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The Ultimate Dumbbell Chest Workout: 12 Best Chest Exercises With Dumbbells

There are plenty of types of strength training equipment you can use for your chest workouts, but dumbbell chest workouts are a particularly effective way to build strength and mass in your chest. 

But, what are the best dumbbell chest exercises? How should you structure dumbbell chest workouts for strength and hypertrophy?

In this article, we will discuss how to program dumbbell chest workouts and provide step-by-step instructions for the following best chest exercises with dumbbells:

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a Svend press.

How to Structure Chest Workouts With Dumbbells

Because dumbbells force you to lift the weight unilaterally with each arm, you can really tailor the exact range of motion, movement arc, and each side of your pecs when performing chest exercises with dumbbells versus barbells.

Some of the best dumbbell chest exercises are bilateral, which means that we will be performing the same movement on both sides of the body simultaneously, much like you would with a barbell.

However, the benefit of using dumbbells over barbells is that you’ll have to control and lift the weight equally with each arm rather than relying more heavily on your stronger side.

Additionally, when you are doing chest workouts with dumbbells, you can also perform unilateral dumbbell chest exercises, which can help you isolate and identify muscle imbalances and then work to rectify them.

A reverse fly.

How you should structure your chest dumbbell workout depends primarily on your fitness level and primary training goals.

For strength gains, work up to performing 2-6 sets, 3-5 reps per set, and at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.

If your goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth), strive to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.

The Ultimate Dumbbell Chest Workout

Here are some of the best dumbbell chest exercises to build mass and strength:

#1: Dumbbell Chest Press

The best dumbbell chest workouts usually involve the dumbbell chest press. 

The lack of stability relative to the barbell bench press will recruit additional muscle fibers to increase the effectiveness of the chest exercise.

Here are the steps:

  1. Lie on your back on a weight bench with your knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grip the dumbbells so that your palms are facing away from your body and your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Exhale as you press the dumbbells straight up into the air above your body.
  4. Inhale as you slowly lower them back down to your chest without fully touching them down.

#2: Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline chest press targets your upper chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Here is how to perform this inner chest exercise:

  1. Adjust the incline of the weight bench until the back is somewhere between 30 and 45° relative to the floor.
  2. Sit back on the bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand using an underhand grip so that your palms are facing the ceiling.
  3. Explosively press the dumbbells up overhead straight up from your chest toward the ceiling and then slowly lower them back down.

#3: Dumbbell Twisted Fly

The standard dumbbell chest fly is a great way to strengthen your pecs while simultaneously increasing your range of motion and opening up your chest.

This variation is a very effective exercise to add to your dumbbell chest workouts because it involves rotating your arms somewhat, which further activates additional muscle fibers in your pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

Lie on your back on a flat weight bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. 

  1. To get into the starting position, press the dumbbells straight up so that they are directly over your chest, using a neutral grip such that your palms are facing one another.
  2. Lower the weight down and out to your sides, keeping just a gentle bend in your elbows. 
  3. Then, squeeze your pec to lift the dumbbells back up to the starting position, as you would with a normal dumbbell chest fly, but as you approach the top position, rotate your hands to an underhand grip.
  4. Then, at the top, squeeze the contraction before rotating your hands back to the neutral grip as you lower the weights back down.

#4: Incline Dumbbell Around the Worlds

Most dumbbell chest workouts for beginners and intermediate lifters do not include this chest exercise. However, that is generally a product of not knowing about the exercise or how to perform it rather than the exercise being too difficult for beginners. 

No matter where you are in terms of strength training experience, this is a fantastic exercise to include in your chest workouts with dumbbells.

You can perform this dumbbell chest exercise on a flat bench or incline bench. 

When you use the incline position, you will target more of your upper chest, and when you set the bench flat, it will be more of a mid-chest exercise.

Here are the steps for how to perform this dumbbell chest exercise:

  1. Set an incline bench to about a 45° angle and then sit back on the bench holding dumbbells at your side near your thighs. Your palms should be facing up, and your elbows should be slightly bent.
  2. Rotate your arms out to the sides and then sweep them up overhead until they are nearly touching. 
  3. At this top position, squeeze your chest muscles before returning to the starting position by reversing the path of motion.
  4. Essentially, you are creating a giant circle around your body, which, in turn, hits all of the muscle fibers in your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor while also working your shoulders and serratus anterior.

#5: Hyght Dumbbell Fly

If you are primarily aiming for chest hypertrophy or are interested in bodybuilding, one of the best accessory lifts you can add to your dumbbell chest workout is the Hyght dumbbell fly.

