dumbbell chest exercises no bench

13 Dumbbell Chest Exercises - No Bench Needed

July 19, 2021

Have dumbbells and want to work your chest but you don’t have a bench? Don’t worry there’s plenty of dumbbell chest exercises you can do without a bench. It may surprise you but in some ways no bench dumbbell chest exercises can actually be better than doing them with a bench! We put together 13 of the best dumbbell chest exercises that can be done without a bench at the gym or at home, read on for step by step instructions withvisuals demonstrating each exercise plus the reasons why dumbbell chest exercises can pack on some serious gains.

Anatomy of the Chest

The chest is comprised of two muscles on each side; the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. These muscles combined are often called the “pecs”. Besides being a area of the body that gets a lot of attention whether male or female, these muscles are essential for many daily activities such as pushing open a door or getting up off the floor.

Even though we will focus on the two chest muscles in this article, it’s important to note that there are four muscles in the anterior chest wall; the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior and subclavius.

how to workout your chest with dumbbells

Let’s take a look at these muscles and their functions below.

Pectoralis Major

The largest muscle in the chest the pectoralis major or pec major gets its name from the Latin word pectus or breast and major because it is the larger of the two pectoral muscles. This is the most superficial muscle in the area and has a fan shape that makes up the majority of the chest area. The pectoralis major covers half of the upper chest and is attached to points on the humerus, clavicle, ribs and sternum. There are two heads of the pec major; the sternocostal head and the clavicular head with both being attached to the upper arm. The two heads of the pec major have some shared responsibilities but they also have some distinct differences in function that are determined by the angle the upper arm is moved in.

  • Clavicular head: This is the upper, smaller portion of the pectoralis major that starts at the clavicle. This head helps to raise the arm forward and is responsible for adduction of the arm and internal rotation of the humerus. Movements like the low to high chest flys and incline bench press specifically engage this muscle head where you are pressing at an upward angle
  • Sternocostal head: Starting at the sternum this head makes up roughly 80 percent of the total size in the pec major. The major function of this head is also to adduct the arm plus it helps with internal rotation of the humerus. Exercises like decline bench press, dips and regular bench press target this head where you are pushing forward or downward.

Pectoralis Minor

The triangular shaped pectoralis minor muscle is found underneath the pectoralis major. This muscle starts at the 3rd-5th rib and inserts into the coracoid process (small hook like structure) of the scapula. Surprisingly the pec minor actually helps to control posterior bodyparts due to where it’s attached.

The pec minor aids in pulling down and spreading apart the shoulder blades and helps us to breathe properly. The action of the pec minor makes it a little difficult to target when doing chest exercises as it isn’t a primary mover. To target the pec minor it’s important to do exercises where your body is a position with shoulder blades depressed while you’re leaning forward like when doing dips.

Serratus Anterior

Although the serratus anterior might not be considered a chest muscle it aids in some pressing movements. Found on both sides of the rib cage this muscle’s main function is to pull your shoulder blades forward when pressing weights, throwing a punch or doing pushups. This muscle also allows us to raise our arms past 90 degrees and holds the scapula against the ribcage.  Often referred to as the “boxer’s muscle” the serratus anterior gets its name from the Latin word serrare meaning to saw as the shape resembles a saw’s blade and anterior because it’s located on the front side of the body.

Subclavius

Another honorable mention when talking about the chest is the subclavius muscle which gets its name from the location as it is a small muscle running horizontally underneath the clavicle. The main function of the subclavius is to stabilize the clavicle while the shoulder girdle moves as well as offering protection to the neurovascular structures in case of clavicular fracture or other direct trauma.

What is a dumbbell?

A common piece of gym equipment that comes in a multitude of sizes, shapes and materials a dumbbell is a short bar with equal weight at both ends. Fun fact: the name dumbbell was first used in England in 1711 when the poet Joseph Addison mentioned exercising with a “dumb bell” in an essay. It’s thought to have come from a handheld church bell object, but without the bell it was noiseless or “dumb”.

Related: What Weight Dumbbells Should I buy?

Benefits of Dumbbell Chest Exercises

Dumbbell chest exercises provide some benefits that aren’t there when doing barbell chest exercises. Dumbbells can help to build bigger and stronger chest muscles while reducing risk of injury. Let’s take a look at the benefits of doing dumbbell chest exercises.

