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7 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises (with Pictures!)

dumbbell chest exercises

Movements like the standard dumbbell chest press or fly are excellent for building mass in the pecs, whereas exercises like the floor press or pullover serve better in specific contexts.

Some of the better dumbbell chest exercises include:

  1. Dumbbell Chest Press
  2. Dumbbell Chest Fly
  3. Incline Dumbbell Press
  4. Decline Dumbbell Press
  5. Dumbbell Floor Press
  6. Dumbbell Pullover
  7. Dumbbell Hex Press

Dumbbell Chest Exercises

1. The Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press is the quintessential form of dumbbell chest exercise, featuring an easy to grasp movement pattern and multi-purpose training stimulus. 

dumbbell chest press

In practice, it is most comparable to the more popular barbell bench press, and features the lifter extending and bending their arms while in a lying position.

Like most other dumbbell chest exercises, the dumbbell chest press is an open chain bilateral compound movement performed so as to target the chest and other upper body push muscles. 

Muscles Worked

While the dumbbell chest press targets the pectoralis muscles to the greatest extent, it will also work the triceps brachii and the anterior deltoids as well.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

Among dumbbell exercises, the dumbbell chest press is one of the most important and widely-used. 

When performed correctly, it can build strength, mass and a number of more specific capabilities throughout the upper body – hence its inclusion into training disciplines ranging from bodybuilding programs to athletic drills.

In certain cases, the dumbbell chest press can also be used to teach novices how to perform the heavier barbell bench press, as well as help iron out issues in bench press execution by more advanced weightlifters.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the conventional dumbbell chest press, the lifter will lie flat on their back with their shoulder blades pinned beneath them, lower back arched and glutes pressed against the bench. The feet may be pressed against the floor for greater hip drive.

dumbbell bench press muscles

The exercise should begin with the arms extended over the mid-chest, dumbbells gripped securely in hand. 

From this position, the lifter bends their elbows and slowly lowers the dumbbells towards their chest. Avoid pointing the elbows directly out to the sides, as this will increase the risk of shoulder injury.

Once the dumbbells touch the chest or are sufficiently close to doing so, the lifter then squeezes their pectoral muscles and drives through their palms. This should extend the arms over the torso, returning the dumbbells over the torso and thereby completing the repetition.

2. The Dumbbell Chest Fly

Dumbbell chest flys are a pectoral isolation exercise involving the lifter abducting and adducting their arms while in a lying position. 

db chest fly

Dumbbell chest flys are most often performed as an accessory exercise to maximize training volume placed on the pectoral muscles.

Due to their large range of motion, single mobilizer muscle and high capacity for volume, chest flys are most often performed by bodybuilders or those seeking greater muscular hypertrophy. 

Muscles Worked

While dumbbell chest flys primarily target the pectoralis major and minor, they will also utilize the biceps brachii and anterior deltoid head in a static capacity.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

Effectiveness as a method for inducing hypertrophy in the chest notwithstanding, the dumbbell chest fly is also often used as a method of placing greater emphasis on the upper section of the pectoralis major. This requires the lifter to adopt a somewhat more parallel angle of the upper arm to the shoulder.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the dumbbell chest fly, the lifter will lie on their back with their scapula pinned under them and a pair of dumbbells extended over the chest in both hands. 

dumbbell chest fly muscles worked

The wrists should be in a neutral orientation (aligned with the forearm), and the elbows bent as little as possible throughout the repetition.

Now in the correct stance, the lifter will slowly lower the dumbbells out to their sides, extending their arms laterally but keeping them just shy of parallel with the shoulders. The elbows may be bent somewhat, but not to an excessive degree.

Once the upper arms are approximately parallel with the chest, the lifter then squeezes their pecs and draws their arms back together over their torso – thereby completing the repetition.

3. The Incline Dumbbell Press

As its name implies, the incline dumbbell press is simply a conventional dumbbell chest press performed with the torso set at an incline angle. This is facilitated with the use of an incline bench.

dumbbell incline chest press

The incline dumbbell press is performed so as to better target the upper section of the pectoralis major, as well as the anterior head of the deltoids. Most often, an imbalance in upper/lower pectoral muscle mass is a result of overly relying on a single chest exercise – most commonly the flat bench press or its variations.

