16 Chest Exercises With Dumbbells + Sample Workout

chest exercises with dumbbells

When you only have access to dumbbells, it is important to understand how to target the chest areas (lower, middle, and upper chest) with a variety of compound pressing and isolation exercises. Movements like presses and flies from flat and incline angles will be staples in your dumbbell chest workout routine.

The 16 best chest exercises with dumbbells are:

  • Dumbbell Flat Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Flat Fly
  • Dumbbell Flat Press Fly
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Incline Fly
  • Dumbbell Incline Press Fly
  • Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Decline Fly
  • Dumbbell Floor Press
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
  • Dumbbell Squeeze Press
  • Dumbbell Incline Squeeze Press
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Dumbbell Low Fly
  • Dumbbell Standing Squeeze Press
  • Dumbbell Push-Up

In this article, we will discuss the muscles that make up the chest and how to target the different areas of the chest and share with you some of the best dumbbell chest exercises you can do to build size and strength across your entire chest.

We will also share with you a few sample dumbbell chest workouts that you can do to help boost your chest development and get more out of your workouts.

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Anatomy of the Chest Muscles

anatomy of the chest muscles

The chest muscles are located along the front of the upper body, from the shoulder joint, across the clavicles, to the sternum, and then back up to the shoulder.

This group of muscles is primarily responsible for pressing things outwards away from you either at a horizontal angle (like a bench press) or an upward angle (like an incline press).

When training “chest,” workouts typically will train both muscles of the chest. They also will then aim to target the various muscle fibers of the pectoralis major (lower, middle, and upper chest muscle fibers).

Pectoralis Major

The pec major is the most superficial chest muscle and spans the entire area of the chest. 

This muscle has fibers that run across and at a diagonal angle. The various muscle fibers are large and can be trained individually by adjusting the angle of the press. 

For example, incline pressing and fly movements train more of the upper chest muscle fibers, whereas flat and decline pressing and fly movements train more of the middle and lower pec muscle fibers.

Pectoralis Minor

The pec minor is located under the pec major. It is responsible for aiding the pec major and helping to stabilize the shoulder blades as they move.

Targeting the pec minor is often unnecessary as it is used in most fly and pressing movements. 

It is key to maintain pec minor flexibility, which has been shown to protect you from many common shoulder injuries like impingements. Some of the best chest stretches you can do for the pec minor are a single-arm chest stretch done manually, a seated chest stretch (both arms at the same time), and a lying chest stretch with both arms being stretched open. 

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Benefits of Training the Chest With Dumbbells

benefits of training the chest with dumbbells

Increased Range of Motion

Dumbbells allow you to train in a larger range of motion than most machines and barbells, which can be exactly what you need to place more stress and tension on the chest muscles.

For example, a barbell bench press ends when the bar hits the chest. However, with dumbbells, you may be able to stretch the chest muscles another 1-2” due to there not being a barbell in the way, which could help you train more muscle with less loading.

Train Stabilizer Muscles

Due to the independent nature of the dumbbells, you need to stabilize each dumbbell throughout the range of motion. 

By strengthening the shoulder stabilizers, you can strengthen their ability to help stabilize heavier loads and resist injury at the shoulder joint.

Individualize the Movement Pattern More Effectively

Unlike barbells or machines, dumbbells allow you to easily adjust the angles and wrist positioning of chest exercises. This is important as some lifters may have discomfort with the wrists not being able to move during some movements.

For example, some lifters find their wrists hurt when doing a barbell bench press. However, with dumbbells, they are able to slightly rotate the wrists to a more comfortable angle and have no limiting joint pain.

Address Muscle Imbalances

When training with a barbell or with machines, it is hard to determine if one side of the body is stronger than the other. Dumbbells allow you to train both sides independently and address muscle imbalances or weaknesses.

For example, during a barbell bench press, some lifters may notice they press the barbell up unevenly, which may suggest a muscle imbalance between the two sides. This is where dumbbells can be used to help address that issue and strengthen their barbell bench press.

