Forget push-ups — these 5 dumbbell exercises chisel defined pecs, triceps and shoulders

Woman performing a dumbbell triceps extension kickback against grey backdrop
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’re firm believers that you shouldn’t need an excess of the best home gym equipment to sculpt muscle and build strength from home, the gym, or workout studio.

That’s why this upper-body workout only requires one dumbbell and five exercises to pack a punch and hit your pecs, triceps, anterior deltoids (the fronts of your shoulders) and core muscles while lifting a medium to heavy weight. 

If you’re heading toward the holidays and searching to make a saving, the best adjustable dumbbells will give you a plethora of weight ranges to play with — perfect for moving deftly from bicep curls to bench presses. Ready to hit the weights? Here’s the workout.  

What is the 5-move dumbbell workout? 

Develop your pressing power without the push-ups using Jordan Morello’s dumbbell chest workout. Each move ticks the boxes for compound exercise and functional training, meaning you’ll train various muscle groups together and develop similar movement patterns to your everyday life — think lifting a heavy box overhead or pushing something away from you.

You could do the workout on the move using two heavy water bottles or a rucksack if you need to, but we recommend one of the best kettlebells if you don’t have a dumbbell. In this instance, when training for muscle growth rather than building maximal strength (here’s the difference between hypertrophy vs strength training), you need to lift a weight that allows you to push out 8-12 reps. The last few reps of each exercise should be tough but shouldn’t compromise your form. 

The workout:

Incline press: 4x10 reps

Champagne press: 4x10 reps

Incline fly: 4x10 reps

Cross-body fly: 4x10 reps

Floor press: 4x10 reps

Let’s break down each exercise. 

Incline press

For this exercise, try to rest your back on a workout bench or use a bosu board or foam roller underneath your mid to upper back instead. Keep your core engaged and your upper back raised as you perform the press. If you have one dumbbell, perform a single-sided incline press or use two dumbbells for the variation shown above. 

The upper pecs are worked harder during an incline press, so to achieve a well-rounded workout, we recommend adding some incline work into your routine.

Champagne press

Sadly, no champagne was present in the making of this exercise. Again, you can focus on working one side of the body at a time, isolating the muscles and recruiting the stabilizer muscles in your core and shoulders, or work dual. Keep the dumbbells pressed together to help activate your arms and shoulders, and draw the dumbbells down toward your chest before pressing away from you with power. 

Incline fly

Using the same incline as the press, engage your core and press your feet down with both knees bent. From this base position, draw your elbows wide and squeeze your pecs at the bottom of the exercise. Count for 3-4 seconds on the eccentric portion of the exercise — as you lower the weights — then drive upward with control.   

Cross-body fly

For this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and engage your core. As you lift one weight at a time, avoid swinging your upper body or driving your hips forward and allow your chest, shoulders and arms to do the hard work. Cross flyes also engage your biceps and latissimus dorsi (muscles that run down the sides of your back) and hit the upper pecs.  

Floor press

The traditional floor press can be done by laying flat on the floor. Remember to engage your core and press your feet into the floor with both knees bent. If you choose to work unilaterally, press your back into the floor and avoid twisting or lifting one side of your body. However you approach it, use the full range of motion by lowering your elbows toward the floor. A small arch in the mid back is okay, but avoid an excessive rib flare or moving into your lower back.

Verdict

Compound exercises help to build lean muscle mass, which is more metabolically active, so you can burn more calories doing a five-move workout using compound moves versus five isolation exercises like bicep curls or triceps extensions.

That said, the aim of this workout isn’t fat loss or cardio — it's all about working your upper body muscles toward muscle growth while building strength. To shift this chest and triceps workout away from traditional resistance training, aim to complete your reps within the minute, then start the next exercise on the next minute. Complete 4-5 rounds per exercise and minimize rest to work muscles harder.

More from Tom's Guide

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.