You just need 3 moves and a set of dumbbells to sculpt chest muscle and build upper-body definition

a man performing bicep curls on a bench with a pair of dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Refresh stale chest and triceps workouts with these three exercises and one set of medium to heavy dumbbells.

Gary Walker of Live Anabolic shares three of his favorites for building definition and stimulating muscle growth. “People tend to stick to the same exercises,” he says. Sure, a mission to build your pecs allows you to tap into a huge library of upper body exercises, but when those get boring and you’ve done them to death, these should spark some inspiration.

I recommend grabbing a set of the best adjustable dumbbells for the exercises below. They’re slightly more cumbersome than regular hex dumbbells, but you can add or reduce weight quickly as you switch between chest exercises.

Watch Live Anabolic’s chest workout video

According to the Live Anabolic team, these are the only chest exercises you need to build muscle. The dumbbell-only workout helps “spark new muscle growth” by challenging your muscles using a few handy techniques. 

I recommend watching the video as Walker takes you through the exercises one at a time, adding a few tips and benefits worth knowing along the way. We also recommend checking out our step-by-step on how to bench press before trying the variations below. 

Dumbbell incline squeeze press

For this variation, set the bench to 30 degrees rather than the typical 45-degree angle, which encourages more natural shoulder movement — ideal if you’re an older exerciser, Walker says. 

Generate tension and pec activation by squeezing the dumbbells together. Ensure you move through a full range of motion every rep, maximizing muscular tension through the upper body. 

Lay on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Press the dumbbells together over your chest, arms extended. Brace your core, then lower the weights toward your chest with control. Pause, then drive them up to the starting position. 

Press the weights together throughout the whole movement. “Applying the constant tension to the chest will help you build more muscle,” he says. 

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: now $429 @ Amazon

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: now $429 @ Amazon
The SelectTech 552 are among the best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home, although they've been discontinued. Adjust weights from 5 to 52.5 pounds by rotating the dials on each dumbbell. You'll need to move fast, as we're not sure how much longer stocks will last after Bowflex filed for bankruptcy.

Tricon dumbbell bench press

Perform 3 explosive reps, “stimulating deep muscle fiber” and your central nervous system. Then, move into 3 reps of 10-second isometric holds, meaning the muscles stay contracted without lengthening or shortening (there’s no movement), reducing stress on the joints. Finish with 3 full range of motion slow reps, counting 4 seconds on the way down and up.

Set your bench flat, lay on the bench and press your feet into the ground. Extend your weights over your chest with your palms facing away from you. Lower your dumbbells toward your chest with control, pause, then explosively press the weights upward to the starting position — these are your explosive reps, so complete 3 of them. 

Without rest, lower the weights halfway (arms roughly 90 degrees), then hold for 10 seconds. Press the weights overhead, then repeat for a total of 3 reps. Finally, move through 3 reps of regular chest presses, counting 4 seconds as you lower the weights and 4 seconds as you push them overhead again. 

You might want to consider a lighter weight for your Tricon set as you’re generating a lot of time under tension throughout, working muscles for longer. 

Midline bench press

Depending on how you want to build chest muscle, set your bench one of three ways. For overall definition and growth, set the bench flat; to focus on your upper pecs, raise the bench to 30 degrees; lower the bench to a decline to send emphasis into your lower pecs.

The goal is to use a neutral grip on the bells, allowing you to drive the weights together at the top of the press and meet at your midline. Lay on your bench with your feet pressed firmly flat on the ground. Using a neutral grip (palms facing each other), hold the dumbbells with extended arms over your chest. 

Lower the dumbbells with control, sending the weights slightly wide so that you feel a stretch through your chest. As you press the weights overhead, bring them to touch over your midline, squeezing your chest as you push them together. It looks a little like a dumbbell chest fly, but you’re still performing a bench press.  

3 dumbbell chest exercises for your upper body routine: bottom line

a woman on a gym bench performing dumbbell chest press

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Those looking for a thicker, fuller chest and healthier elbows and shoulders could benefit from trying these dumbbell exercises. 

“You don’t need a lot of different exercises and equipment to get a bigger chest,” Walker explains. “All you need is a set of dumbbells, and these 3 exercises to help you get a bigger chest at home.”

If you’re looking at these moves and wondering how to program them, don’t worry, we’ve got you. Either adopt a 3-move program, aiming for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps (9 reps for your Tricon press) to target hypertrophy (muscle growth), or pick and choose which ones to add to your existing resistance training regime. 

Typically, you won’t need more than 6 exercises to demolish a tough upper body program, so go for quality rather than quantity.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified 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.