A Dumbbell Chest Workout to Build Strength and Size

March 11, 2013 | Joe Giandonato

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Ever hit the weight room to find all the benches occupied? Or maybe your partner never showed up to spot you? Fear not, because you can still get a serious chest workout with dumbbells. (Watch Patrick Willis get a bigger chest with dumbbells.)

People typically don't brag about how much weight they can press with dumbbells, but this doesn't mean they aren't effective. In fact, dumbbells are more versatile than barbells because they allow you to easily change an exercise to challenge your chest in different ways.

Plus, since your hands aren't fixed, your shoulders can move into a more natural position. This allows you to comfortably lift heavy weight without risking a shoulder injury.

Below is a dumbbell chest workout that will effectively build your chest strength and size. The exercises require different techniques, which can only be done because of the versatility of dumbbells.

Dumbbell Chest Workout

Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Try this variation if you don't have access to heavy dumbbells and want to ignite your core. (See Andre Ethier's Single-Arm DB Bench Press.)

  • Choose a dumbbell that you would use for a moderately heavy set of the traditional DB Bench
  • Lie on a bench and hold the dumbbell at your shoulder with your arm at about a 45-degree angle and your opposite arm out to the side
  • Press the dumbbell straight up over your chest
  • Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position as if rowing it to your chest
  • Repeat for specified reps and perform a set with your opposite arm

Sets/Reps: 3x6-10 each side

Timed Dumbbell Bench Press

This exercise, made popular by famous powerlifting coach Louie Simmons, will improve muscular endurance and increase the amount of weight you can press.

  • Have partner time you or set a timer on your phone, media player or watch
  • Choose a pair of dumbbells that you'd typically use for a warm-up set
  • Perform reps for time; maintain strict form throughout the set
  • Sync up your breath with each rep
  • If you need a quick rest, keep the dumbbells locked out at the top between repetitions
  • Repeat for the specified duration

Sets/Duration: 3x30-90 seconds

Dumbbell Mechanical Drop Set

This exercise stimulates virtually every muscle fiber in your chest by changing the angle at which you perform the exercise. Start with an incline press and work toward angles (flat and decline) where you have a greater mechanical advantage as fatigue sets in. This should be used as a finisher to cap off your pressing exercises for the day.

  • Choose a pair of dumbbells that you'd typically use for a warm-up set
  • Adjust the bench to a 60-degree high incline
  • Do 8-12 reps
  • Adjust the bench to a 30-degree low incline
  • Do 8-12 reps
  • Adjust the bench to a flat or decline setting (if possible)
  • Do 8-12 reps
Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
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