Note that this exercise is best for advanced or experienced weightlifters who have good motor control and understand movement mechanics for basic dumbbell chest exercises.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Sit back on a bench set to an incline of about 45°, which will be a bit higher than you would normally use for a standard dumbbell chest fly.
  2. Grip the dumbbells with an underhand grip so that your palms are facing upward, and keep a slight bend in your elbows.
  3. Position your arms so that they are angled about 45° away from your body rather than out to the sides.
  4. Then, contract the muscles in your chest to lift the dumbbells up, making sure to keep your elbows and wrists in a fixed position throughout the range of motion; you should be lifting from your chest and shoulders and not from your arms.
  5. The top position will be when the dumbbells are just about to touch one another up over your face.
  6. Hold the contraction, squeezing your pecs before slowly lowering back down following the same arc of motion, 45° relative to your body rather than out to the sides.

#6: Standing Dumbbell Low Fly

The standing low fly is a great dumbbell chest exercise for your upper chest and inner chest.

It replicates the low-to-high fly on a cable machine, so if you only have dumbbells to work with, this is a great alternative.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, chest up, shoulders down, and abs engaged.
  2. Hold the dumbbells with an underhand grip and allow a slight bend in your elbows, and move your elbows about 30 degrees out away from your body.
  3. Squeeze your chest as you bring the dumbbells up and in towards the midline of your body to the level of your face. 
  4. The end position should be with your palms facing your face holding the dumbbells at about a 30° outward rotation so that the top of the dumbbell in your left hand is pointing to roughly the 10 o’clock position and the dumbbell in your right hand is pointing to about 2 o’clock.
  5. Hold the top position for several seconds, if possible.
  6. Slowly lower the weights back down by reversing the path of motion.

#7: Dumbbell Reverse Chest Press

Although it might feel a little funny at first if you are an experienced weight lifter, you can perform the standard dumbbell chest press with a reverse grip.

This will help target your upper chest while reducing the stress on your shoulders; in fact, this is a great dumbbell chest exercise to substitute for a standard dumbbell chest press if you deal with acute or chronic shoulder pain lifting weights.

  1. To perform this chest exercise with dumbbells, set up as if you are going to perform a standard dumbbell chest press, but rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing towards your face rather than towards your feet.
  2. Then, perform the standard dumbbell chest press motion. You will end up working more of your upper chest and triceps, and the flexion angle on your elbows will feel somewhat different.

#8: Decline Dumbbell Chest Press

In the decline bench position, you will target your lower chest, helping sculpt the lower border of your pecs where your chest meets your abs.

Note that you should sit up in between sets of this exercise to prevent too much blood pooling in your head. When you do sit up, sit up slowly before getting up from the bench.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Set up a weight bench at a decline of about 30°. Do not go more than this.
  2. Then, perform the standard dumbbell chest press exercise, focusing on using the lower chest muscles as much as possible.

#9: Decline Dumbbell Chest Fly

As with the decline chest press with dumbbells, you can also perform the decline dumbbell chest fly.

Use the same 30° decline bench angle for this exercise.

The path of the dumbbells should be just below the level of your chest or the tip of your sternum.

#10: Supine Dumbbell Hammer Press

This is another excellent dumbbell chest exercise to incorporate into any chest workouts with dumbbells, but it is especially helpful for those who deal with shoulder pain.

The neutral grip position reduces stress on your shoulders and elbows while also allowing for greater contraction of your inner pecs at the top position since the dumbbells are rotated and can get closer to one another.

As such, this is one of the best inner chest exercises, and it will also emphasize the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major muscle, making it a great upper chest exercise.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Lie back on a flat bench as if performing a standard dumbbell chest press, but rotate your hands so that your palms face one another rather than your feet.
  2. At the top position, squeeze your pecs together as much as possible. In fact, you can actually press the two dumbbells into one another, holding an isometric contraction to really target your inner chest muscles.
  3. Hold for 3 to 10 seconds and then slowly reverse the motion.

#11: Dumbbell Squeeze Press

This is a great dumbbell chest exercise to target your entire chest. 

The sustained isometric contraction, coupled with the simultaneous pressing motion, works almost all of the muscle fibers in your chest, building muscular endurance along with strength and mass.

Here are the steps for how to perform this chest exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Lie flat on your back on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Use a neutral grip so that your palms face one another and the dumbbells are smashed together at your sternum.
  3. Press the dumbbells together as forcefully as possible throughout the duration of the exercise as if trying to fuse them together into one unit. 
  4. From your sternum, press straight up until your arms are fully extended above your chest, continuing to maintain that isometric squeeze.
  5. Reverse the motion back down to your sternum, continuing to press the two dumbbells into one another.

#12: Svend Presses

This is a good dumbbell chest exercise for your inner and middle chest.

Here is how to do this chest exercise with a dumbbell:

  1. Stand upright with good posture and your core and glutes engaged.
  2. Hold a dumbbell vertically and stack your two hands on the handle.
  3. Begin with the dumbbell in at your sternum and then press straight outward, holding the end position with your elbows locked out for several seconds before slowly bending your elbows to return to the starting position. 
  4. Make sure to keep the weight parallel to the floor. Do not let the load cause your arms to dip downward.

Check out a no-equipment chest workout here.

A dumbbell low fly.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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