Are you wondering how a humble pair of dumbbells can build a killer chest? Then you are in the right place! Because today I will be sharing 11 of the best ways to get bigger pecs.
Getting bigger pecs with dumbbells requires you to perform a variety of dumbbell chest exercises that target the different regions of the pectoral muscle. This should be combined with regular progressive overload, a muscle-building nutrition plan, adequate sleep, and sufficient rest between training sets.
I managed to increase my chest size by several inches in the space of two years. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy!
But it’s achievable with a set of dumbbells (if you know what to do!).
And that’s exactly what I will be sharing with you today.
So let’s dive right in!
11 Ways To Get Bigger Pecs With Dumbbells
First, allow me to explain how I came up with the “11 best ways to get bigger pecs with dumbbells”.
First, I compiled the results of a Reddit poll which asked:
“How to get bigger pecs?”
Secondly, I used my own training experience to convert these responses into methods applicable to dumbbells. For example- “perform bench press” would turn into “perform dumbbell bench press”.
A total of 100 responses were collected. And here are the results:
Finally, I gathered the expert opinions of different trainers, coaches, powerlifters, and bodybuilders to verify my list!
And here we are- 11 of the best ways to get bigger pecs with dumbbells!
Read my other article to find out if home dumbbells are worth the money!
1. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press Is A Solid Pec-Builder!
When it comes to building bigger pecs, there’s no doubt that the flat bench press is the king of chest exercises. The movement itself can be performed with dumbbells OR a barbell.
But Parker Hyde PhD (CSCS coach) and Bill Geiger (sports journalist) from Bodybuilding.com advocate the former as an effective way to train the pecs.
They explain that dumbbells provide a unique kind of training, where each side of your pectorals (left and right) is worked individually. This corrects strength imbalances between the two pectorals and ultimately allows you to progress faster with chest development.
Another area where the dumbbell bench press offers benefits over the barbell bench press is in the range of motion provided.
Range of motion refers to the ability of a joint to complete its potential scope of movement.
Since dumbbells move independently from one another (unlike a barbell which physically connects both arms), your arms are allowed a greater range of motion. To put it simply, the arms are free to move naturally.
And this 2020 study has suggested a larger range of motion facilitates muscle development through increased muscle activation.
Finally, Bill also explains that dumbbells are inherently less stable than barbells. As a result, neighboring muscles such as the anterior deltoids are required to stabilise the movement.
Since the anterior deltoids lie directly next to your pectorals, developing the anterior delts will also make your pecs look bigger!
So if building bigger pecs is your goal, make sure to include the dumbbell flat bench press in your training!
Check out my other article to learn the pros and cons of dumbbell training!
2. Progressive Overload On Dumbbell Chest Exercises.
Ok so you’ve identified a list of awesome chest-building exercises to perform with dumbbells. So what?
The truth is if you don’t regularly overload your pecs, they won’t grow.
Jay (fitness coach) from A Workout Routine describes progressive overload as:
Forcing your muscles to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.
Progressive overload can be achieved by increasing:
- Exercise reps.
- Workout frequency.
- Time under tension.
- Decrease rest times.
By progressive overloading regularly, you promote continued pec growth. And this will maximize the returns from your dumbbell chest exercises (see the SRA curve above).
But one important thing to note- adopt one progressive overload method at a time. In other words- increase weight or reps. Not both!
Here is an example of what overloading by weight, on a dumbbell flat bench press might look like:
|Week||Flat Bench Press Weight (Per Dumbbell)|
By overloading the weight on your dumbbell bench press, you are forcing your pecs to adapt. And when they adapt, they grow!
So regardless of your exercise choice, you should always find ways to achieve progressive overload. And this ensures you get bigger pecs over time!
Check out my other article to learn how to lift weights for muscle growth!
3. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press Adds Volume To The Upper Pecs!
Where the flat dumbbell bench press is the king of chest builders, the incline dumbbell bench press is the queen!
So what makes the incline dumbbell press such a great pec-builder?
Andrew Heffernan (CSCS and GCFP fitness coach) at Openfit credits the incline dumbbell press as a great way to specifically target your upper pecs (a highly visible area of the chest).
Remember- the pec is a large muscle. And there are different regions, each spanning different areas of your chest.
Furthermore, the pecs have different heads. And each head joins onto different locations on your chest.
Performing the incline dumbbell press will engage the region of the pec which joins onto your clavicle. And this leads to a highly defined upper chest.
Good as this may be, Andrew also notes that the specific nature of the incline press also makes it harder to perform. And this is especially true when you are using dumbbells (which are less stable than barbells).
So don’t be afraid of reducing the weight when you do the dumbbell incline press!
