For athletes and gym goers looking to build muscle in their chest, the bench press is often seen as the staple exercise of any well-balanced program.
Therefore, it’s understandable why many lifters find it hard to imagine completing a solid chest session without the help of a bench, and with only a pair of dumbbells on hand.
Nevertheless it’s more than possible! So, if you’re unable to attend the gym because of a virus, or you simply don’t have the time to travel, there’s no need to worry.
This guide will take an in-depth look at nine of the best dumbbell chest exercises you can do if you don’t have access to a bench press. We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions related to the topic.
1. Dumbbell Floor Press
The first exercise we’ll take a look at is the dumbbell floor press. Since the movement associated with this exercise doesn’t allow the arms to go past parallel to the body, the dumbbell floor press is often used by powerlifters to break through their training plateaus on the bench press.
The good thing about this exercise is that you don’t need to be lifting heavy dumbbells to feel the movement. In fact, using a lighter weight will even take away some of the tricep activation, allowing you to focus solely on the chest movement.
To perform the dumbbell floor press as efficiently as possible, make sure you drive your shoulder blades firmly into the ground to provide extra power to your press. It’s also important to pause briefly at the bottom of your lifts as this negates the stretching reflex.
2. Stability Ball Dumbbell Chest Fly
The popular dumbbell chest fly exercise can be performed in several ways if you don’t have access to a bench, and using a stability ball is the preferred option for many.
Not only does this variation allow you to better strengthen your abs and glutes compared to a traditional chest fly, it also enables you to improve your core stability and balance, making it one of the highly effective bench press alternatives for those who are looking for other exercises to try.
To get into the right position, sit on the stability ball and walk your feet forward until your shoulders, upper back, and neck are all on top of the ball. Ideally, your knees should be at a 90-degree angle, with the rest of your body parallel to the floor.
Then, to initiate the movement, hold the dumbbells in each hand and raise your arms until they’re fully extended. Once you’ve reached full extension and you feel a stretch in your chest, lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
If you want to increase the difficulty of the exercise, you can place your feet closer together on the ground. Also, remember to squeeze your chest as you bring your hands back together in order to engage your pecs.
3. Standing Chest Flys
The standing chest fly can be performed with either dumbbells, cables, or a resistance band. The moment you perform the chest fly in a standing position, it instantly becomes one of the most effective lower chest exercises you’ll come across.
The best dumbbells to use for this exercise are light to moderate ones. This is usually somewhere between 10 to 25 pounds for most people.
To start the movement, keep your arms close to the side of your body. Then, slowly raise the weights upwards until your arms reach a 90 degree angle with your body. As you bring the two dumbbells upwards, it’s important to move them towards one another, while squeezing the muscles of your chest.
4. Svend Press
This popular chest exercise can easily be performed at home using any kind of dumbbell or weight plate, and is also an effective decline bench press alternative. Just keep in mind that using a light to moderate weight is best for activating the chest, as heavier weights will activate the front deltoids, making the exercise more of a shoulder workout.
To start the exercise, have the dumbbell held close to your body around nipple level and push it up and outwards. Throughout the movement, the dumbbell should be slightly elevated and kept in close control. It’s not a rush to finish the exercise as quickly as possible, so take your time and make sure you nail the technique.
To maximize the benefits of the svend press, make sure you squeeze your dumbbells throughout the duration of the exercise in order to maintain constant tension in your pecs.
5. Single-Arm Floor Chest Press
This next exercise is one of the best when it comes to promoting balance and stability in your chest muscles. It also requires a greater amount of engagement from your core than standard two-arm floor chest presses.
To perform the exercise, grab the dumbbell in either your left or right hand with an overhand grip, and position it at chest height, with your elbow at a 90-degree angle.
Then, extend your arm to push the dumbbell towards the ceiling, before retracting and returning to the starting position. Needless to say, it’s essential that you switch arms and perform the same amount of reps on each side.
Using the correct form is vital when performing this exercise. Therefore, as is the case with the traditional dumbbell floor press, make sure you pause for a couple of seconds at the bottom of your lift to nullify your stretching reflex. It’s also a good idea to push your shoulder blades into the ground to power the press.
6. Dumbbell Push-Ups
The best thing about a traditional push-up is that they can be performed anywhere and at any given time. For this reason, they’re a staple of just about every bodyweight workout plan.
Unfortunately, push-ups can often place an excessive amount of tension on your wrist, leading to health issues such as tendinitis. This is why using a pair of dumbbells is so effective.
Simply grab some dumbbells and position them in line with your body slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Then, place your hands on the weights and begin the standard push-up motion.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you feel too much contraction in your triceps, try moving the dumbbells slightly wider from one another. This ensures that your chest will be activated as much as possible.