In all other aspects, the incline dumbbell press remains much the same as its flat bench counterpart, albeit with a lesser loading capacity due to the angle of resistance involved.

Muscles Worked

The incline dumbbell press prioritizes the anterior deltoid head and the upper section of the pectoralis major. Nonetheless, it will also target the triceps brachii and the remaining muscles in the pectoral muscle group as well.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

Apart from placing greater emphasis on the upper chest, the incline dumbbell press is also excellent for improving overhead pressing strength. 

This can be especially useful for individuals with a muscular imbalance of the shoulders or upper chest, be it favoring one side or an imbalance of the posterior and medial deltoids.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the incline dumbbell chest press, the lifter will first raise an incline bench to an approximate 45 degree angle, seating themselves atop it with a pair of dumbbells held up to shoulder-height in both hands.

dumbbell incline chest press

With the shoulder blades pinned and the lower back arched, the lifter will press the dumbbells upwards by contracting their chest and extending their elbows.

The lifter should make sure the elbows are aligned beneath the wrists throughout the movement, and avoid pointing them directly out to the sides as well.

Once the arms are in a state of full extension, the lifter then slowly lowers the dumbbells back to their original position so as to complete the repetition.

4. The Decline Dumbbell Press

Just as there is an incline dumbbell press, so too is there a decline variation.

decline dumbbell bench press

This downward position of the body is done so as to emphasize the lower section of the chest, as well as shorten the exercise’s range of motion.

Decline dumbbell presses will feature a somewhat different angle of resistance and “touch-point” to most other dumbbell press variations, generally with the dumbbells bottoming out lower along the torso in comparison.

Muscles Worked

The decline dumbbell press primarily emphasizes the lower section of the pectoralis major, but will also target the triceps brachii and the anterior deltoids to a significantly lesser extent as well.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

Although this exercise is performed most often for targeting the lower chest to a greater degree, the decline dumbbell press is also excellent for maximizing loading capacity. 

The shorter range of motion involved means that less energy is expended over the course of each repetition, allowing the muscles to lift more weight than they would otherwise be able with other dumbbell press variations.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the decline dumbbell press, the lifter will angle a decline bench between 15 and 30 degrees downwards, lying atop it and hooking their feet into the pads for security. 

dumbbell decline chest press muscles

A pair of dumbbells should be held over the sternum with the arms fully extended, scapula retracted and lower back arched. In addition, to protect the spine, the chin should be tucked into the neck.

From this position, the lifter then lowers the dumbbells towards the lower section of their chest by bending at the elbows.

Once the dumbbells are touching the torso (or at least near it), the lifter will then press through their palms and squeeze their chest so as to extend their arms upwards once more. This completes the repetition.

5. The Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a type of chest press exercise where the lifter lies on the ground, rather than atop a bench.

dumbbell floor press

This shortens the exercise’s range of motion to the upper half, reducing the involvement of certain muscles and allowing lifters without a bench to still train their chest.

Dumbbell floor presses are primarily performed by lifters that wish to emphasize their triceps over their chest, or otherwise for individuals training with specific types of shoulder joint injuries. Remember to first speak to a physician if following the latter goal.

Muscles Worked

The dumbbell floor press emphasizes the triceps brachii, but nonetheless also works the upper chest and anterior deltoids to a somewhat lesser extent.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

As mentioned previously, floor presses are performed when no bench is available but a chest press movement is called for – or if the lifter has specific training needs that call for a shortened chest press range of motion.

However, in addition to these benefits, the dumbbell floor press is also quite effective for reinforcing the lockout portion of the conventional bench press. This allows it to be used in both a muscle-building and technique-reinforcing capacity.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the dumbbell floor press, the lifter will lie on their back atop the floor, knees drawn up and lower back arched for stability. A pair of dumbbells should be held over the chest as the scapula is retracted beneath the torso.

dumbbell floor pres muscles

From this stance, the lifter then bends at the elbows and lowers the dumbbells towards their chest as slowly as possible. 

