If you’re working out at home, chances are that you’ll be looking for some dumbbell chest exercises. As we’ll explain, whether it’s sculpted pecs, strong posture or functional fitness you’re after, your chest is an important part of your body to work on - and that goes for women as well as men.
Of course most of us don’t have a fully-equipped gym at home complete with machines and barbells, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great workout. The star of the home gym is the best adjustable dumbbell - great value, adaptable and, used correctly, capable of giving you a powerful workout and helping you achieve your strength and fitness goals.
Step forward our guide to five dumbbell chest exercises to try at home. There’s something for everyone here, together with expert advice to make sure you work out safely and get the most out of your dumbbell exercises for significant chest gains.
What’s the benefit of dumbbell chest exercises?
You may be intending to exercise your chest muscles for aesthetic reasons, to achieve sculpted pecs - and there’s no denying that it’s a great look. But according to Roy Gunther, a USA Weightlifting Level 1 coach and a Crossfit Level 2 coach with Crossfit Dumbbell certification, there are plenty of reasons beyond just aesthetic considerations for making chest exercises a key part of your fitness regimen.
"Exercising your chest will strengthen your pectoral muscles, which play a significant role in stabilizing the shoulder joint and maintaining proper posture," he says. "In addition, and even more importantly, as your chest muscles are strengthened and grow, it will positively impact your breathing."
Often women are put off from performing chest exercises because they have heard that it will make their breasts shrink. According to Gunther, however, this is a myth - the truth is that chest exercises will actively improve the appearance of your breasts. "Believe it or not, a woman can improve the support and lift of her breasts by building the muscles around them."
"Dumbbells are inexpensive, compact, and versatile," says Gunther. "You can take advantage of tons of exercises using just two dumbbells, which is not the case with static machines. Dumbbells also allow a person to use one limb at a time, which is helpful to someone who is adaptive or injured to continue strength training."
Scientific studies support the efficacy of dumbbells for chest exercises - they hold their own well for chest exercises compared with other forms of exercise. A study published in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine compared the barbell bench press with dumbbell flyers. Dumbbell flyers were better for activating the arm flexors (biceps) and could prove useful where strength, stabilization, and control in a horizontal shoulder flexion position with extended elbows is desirable. Another study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences compared muscle activation in chest presses performed with dumbbells, barbell, and Smith machines. Dumbbells scored most highly in activating the biceps and equally well for pectoral and anterior deltoid muscles (though less well for triceps).
Dumbbell exercises for chest
Why not try these five dumbbell exercises for chest gains, recommended by Gunther?
Dumbbell overhead press
The dumbbell press overhead works the glutes, pectorals, triceps, trapezius, as well as your lower back muscles. In this movement, the heels must stay down. You should choose a weight that maintains symmetry and proper form.
Step 1: Start with a hip-width stance with the dumbbells on the shoulders and elbows slightly in front of the body.
Step 2: The dumbbells should stay in line with the middle of the foot, as the body and legs stay straight and long, with the heels staying firmly on the ground as the shoulders push into the dumbbells.
Step 3: The movement is complete when the arms are locked out and fully extended overhead.
Dumbbell floor press
The dumbbell floor press works the triceps with the chest a close second. When using dumbbells, it’s essential to consider that the muscles must stabilize the weight and execute the movement. You should begin with a lighter weight and perform the exercise properly before increasing the weight.
Step 1: Lay on the floor, bring the dumbbells above your chest, and rotate your wrists, so your thumbs are facing towards the center of your chest.
Step 2: Position your arms in line with your shoulder, then slowly lower your arms and allow your elbows to move away from you.
Step 3: Hold that position for a second, then use your chest to bring the arms up and close together, but don’t allow the dumbbells to touch each other at the top.
Dumbbell flys on the floor
This exercise works the pectoralis major muscles. The range of motion of dumbbell flys on the floor is slightly less than when executed on a bench, reducing the risk of injury while maintaining most of the benefits. The weight should be on the lighter side, especially at the beginning.
Step 1: Lay on the floor with your legs bent and feet flat.
Step 2: Press and hold your dumbbells up, palms facing towards each other.
Step 3: Bend the elbows slightly, open your arms and lower the weights out and down until the upper part of your arms touches the floor.
Step 4: Squeeze the dumbbells back up and together until you return to the starting position.
Dumbbell close grip floor press
This exercise works the chest and triceps, slightly emphasizing the inner pectoral muscles. Choose a weight with which you can execute the movement with proper form and range of motion.
Step 1: Lay on the floor with your legs bent and your feet flat.
Step 2: Press and extend the dumbbells up and over your chest with your palms facing inward.
Step 3: While keeping the weights together, bend your elbows and lower the weights towards your chest. The dumbbells should remain together until your upper arms touch the floor.
Step 4: Then push the weights back up and repeat.
Single-arm dumbbell floor press
This exercise helps you concentrate on one limb at a time, allowing you to work on the stability of a non-dominant limb and work around an injury or physical limitation. It is essential not to overload one side and work towards achieving and maintaining body symmetry.
Step 1: Lay on the floor and bring a single dumbbell above your chest, then turn your wrist so that your thumb is facing towards the center of your chest.
Step 2: Position your arm in line with your shoulder, then slowly lower your arm and allow your elbow to move away from you.
Step 3: Hold that position for a second, then use your chest to bring the arm back up.
Step 4: Switch sides after a set number of repetitions.
Patricia Carswell is a freelance journalist, specialising in health and fitness. She has written for a huge variety of national newspapers and magazines, including Healthy, Top Santé and Women's Fitness, and writes a monthly column for British Rowing's content hub. She's the founder and host of rowing blog and podcast, Girl on the River, where guests have included Sir Matthew Pinsent and multiple Olympian Frances Houghton MBE.
She won Rowperfect’s Rowing Blogger of the Year several years in a row, the Endurance Award in the MyProtein Blog Awards and was runner-up in the Sports & Fitness Category in the UK Blog Awards in 2017.
She keeps fit by rowing, walking and swimming, and is at her happiest when on or in the water.
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