here are the best dumbbell exercises to pump up your chest.

Dumbbells tend to get overlooked when it comes to working the chest. Guys tend to prefer a traditional barbell bench press and save the dumbbells for other body parts.

But dumbbells provide not only a tough chest workout but the added benefit of improving shoulder stability. Plus, you’re more likely to have access to dumbbells, whether at home or when working out of modest hotel gyms. Some research suggests dumbbells are easier on the elbow joints than barbells when working the chest.

Adjustable dumbbells, relatively unusual 15 years ago, now are commonplace and affordable, eliminating the need for an expensive, space-sucking rack of iron at home. Best of all dumbbells work for almost every lift. So, while kettlebells or barbells might be better for some lifts, dumbbells usually are an adequate substitute for those moves and preferable for others.

Of course, where the chest is involved, it helps to also have a bench, preferably an adjustable one. In this 30-minute dumbbell workout to build your chest, we’ll hammer through four sets of these eight moves in a circuit fashion, resting only briefly between sets, to produce maximum results with minimal time and equipment.

Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of several books on performance and training.

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1. Dumbbell Bench Press

What it does: This stabilizes your shoulders in addition to providing the same chest benefits as the traditional barbell bench press.

How to do it: Lying faceup on the bench, holding dumbbells at the outside edges of your shoulders, lift the dumbbells straight up over your chest. Lower the dumbbells together, touching the outside of your shoulders, then push them back up. 

How many: 4 sets of 10 reps

2. Hang Snatch – 1 Arm

What it does: It’s a full-body exercise with power coming from the hips, but your chest is the unsung contributor of this move providing stability in the “catch” phase.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart while holding a dumbbell straight down in front of you. Keeping your back flat and chest up, push your hips back and down to lower the weight between your knees. Explode in one motion, extending the hips quickly and pulling the dumbbell straight up. When the weight reaches maximum height, drop your body underneath and catch it overhead. Lower back to starting position.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

3. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

What it does: It hits your chest at a different angle, forcing you to place more emphasis on your upper chest as well as the front of your shoulders.

How to do it:  Lying face-up on a bench set at a 45-degree angle. Holding dumbbells at the outside edges of your shoulders, lift the dumbbells straight up over your chest. Lower the dumbbells, touching the outside of your shoulders, then push them back up. 

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

4. Dumbbell Flys

What it does: Few movements so effectively challenge the pecs while also hitting the shoulders and biceps.

How to do it: Lying face-up on a flat bench, hold a pair of dumbbells over your chest with elbows slightly bent, palms facing each other. Separate the hands and lower the dumbbells to the sides until you feel a stretch in your chest. At the bottom of the movement, your palms should be facing the ceiling. Reverse the motion until you reach the starting point, a movement some liken to “hugging a barrel.”

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

5. Dumbbell Bench – One Arm

What it does: This builds strength in the shoulder and chest like a conventional dumbbell press while also placing more emphasis on stabilizing the shoulder.

How to do it: Lie on a bench with your left glute and left shoulder blade on the bench and right glute and right shoulder blade off the bench. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and hold on to the bench with your left hand above your head. Lower the weight until your elbow is in line with your shoulder. Return to starting position. Continue for 10 reps and then switch sides.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

6. One-Arm, One-Leg Dumbbell Row

What it does: This is a total body exercise but one that works the chest, too. You’ll get a stretch of the hamstrings and it also challenges the lats.

How to do it: Stand on one leg, gripping a stable surface in front of you (perhaps the dumbbell rack or bench) with one hand. Bend by dropping your chest and lifting the leg opposite your free hand. Grab a dumbbell with your free hand. Pull it to the side of your waist and then lower it. Do 10 and switch sides.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

7. Bridge Chest Flys

What it does: By placing yourself in a bridged position, you target the pecs while getting the normal glute and hamstring benefits of the bridge.

How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor or a mat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, holding dumbbells over your chest, palms facing each other. Squeeze your glutes and press the balls of your feet to the floor, creating a line from knee to shoulder. Lower weights and hips together, pausing at the bottom and then bridging back up as you bring the weights back together.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

8. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

What it does: The alternating dumbbell press challenges the chest to stabilize more than a barbell bench. 

How to do it: Lying faceup on a bench, holding dumbbells at the outside of your shoulders and with palms facing your thighs, lift both dumbbells over your chest. Keeping one arm straight, lower the other dumbbell, touch the outside of your shoulder, and push it back up. At the top of the movement, push farther with both hands, as if trying to punch the ceiling.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps

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