Builds and Engages Stabilizer Muscles: Using dumbbells for chest exercises means that your body has to constantly adjust and stabilize the weight. Muscles in the shoulder are needed to help stabilize the weights while the pectoral muscles will focus on controlling them and preventing them from moving off course.

Less Stress on Joints: Dumbbells don’t lock your joints into moving in a particular path. Our joints can have slight differences from each other. By using a straight bar, the force is evenly distributed which can cause unneeded stress, as one side’s joint might take on more of burden. Dumbbells allow your wrists, elbows and shoulders to move in a path that works best for your individual bodyparts.

Takes Up Less Room: You can do chest dumbbell exercises without the need for a large bulky equipment like a bench or barbell. This is perfect for people who want to workout at home and don’t have a large amount of unused space for workout equipment.

Targets the Pectoral Muscles Better: Doing chest exercises with dumbbells make your muscles work harder because they have to constantly keep the weight under control. This study showed that dumbbell bench press activated the pec major more than traditional bench press and Smith machine press.

Wider Range of Motion: Dumbbells allow you to move them through a greater range of motion compared with barbells. In exercises like bench press the bar can’t go any lower than your chest but with dumbbells you can lower past this point thus resulting in a bigger stretch. You can also rotate your wrists while doing certain chest exercises like chest flys which contract the pecs more giving you a bigger pump.

Develops Even Strength: Dumbbells will immediately let you know if one side of your body is stronger or weaker than the other side. Doing barbell chest exercises can mask muscle imbalances where one side is compensating for the other. When doing chest dumbbell exercises if one side is at failure before the other you will recognize this allowing you to put more focus on the weaker side until they are close to equal.

Can I Do Chest Without A Bench?

Yes, you can work your chest without a bench. You can perform bodyweight chest exercises in the form of various pushups. If you have dumbbells then you can do some of the best dumbbell chest exercises, we went over above without a bench. You can also get an intense workout out in by performing chest exercises with resistance bands where there isn’t a need for a bench to complete. Sometimes it can even be more beneficial to do chest exercises without a bench just using dumbbells and the floor which can reduce your chances of injury as you limit the stress on your shoulders.

How Do You Do Chest Exercises With Dumbbells Without A Bench?

To do bench press with dumbbells without a bench you can follow the floor chest presses detailed below. Simply lie on your back then press the dumbbells up and away from the ground. By performing dumbbell chest presses you lower the stress on your shoulders and can also build some massive triceps in this way.

Note: If you put yourself into a glute bridge on the floor and perform the chest press, you can get more range of motion, although it turns the exercises into somewhat of a decline press. As for the upper chest, using a stability ball or foam roller can get more range of motion or put yourself into an incline position. 

There are also chest exercises with dumbbells that can be done without a bench because they are done from a standing position or push up position, as you are about to see with some of the exercises below...

13 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without A Bench

If you've ever found yourself in the situation where you have some dumbbells but don't have a bench, there's still plenty of chest dumbbell exercises you can do. Below are 13 of the best dumbbell chest exercises you can do without a bench plus sample dumbbell chest workouts for all levels.

1. Standing Dumbbell Upward Fly

This is a great exercise to activate the chest towards the beginning of a workout. It may look like a front delt raise but in this case the arm position and angle you move your arms enable you to target the mid to upper chest.

 dumbbell chest exercises without a bench

How to:

  • Stand with feet hip width apart
  • Grab dumbbells with an underhand grip
  • Lift the dumbbells up to shoulder height by contracting your chest until the weights meet at the middle of your body
  • Slowly lower to starting position
  • Repeat desired reps

Primary Muscles: Mid and Upper chest

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Triceps, Biceps

Note: Internally rotate your wrists in towards the top of the movement to allow for maximum contraction of the chest. Perform this exercise slow and controlled, really focusing on the eccentric contraction.