Can Train Many Exercises With Little Equipment

Dumbbells allow you to be very creative with your exercise selection during workouts. 

Unlike a barbell or machines, which provide you only a few ways to target a muscle, dumbbells can easily be adjusted and used in conjunction with benches or different angles to deliver a very diverse workout.

For example, a barbell only allows you to train the chest with flat, decline, and incline pressing or perform barbell pullovers. Dumbbells, however, can offer you the ability to do all of those plus more (see below).

Related Article: Best Bulking Chest Exercises

16 Best Chest Dumbbell Exercises

Below is a list of 16 dumbbell exercises that target the chest.

Note to Fitbod Users: Some, but not all, of these exercises, can be found within the Fitbod app.

1. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press

The dumbbell flat bench press is a chest exercise that helps to primarily develop the chest across the middle pec fibers. 

This can be done with both heavy and moderate loads and is an alternative to the barbell flat bench press. 

For best results, try training this in the heavier rep ranges earlier in your workouts to build strength and muscle, and then follow it up with moderate weights to build muscle.

How To Do It

  • Lay down on a bench in the supine position (chest up). 
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, press the weights directly above you (not towards your hips), making sure to keep your back on the bench and not arch too much in the lower back.
  • Pull the weights down slowly to the body, touching the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, then push back up.

Pro Tip

Make sure that the weights move slowly (aim for a 2-second lowering phase) as you lower towards the chest to get the most muscle growth possible and to protect the shoulders.

Related Article: Chest Workouts for Women

2. Dumbbell Flat Fly

The dumbbell flat fly is an isolation chest exercise that targets the middle chest muscle fibers. This can be used to further isolate the pecs if your triceps become a limiting factor when doing presses.

Finding the right angles is key here, as is making sure you do not use the shoulders to move the weight.

For best results, try thinking about reaching outwards with the weights and finding a deep stretch in the chest. You can also minimize your lower back arch and keep the ribs down to facilitate a better chest stretch.

How To Do It

  • Lay down on a bench with dumbbells in each hand, reaching directly above you, and your palms facing each other.
  • With the elbows slightly bent and pointed outwards, pull your palms apart to the sides of you without letting them rotate forward or backward.
  • Once you get to the bottom of the fly, you should feel a stretch in the chest (not the front of the shoulders). 
  • Reach upwards above you and repeat.

Pro Tip

Make sure your elbows are pointed toward the floor rather than in front or behind you, as this will allow you to open up the shoulder joint without placing extra stress on the elbows.

3. Dumbbell Flat Press Fly

The dumbbell flat press fly is a combination between a flat chest press and a flat fly. This exercise is another option for lifters who want to overload the chest muscles with a more isolated exercise yet find it difficult to master the chest fly.

As with the fly, you want to make sure you perform this slowly, as you don’t want the shoulder to become overly involved in the movement.

How To Do It

  • Lie on your back with dumbbells pressed above your chest and your palms facing each other.
  • Start lowering the weights as if you were performing a fly.
  • When the weights reach 75% of the way down, allow the elbows to bend more so that you turn this into a wide pressing movement.
  • Once the weights have been lowered past the torso, press them up in an arcing motion, finishing with the weights above you.

Pro Tip

This is an isolation exercise, so do not try to move very heavy loads with this. The elbow bend should allow you to feel more tension in the chest, not the shoulders.

4. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

The dumbbell incline bench press targets the upper chest muscle fibers due to the incline angle that the bench is set to. 

Generally speaking, the greater the incline, the more the upper chest is involved. The best angle can vary from person to person, and there is a point at which you may be too high and hit more of your shoulders than your upper chest.

For best results, start with a 30-45 degree incline angle.

How To Do It

  • Set an adjustable bench to a 30-45 degree incline angle, and lie down with your chest up and lower back flat.
  • With the dumbbells above you (not pressed out front), lower them to the sides of the chest, making sure not to arch your back too much.
  • Press the weights directly back above you (above your shoulders and face, not out in front of you).

