Chisel strong pecs and triceps with this 3-move dumbbell chest workout in 15 minutes

Man holding two dumbbells during workout standing outdoors in nature
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Strengthening and defining your chest, shoulders and triceps doesn’t happen overnight; you’ll need some of the best dumbbell exercises, a set of reliable dumbbells and the attitude to stay consistent with your upper body workouts.

That’s not to say we don’t love barbells, kettlebells and gym machines — we do. But did you know that dumbbells are super effective at building strong and muscular chests and arms, helping to increase muscular activation and range of motion?

And while the classic chest exercises do the job — dumbbell chest presses or flyes, for example —refreshing your routine with new variations can keep challenging these upper body muscle groups, helping you sculpt and shape them. Below, we’ve put together three of our favorites to deliver a punishing 15-minute workout. 

Are dumbbells better for chest?

a photo of a man holding dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty/Mike Harrington)

It depends on your goals. For example, if you’re working toward a one-rep max bench press, you’ll need barbells, which help you build maximum, absolute strength (the most you can lift). 

As a personal trainer, I’d choose free weights over gym machines most of the time, especially dumbbells, because you can significantly increase your range of motion, giving you a higher potential for muscle activation and growth. Working with free weights also improves muscular stability and forces muscles to exercise more control over the weights and how they travel, activating all the smaller stabilizer muscles in your upper body like the rotator cuff muscles, serratus anterior and various core muscles. 

You could also improve core activation and balance, and work both sides of your body more equally. Playing around with different grips and positions will also help you target different muscle groups. Take the dumbbell Arnold press, which allows you to change hand position as you lift and lower the weight, stimulating all three shoulder muscle heads in one move. 

When programming chest workouts, consider adding inclines, declines and varying grips to help target more muscle groups and build a well-rounded physique. 

The dumbbell chest exercises below target the pectoralis major and minor (called the pecs) and the serratus anterior, which support shoulder movement. Your anterior deltoids and triceps also work as secondary muscles, building stronger arms. 

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: was $549 now $429 @ Amazon
The SelectTech 552 are among the best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home. They can be adjusted from 5 to 52.5 pounds by simply rotating the dials on each dumbbell. We found they're easy to adjust between sets, have a comfortable rubberized grip, and come with some handy storage trays, complete with a safety strap. You also get a 1-year JRNY membership ($149 value), which offers on-demand workout classes and videos. 
Price check: $429 @ Best Buy | $620 @ Walmart

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: <a href="https://target.georiot.com/Proxy.ashx?tsid=45724&GR_URL=https%3A%2F%2Famazon.com%2FBowflex-SelectTech-Adjustable-Dumbbells-Pair%2Fdp%2FB001ARYU58%3Ftag%3Dhawk-future-20%26ascsubtag%3Dhawk-custom-tracking-20" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">was $549 now $429 @ Amazon
The SelectTech 552 are among the <a href="https://www.tomsguide.com/best-picks/best-adjustable-dumbbells" data-link-merchant="tomsguide.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home. They can be adjusted from 5 to 52.5 pounds by simply rotating the dials on each dumbbell. We found they're easy to adjust between sets, have a comfortable rubberized grip, and come with some handy storage trays, complete with a safety strap. You also get a 1-year JRNY membership ($149 value), which offers on-demand workout classes and videos. 
Price check: <a href="https://shop-links.co/link?skuId=5845062&publisher_slug=future&exclusive=1&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bestbuy.com%2Fsite%2Fbowflex-selecttech-552-adjustable-dumbbells-black%2F5845062.p%3FskuId%3D5845062&article_name=hawk-article-name&article_url=hawk-article-url" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" data-link-merchant="tomsguide.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">$429 @ Best Buy | <a href="https://goto.walmart.com/c/1943169/565706/9383?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.walmart.com%2Fip%2FBowflex-SelectTech-552-Dumbbells-Adjustable-Pair-Free-2-Month-JRNY-Membership%2F14660327" data-link-merchant="walmart.com"" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" data-link-merchant="tomsguide.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">$620 @ Walmart

3 dumbbell chest exercises to add to your upper body routine 

Reverse grip dumbbell bench press

Vector male performing underhand grip bench press with dumbbells and bench on incline

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Adopt an underhand grip as you bench press and slightly narrow your movement pattern — you’ve got yourself the reverse grip dumbbell bench press. The move emphasizes the upper pectoralis major and triceps brachii and removes some shoulder tension while working the anterior deltoids.

Execute the dumbbell chest press and use an underhand grip so that your palms face toward you. Extend your arms over your chest and brace your stomach without overarching your lower back. Ensure your feet are planted on either side of your bench or the bench itself if you can’t reach the ground. 

Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells toward your chest. Squeeze your pecs and pause at the bottom to increase tension, then drive the dumbbells upward again. Compared with barbells, you can lower the weights further than your chest using dumbbells, increasing time under tension — how long your muscles contract. Add an incline for even more upper pec focus.

Dumbbell Svend press

Personal trainer JJ Stone performing the Svend press in the gym with arms extended

(Image credit: Future // JJ Stone)

Practice compound contraction during the Svend press, squeezing as many upper body muscles as you can during both phases of the move. Stand with two dumbbells pressed together close to your chest, palms facing each other. Draw your shoulder blades together and brace your stomach muscles. 

As you exhale, press the weights away from your chest, extending both elbows parallel to the floor. Pause, then bring the weights back to your chest. Avoid arching your back and stay controlled without dropping your arms.

The exercise is a strong pec-torching chest exercise, so focus on squeezing them as you press the weights away, which can also improve your mind-muscle connection.

Hyght dumbbell fly

We recommend starting with lighter weights until you can exercise full motor control over the dumbbell fly variation which looks similar to the standing cable fly from low to high. Place your bench on a 45-degree incline and sit with your back resting against it. Start from a low position with your elbows slightly bent and holding your dumbbells using an underhand grip.

From the starting position, you can already feel a deep stretch through your pecs. Open your chest, lift the dumbbells toward each other over your torso, squeeze your pecs, then lower them again. Your arms will keep a fixed position and follow a fixed motion path as you move up and down.

3-move dumbbell chest and triceps workout you can try from home 

You just need a set of dumbbells and a bench for this workout. If you don’t have a bench, a stable chair or similar will work just as well. 

The workout can be a standalone session, or you can add the moves to your current upper body program to top up your accessory and compound lifts. However you choose to split your workouts up throughout the week, just remember you’ll need to use progressive overload techniques to increase volume over time, like adding reps, sets, or loads to add challenge as you get stronger. 

Warm your muscles and move your limbs through a gentle mobilization routine first to prepare your body properly for exercise — this could be anything from 5 to 15 minutes and should help get the blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles.

EMOM (every minute on the minute): 5 rounds

  • Dumbbell reverse grip bench press x 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell Svend press x 8-10 reps
  • Hyght dumbbell fly x 8-10 reps

Complete 8-10 reps of the bench press and rest for the remainder of the minute. On the second minute, complete 8-10 reps of the Svend press and rest, then do the same for the dumbbell fly. Aim for 10-15 seconds of rest each time and repeat for 5 rounds.

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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.