Chest and back workout: add definition to your body

This simple chest and back workout features six easy moves and minimal equipment

Weight lifting for back pain: Woman lifting weights
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for a straightforward and effective chest and back workout? This step-by-step guide is perfect for beginners and regular exercisers alike, plus it ticks all the boxes for muscle strength, endurance, and toning.

You don’t need to spend money on bulky equipment or a gym membership to train your chest and back, you just need to invest in a quality set of dumbbells. If you don't have a set, check out our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells

Adjustable dumbbells allow you to make the most of the progressive overload principle, gradually increasing the weight you’re lifting as you grow stronger. They are also cost-effective and can save on storage space, as you only have to buy one set rather than a complete range of weights. Once you have your weights, then follow this routine from Vanessa Gebhardt, who’s a training specialist at AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics.

What are the benefits?

Chest and back workout: Man doing chest workout with dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Your chest and back play a key role in many of our daily functional tasks, such as carrying your shopping, washing your hair, and opening doors. Some may skip past a back and chest session to focus more on legs and core but investing time in exercising your chest and back is increasingly important. 

Gebhardt says: “For many of us that work long hours behind a desk, exercising these areas will help you to improve posture, reduce back pain, and it can also help you build up protection against future injury. Not only that, but in strengthening our back and chest muscles we also are able to secure spine stability. Regular strength training, as well as frequent stretching throughout the day, support a healthier, more balanced body.” 

“This time-based workout is a great way to train hard at a moderate pace while not overdoing it with too many reps – just three rounds at 40 seconds each, and a 20-second rest in between each move,” adds Gebhardt.

Advice for beginners

Shoulder gym workouts

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As the old saying goes ‘less is more’ and make sure you take your time to perfect your form. When it comes to choosing an appropriate weight, make sure it’s something you can lift for 10 - 12 reps without losing form – although the weight should feel like a challenge on those final reps. 

Gebhardt adds: “Make sure you take your time and don’t start too heavy with dumbbells or too fast, to prevent injury.”

The workout

Move 1: Dumbbell bench presses 

Chest and back workout: Image of woman doing dumbbell press

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Lie down on a bench to start. If you don’t have access to a bench, you can do this on the floor, but you’ll limit your range of motion slightly. 
  • Begin the move with your dumbbells in your hands and stretch your arms straight above your chest.
  • Keep your palms facing away from your face.
  • Lower dumbbells with control to chest level.
  • Engage your chest to push up to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.

Always keep shoulder blades squeezed together and keep your head, shoulders, and glutes on the bench and your feet on the ground. 

Move 2: Double dumbbell bent rows 

Chest and back workout: Image of Double dumbbell bent rowsof

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  • Start by hinging forward at your hips with your knees slightly bent. You can either grab a dumbbell in each hand and position them towards the knees to do a double row, or use a single dumbbell to focus on one side at a time.
  • Keep your shoulders back and down then use your back muscles to bring dumbbells up towards your ribs.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down towards your knees with control.
  • Repeat the exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.

Remember to keep your core engaged and back straight throughout the movement. 

Move 3: Dumbbell flyes 

Chest and back workout: Image of woman doing Dumbbell flyes

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • You’ll need to lie down for this one, either on a bench or the floor. If you’re on the floor, bend your knees and keep your feet on the ground. If you’re on a bench, keep your head, shoulders, and hips on the bench, feet on the ground.
  • Start with your arms straight above the chest, with one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keep your arms slightly bent and sweep your arms out until your hands are at chest height.
  • Engage your chest to return arms to starting position. 
  • Repeat exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.

Keep your core tight throughout the movement and don’t lock your arms. Don’t move too quickly when you lower your arms – and don’t let your arms move below your chest height.

Move 4: Dumbbell bent-over reverse flyes  

Chest and back workout: Image of woman lifting weight

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  • Start by gripping a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hinge forward at your hips and keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Let your arms hang fully when extended.
  • Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height and squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Repeat exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.

Engage your core and keep your back straight at all times (you can check your form in front of a mirror). 

Move 5: Dumbbell triceps extensions 

Dumbbell tricep extensions

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  • Start by standing upright, with one single dumbbell in both hands.
  • Bring the dumbbell above your head and both arms fully extended.
  • Bend your arms in the elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head.
  • Use your triceps to return the dumbbell to overhead.
  • Repeat exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.

 Keep your core engaged as you move through the exercise. 

Move 6: Hammer Curls 

Man doing hammer curls with dumbbells

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  • Start by standing upright, with both dumbbells in your hands and your core tight.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body and keep your palms facing each other.
  • Curl both dumbbells together to shoulder height and back down.
  • Repeat exercise for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds.
Kirsty Welsh

Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar,, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.