7 Most Effective Dumbbell Chest Exercises To Do At Home

Posted by Aaron Laurence on Jun 17th 2022

A male athlete performing dumbbell floor presses with a set of YBells using center grip
YBells are great for all your at-home dumbbell chest workouts.

7 Most Effective Dumbbell Chest Exercises To Do At Home

Many athletes and strength trainers struggle to build muscle mass in their chest. Strength training enthusiasts and bodybuilders are constantly searching for the best at-home dumbbell chest exercises to build their pecs.

The good news is that you don't need expensive machines or a gym membership to put together a solid chest workout. A set of dumbbells is an excellent complement to barbells for a chest workout. But, you can also easily create an at-home chest workout with just dumbbells.

This blog will delve into the anatomy of your chest, the benefits of working out your chest with dumbbells, and some exceptional dumbbell chest exercises you can start doing today.

The Muscles of the Chest

Your upper body's "pushing" muscles are your chest muscles, AKA pectorals or pecs, along with the deltoid and triceps. Your pecs allow you to perform pushing movements like presses.  

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major is a thick, fan-shaped muscle under the breast tissue. It originates at your clavicle, ribs, and sternum and is divided into the clavicular, sternocostal, and abdominal parts. All three insert onto the humerus.

The pectoralis major has three main functions, depending on which part is involved:

  1. Flexion, adduction, and medial (internal) rotation of your arm at the glenohumeral joint (shoulder joint)
  2. The clavicular part causes flexion of your arm when extended
  3. The sternoclavicular part causes extension of your arm when flexed

It’s the majority of the muscle mass in your chest, so you want to focus on the pec major in your dumbbell chest workout for building size.

Exercises that develop your pectoralis major:

  • Push-ups
  • Bench press
  • Dumbbell flye
  • Dips
  • Dumbbell pullover

Pectoralis Minor

The pectoralis minor is a flat, triangular muscle that's located under the pectoralis major and forms the front wall of your armpit. It originates from the third, fourth, and fifth ribs. The pec minor travels upward and laterally then inserts at the coracoid process of the scapula (shoulder blade).

The pectoralis minor stabilizes the shoulder blade by pulling it downward and forward against your thoracic wall (rib cage). This is called the protraction of the shoulder blade.

It also helps with your body's breathing process. When you inhale, the pectoralis minor contracts and elevates your ribs, allowing air to fill your lungs.

Exercises that develop your pectoralis minor:

  • Gross stretch
  • Doorway stretch
  • Chest dips
  • Standing flye

Other Upper-body Muscles

The triceps, deltoid muscles, and serratus anterior are not part of the chest muscles. However, they do work in conjunction with your pectorals. Many strength training programs will work the pecs and triceps together. You’ll find that your shoulders and triceps will benefit from your dumbbell chest workouts.

Triceps Brachii

The triceps are in the back of your upper arms. Your triceps are vital for shoulder extension and stabilization during pressing movements like the dumbbell bench press.

Deltoid Muscle

The deltoid is the primary muscle in your shoulder. It consists of three parts — the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. The anterior deltoid works with the pectoralis major to allow for shoulder flexion and transverse adduction.

Serratus Anterior

The serratus anterior covers the side of your ribcage. It is responsible for protraction (upward and forward movement) of the scapula and thoracic wall, allowing for overhead lifting. It also pulls your shoulder blade around the ribs, which gives you shoulder stability during pushing movements.

5 Benefits of an At-Home Chest Workout

There are many benefits to doing chest exercises with dumbbells at home, but here are just a few:

1. You’ll Improve Your Posture

Since your pectorals are one of the largest muscles of your upper body, they are vital to your posture. Spending most of your day bent over a computer will tighten your pecs. When this happens, your shoulders will round and your shoulder blades will pull forward, creating a hunched posture. Tight pecs can also decrease your range of motion for overhead pressing movements.

However, when you work out your chest regularly with dumbbells, your pectorals will be able to move properly through their full range of motion. This will help keep your body upright without pulling forward, creating a better posture. This is why it’s vital to strengthen and stretch your pecs as part of your regular workout regimen.

2. You’ll Breathe Better

Poor posture and tight (or shortened) pectoral muscles compromise your rib cage's ability to expand. When the pectoralis minor compresses, the blood vessels in your arms also compress, which can cause poor circulation, numbness, or tingling.

The pecs are sometimes referred to as "breathing muscles." That's because one of the functions of the pectoralis minor is to elevate and expand your rib cage when inhaling. This movement of your rib cage allows for full and deep diaphragmatic breathing. You're promoting deeper breathing and proper circulation by strengthening your chest muscles with dumbbell exercises.

