Your chest is home of one of the largest muscle groups of your body. They are also among the muscles we use the most in our daily activities. Without realizing, we all involve our chest muscles during simple tasks like opening windows or brushing out teeth.
Therefore, exercising your chest in a functional way becomes one of the most important tasks you should focus on at the gym. Also, it would be cool to show off a Superman-like chest, right?
True, making your way through 500 bench presses Rocky Balboa style will make you look bigger in no time. However, knowing more about your chest muscles and how to stimulate them will help you achieve long term goals.
To become functionally stronger and more balanced, an easy solution is to use dumbbells throughout your workout. Dumbbells have been proven more efficient than barbells as they respect the asymmetrical shape of our bodies. For example, during a bench press, they will allow for a deeper chest stretch to a lower point.
This also avoids pushing on articulations, reducing the stress applied to the naturally asymmetrical joints of our shoulders and arms.
Know Your Chest Muscles for A Better Workout
As mentioned, the chest muscles are many and complex, so having an understanding of their anatomy will help you target the correct ones. The chest complex is composed of two different kinds of pectoralis.
The gym fanatics that can’t waste precious exercise time also call them pecs. The pectoralis minor is a smaller triangular muscle positioned under the pectoralis major. The pectoralis major is the main muscle, right at the front of your chest, and it’s divided into an upper and a lower section.
Additionally, while not directly part of your chest muscles, shoulders muscles should be taken into consideration in this workout. Effective shoulder exercises will improve your figure by opening up and strengthening your upper back. Ultimately, by combining pecs major, pecs minor and shoulder exercises, you will have a workout that will enhance your functional strength, mobility, balance and look. Because that’s important too!
Upper Pectoralis Major Exercises
The upper chest is of one of the first muscle groups that gym-goers target. Not hitting these areas, would mean not having a chest workout at all. They are the ones right in front of your eyes when you look in the mirror and among the easier to train.
The majority of exercises to grow your upper pecs involve pushing a weight away from your body. Using dumbbells, in this case, will help respect the asymmetry between the left and right sides of our bodies.
Inclined Bench Presses
These will ensure a heavy emphasis on this area, so you can be stretching that shirt in no time! First, grab a bench press and set it on an inclined position.
Lay on your back, facing upwards, with a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbell should be horizontal, with your palms downwards. If your struggling with this, imagine a pushup position whilst your lying on your back.
Raise the dumbbells straight up until your arms are almost fully extended. You don’t want to fully extend your arm, as this will put unnecessary weight on the joint of your elbow, as well as decreasing the weight on your chest. After all, we’re trying to grow muscle here!
After a short pause, lower the weight back down. Understand that negative tension is just as important, so don’t lower the weight too quickly.
In your workout: 5 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions
A great exercise for the upper chest is called the incline fly. This exercise will use an incline bench press, and is really effective to get a broad, well developed chest.
To do this exercise, lie on your back against the bench, with a dumbbell in each hand. What weight you choose is up to you, although you may want to drop weight, so you’ll get a better range of motion.
This will grow your upper pecs area faster. Each dumbbell is then lifted to your head level, arms apart. Raise the dumbbells until they are in front of you, stopping when they are about to touch. After a short pause, return to the original position. And repeat!
In your workout: 7 sets of 10 repetitions as you are using a lighter weight.
Lower Major Pectoralis Exercises
In order to work out the lower chest area, you will need to shift weight into that region. Researchers have found that using a decline bench press, around -15 degrees allows for the greatest activation of the lower pectoralis.
Fortunately, it’s easy to replicate these conditions, you can use the bench press! To do these exercises, grab a bench press and set it to decline.
Either grab some weights and set your feet into position, or if you are with a buddy, have him hand you the weights after setting yourself. No one looks good falling backwards over themselves!
Decline Dumbbell Press
The decline dumbbell press is a fantastic way to hit the lower pecs. These muscles are often neglected but training them properly along with the upper ones will help you achieve your dream of a more rounded and broader chest!
For this exercise you will need a bench set on decline and two dumbbells. Slightly lighter weight than you would normally use is suggested. Lie on the bench facing upward with a dumbbell in each hand.
Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees and your upper arms should be in contact with your torso. Exhale as you push the weights up with a slow movement. Remember to keep a steady pace while you return to the starting position. While not easy to master, having this exercise in your gym routine will pay off in no time!