7. Standing Chest Press
The next exercise on our list is the standing chest press. This exercise is great for building strength, muscle tissue, and increasing muscle power. It’s also a good way to effectively engage your stabilizer muscles for improved balance.
To perform the exercise, you’ll need to start with your feet shoulder width apart and the dumbbell held between your palms directly in front of your chest. Squeeze the dumbbell with your hands to activate your chest muscles, and then extend your arms to push the dumbbell away from your chest.
An important consideration to keep in mind when performing the movement is to engage your core in order to avoid lower back pain and stress. It’s also a good idea to avoid lowering the dumbbell over your shoulder as this can lead to rotator cuff damage.
8. Dumbbell Pullovers
Although a bench isn’t required for this exercise, it’s important to keep yourself elevated off the ground so you can enjoy a full range of movement. Whether this is using an exercise ball, or the end of your couch, keeping your back flat is essential.
To perform an effective dumbbell pullover, simply grab a suitable dumbbell, get into a bridge position, and then extend your arms out above your chest.
As you lower the dumbbell behind your head, your elbows should be bent slightly to ensure you feel the full stretch of the exercise.
Then, once the dumbbell is fully behind your head, slowly start to move the weight upwards, while at the same time, contracting your chest muscles.
It’s worth noting that the dumbbell should remain perpendicular to the ground throughout the entire movement, as this will also activate your lats at the same time, making it one of the best lat pulldown alternatives for building a wider back.
9. Reverse Dumbbell Chest Press
The final dumbbell chest exercise on our list is the reverse dumbbell chest press. This exercise builds more muscle in your chest than traditional overhand chest presses and incline presses. The reverse dumbbell chest press is also easy enough for beginners to try.
All you need to do is lie flat on your back with a dumbbell in each hand (at chest level by your sides) using either an underhand or “reverse” grip. To ensure you get the best results, your elbows should be bent and your triceps lying flat against the ground.
Then, extend your arms and push the dumbbells into the air. Once your arms are fully straight and extended, pause for a couple of seconds, and then slowly lower your arms back to the starting position on the floor.
It’s important to take your time as you perform the reps of this exercise. Make sure you lower the dumbbells at a slower speed than you raise them in order to maximize the effectiveness of your chest workout.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you build a good chest with just dumbbells?
Yes, using just dumbbells can still help to build a strong and functional chest. They offer an excellent range of motion, meaning that you’re able to lower them beyond chest-level to maximally stretch the pecs and activate a great amount of muscle fibres.
Can you build a good chest by just performing push-ups?
Push-ups are one most effective exercises for building a broad chest and big arms - so long as you perform them with the proper technique. Since push-ups don't require equipment most of the time, they are also one of the easiest ways to build chest muscles at home.
They’re the best bodyweight exercise for improving body definition, so if you want to sculpt your arms and chest but don’t have access to a bench press, push-ups are the way to go.
Can I train my chest every day?
As is the case with all muscle groups in the body, training the chest seven days a week will do more harm than good. Muscles only grow when they’re resting and repairing, therefore it’s essential that you know how often you should workout to give your chest time to recover in between your sessions.
With this in mind, training your chest two to three times a week should be more than enough to see sufficient progress.
How long does it take to tighten and tone my chest muscles?
If you’re striving for top-end muscle definition, it takes a great deal of time and patience to achieve a tightly toned chest. Even when you’re looking for optimal results, you should only train your chest a maximum of three times per week.
With most well-balanced, rigorous training programs, you should be able to see noticeable results after 10 to 12 weeks.
Why are my chest muscles not growing?
As mentioned above, there’s little chance that your chest will grow if you don’t give it sufficient time to recover. This period of rest is more important than the actual workouts themselves, as working the same body part too often can stunt muscle growth and break down muscle tissue.
Are chest flys good for building size?
Chest flys target the chest muscles and involve the movement of one joint - the shoulder. Because of this, chest flys are considered an isolation exercise.
While in general you can get more overall muscle growth from compound exercises which work a number of different muscle fibres at the same time, isolations can still prove useful if you’re looking to target a specific area.
Are plate presses effective?
Also known as the plate pinch press, this can be a great exercise for building up the chest if used in a suitable program and performed with the correct technique.
The exercise has the ability to maximize the involvement of the pectoral muscles by isolating the chest muscles. This, in turn, minimizes the use of other larger muscle groups such as the lats, shoulders, and triceps.
What is a landmine press?
A landmine press is one of the best overhead press alternatives. This can build scapular stability and strength, increase movement asymmetries, and improve overall shoulder development.