3. You’ll Increase Your Functional Fitness

You use your pecs during most daily movements — anything that involves pushing, pulling, or carrying. These also happen to be three of the essential functional movements for daily activity. As you strengthen your pecs, you’re supporting your entire upper body. Once you’ve established a solid chest workout, everyday tasks like picking up boxes, pushing a stroller, or carrying groceries up and down a flight of stairs will become easier on your body.

Whether you're an athlete, a workout enthusiast, or simply looking to get healthier, creating a dumbbell workout for your chest is vital to your overall mobility and functional fitness.

4. You’ll Burn More Calories

According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training and weightlifting at least twice per week to build muscle is one of the best ways to increase your calorie expenditure. That’s because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does. So as you strengthen your pecs and build more muscle, you’ll burn more calories.

A proper chest workout will involve strengthening your shoulders and arms at the same time. Consider a bodyweight push-up: this compound movement works your pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps, deltoids, abdominals, and erector spinae. You're increasing your overall caloric burn by building all these muscles in conjunction.

5. You’ll Have More Breast Support

Many women avoid chest strengthening exercises because of a widespread belief that they’ll make breasts smaller. In truth, working your pectorals, which are beneath your breasts, can lift your bustline, providing additional lift and support for your breasts.

A training regimen that combines body weight exercises with resistance exercises can tone your pecs, giving your breasts a more prominent appearance.

7 Dumbbell Chest Exercises

How do you increase your chest muscles? Add some of these exercises to your dumbbell only home chest workout.

1. Flat Bench Dumbbell Chest Press

The chest press is a classic upper-body strength training exercise for building and toning your pecs. It’s a great mobility movement for improving daily activities like pushing shopping carts or picking up boxes. It’s also beneficial for softball, tennis, and golf athletes.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Trapezius

Equipment needed:

  • Weight bench
  • Pair of heavy dumbbells or YBell Pros

How to do a dumbbell chest press:

  1. Lie on a flat weight bench with your feet on each side of the bench, flat on the floor.
  2. Press your shoulders into the bench by drawing them down and back.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward. This is your starting position.
  4. Exhale, then press your arms up in one fluid motion. Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent.
  5. Inhale, then slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest. This is one rep.
  6. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

2. Incline Bench Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Chest Press

This chest press variation uses an incline bench, which targets the pectoralis major and shoulders. To avoid straining your shoulders or rotator cuff, you should consider using a lighter weight for incline dumbbell chest presses.

Muscles worked:

  • Upper pectoralis major
  • Lower pectoralis minor
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Triceps

Equipment needed:

  • Incline bench
  • Pair of medium dumbbells or YBell Neos

How to do an incline dumbbell chest press:

  1. From an upright position, set your bench backward 30- to 45-degrees, depending on your comfort level.
  2. Sit back on the bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand and letting them rest on your knees. Position your feet on both sides of the bench and flat on the floor.
  3. Lift the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, with your palms facing up. Your elbows should be at about a 45-degree angle. This is your starting position.
  4. Exhale, then push the dumbbells straight up and in, above your pecs, using a supinated grip (palms facing up).
  5. Inhale, then control the dumbbells back down to the starting position. This is one rep.
  6. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

3. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press has a shorter range of motion than the flat bench dumbbell chest press. At first glance, this may make it seem like an easier movement, but don’t be fooled. A heavy floor press can generate as much full-body tension as a flat bench press while reducing shoulder joint extension. Add in the fact that the only equipment you need is a pair of dumbbells, and that makes this one of the best exercises for a chest workout at home with dumbbells.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Triceps

Equipment needed:

  • Pair of heavy dumbbells or YBell Pros
  • Not needed, but recommended: An exercise mat for back comfort

How to do a dumbbell floor press:

  1. Lie with your back flat on the floor. Keep your knees bent, with your feet flat, about hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand to the sides of your body.
  3. Exhale, then press your arms up in one fluid motion. Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent.
  4. Inhale, then slowly lower the dumbbells until your elbows touch the floor. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

4. Flat Dumbbell Chest Flyes

Chest flyes are a great chest day movement because they work your entire upper body. It's also a great chest opener movement, which can reduce upper back pain and tightness in your upper body. The chest flye has many variations, like incline, decline, or reverse flye.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Rhomboid muscles
  • Serratus anterior

Equipment needed:

  • Weight bench
  • Pair of light dumbbells or YBell Arcs

How to do a flat dumbbell chest flye:

  1. Lie on a flat weight bench with your feet on each side of the bench, flat on the floor.
  2. Keep your head and back pressed to the bench throughout this movement.
  3. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lift your arms above your head with your palms facing each other.
  4. Extend your arms out, but keep a slight bend at your elbows. This is your starting position.
  5. Inhale, then squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower the dumbbells in an arc motion with control until they’re level with your chest. Your arms should be laterally extended but not locked out.
  6. Exhale, then slowly push the dumbbells up to your starting position in the same arc motion. This is one rep.
  7. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

5. Standing Chest Flyes

This variation of the chest flye targets your chest and shoulders to build muscle strength and power. For women, standing chest flyes can also give your breasts a slight lift, giving them a larger appearance.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Rhomboid muscles
  • Serratus anterior

Equipment needed:

  • Pair of medium dumbbells or YBell Neos
  • Not needed, but recommended: An exercise mat for foot comfort

How to do standing chest flyes:

  1. Stand on your exercise mat with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Keeping a neutral spine, hinge forward at your hips at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Place your arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other. This is your starting position.
  4. Exhale, then with a slight bend in your elbows, lift the dumbbells up laterally until they reach shoulder height.
  5. Pause at the top of the motion, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  6. Inhale, then lower the dumbbells with control back to your starting position. This is one rep.
  7. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

6. Dumbbell Flye to Press

The dumbbell flye to press is an excellent compound mobility movement that works your pectorals from multiple angles. It has all the benefits of a traditional dumbbell chest press while also giving your pecs a great stretch.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Serratus anterior
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Rhomboid muscles
  • Trapezius

Equipment needed:

  • Weight bench
  • Pair of medium dumbbells or YBell Neos

How to do standing chest flyes:

  1. Lie on a flat weight bench with your feet on each side of the bench, flat on the floor.
  2. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lift your arms above your head roughly shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other. This is your starting position.
  3. Inhale, open your chest, and slowly lower the dumbbells down in an arc motion until they’re level with your chest.
  4. Pause at the bottom of the flye motion. Your arms should be laterally extended but not locked out.
  5. Exhale, then reverse the motion and bring the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  6. Now rotate your wrists so that they’re facing away from you. The dumbbells should be angled slightly with an open-hand grip.
  7. Inhale, then slowly lower the dumbbells down and out until they’re parallel to the sides of your chest.
  8. Exhale, then press up and bring the dumbbells back to your starting position. This is one rep.
  9. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

7. Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell pullovers, also known as chest pullovers, are another great strength exercise for you to add to chest day. Not only is it an excellent dumbbell pec workout, but it’s also fabulous for strengthening your abs, triceps, and lats.

Muscles worked:

  • Lower pectoralis major
  • Abdominals
  • Posterior deltoids
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Triceps
  • Biceps

Equipment needed:

  • Weight bench
  • A medium dumbbell or YBell Neo

How to do dumbbell pullovers:

  1. Start by placing a dumbbell standing up on a flat bench.
  2. Lie perpendicularly on a flat weight bench with only your upper back and shoulders on the bench. Your head should be off the bench.
  3. Plant your feet flat on the floor with your hips slightly below the height of the bench.
  4. Grab the top of the dumbbell with both hands and lift it over your chest. you should press your palms against the underside of the dumbbell.
  5. Extend your arms, but keep a slight bend in your shoulders. This is your starting position.
  6. Inhale, engage your core, and slowly lower the weight in an arc behind your head until your wrists are level with your head.
  7. Exhale, then lift the dumbbell to your starting position, keeping your arms extended. This is one rep.
  8. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Buy the Best Free Weights for Home Training at YBell Fitness!

As you can see, dumbbell exercises are an excellent option for building chest strength and toning your pecs. No wonder they're commonly used in hypertrophy, cardiovascular conditioning, and functional fitness training. And dumbbells can be especially helpful compared to barbells or cable machines if you have limited space for organizing a home gym.

However, if you’re looking for home workout equipment that’s multifunctional, cost-effective, and saves space, you should consider YBells. The YBell is a compact, portable functional fitness tool that you can use for all your dumbbell, kettlebell, double-grip medicine ball, and push-up bar exercises. Its award-winning multiple-handle design offers unique grips that allow you to easily transition between movements and equipment, making it ideal for full-body and chest workouts.

How to Use YBells to Perform Dumbbell Exercises

When you hold the YBell from the center handle, called a center grip, the weight is evenly distributed around your hand. With a top lock grip on the YBell, you can shift your focus to the upper part of your arms and stabilize your wrists when performing curls. You can also use a loose grip, letting the YBell form an upside-down triangle, which allows you to position the YBell on your shoulder for dumbbell presses.

