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Dumbbell Chest Exercises

Pounding out sets on the standard bench will build brutal pecs, and set a solid base for chest power and development. Very true, but often ignored are the defining movements of a well rounded dumbbell routine.

The facts are clear: The muscle stabilization needed to perform flys and presses will incorporate more upper-body muscles than the standard bench, enhancing your overall chest development. Your pecs will be worked differently than with barbells, putting pressure on muscles usually left neglected. And dumbbells will help you shatter those stubborn developmental plateaus that keep you from reaching your fitness goals. All in all, reforming your pec workout will sow the seeds of deeper development, setting the scene for a stronger, more durable chest.

Many hard-gainers and power athletes will attest to the necessity of these weight room wanderers, often giving them credit for redefining their resistance routines. So give your chest workout a dumbbell makeover and watch your pecs bulge and your bench totals rise.

All right, let’s get down to business. We’ll begin with the simple and the familiar: the flat-bench press. As all dumbbell exercises are a little more difficult than barbell movements logistically, a spotter for safety becomes even more necessary.

First, sit on the end of a flat bench with a dumbbell resting on either knee. Then, slowly lay back, at the same time levering the weights to your chest, using your legs as a counter-balance, as to not slam back on the bench. Be sure to keep your lower body extended, feet flat on the floor (not on the bench).

Then, with the dumbbells just outside shoulder-width, perpendicular to your upper body and with your elbows out, press both weights up simultaneously until they nearly touch above the middle of your chest. (But be sure not to lock out the elbows.) Lower the weights to the starting position. After completing your final repetition, bring the weights back into your sides, then use the leverage from your legs to lift yourself upright. Remember, dropping the weights causes potentially harmful jerking of the joints, so returning them to the floor slowly is ideal.

You may be thinking: Why not just use a barbell and save all that trouble? Well, benching with dumbbells incorporates more muscles in maintaining control of those pesky little weights, and this, of course, equals fuller, more rounded development. This is affected by primarily targeting the sternal pectoralis major (middle, lower pecs), while also placing additional pressure on the clavicular pectoralis major (upper pecs), the anterior deltoid (front of shoulder), the triceps (back of upper arm); and as a stabilizer the short head of the biceps is also utilized.

And, for those wanting a deeper lower chest cut, try it on a decline bench, which will provide more pressure for the lower pecs.

Now let’s move on to that dreaded dumbbell fly. If you’re at all like me, this is one exercise you do not look forward to. But it’s worth doing. Why? Because it’s probably the best refining exercise for the chest and the shoulders, carving out more definition of the inner chest, more separation between the chest and shoulders, and the shoulders and biceps.

Begin the fly in the same manner as the dumbbell bench press, but instead of bringing the weights to the shoulders with an overhand grip (palms down), keep a neutral grip while extending the elbows, bringing the dumbbells away from your shoulders. Keep your arms straight, but don’t fully lock your elbows. Then, in a slow, measured motion, with the elbow joint static, bring the weights together directly above the chest, concentrating on squeezing the pecs, then lower.

Here you’ll target the pectoralis in much the same way, but will also bring in as synergists the anterior deltoid (back of shoulder) and the biceps, then as stabilizers the triceps and wrist flexors. This exercise can be done on either a flat bench or a decline bench, but informed opinion says decline is usually best.

And this leaves us with the last exercise on the dumbbell agenda: the pull over. This motion I probably see the least utilized out of just about any other; but it’s another great refiner for the chest and shoulders, and probably the most comprehensive, as it brings in more muscles than any other chest workout.

Begin by lying with your upper back perpendicular on bench, your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Then, from behind your head, lift a single dumbbell over and above your face with your hands beneath the inner plate of the dumbbell. Keep your arms straight, your elbows nearly locked. With elbows static, lower the weight behind your head until your arms are parallel to ground, then repeat.

Now hang in there while I list the muscles involved here, as it’s pretty long: Primary target: sternal pectoralis major. Synergists: latissimus dorsi (outside of upper back), teres major (upper shoulders, neck), triceps, posterior deltoids, pectoralis minor (outer chest), and rhomboids (middle of upper back). Stabilizers include the triceps, anterior deltoids and wrist flexors.

Well, folks, looks like the moral of the story is this: For ideal, well-rounded chest development, whether for aesthetics or strength, dumbbells had better be included. But remember also that variety is key, so rotating regularly from barbell to dumbbell exercises will improve your chest game infinitely, giving you better results for your time spent training.