Reducing weight doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make the exercise easy. Here are some ways to make the dumbbell incline press harder on a reduced weight:
- Increase the range of motion- allow the elbows to go below the torso (this should allow the dumbbell to fall in line with the top of your pecs).
- Reduce lifting speed- count 2 or 3 seconds for the positive and negative phases of the lift (this makes your pecs work harder, despite a reduced dumbbell weight).
- Increase the incline angle- this focuses the dumbbell onto your upper pecs (but don’t go more than 45°, where the incline press begins to turn into an overhead press!
Read my other article to find out how much weight to lift!
4. Dumbbell Flys Add Definition Between Your Pecs
Dumbbell flys are like the prince of the chest builders:
Not quite the king or queen, but still important!
Daniel Speakman (level 3 personal trainer) at My Protein explains that the dumbbell fly will work your pectoralis major AND pectoralis minor. And when these are developed, it leads to a defined cleft in between your pecs.
Mike Dewar (CSCS fitness coach) at Barbend also agrees, recommending dumbbell flys to be an awesome way to increase the size and strength of underdeveloped pecs.
That’s because dumbbell flyes are a chest isolation-type exercise.
In other words, they engage the pecs specifically. This is in comparison to the pressing movements described before, which are compound-type exercises.
Additionally, dumbbell flyes can be performed flat (emphasizing the mid pecs) or at an incline (emphasizing the upper pecs).
So by all means, focus your training on dumbbell bench presses. But don’t forget to supplement these exercises with the dumbbell fly. This will maximize the development of your pecs!
5. Consume A Pec-Building Diet.
Hitting your pecs with dumbbells is well and good. But without the right nutrition, don’t expect those chest muscles to grow!
Emmie Satrazemis (a sports nutrition specialist) at Trifecta Nutrition notes the importance of the right “bulking diet” for muscle growth.
She explains that the objective of bulking is three-fold:
- Gain lean muscle.
- Improve muscular strength.
- Minimize fat gains.
So if you want your dumbbell training to result in bigger and stronger pecs, you need to also eat the right diet.
First, a caloric surplus is essential to build muscle on a bulk. And Emmie recommends a 5 to 15% daily caloric surplus.
In other words, you should be eating 5 to 15% MORE than your maintenance calories (which can be determined by an online calorie calculator).
This is how I managed to gain 40lbs of lean muscle myself. So I can tell you it works!
Secondly, you will also need to consume your macronutrient targets to build muscle:
|Macronutrient||Approximate % Of Daily Calories||Approximate Grams Per Pound Of Bodyweight|
|Protein||35%||1.5g per pound of lean bodyweight|
|Carbohydrates||25 to 35%||2.5g per pound of bodyweight|
|Fats||20 to 30%||0.4g per pound of bodyweight|
By hitting your daily caloric and macronutrient targets, you will ensure that your dumbbell chest exercises ACTUALLY lead to bigger pecs!
Check out my other article to find out the ideal bulking duration.
6. Maintain Proper Form On Dumbbell Chest Exercises.
The best training method for muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) is to lift heavy. This is widely accepted in the world of weight training.
But lifting the heaviest dumbbell possible, whilst sacrificing your form, will do little for developing your pecs.
So how can you nail your chest exercise form?
Alex Robles (physician and certified personal trainer) at White Coat Trainer uses the example of a dumbbell flat bench press:
|Dumbbell Bench Press Technique:||Reason|
|Keep the scapula (shoulder blade) squeezed together throughout the exercise||Braces your core and ensures the movement primarily engages the pecs, rather than the arms and shoulders.|
|Arc the upper arm towards the face as you press the dumbbell up.||Promotes maximal engagement of the pecs rather than the triceps.|
|Keep your elbows at a 45° angle to the torso.||Relieves stress from your arms and shoulders (do not flare your elbows out).|
|Do not rotate the dumbbells more than necessary.||Relieves stress from the arms and shoulders.|
By choosing a weight that allows you to maintain proper form, you will ensure your dumbbell exercises are most effectively engaging your pecs!
7. Dumbbell Weighted Dips Target The Lower Pecs.
The dip is an exercise most commonly associated with tricep development. It’s also often regarded as bodyweight exercise.
So why is it on this list?!
First, of all, you can hold a dumbbell between your legs. And this will turn the exercise into a weighted dip.
Secondly, you can adjust your body angle to transfer engagement to the lower pecs.
Josh Bryan (CSCS coach and powerlifter) from Muscle and Fitness explains that you can adjust your body angle by leaning your upper body forward and flaring your elbows outwards. Your legs should be held back to counter-balance the position.
When you switch to this posture, the dip no longer targets the triceps, as much as it does the lower pecs.
Furthermore, Josh recommends you choose as heavy a dumbbell as possible for each set. And after the final set, remove the dumbbell and perform bodyweight reps to failure.