2. Dumbbell Floor Chest Press

This exercise mimics the bench press with the same pushing motion. The big difference here is that the range of motion is shortened as your elbows and triceps hit the ground you won’t be able to lower the dumbbells past this point. This point makes the exercise more shoulder friendly as it reduces potential strain on the shoulders.

chest dumbbell exercises

How to:

  • Lie down on the ground with your knees bent, feet on the floor
  • Grab dumbbells using an overhand grip
  • Starting with your perpendicular with triceps against the ground and elbows bent at 90 degrees
  • Push the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended
  • Slowly return to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Rhomboids, Serratus Anterior

Note: Make sure to push head, shoulders and hips into the ground. Add a foam roller under your upper back to mimic more of an incline press giving you added range of motion or get into a glute bridge position if you want a decline bench variation to hit the lower chest.

3. Standing Dumbbell Svend Chest Press

This seemingly easy looking exercise is perfect for contracting the pec muscles. Getting its name from World’s Strongest Man Svend Karlsen this exercise doesn’t require heavy weights to get the job done.

dumbbell chest workout at home

How to:

  • Stand with feet hip width apart
  • Grab a dumbbell with both hands clasped around it so that the weight is vertical
  • Keeping your shoulder blades depressed and squeezed together start with the dumbbell against your chest. Press your hands together as hard as you can.
  • Press the dumbbell upward and inward slowly until your arms are straight out and elbows are locked
  • Slowly return the dumbbell to starting position

Primary Muscles: Chest

Secondary Muscles: Triceps, Front Delts, Serratus Anterior

Note: Press hands together as much as possible and move very slowly focusing on the contraction of the chest.

4. Dumbbell Single Arm Floor Fly

This variation of a chest fly allows you to really focus on contracting one chest muscle at a time especially the sternal head of the pec major. It’s also a great way to do a fly without added stress on the shoulders as the range of motion is limited.

chest workout at home with dumbbells

How to:

  • Lie down on your back with your legs extended out
  • Grab a dumbbell with a neutral grip
  • Starting with your active arm out perpendicular with your triceps against the ground, elbow slightly bent
  • Contract your chest bringing the dumbbell up until the weight is directly above your shoulder
  • Slowly return to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Chest

Secondary Muscles: Front Delt, Serratus Anterior, Biceps

Note: Use your inactive arm out to your side to help brace you for added stability.

5. Dumbbell Floor Hammer Press

The hammer press is a chest exercise that limits the stress on your shoulders while still hammering the chest and triceps. This exercise will also help target the triceps a little more than a normal chest press.

 dumbbell pec exercises no bench

How to:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor
  • Hold dumbbells with a neutral grip
  • With your elbows tucked to your sides bent at 90 degrees with the weights directly over your elbows
  • Press directly up by contracting your chest and triceps until your arms are fully extended
  • Slowly return to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps

Note: Keep your elbows tucked at your sides throughout the movement.

6. Dumbbell Floor Alternating Chest Press

You can gain some added benefits of doing alternating chest press because you can focus on working one side at a time. The uneven weight distribution of having a dumbbell in one hand will engage smaller stabilizer muscles as well.

 lower chest dumbbell exercises no bench

How to:

  • Lie down on the ground with your legs extended
  • Grab dumbbells using an overhand grip
  • Starting with your perpendicular with triceps against the ground and elbows bent at 90 degrees
  • Push one dumbbell up at a time until your arm is fully extended
  • Slowly return to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Rhomboids, Serratus Anterior

Note: Make sure to push head, shoulders and hips into the ground. Add a foam roller under your upper back to mimic more of an incline press giving you added range of motion or get into a glute bridge position if you want a decline bench variation to hit the lower chest.

7. Dumbbell Pullover on Exercise Ball

Performing pullover on an exercise ball adds to the difficulty as you are forced to stabilize both your body and the weight. Besides working your chest, triceps, back and shoulder this chest exercise can help to build a strong core.

 best dumbbell chest exercises without a bench

How to:

  • Set up exercise ball, grab a dumbbell and rest it on your thigh then sit down
  • Roll your butt down and out so that the ball is against your back with your head extending off of the ball. Feet plated on the floor in a wide stance with your core engaged
  • Hold the dumbbell on your chest with both hands forming a diamond shape on the weight
  • Bring the dumbbell straight over your chest with your arms lightly bent
  • Slowly lower the weight down and back behind your head until your elbows are level with your ears
  • Hold briefly then contract your chest, bringing it back to the starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Lower Pec Major, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Rear Delt, Lats, Teres Major

Note: Keep your hips slightly lower than your shoulders while not allowing your back to arch.

8. Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball

The exercise ball incline press will give you all the benefits of a regular incline press of strengthening your upper chest and triceps plus the added benefits of doing them on an unstable platform. The instability of the exercise will force your stabilizer muscles to work overtime as well as getting a nice workout in for your core.

upper chest dumbbell exercises no bench

How to:

  • Position an exercise ball behind you then sit down on the ball
  • Lower your butt down and out until your body is at a 45-degree angle with your back against the ball, knees bent with feet on the floor in front of you
  • Hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, out to your sides
  • Press the dumbbells directly up until your arms are fully extended
  • Slowly lower to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Upper Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps, Core

Note: Tuck your elbows in a little if you want to reduce the stress on your shoulders. If up for the challenge you can try to put your feet up on the exercise ball while getting your body into a glute bridge position to simulate a decline bench movement(this will be tricky to stabilize your feet on the ball so don't use heavy weights).

9. Dumbbell Single Arm Incline Press on Exercise Ball

The single arm aspect of the dumbbell incline press coupled with using an exercise ball will really challenge your stabilizing muscles to keep the dumbbell on the right track.

 how to train chest with dumbbells without a bench

  • Position an exercise ball behind you then sit down on the ball
  • Roll out until the ball is directly against your back, knees bent with feet on the floor in front of you
  • Hold the dumbbell with an overhand grip with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, out to your sides
  • Press the dumbbells directly up until your arms are fully extended
  • Slowly lower to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Upper Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Core

Note: Tuck your elbows in a little if you want to reduce the stress on your shoulders.

10. Dumbbell Fly on Exercise Ball

Doing dumbbell flys on an exercise ball allows for maximum range of motion. This is a perfect chest opener exercise that will really stretch all the muscle fibers in your chest. No need to go heavy here, focus on slow controlled motion.

 can you build your chest with dumbbells

How to:

  • Sit down on an exercise ball holding a dumbbells using a neutral grip
  • Roll down on the ball so that your back is against the ball keeping your torso parallel to the floor, feet planted to the floor
  • Start with the dumbbells above your chest with arms slightly bent, elbows pointed out.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to your sides until they're at shoulder level
  • Contract your chest, bringing the dumbbells back to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Upper/Mid Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps, Core

Note: Rotate your wrists internally toward the top of the movement to get an added contraction of the pecs.

11. Dumbbell Incline Fly on Exercise Ball

The incline fly targets multiple muscles simultaneously and is an amazing exercise to develop the chest, especially the sternal pec major. This exercise is a great chest opener helping you to improve your posture.

how to do dumbbell chest exercises without a bench

  • Position an exercise ball behind you then sit down on the ball, hold dumbbells with a neutral grip above your chest
  • Lower your butt down and out until your body is at a 45-degree angle with your back against the ball, knees bent with feet on the floor in front of you
  • Starting with the dumbbells above your chest with arms slightly bent, elbows pointed out and feet on the floor in front of you
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to your sides until they are at shoulder level
  • Contract your chest, bringing the dumbbells back to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Upper Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps, Core

Note: Rotate your wrists internally toward the top of the movement to get an added contraction of the pecs.

12. Dumbbell Incline Single Arm Fly on Exercise Ball

Another great variation of the incline fly where you get all the regular benefits of incline flys plus the added muscle activation from keeping your body and the weight stabilized throughout the movement. You can use your inactive arm as a counterbalance if needed.

 dumbbell chest exercises at home without bench

How to:

  • Sit down on an exercise ball holding a dumbbell with one hand using a neutral grip
  • Roll down on the ball so that your upper back is against the ball, until your body is at a 45-degree angle with your back against the ball
  • Start with the dumbbell above your chest with arm slightly bent, elbow pointed out and feet on the floor in front of you
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell to your side until it's at shoulder level
  • Contract your chest, bringing the dumbbell back to starting position
  • Repeat for desired reps then switch sides

Primary Muscles: Upper Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps, Core

Note: Rotate your wrists internally toward the top of the movement to get an added contraction of the pecs.