Pro Tip

If you feel this more in your biceps and shoulders, you may need to lower the incline angle. You may also be arching too much, which negates the effect the incline has on the upper pec fibers.

Related Article: 3 Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts

5. Dumbbell Incline Fly

The dumbbell incline fly is an isolation exercise that targets the upper chest muscle fibers. 

Like the flat bench fly, this exercise should be performed with an emphasis on feeling a stretch and isolation to the upper chest. You can adjust how much your elbows bend and the angle of the bench as needed to find what works best for you.

How To Do It

  • Set an adjustable bench up on an incline and lie down face up with two dumbbells pressed out above you (in line with your upper chest). Your palms should face each other.
  • Softly bend the elbows, and then pull the weights outwards, making sure your elbows stay bent and pointed towards the floor.
  • When the weights reach the bottom of the movement, you should feel the stretch in the upper chest.
  • Pause, and then bring the weights back together above you.

Pro Tip

If you do not feel this exclusively in your upper chest, be sure to minimize the back arch in your lower back, straighten the elbows more, and lower the weights only to where they are in line with your torso.

Related Article: No Upper Chest? Try These 6 Exercises (With Sample Program) 

6. Dumbbell Incline Press Fly

The dumbbell incline press fly is a hybrid exercise that combines both the incline bench press and the incline chest fly. 

This offers many of the same benefits as the flat chest press fly. However, it targets more of the upper chest muscle fibers.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on an incline bench with the back flat and dumbbells pressed above your head.
  • Pull the weights apart as if you were going to do a fly.
  • As the weights near the end of the normal fly range of motion, allow the elbows to bend and sink lower into a wide pressing position.
  • With the weights now in line with your torso and the elbows pointed towards the floor, press the weights up and bring them together at the top like the fly.

Pro Tip

Start light with this exercise, and really focus on feeling the chest muscles working. This is not a strength-building exercise, so do not try to lift very heavy weights.

7. Dumbbell Decline Bench Press

The dumbbell decline bench press can be done to target more of the lower chest muscle fibers. 

To do this, you will need a bench that can have you lay back on a decline angle while having your legs secured so you do not slide backward off the bench. 

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a decline bench and secure your feet.
  • With dumbbells pressed above you, lower the weights to the lower chest.
  • Pause for a second at the bottom, then press the weights straight up.

Pro Tip

Focus on adding load slowly, as this is a larger range of motion than a normal flat bench. Make sure you are ready to handle this new stress before progressing in weight.

8. Dumbbell Decline Fly

The dumbbell decline fly is the decline variant of the fly and targets the lower pec.

Unlike pressing movements, the fly allows you to take all the tension and stress of the load and place it primarily on the target muscle (the lower chest). While you may not be able to lift as much weight, you can better target the lower chest muscle fibers.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a decline bench, secure your feet, and place dumbbells above you, one in each hand. Make sure the palms face each other.
  • Pull the hands apart while keeping the dumbbells in line with your chest.
  • Reach outwards, making sure not to allow the lower back to arch too much.
  • Once you get to the bottom of the stretch, bring the weights back together in an arcing motion, ending above you.

Pro Tip

Slowly lower the weights to save the shoulders.

9. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a flat bench variation for lifters who do not have access to a bench. This partial range of motion exercise can also take pressure off the shoulders and help strengthen the second half of your press.

If you struggle with chest and triceps strength, the floor press may be a good alternative to a bench press, as it limits the range of motion to specifically target the lockout phase of the press.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your back on the floor and dumbbells pressed above you.
  • Lower the elbows to the floor so that the weights are in line with your middle chest.
  • Press the weights back above you with your chest and triceps.

Pro Tip

Try to keep your back and shoulders in contact with the floor at all times, as this will ensure you are not pushing the weight upwards with your shoulders. This will also help reinforce proper tension across the upper back, which increases shoulder stability.