The floor will arrest the movement of the upper arms, stopping the dumbbells before they get close to touching the torso.

From this depth, the lifter will squeeze their chest and triceps, pushing the dumbbell back over their chest so as to complete the repetition.

6. The Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is unique in this article as it targets more than just the chest – it also works the latissimus dorsi.

dumbbell pullover

While this sort of two-sided recruitment can make the exercise difficult to program, it does shine particularly well in full body workouts or as a part of athletic training drills.

Dumbbell pullovers involve the lifter lying atop a bench and lowering a dumbbell in a radial arc beneath their head. This is primarily driven by rotation of the shoulders and extension of the arms.

Muscles Worked

The dumbbell pullover will target both the pectoral muscles and the latissimus dorsi. 

In addition, the entirety of the deltoids, triceps brachii and teres muscles are also recruited.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

The dumbbell pullover is of note for targeting the chest through a unique angle of resistance and range. This can help correct instability and weakness during certain activities, and produce a stronger chest as a whole.

In addition, dumbbell pullovers do not require significant flexion of the elbows, helping triceps-dominant lifters focus on their chest to a greater extent.

How-to:

To perform a dumbbell pullover, the lifter will lie atop a bench with their head near the edge so as to create enough space beneath it. 

A dumbbell should be held in both hands over the sternum, with the lifter’s scapula depressed, the feet flat on the ground and the chin tucked into the neck.

dumbbell pullover muscles

Once in the correct stance, the lifter will then slowly lower the dumbbell over and behind their head, keeping the elbows slightly bent but the entire arm nonetheless straight.

When the dumbbell is completely behind the head, the lifter then squeezes their pectoral muscles and raises it in the opposite direction. With the dumbbell now back over the torso, the repetition is considered to be complete.

7. The Dumbbell Hex Press

The dumbbell hex press is a unique dumbbell chest press variation where the dumbbells are held in a neutral grip and pressed together throughout the repetition.

dumbbell hex press

Because one of the primary functions of the chest is to adduct the arms towards the midline, this constant pressure between the two dumbbells maximizes pectoral muscle isometric contraction while also alleviating some of the disadvantages associated with pronated grip chest presses.

The dumbbell hex press – like other chest press variants – will primarily utilize elbow flexion and extension while in a lying position.

Muscles Worked

The dumbbell hex press emphasizes the entirety of the pectoral muscles, but also works the triceps brachii and anterior deltoids as well.

Benefits as a Chest Exercise

Even discounting the hex press’s effective capacity to target the chest, there is a markedly lower risk of shoulder and elbow injury due to the neutral orientation of the wrists and forearms. 

This can make it excellent for individuals at risk of injuries relating to these areas.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the dumbbell hex press, the lifter will lie on their back atop a bench, shoulder blades retracted and a pair of dumbbells held together over the chest with the palms facing each other. 

dumbbell hex press muscles

Tension should be used to keep the dumbbells moving as a single cohesive object.

Keeping the arms in this orientation, the lifter will then slowly bend at the elbows, spreading them to the sides of the torso as the dumbbells approach the chest.

Once sufficiently low enough, the lifter then squeezes their triceps and presses the dumbbells upwards once more. This completes the repetition.

Which Dumbbell Chest Exercise Should You Do?

Because of how different each dumbbell chest exercise can be, selecting the right one is simply a matter of deciding on intensity. That, and ensuring the exercise meets what you need out of your training program.

If you wish to emphasize your upper chest, the incline dumbbell press is better. The lower chest, the decline variation. For static strength, the hex press – and so on.

Remember that dumbbell-based chest exercises also come with their own set of inherent disadvantages. For a truly comprehensive chest workout, combine your selection of dumbbell chest exercise with varied movements like the push-up, barbell bench press or dips.

References

1. Sasso, Frank. Dumbbell Workout Guide: How To Get Fit And Strong As Hell With Dumbbell Training. N.p.: Amazon Digital Services LLC – Kdp, 2021. ISBN: 9798714986680

2. Kraemer, William J.., Fleck, Steven J.. Strength Training for Young Athletes. United States: Human Kinetics, 2005. ISBN: 9780736051033, 0736051031