Forget push-ups — chisel your pecs and triceps with this 3-move dumbbell chest workout and 15 minutes

Woman holding two dumbbells out in front of her at shoulder height during outdoor workout in the sunshine
(Image credit: Shutterstock images)

Is it just me, or do upper body workouts go stale fast? If you're looking for new ways to take a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells and do something entirely new with them, here’s a three-move dumbbell pecs workout worth your time. 

It only takes 15 minutes, but you could scale the workout to suit any length you desire, and you’ll get a pump across your pectoral muscles, shoulders and triceps. If your gym goals include sculpting upper body shape and growing more defined muscles, slot this into your exercise routine alongside your regular training regime using a set of medium to heavy weights. 

a photo of a woman doing a push-up with dumbbells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We recommend scheduling upper body workouts several times a week, following the key protocol of resistance training — progressive overload. That means being consistent with weightlifting but adapting variables like sets, reps, or weight ranges as you get stronger to keep muscles suitably challenged. 

That said, this short pecs workout could act as a one-off if you want to achieve a sweaty, calorie-burning beasting that torches the muscles. If that’s the case, bookmark this one for later. The three moves below utilize pushing movements, which work the pectorals, anterior deltoids and triceps and engage your core muscles to help drive movement.

What is the 15-minute 3-move pecs workout? 

Ignite the pushing power with a three-move routine, and for a more well-rounded upper-body session, try pairing it with this 3-move back and biceps workout.

Start by performing each of the upper body exercises below for 3 reps, then add 2 reps every round. Your workout should look something like this: 3,5,7,9 and so on. Perform as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) for 15 minutes. You could increase for as many minutes as you like for a lengthier workout.  

Once you reach 15 minutes, add the farmer’s walk. Walk holding both dumbbells for either 60 seconds or set a distance to walk — depending on the space you have. Rest for 15 seconds, then repeat for 1-2 more rounds as a finisher. 

Dumbbell clean and press

The clean and press is a staple in many chest and shoulder workouts. Muscles worked during cleans are the deltoids, triceps and pecs, assisted by the hamstrings, hip flexors, quads, glutes and back muscles like the trapezius and rhomboids. As you swing the dumbbells to your shoulders, ensure your core is engaged and elbows lifted to sit the weights at your shoulders, then press the weight upward with arms locked out and arms hugging close to your ears. You can learn more about the clean and press here. 

Dumbbell tricep dips

You’ll need a stable surface like a box or bench to rest on. With your fingers pointed toward you, press your hands into the bench and extend both legs away from you. Bend your elbows and lower your bum toward the floor, keeping your core engaged, back straight and body close to the bench. Pause, then push your body weight back up. As an extra challenge, balance one dumbbell across your thighs close to your hips. The move is a tricep burner and also hits the shoulders. Here’s how to do tricep dips

Dumbbell Arnold press

Learning to do an Arnold press will upskill your upper body workout gains. Designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the press variation uses a change of palm direction to target all three shoulder heads — the anterior, posterior and lateral deltoids. 

Start with your palms facing toward your chest, then as you press upward, rotate your palms to face away from you at the top and reverse the move back down. The move keeps your shoulders engaged throughout, working through a full range of motion. The above example uses kettlebells, so replace with dumbbells and alternate with single-arm variations if you prefer.

Bottom line

It’s time to hit chest and tricep day with a big push.

Tricep dips activate more muscles than tricep extensions, so we love programming them to exhaust these smaller muscle groups while engaging the shoulders and pecs. We recommend heavy weights for the short 15-minute window, but scale to a range you can lift for the entire session without dropping down as the reps increase. 

But remember that wherever you are in your fitness journey, building strength and muscle definition is a process. Factor in how many training days you’ll need to achieve your goals, hit ample protein intake and include recovery. We know that the hustle culture could have you thinking every day’s a gym day, but those muscles can’t repair or grow unless you train smart. 

Science also says that NEAT — shorthand for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis — accounts for the heftiest portion of calorie burn. If you want to burn more calories, consider adding more activity to your day, like taking the stairs or standing while you work, for example. 

Although a standalone workout won’t give instant gains, attacking programs progressively and consistently will help get you there. This effort will test mental and physical fortitude, so take it at your pace and pump up the intensity by reducing rest if necessary.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.