10. Dumbbell Alternating Chest Press

The dumbbell alternating chest press is a chest press variation that helps you train the core and upper body stabilizers more, as you need to have more movement coordination.

If your goal is max muscle growth, this may not be the best option. However, if you want a press that has some carry-over to real-life movements and can add variety to your workouts, this could be a good option.

This is also a good press option for adding extra intensity after a standard press set, as you may find you are stronger with alternating presses than with regular presses.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your back on a bench, and press two dumbbells above you.
  • Lower one dumbbell to the chest as you would a bench press, making sure the other one is supported above you with the other arm.
  • Once you have pressed the first dumbbell up above you again, allow the other dumbbell to lower. Go back and forth completing reps in an alternating manner.

Pro Tip

Slowly lower the dumbbell to the chest, and focus on stabilizing the body so that you are not having the body rotate or twist as the weight is lowered.

11. Dumbbell Squeeze Press

The dumbbell squeeze press is a press variation that has you press the weights together as you push them upwards. By adding the squeeze to the movement, you add an isometric component, meaning the muscles contract without producing movement but are still working — similar to doing a plank.

This is a great way to increase muscle activation and help target the chest more with light to moderate weights. 

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your back on a bench, and press two dumbbells above you.
  • Squeeze them together, and slowly lower them to the chest (or close to the chest, based on how low your shoulders allow you to go).
  • Continue to squeeze the dumbbells together at the bottom as you pause, and then push them back above you, maintaining an aggressive squeeze on the weights.

Pro Tip

Focus on squeezing the weights together with all your might, and go slowly. It can also be helpful to press slightly lower or higher on your chest if your initial level of pressing is not resulting in you feeling your chest muscles.

12. Dumbbell Incline Squeeze Press

This is the incline version of the dumbbell squeeze press and can be done to isolate more of the upper chest muscle fibers.

You may not need to lower the weights all the way to the chest, so make sure you only go as low as you can without letting the shoulders lift off the bench.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your back on an incline bench (30-45 degrees), and press two dumbbells above you.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the upper chest as you aggressively squeeze them together.
  • Pause at the bottom of the movement, keeping the weights squeezed together, then press them back upwards.

Pro Tip

Lower the weights to chin level, or slightly lower, and pause to maximize the squeeze, then press up. By not lowering them all the way to the chest, you keep tension on the chest muscles while also not allowing the shoulders to round forward, which can create more tension and stress on the shoulder joint.

13. Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover targets the chest and the serratus, a muscle group that runs along the sides of the torso between the chest and the lats. This muscle group is important for assisting the chest muscles during pressing movements.

Take your time with this, and focus on getting a big stretch and contraction rather than loading up with a lot of weight.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a flat bench with your head towards the top end of the bench.
  • Place a single dumbbell between both hands and hold it vertically (hold on to the top end of the dumbbell), with your hands making a diamond shape and thumbs pointed down to the floor.
  • Slowly reach back and lower the weight behind your head with a soft elbow bend, feeling the stretch in the lats and sides of the chest.
  • Pull the weight back above you in an arcing motion, and repeat.

Pro Tip

You should focus on feeling the stretch of the lats and chest as you lower, making sure that the lower you go, the more stretch you feel. If you continue to lower the weight and do not feel more of a stretch, you may want to stop lowering that far and stay within a range where you feel the muscle stretch only.

14. Dumbbell Low Fly

The dumbbell low fly is a lower chest isolation exercise. This exercise is done from a standing position, and the range can vary based on your preference.

The key to this is to lift the weights slowly and to focus on lifting the weight with the lower chest instead of the shoulders or biceps.

How To Do It

  • Stand with dumbbells in your hands, with your palms facing forward.
  • Slightly lean back and get your chest up high, and then slowly raise your palms up in front of you until they reach lower chest height.
  • Pause at the top, and then lower the weights, making sure not to lower them too much where you lose tension.

