You don’t need fancy equipment or machines to bulk up your chest and get defined pecs. Armed with just a set of dumbbells, you can do a killer chest workout and be on your way to sculpting a stunning upper body in no time. Below, we’ve pulled out nine of the best dumbbell chest exercises that you can do at home or at the gym.
Many of these dumbbell chest exercises don’t even use a bench. Only the last three require both dumbbells and a bench. But if you’re doing your dumbbell chest workouts at home and don’t have a bench, no worries – you can use a stability ball instead.
And not only will these nine exercises help you build chest muscle mass, but they target other parts of your body, too. By doing compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once, you’ll get more out of your workout in less time.
Quick review on chest muscles before you start working them: the main chest muscle is the pectoralis major. You have one on each side of your body, and they’re commonly referred to as the “pecs.” They each have two heads – one attaches to your collarbone, and the other attaches to your breastbone. Both fuse together to attach to your upper arm bone.
Just below the pectoralis major is the pectoralis minor. This attaches to your upper ribs and the front side of your shoulder blades. All together, these muscles work to move your arm in multiple directions, helping you push, squeeze, carry, and more. The chest muscles play an integral role in many exercises you’d do during a workout (like a push-up), and also day-to-day functional movements (like moving furniture).
Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without a Bench
Grab your dumbbells and get to work! These chest exercises can be done anywhere, as long as you have a set of weights. Looking to build mass? Pick a set of heavy dumbbells. New to chest workouts? Then you’ll probably want to go on the lighter side.
1. Bridge chest fly
Benefits: The bridge puts you in a decline position, which targets the sternal head of your pectoralis major. You’ll also work your glutes and hamstrings.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other.
- Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and press through the balls of your feet to lift your hips until your body is straight from shoulders to knees. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent and glutes engaged, slowly lower the weights out to your sides (like you’re opening up for a bear hug) as you lower your hips to the floor.
- Reverse the move to return to starting position, and repeat.
2. Push row piston
Benefits: In addition to working your chest and your back, this move forces the muscles of your core to fire the entire time to keep you stable in plank position while you drive your knees to opposite elbows.
- Assume a high plank position with a dumbbell in each hand directly below your shoulders. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip width. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core engaged and your body straight from head to heels, lower your chest until it’s a few inches from the floor. Pause, then press yourself back up to the starting position.
- Keeping your elbow tucked, row the weight in your right hand to your ribs, and then lower it. Repeat on your left side.
- Now lift your right foot and bring your right knee to your left elbow.
- Return to the starting position and repeat, this time lifting your left foot and bringing your left knee to your right elbow.
- That entire sequence is one rep.
3. Single-leg chest press twist
Benefit: This exercise nails both heads of the pectoralis major, as well as the front of the shoulders. Keeping your legs elevated for the duration of each set will also hammer your core.
- Lie on your back holding a pair of dumbbells at chest level with your upper arms on the floor, your forearms vertical, and your palms facing forward. Keeping your legs straight and together, raise them about six inches off the floor. This is the starting position.
- Simultaneously raise your right leg and press the dumbbells above your chest, rotating them at the top so that the your palms face backward and the inside ends of the dumbbells touch.
- Return to the starting position and repeat, this time lifting your left leg. Continue alternating legs with each rep.
4. Press sit-up
Benefits: You’ll hit both heads of the pecs twice with this move: once with the weighted press and again with the push-up.
- Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells with your elbows close to your sides, forearms vertical to the floor, and your palms facing in. This is the starting position.
- Press the weights above your chest, then slowly lower them.
- Perform a sit-up, but don’t return to the starting position. At the top of the move, bring your right foot underneath your left leg, plant the weights on the floor to your right, and then flip over into a high plank.
- Keeping your core engaged and your body straight, perform a push-up by lowering your chest until it’s a few inches from the floor. Pause, then push back up until your arms are fully extended.
- Reverse the flip and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat the entire sequence, this time rotating to the left to get into a high plank. Continue alternating sides with each rep.
5. Chest fly with leg raise
Benefits: While the fly homes in on the chest muscles, the leg raise works the core.
- Lie down on the floor holding a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest, palms facing in, arms slightly bent. Your legs should be extended straight toward the ceiling.
- Keeping your lower back pressed against the floor, simultaneously lower your arms out to your sides and your legs toward the floor (but don’t let your heels touch it).
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position, and repeat.
6. Floor fly
Benefits: This more limited variation on the movement forces the pecs to start from a fully stretched position, placing a fuller range of tension on the muscles while minimizing work performed by the triceps and deltoids.
- Lie back on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat, holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other. Make sure not to lock your elbows.
- Keeping your arms slightly bent, slowly lower the dumbbells out to the sides until your upper arms lightly touch the floor.
- Pause and return to the starting position.
Chest Exercises with Dumbbells and a Bench
Although a bench isn’t necessary for chest workouts, it does allow you to work your muscles in slightly different ways. If you have access to a bench – either at a gym or at home – give these three moves a try. You can also use a stability ball as a substitute.
7. One-arm press
Benefits: This move engages both heads of the chest muscles, and requires you to stabilize your core as you work one side of your body at a time.
- Lay on a bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest. Your palms should be facing forward (away from your face)
- Slowly press your right hand directly above your chest.
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position, and repeat the move with your left arm. Perform equal reps on both sides.
8. Decline dumbbell press
Benefits: This exercise works the entire chest, with special emphasis on the lower chest muscles. This is also one of the safer pressing angles for your shoulders.
- Keeping your core braced, lie back on a decline bench, holding a pair of medium-to-heavy dumbbells at arm’s length over your chest, with your palms facing your feet.
- With your feet flat on the floor, slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest.
- Pause and then push the weights back up to the starting position.
Benefits: This variation on the classic bench press forces your two sides to work equally, thus ensuring that your weaker side pulls its share of the weight.
- Lie back on a sturdy, padded bench, feet flat on the floor, holding two heavy dumbbells at arm’s length over your chest, palms facing forward.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest.
- Pause and push the weights to the starting position.