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The dumbbell is a highly versatile piece of exercise equipment. You can use dumbbells standing up, sitting down and even lying on the floor. You can target every muscle group on your body with a pair of dumbbells, and the chest is no exception. Here are the best dumbbell exercises for your chest, with tips on how to perform them the right way.
1. Incline Dumbbell Press
The incline press is widely considered the king of dumbbell exercises for the chest. It specifically targets your upper pectoral muscle with some help from the shoulders and triceps. The upper pec is the most difficult area of the chest to stimulate and coincidentally the most visually important. A well-developed upper chest is a sign of knowledge and experience in the fitness community.
While many people have this exercise in their training programs, not all do it correctly and unknowingly put themselves at risk of injury. Next time you perform this exercise, keep the following cues in mind:
- Put your thumbs higher than your pinkies.
- Squeeze the dumbbells.
- Don’t flair your arms. Keep them close to your sides.
- Press your feet into the floor.
- Glue your butt to the bench.
- Arch your back.
- Squeeze your traps.
- Activate your lats and core.
These actions stabilize your body and force the chest muscles to push the weight. Any deviation from the proper form will cause your shoulders and triceps to take over the movement. Keep your body tight and let the pecs do the work.
2. Flat Dumbbell Press
The flat dumbbell press is another integral exercise for many training programs, targeting the middle and lower chest fibers. However, beginners can have trouble with the setup. You have to lie down on the bench while controlling heavy weights in each hand, which is no easy task. Follow these steps to lower yourself safely:
- Hold the dumbbells tightly to your chest.
- Take a deep breath and hold it.
- Slowly begin lowering yourself back onto the bench.
- Center your head and back on the bench.
- Press the dumbbells upward and begin the set.
You should also execute the physical cues provided for the incline dumbbell press. Those cues are universal to all bench-based pushing exercises.
3. Decline Dumbbell Press
The decline press is the most challenging variation of chest presses but also the most dangerous. It puts your rotator cuffs in a precarious position, making it the least popular choice among incline, flat and decline presses. However, it targets the lower chest fibers like no other exercise when performed correctly.
Decline pressing requires your feet to hang above the floor, so most gyms provide special decline benches that stabilize the lower body and make the exercise safer. Find one of those benches and apply the advice from the previous two exercises (minus pressing your feet into the floor, obviously).
4. Close Grip Dumbbell Press
The close grip dumbbell press is an alternative pressing exercise that helps you develop a better mind-muscle connection with the chest. Instead of holding the dumbbells shoulder-width apart, you hold them together with your wrists in a neutral position. As a result, you can squeeze the inner chest with greater force and get a better pump.
You can perform this exercise at any angle you wish, but it only has value as an accessory movement. You should not rely on it as a replacement for the traditional dumbbell presses. Instead, do the close-grip press at the end of your chest workout to maximize blood flow to the muscle.
5. Dumbbell Fly
The fly is one of the best dumbbell exercises for the chest, but it has begun to lose popularity because an influx of fitness “influencers” decided to condemn it as unsafe. Don’t let the noise fool you. In reality, the fly isn’t any more dangerous than other dumbbell movements. You simply have to perform it correctly with manageable weight.
What makes the fly so great? You can move the dumbbells farther across your body than other pushing movements, creating a complete chest contraction. We call this process abduction. Abduction is the appeal behind all flying exercises, whether with dumbbells, cables or a machine.
So, next time you do this exercise, make sure you bring the dumbbells across the center of your chest. Also, keep in mind the setup and execution tips from the other exercises. You’ll have to play around with different grips until you find the one most comfortable for your body, but once you find it, you won’t back.
6. Dumbbell Pullover
The dumbbell pullover is a unique accessory exercise that has only started to gain popularity in recent years, even though it’s been around since the birth of modern bodybuilding in the 1940s. It began as a back-focused exercise, but someone realized that by simply bring your arms closer together, you experience a killer chest contraction.
The setup looks tricky, but it’s pretty simple in practice. Just rest your head and upper traps on the bench, brace your core and slowly lower the weight backward. You’ll feel an amazing stretch in your chest and lats. To make the exercise more chest-focused, keep your elbows slightly bent and your arms close together. When you reach the top of the movement, squeeze the pecs and feel the burn!
7. Standing Dumbbell Fly
This exercise doesn’t get much attention compared to the others on this list, but it deserves a spot because we need to give standing exercises their due credit. Performing an exercise while standing increases its difficulty and improves functional strength. Most real-world feats of strength happen while standing, not while lying on your back.
The standing dumbbell fly is a straightforward movement. Start by holding a dumbbell at your side and simply raise it up and across your chest. At the end of the movement, the dumbbell should be near eye-level and your chest fully abducted. Make sure to squeeze the chest with every rep to get a full contraction.
Grow Your Chest With Dumbbells
Now that you know the best dumbbell exercises for your chest, it’s time to put your knowledge to good use and revamp your workout routine. These exercises are tried and true. They have helped millions of people reach their fitness goals, and you can be next. Do a thorough pre-workout warmup, grab a pair of dumbbells and get to work!