Targeting muscle growth in your pectoral muscles usually involves a few variations of the bench press and some work on exercise machines.
But it’s entirely possible to achieve the same thing without a bench. By using a set of dumbbells, the floor, or a stability ball, you could be all set up to transform your chest workouts.
To help our clients exercise at home with limited equipment, we’ve put together a set of routines that you can easily build into your existing chest days.
Here’s what you’ll want to focus on.
Our Top Chest Exercise Recommendations
The great thing about this set of dumbbell chest exercises is that you can do them standalone or integrate them with an existing workout routine you already have.
The one thing I would say from the start is that you should avoid jumping onto heavier weights if you get to 10 reps without a burn.
Instead, slow down the movement and hold it for a second or two at maximum tension. You'll gain more from that than trying to show off the bigger dumbbells.
1. Upward Chest Fly
This is my favorite upper chest workout without a bench because it really isolates the pecs and delts.
The starting position of the chest fly is standing tall with your feet flat and about shoulder-width apart.
Hold the dumbbells on each side of your hips with your palms facing away from you and your arms straight.
Start by raising your arms without bending your elbow until the dumbbells reach about chin-high.
Then, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position and repeat for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
What I recommend to my clients is to count to 3 on the way up, then hold for 1 second and count to 3 on the way down.
This beats increasing the weight and struggling to do the exercise with a full range of motion.
You should notice a burn in your pecs and delts, which is exactly what you’re aiming for
2. Standing Chest Press
This is the standing modification of a bench press, and you can do these exercises with a dumbbell or a weight plate.
In a standing position, place your hands at each end of a dumbbell. Because you’ll only be using one dumbbell, make sure you pick up something reasonably heavy.
Hold the weight at about chest level right in front of your body with your elbows tight to your upper body.
Push the dumbbell away from your chest until you fully extend your arms, and they are parallel to the floor.
From here, slowly pull your arms back to your chest and repeat for a total of 10 reps.
You’ll probably find that this dumbbell chest workout will also cause quite a burn in your front delt and upper back muscles.
3. Standing Reverse Grip Press
This upper chest workout is a handy option to plan for right after your standing chest press.
You’ll probably use similar weight ranges, and it will limit your downtime between sets.
Your starting position is to stand about shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the weights up to chest level as if you’re doing a biceps curl.
Now, press out your arms until your arms are straight and parallel to the ground.
Hold the dumbbells at the fully extended position for a second and slowly pull them back to your chest.
The move is very similar to what’s known as the Svend press.
But because you’re using dumbbells rather than a weight plate, you should feel more comfortable with heavier loads.
The heavier dumbbells will strain your chest muscles more and bring on the burn that bit sooner.
If you don't like using weights, check out these chest exercises that use a resistance band.
4. Dumbbell Floor Press
Most people will find that the standing chest press above feels a bit different than a normal bench press when it comes to activating the pectoral muscles.
It certainly does rely more on your delts, which is why you might want to consider doing the dumbbell floor press instead.
Lay down on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells just above your chest, with your palms facing your knees and your elbows on the floor, pointing away from your body.
Push the dumbbells up until your arms are straight, and then slowly lower them down again.
The main difference you’ll notice is that the floor press won’t give you the same range of motion as you’d get on a bench.
But if you slow things down and increase the weights a bit, then you should still feel a significant burn by the time you hit 7 or 8 reps.
Dumbbell push-ups are one of the easiest ways to workout without a bench, but there’s one word of warning I have.
Only do this with the hexagonal types of dumbbells and not the round ones.
You need the dumbbell to stay in place and not roll away under pressure, which could end up with you landing face-first on the floor.
If you don’t have the right type of dumbbell, then invest in some push-up stands to extend how far you can lower your body.
Start by doing standard-width push-ups, but I’d also alternate the sets with some wide and even diamond push-ups.
It’s also important to look at the quality over the quantity.