Benefits of YBells vs. Dumbbells for your Chest Workout

Wondering how you can build your pecs with YBells? For strength and resistance training, hypertrophy, coordination/stabilization of musculature, and functional fitness, YBells offer the same benefits as dumbbells and more.

  1. Comfortable Weight DistributionWith dumbbells, the weight is distributed to the sides of the handle. But with a YBell, the weight is spread all around your hand, which offers more comfort during resistance training. This is especially helpful as you increase the weight or size of the YBell in your strength training.
  2. Easily Switch Between One or Two HandsThe dumbbell's handle was designed for one-handed exercises, making it ideal for isolation work. With the YBell's multiple-handle design, you can easily switch between one-handed and two-handed exercises by simply changing your grip, allowing you to use it for isolation and compound movements.
  3. Four Tools in One — A grip change is an equipment change with YBell. This means that when you change your grip, you change the weight distribution, allowing it to act as a different piece of equipment. This makes the YBell great for compound exercises and functional fitness training.
  4. Better Push-up Stand Exercises — Dumbbells are often recommended for push-up exercises because they can act as basic push-up bars. However, the weight, shape, and neoprene coating of YBells make them incredibly stable as push-up stands. The top grip also offers a broader range of motion, which increases the time your muscles are under tension and your muscle development.

FAQs ABout Dumbbell Chest Exercises

Can You Build a Chest With Just Dumbbells?

Dumbbells can be incredibly effective for building and sculpting your chest, especially compared to a barbell. Here are just a few benefits of dumbbells over barbells for chest exercises:

  1. Better Range of Motion: Using dumbbells instead of a barbell for chest exercises allows your range of motion to go beyond your chest. This works your muscles more, enabling you to develop bigger muscles. Having a more extensive range of motion means a more powerful stretch.
  2. Bigger Gains for Your Pecs: With dumbbell presses, you're challenging your shoulder joints to stabilize and balance the free weights while your pecs are simultaneously working to control them. This combination activates your pectoralis major more effectively than a barbell bench press, according to a study published in 2017.
  3. Reduced Risk for Injury: Because our bodies are not perfectly symmetrical, working with dumbbells allows you to move more freely than you could with a barbell. Dumbbells stress your elbows and wrists less because they let you rotate your joints.  

Should I Train Chest and Triceps Together?

A good strength training program will focus on mobility exercises and compound movements to optimize your results. Your chest (pecs) and triceps are complementary muscle groups, making them optimal to train in the same workout. When engaged, pectoral and tricep muscles use the push movement in resistance training.

The secondary muscle group you engage in standard chest workouts is your triceps. This means your triceps will already be warmed up and ready to go. Plus, if you're training for muscle gain and physique, working your pecs and triceps simultaneously can help those muscles grow at the same rate.

Here are some exercises to work your pecs and triceps:

  1. Flat dumbbell chest press
  2. Dumbbell skull crushers
  3. Incline dumbbell fly
  4. Single-arm tricep extension
  5. Dead-stop incline press

How Long Does it Take to Build Chest Muscle?

Results will vary depending on your starting point and how often you work out. If you’re new to strength training, you’ll probably see faster results since you’ll be developing new muscles. However, if you’ve already been strength training for some time, your chest will already have some muscle development, so your gains may be slower.

With dedicated strength training, you'll see improvement after just three to four weeks of training your chest, whether that's new muscle growth or toning the muscle you already have. However, it can take up to 12 weeks to significantly increase your muscle size.

To build your chest muscles quickly, you'll need a dedicated strength training routine focusing on your pecs. Allow for 10 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretching before picking up your free weights. This can include bodyweight mobility exercises like standard push-ups, tricep push-ups, planks, chest burpees, or dips.

Train hard two or three days per week. Focus on slow movements that prolong your muscle activation to work your muscles for bigger gains. Allow for two or three rest days between workouts to allow your muscles to heal and grow. Recovery days are vital to building muscle mass.

Are Dumbbells Better for Chest Growth?

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that your pecs are more effectively activated during dumbbell bench presses compared to standard barbell presses.

In the study, 19 men with experience in strength training performed three separate bench press workouts with either a barbell, a set of dumbbells, or a Smith. Each workout consisted of:

  • Bench press with 10-rep max load, x4 sets
  • Triceps extension performed on a pulley system, x4 sets

The study found that each participant could lift their heaviest load with the barbell. Their dumbbell bench press workouts were the weakest, with the load about 14% less than the barbell. However, each participant could complete more reps per set when using dumbbells, which is vital to building muscle.