Pro Tip

Take your time with this, and do not let the shoulders lift the loads. I find that raising the tempo to a 2-3 second count works best.

15. Standing Dumbbell Squeeze Press

This is the standing version of the dumbbell squeeze press. By standing, you are able to change some of the angles at which you reach out in front of you, such as going from low to high to target the lower pecs or focusing on a more downward angle to work the upper pecs.

Focus on slow presses rather than high reps, as the squeeze and holding tension is the key part.

This is not a strength exercise, so you do not need to use a lot of weight to have this be really effective. Even strong athletes can do 5-15 lbs and get great muscle contractions.

How To Do It

  • Stand with dumbbells in each hand, and press them together at chest level.
  • Push the dumbbells out in front of you while squeezing them together and keeping your chest up.
  • Pause when they are out together, and squeeze them hard.
  • Pull them back in and repeat.

Pro Tip

Think about reaching the dumbbells away from you, as this will prevent you from rounding your shoulders forward. This may mean you reach on a slight downward angle, which is fine if you feel your chest working.

16. Dumbbell Push-Up

The dumbbell push-up is a push-up variation that increases the range of motion and, therefore, the difficulty of the standard push-up. By using dumbbells, you increase the stretch and tension placed on the chest muscles at the bottom of the movement.

This is a great way to progress your push-ups and make them more chest focused than they already are.

How To Do It

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and set yourself in a plank position so that your feet are together, your legs are straight, and the dumbbells are under your shoulders.
  • Squeeze the dumbbells and lower your torso to the ground with a 2-3 second count, making sure your back stays flat and your chest and thighs hit the ground at the same time.
  • Push yourself away from the ground and fully straighten your elbows at the top.

Pro Tip

Think about pulling yourself towards the floor, using your upper back to stabilize yourself as you stretch the chest out. Too many people collapse their shoulders forward in the lowering phase.

Related Article: Best Band Chest Exercises (for Your Home Gym) 

Sample Chest Workout Routine With Dumbbells

sample chest workout routine with dumbbells

Although the exact workouts below cannot be found in the Fitbod app, many of the movements can. You should use these sample routines as outlines to construct your own workouts based on the information discussed above.

Beginner-Friendly Dumbbell Chest Workout

This workout is great for beginners as it has exercises that can be done with minimal equipment and are very simple to master.

  • Dumbbell Floor Press: 4 sets of 10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds between each set
  • Dumbbell Low Fly: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds between each set

Intermediate Dumbbell Chest Workout

This workout introduces more advanced intensity techniques like pairing two chest exercises together while utilizing exercises that are not too challenging to master.

  • Dumbbell Flat Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Once you complete one set, go directly into the next exercise.
  • Dumbbell Incline Squeeze Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, then rest 90 seconds
  • Dumbbell Push Up: 3-4 sets to failure, resting 30 seconds between each set

Advanced Dumbbell Chest Workout

This is a more advanced workout as it combines some movements into groupings to increase the intensity. Keep in mind that these intensity protocols require a proper understanding of technique and how to train to near failure without letting your form break down.

  • Dumbbell Flat Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set
  • Dumbbell Incline Fly: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, go directly into the next exercise
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 4 sets with the same weight as the fly, go to failure, then rest 90 seconds
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds between each set

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Chest Exercise Using Dumbbells?

The best chest exercises to do with dumbbells are ones that allow you to train the chest directly with minimal shoulder involvement. Exercises like the chest press and fly are classic chest-building exercises and can be done at different angles to target the chest muscles in various ways. 

Can You Build A Good Chest With Dumbbells?

You can build a good chest with dumbbells. However, if you only have access to light dumbbells, you may find it difficult to progress in the long term. You need to train the chest with progressively more weight and reps to have the same stimulus as before, so getting heavier dumbbells as you go on is ideal.

How Can I Build My Chest With Dumbbells?

To build your chest with dumbbells, you want to focus on pressing movements and isolation exercises at flat, incline, and decline angles to build strength and muscle mass across the entire chest.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.