I see it too often that folks at the gym race through 25 or 30 push-ups and think they are some sort of hero.
Take it slowly and get down as far as possible .
The results will be much better.
“By shifting your focus from quantity to quality, you will find that your maximum repetitions will drop significantly. However, this should not matter because, in the end, you will be rewarded with phenomenal gains and a healthy body.” - Dr. Jamie Schwandt, Contributor at LifeHack.com.
6. One Arm Floor Press
This is similar to the standard floor press, but instead, you push up alternating arms.
Your starting position is to lay down on the floor while holding your dumbbells in each hand above your chest.
Your elbows should point away from your body and be at about a 90-degree angle, similar to your setup for a bench press.
Push each dumbbell up in an alternating way and feel the difference in your core.
Your body will be slightly off-balance, and that should engage your core muscles to help stabilize you better.
One thing you want to avoid is to start pushing up the other arm as the current one is coming back down.
That could cause some unnecessary strain on your upper back and shoulder blades .
Just make sure you finish one move before you start the next.
Read More: 20 of The Best Chest Exercises
7. Dumbbell Pull-Over
You could do these on the floor, but I would suggest using a stability ball to gain a better range of motion.
You also need to be careful not to choose a dumbbell that’s too heavy and could slip through your hands.
You do not want it crashing down on your face. Start this upper chest workout by getting into a bridge position with your upper back on the stability ball.
Hold onto the dumbbell with both hands right in front of your face and your elbows slightly bent.
From here, you’ll slowly move the dumbbell behind your head and then pull it back to the starting point.
It’s more of a compound upper body workout as you’ll probably notice your core engaging as well.
One way to make it more interesting is to hold the top position for a second or two so that the burn starts a bit sooner.
8. Stability Ball Flyes
This is the perfect follow on exercise from the pull overs because you should be all set up and only need an extra dumbbell.
Set yourself up the same way in a bridge-like position with your shoulders across the top of the exercise ball.
Raise the dumbbells above your chest with your elbows a little bit bent.
Start the workout by slowly lowering the weights to your sides in a wing-like motion. When you reach about chest-high, reverse the move back to the top.
What’s great about this exercise is that it doesn’t just work the upper chest muscles, but you’ll feel it in your delts and upper back as well.
9. Reverse Dumbbell Chest Press
This is another workout for your pectoral muscles that you could do on the floor or on an exercise ball, but I prefer the stability you get on the floor to slow things down.
Lay down flat on an exercise mat with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent.
Grip onto a dumbbell in each hand and hold them with a reverse grip, meaning your palms are facing towards your head.
With the weight at about chest-high and your elbows pointing away from your body, push the weight up until you get to the fully extended point.
You might feel like this is a bit awkward on your joints, in which case you could go for slightly more angled hands than fully reversed.
Take it slowly and pick a lower weight to assess how straining it is.
10. Dumbbell Push-Up Reaches
Our final chest workout on this list is a modification of the standard dumbbell push-ups above. Pick something relatively light here, as it’s going to burn quickly.
Start off in the normal push-up position with your hands about shoulder-wide apart and directly below your shoulders.
Do a full range push-up and when you get back to the start, lift your left hand with the dumbbell off the ground, rotate your body and point the dumbbell straight above you as high as you can.
To avoid falling off-balance with something heavy hovering above your head, try to keep your feet a bit further apart to give you more support.
Repeat this move with your right hand for about 20 reps. If you get to 20 and don't feel the burn, then it’s time to slow it down or increase the weight.
Are You Going To Include These Chest Exercises In Your Routine?
As you can see, we’ve come up with a great range of chest exercises without a bench that require little more than a set of dumbbells.
While a bench can help to increase the range of your motion, taking advantage of a floor mat, exercise ball, or simply a standing position can work wonders on your pectoral muscles.
You can do the full routine above on your chest day or simply swap out a few in your existing routine.
I’m certain they’ll make a great difference and hope to hear from you how they changed your routine.
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