The study also found that when using dumbbells, each participant had higher activation of their pecs compared to the barbell. That’s because using dumbbells allows for more adduction of the humerus, which is a movement primarily controlled by the pectoralis major.

Can I Train My Chest Every Day?

What’s the right training frequency for building chest muscles?

Rest days are vital to muscle recovery and muscle development. Some might think that hitting the gym every day is the answer. In reality, if you're focusing on chest exercises day after day without allowing for rest, you're very likely to over-stress your joints. Overworking your chest muscles could diminish results in the long run or cause injury or muscle imbalances.

The ideal frequency for working your chest is two or three non-consecutive days a week, depending on your fitness goals. If your goal is to create a toned physique, shoot for up to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps, and allow at least 24 hours of rest between workouts. If you’re lifting heavy (to the point that you can only do 7 to 8 reps), you should allow at least 48 to 72 hours of rest between workouts. That means two chest workouts per week.

Remember, rest days don’t mean you have to be inactive. You can use active recovery to focus on other muscle groups or joints you didn’t target on chest day.

Should I Use Dumbbells, Barbells, or Cable Machines for Strengthening My Pecs?

Dumbbells, barbells, and cable machines are incredibly effective for training your pectorals, which is why many chest training workouts will include exercises that utilize all three. Like all fitness equipment, each is designed for specific fitness goals and provides unique benefits to your workout.

Benefits of Barbells:

  1. Great for Larger Loads: Barbells facilitate lifting heavier loads, especially for deadlifts. Since they're traditionally used with a rack, they make training for progressive overload easier.
  2. Offer Safety and Stability: Training with a barbell and rack offers more safety and stability for powerlifters, especially when training with heavy loads.
  3. Ideal for Accessory Lifts: Barbells are great for accessory lifts like half squats, partial deadlifts, and pause squats.

Benefits of Cable Machines:

  1. Activates Your Core: Because you’re standing instead of sitting, you’ll need to activate your core when using a cable machine. This can help increase the difficulty of your workout.
  2. More Functional Movements: You’re able to lunge, squat, push, pull, hinge, and twist with cable machine exercises, giving you more functional movement patterns compared to a barbell. Cables also let you move through all three planes of motion, which is vital to functional fitness.
  3. Sustained Tension: Cable machines keep constant tension, keeping your pecs engaged throughout your entire movement.
  4. Muscle Isolation: Cable machines allow for one-sided exercises, which are helpful if you have a muscle imbalance.

Benefits of Dumbbells:

  1. Better Range of Motion: Dumbbells allow for more flexibility in the angles you train at. They also offer a better range of motion than barbells, which is helpful if you struggle with joint mobility.
  2. Isolate Muscle Imbalances: Dumbbells are ideal for isolation exercises, which can be beneficial for fixing muscle imbalances or injury rehab.
  3. Bigger Gains for Your Pecs: With dumbbell presses, you're challenging your shoulder stabilization simultaneously with your pecs to control the weight, which activates your pectoralis major more effectively than barbells or cable machines.
  4. Reduced Risk for Injury: Dumbbells put less stress on your elbows and wrists because they allow you to rotate your joints.
  5. More Effective Workouts: It’s much easier to switch between dumbbell exercises than it is to switch between barbell exercises. This allows you to get more done in a single workout.
  6. Easier for Your Home Gym: Many people aren’t able to dedicate an entire room to their home gym, making dumbbells more optimal than barbells for home workouts.
  7. More Versatile for Beginners: If you’re new to strength training, dumbbell chest exercises may be more accessible than barbell or cable exercises. Don’t let the lack of a gym membership or complex equipment be the reason you skip chest day.

If you're wondering how to strengthen your pecs, you may find that a combination of a barbell, cable machine, and dumbbell exercises will be most effective in the gym. However, dumbbells will get the job done for a home gym workout.

Aaron "Az" Laurence, Co-Founder, YBell Fitness

As a certified personal trainer and the inventor of the YBell, Aaron "Az" Laurence loves motivating people to become better versions of themselves. He enjoys designing challenging workouts for himself that he can use with his clients.
Az developed the YBell to replace the multiple pieces of equipment he was using in his group training sessions. He enjoys seeing his clients' reactions when they realize they only have to change grips on their YBells to change equipment. And he loves being able to dial up the intensity of their workouts with just one training tool.
Seeing clients progress both physically and mentally as a result of training fuels his passion for the fitness industry.