5 Dumbbell Exercises to Build Your Chest and Upgrade Your Bench

STACK Expert Rich Sadiv prescribes five dumbbell exercises to help you build chest strength and improve your Bench Press.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Over the years, I have increasingly incorporated dumbbell chest exercises into my weekly training regimen. They're great for expanding range of motion, working on unilateral differences, increasing stability and improving weak parts of the Bench Press.

Each of the following five dumbbell exercises has a different focus to help build your chest and your Bench Press. They can all be used to supplement your barbell workouts or add variation to your usual chest workout.

Cycle these exercises into your workouts over a two-week period. The protocol to use is one day of high intensity, low volume and one day of low intensity and high volume. The two days should be separated by 72 hours (e.g., you can do Monday & Thursday or Tuesday & Friday).

1. Dumbbell Flat Bench

  • Lie face-up on the bench and start with the dumbbells in the up position, arms extended. Your foot position should mimic the stance you use when you Bench Press with a barbell.
  • As you lower the dumbbells, pull your arms apart until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor.
  • When the dumbbells reach a depth of slightly below your chest at the bottom of the movement, press them back up to the starting position.
  • Hold your breath as you lower the dumbbells and exhale as you reach the top.
  • Sets/Reps: Four sets of 10,8,6,5. Increase the weight on each set. Rest two minutes between sets.

On the low-intensity day, do 2 sets of 15 with dumbbells 5 pounds lighter than the ones you used on your set of 10. Take a one-minute rest between the two sets.

This is the dumbbell chest exercise that can bear the biggest load. It's great if you are weak off your chest.

2. Dumbbell Incline Press

  • Set up a bench with the back portion at roughly a 35-degree angle.
  • Start with the dumbbells together at arm's length, directly above your eyes.
  • As you lower the dumbbells, pull your arms apart, keeping your forearms perpendicular to the floor.
  • When your arms create an angle slightly below 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement, press the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  • Hold your breath as you lower the dumbbells and exhale as you reach the top. The motion is the same as the Dumbbell Flat Bench; the difference comes from the angle of the bench. Because your torso isn't flat, your shoulders will be activated more.
  • Sets/Reps: Follow the same format as the Dumbbell Flat Bench.

Alternate between the two exercises week to week. The weight of dumbbells for the Incline Bench will be lighter than the ones you use for the Flat Bench. Reduce by 5 to 10 pounds depending on your shoulder strength.

Similar to the Dumbbell Flat Bench, you can use a higher-intensity weight. It's a great way to improve shoulder strength in the movement and develop the upper part of your chest.

 3. Dumbbell Flat Bench Alternating Arm (Arms in Up Position)

  • Start with both arms fully extended.
  • Lower your right arm until it creates a 90-degree angle, then press the dumbbell up, keeping your left arm fully extended.
  • Once your right arm is fully extended, lower your left arm. Make sure the dumbbell doesn't sag at the top of the movement.
  • Sets/Reps: 3x10 each arm on Day 1. Rest 90 seconds between sets. On Day 2, do two 60-second sets with a 60-second rest between sets.

Make sure both arms are fully extended at the top of the movement before lowering one arm.

Use the same load as the Incline Press. Be sure you can stabilize the dumbbells at the top of the movement in full extension. This is a great way to increase stabilization and develop a pulling action with your arms.

4. Dumbbell Flat Bench Alternating Arm (Arms in Down Position)

  • Start with both arms in the down position.
  • Press your right arm until it is locked out.
  • Pull the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  • Press the left arm up.
  • Sets/Reps: 3x10 each arm on Day 1. Rest 90 seconds between sets. On Day 2, do two 60-second sets with a 60-second rest between sets.
  • Do not rest the dumbbells on your chest at the bottom of the movement.

Since there is no eccentric movement involved in the pressing of the weight, you will use lighter dumbbells for this exercise than for the others.

5. Dumbbell Flies

This is the only exercise of the five where your palms face in. Think of hugging a tree as you perform the movement.

  • Start with the dumbbells together at arm's length, extended over your chest.
  • Pull the dumbbells down slightly, bending your elbows.
  • Once your hands are at chest level, return the dumbbells to the starting position. The movement should follow an arc pattern.
  • Always keep your arms and elbows at the angle until you reach the top of the movement when the arms straighten.
  • Do not let the dumbbells get past your chest line at the bottom of the movement.
  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets with a rep scheme of 15,12,10 and a minute of rest between sets, or 2 sets of 20. Do Flies only on low intensity days.

Keep the intensity low and the volume high. Fantastic muscle builder.

Fit these exercises into a twice-a-week chest workout. On these days, also do shoulders and triceps. Day 1 is high intensity, low volume, and Day 2 is low intensity, high volume. Below is a sample protocol.

Day 1

Flat Barbell Bench
Sets/Reps: 5x5

Incline Dumbbell Bench
Sets/Reps: 4 sets of 10,8,6,5

Floor Press
Sets/Reps: 5 x3

Front Overhead Shoulder Press
Sets/Reps: 5x5

Dips
(weighted) 10,8,6,5

Day 2

Dumbbell Flat Bench
Sets/Reps: 2x15

Incline Barbell Press
Sets/Reps: 3x10

Dumbbell Flies
Sets/Reps: 2x20

Bent-Over Lateral Raise
Sets/Reps: 3x15,12,10

Plate Raise
Sets/Reps: 2x15

Triceps Push-Downs Overhand and Underhand
Sets/Reps: Superset 3x10

Day 1

Flat Barbell Bench
Sets/Reps: 5 x4

Dumbbell Flat Bench Alternating Arm (Arms in Down Position)
Sets/Reps: 3x10

Incline Barbell Press
Sets/Reps: 4x5

Upright Row
Sets/Reps: 3x8

Lying Triceps Extension
Sets/Reps: 3 x10

Rolling Thunders
Sets/Reps: 3x10

Day 2

Dumbbell Flat Bench
Sets/Reps: 2x15

Dumbbell Flat Bench Alternating Arm (Arms in Up Position)
Sets/Duration: 2x60 seconds

4-minute Push-Up challenge (as many Push-Ups as you can in 4 minutes)

Shoulder Series of Y, T, W
10 each

Dips
Sets/Reps: 4x15,12,10,8

Read more:


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: CHEST | BENCH PRESS | DUMBBELL EXERCISES | WORKOUTS | BENCH | PRESS | BARBELL | INTENSITY