In your workout: 6 sets of 8 repetitions
Decline Dumbbell Pull-Over
This exercise is designed to strengthen your lower pectoralis as well as training your triceps at the same time.
For this, you will need a bench press set in a reclined position and a single dumbbell. Lay flat on the bench, with your feet, secured. Hold the dumbbell with both hands, arms straight right above your chest.
Bring the dumbbell back over your head and past it, then bring the dumbbell back into the starting position and repeat. This exercise gives the best results if done slowly.
In your workout: 5 sets of 10-15 repetitions
Exercises to Target the Minor Pectoralis Muscle
The pectoralis minor muscle is hidden behind the pectoralis major. It is not as easy to target, as it is relatively small compared to the front muscles. However, it is important to dedicate a section of your workout to this area as it will help to create a strong structure for the growing major pecs.
Specific exercises with dumbbells for the minor pecs aren’t widely known, as the results of months of hard work are not as visible. However, there are ways to exercise your major pecs that will also target the minor ones.
Standing Fly Dumbbells
Stand with your feet slightly apart and one dumbbell in each hand. Straighten your back and look in front of you. Then lift your arms up to your shoulder level. Lower the dumbbells slowly back into position and repeat.
While this is a relatively easy exercise, you should use lighter weights than you would normally. This will help you endure the exercise longer. Remember is all about the sets! In your workout: 5-6 sets of 5 to 7 repetitions
Combined Chest and Shoulder Exercises
Shoulders and upper back are the other larger group of muscles in our bodies. While often overlooked, proper training of your shoulder muscle can improve your posture, structure, reduce back pain and, if I haven’t convinced you yet, give you the V shape you are working for.
Deltoids, rhomboids and trapezius muscles are the ones responsible for the movement of your upper body and arms, and they should be the ones to focus on if you are trying to improve your chest strength.
It is easy to get lost in the sea of the thousand exercises on the internet, and everybody swears that theirs is the one that works. To give some order to the many workouts available, we will focus only on the ones that directly help your chest.
If you have never focused on training your shoulders before, you will be surprised by the little time it takes for these muscles to become more prominent as well as how much the look of your chest would have improved.
Bent-Over Reverse Fly
Stand with your feet slightly apart and, while keeping your back straight, bend over slightly. This is a tricky position to master as we tend to hunch our backs forward.
It can be quite dangerous so if you aren’t confident with it, find a chest support and lean on it maintaining your back straight. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lift your arm backward over your back. Remember to keep your arms straight but not fully extended.
In your workout: 5 to 8 sets of 5 repetitions
Front raises are designed to work your back, arms, and chest. You can’t really go wrong with them! They are the best way to train the entire upper body simultaneously. However, make sure you use a lighter weight than you would, or you might struggle to finish a set.
Start by standing with your feet apart and holding one dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing behind you at this stage. Slowly raise the weights, maintaining your arms straight. After reaching your shoulder’s level, hold the position for a moment then lower your arms until they are back by your side.
In your workout: 7-8 sets of 10 repetitions. Adjust your weights if you are struggling with the number of reps.
Single Arm Floor Chest Press
Use a mat for this exercise. Lay on the floor with your legs slightly bent. Have your feet flat on the floor as this will give you extra support. While one arm should be extended with your palm on the floor, bend the other one at 90°.
Your upper arm should be on the floor and perpendicular to your body. Hold the dumbbell with this arm and push it upwards over your head. Don’t extend your arm fully and don’t use weights too heavy for your skills.
In your workout: 3 sets of 10 repetitions per arm.
Find the Best Workout for You!
The internet can be an intimidating place to start looking for DIY workouts with dumbbells as everybody is ready to give advice on what you should or should not be doing. Whatever online trainer you decide to go with, make sure the workout proposed is the right one for your needs and taste, as everybody has different strengths and weaknesses.
To carve that V shape that you have wanted for so long might take a long time, commitment and loads of sweat, however, don’t forget that the ultimate goal is to build a functionally strong upper body.
Looking good is important, but train wisely and you will be glad to not be the huge guy in the corner that can’t move faster than 1 mile per hour! Check out this website for tips on how to alternate a chest dumbbell workout with an effective lower body training, so you won’t look like a walking triangle!
If you know of any other great dumbbell exercises for chest and shoulders, or you have tried this one out and loved it, please leave a comment below!