13. Dumbbell Deep Push Up

This dumbbell chest exercise can be beneficial for people with wrist mobility issues as the wrist doesn’t need to be extended like regular pushups. However, this exercise requires more balance and stability than a regular pushup. You can get a little larger range of motion by allowing your chest to move past the handles of the dumbbell.

benefits of dumbbell chest exercises

How to:

  • Place the dumbbells on the ground at shoulder width apart
  • Get into pushup position gripping the dumbbells with a neutral grip, elbows at your sides
  • Lower down bending at the elbows, keeping your body straight until your chest is close to the floor
  • Briefly pause at the bottom then press yourself up until your arms are fully extended
  • Repeat for desired reps

Primary Muscles: Upper Chest, Triceps

Secondary Muscles: Front Delts, Biceps, Core

Note: Don’t do this exercise unless you are able to do pushups with ease and should use hex dumbbells as they won’t roll around.

How Can I Build My Upper Chest Without A Bench?

There are a number of ways to build your upper chest without a bench. The best way to build your upper chest with out a bench is to change your body position or the angle at which your arms move. You can put your feet up on a platform so that your chest is lower than your feet, at this point you can perform push ups to help build your upper chest. You can do dumbbell chest exercises using an exercise ball as support against your upper back with your torso at 45 degrees then do chest presses or flys. Resistance bands also enable you to build upper chest muscles without a bench by using your body or an anchor point then pressing up and away. 

Related: Top 11 Resistance Band Chest Exercises

Beginner Dumbbell Chest Workout without a Bench

Beginners should start with the dumbbell chest exercises that don’t require the added complexity of using an exercise ball or single arm movements. Follow the instructions from the exercises above to complete the following dumbbell chest workout.

Svend Press

3 sets x 10 reps

Rest 1 minute

Dumbbell Floor Press

3 sets x 8-12 reps

Rest 1 minute

Dumbbell Floor Hammer Press

3 sets x 8-12 reps

Rest 1 minute

Standing Dumbbell Fly Low to High

3 sets x 12-15 reps

Rest 1 minute

Intermediate Dumbbell Chest Workout without a Bench

This sample dumbbell chest workout with no bench will require you to use your stabilizing muscles more as you will incorporate and exercise ball and/or some single arm variations.

Alternating Floor Press (*Get into glute bridge position for decline variation)

3 sets x 8-12 reps (each arm)

Rest 1 minute

Dumbbell Fly on Exercise Ball

3 sets x 12-15 reps (each arm)

Rest 1 minute

Deep Pushup

3 sets x 20 reps

Rest 1 minute

Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball

3 x 8-12 reps

Rest 1 minute

Advanced Dumbbell Chest Workout without a Bench

This sample advanced no bench chest workout with dumbbells is sure to give you a serious pump. Each exercise in this workout will require you to use not only your chest muscles but also your stabilizer muscles as well because a few of them involve the exercise ball. If you don’t have an exercise ball then get creative by putting your upper back on a raised surface like a foam roller to imitate the incline variations. Get into a glute bridge to mimic a decline variation.

Dumbbell Alternating Chest Press on Exercise Ball x Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball (super set)

3 sets x 8-12 reps

Rest up to 2 minutes

Dumbbell Pullover on Exercise Ball

3 sets x 10 reps

Rest 1 minute

Dumbbell Single Arm Incline Fly on Exercise Ball

 3 sets x 8-12 reps

Rest 1 minute

Floor Hammer Press (*Get into glute bridge position for decline variation)

3 sets x 8-12 reps

Rest 1 minute

Standing Svend Press

3 sets x reps to failure

Rest up to 2 minutes

Can You Build Chest With Just Dumbbells?

Absolutely! Using dumbbells to do chest workouts is one of the best ways to build a strong defined chest. Dumbbells allow for great range of motion, more activation of the pectoralis major and help to develop evenly spread strength and muscle gain throughout the chest.

can I do chest without a bench

FINAL NOTE

Using some dumbbells and your imagination can go a long way when trying to get a chest workout in without a bench. Some key concepts to remember are that if you want to hit the upper area of the chest with dumbbells you should get into a position where your back is on an upward slant, using an exercise ball or foam roller then do some flys or chest presses. If you want to hit the lower chest with dumbbells without using a bench simply get into a glute bridge position then perform some chest presses or flys. We hope you now understand that you can get a killer chest workout in using dumbbells even if you don't have a bench at your dispoal.

More Resources on Chest Exercises:



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