This dumbbell-weighted dip is definitely a pec-destroyer. Give it a go!
8. Wide-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press Leads To Higher Pec Activation!
The traditional flat bench press is great for getting bigger pecs.
But Avi Silverberg (2010 World Bench Press bronze medallist) from Power Lifting Technique vouches for the wide grip variation of the exercise.
Avi explains that a wide grip is one that is 1.5 to 2x the width between your shoulders.
Although the wide-grip bench press is commonly done using a barbell, you can also adopt a wider grip for a dumbbell bench press.
By widening your grip, you will transfer the weight load from your arm to your chest muscles. And this makes the wide-arm dumbbell bench press a great way to isolate your pecs!
In support of this, a 1995 study showed that widening a bench press grip leads to higher muscle activation in the pectoralis major, compared to the triceps.
So if you want to focus your dumbbell bench press onto the pecs, widen the grip!
9. Maximise Dumbbell Pec-Building Returns With Sleep!
If you want the efforts of your dumbbell training to show in your pecs, you will also need to get enough sleep.
This 2011 study measured how sleep is related to muscle gains.
They found that sleep-deprived individuals (less than 5.5 hours of sleep per day over 72 hours) had 60% LESS muscle mass by the end of the study.
In comparison, those who had adequate sleep (8.5 hours of sleep per day over 72 hours) had 40% MORE muscle mass by the end of the study.
In support of this, another 2017 study found a correlation between quality sleep with increased muscle strength.
These scientists associated the increased muscular strength with:
- Increased release of testosterone and IGF1- these are muscle-building hormones implicated in protein synthesis.
- Decreased release of cortisol- a catabolic (muscle destroying) hormone.
Take home message?
Hit the dumbbells hard. But also hit the sack hard. And this will help you build bigger pecs!
10. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press Is Underrated!
Many people disregard the decline bench press as an effective pec-builder.
But not James Sadek (professional bodybuilder) from Bodybuilding.
In fact, James feels the complete opposite- the decline dumbbell press is an extremely UNDER-rated exercise to build bigger pecs.
James explains that the decline dumbbell press is not only an effective way to add variety to your chest training, but it also adds much-desired definition to your lower pecs.
The decline press gives your chest that sharp cut look towards the bottom, and completes the separation from the abs.James Sadek
In support of James’s claim, a 1997 study found that the decline bench press resulted in greater lower pectoral activation when compared to the incline bench press.
Include the decline dumbbell bench press into your training program to develop a chiseled look in your lower pecs!
11. Rest Your Pecs Between Sets!
Pumping your chest with a solid set of dumbbell exercises is great.
But don’t forget to let your pecs recover before hitting them again with another set.
Here, the scientists found that resting for MORE than 60 seconds between sets is beneficial for muscular hypertrophy, compared to resting for LESS than 60 seconds.
Damian attributes this to the fact that longer rest periods allow you to complete a higher training volume (total weight lifted).
Furthermore, Damian recommends the following rest times between sets:
|Training Level||Rest Time|
|Newbie||As long as you need|
|Intermediate-Advanced||2 to 3 minutes|
This makes sense if you think about it.
If you allow your pecs to fully recover before hitting them with another set, they will be able to push a heavier weight.
So if you want to maximize pec development, make sure you rest for a MINIMUM of 60 seconds between dumbbell chest exercises!
Recommended Dumbbells To Train The Chest At Home
I’ve been using the Powerblock Elites for over a year now and can’t recommend them enough.
They’re pricier than their budget competitors.
But having owned cheap dumbbells in the past, I would not recommend them mainly because it doesn’t take long to outgrow them and they aren’t very durable.
The Powerblocks are fully adjustable, meaning they pack 16 weight increments into a single dumbbell. You change weight with a switch of a pin.
It has enough weight for beginners and intermediates to effectively work the chest with a variety of exercises. They can also be upgraded and made heavier when you’re ready to do so.
The lighter weight settings are great for flies and the heavier settings are ideal for bench pressing!
Today, I have given you 11 of the best ways to get bigger pecs with dumbbells.
If you want to use dumbbells to build bigger pecs, you should perform a range of chest exercises including:
- Flat dumbbell bench press.
- Incline dumbbell bench press.
- Dumbbell chest flys
- Dumbbell-weighted dips.
- Wide-grip dumbbell bench press.
- Decline dumbbell bench press.
But this won’t be enough to get a larger chest. In addition to performing dumbbell exercises, you will also need to:
- Progressive overload regularly (you can go to my other articles to find out how much weight you should be lifting for the dumbbell bench press and dumbbell fly.
- Hit your calorie and macronutrient targets.
- Lift heavy with good form.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Allow your pecs to rest in between sets.
By combing a variety of dumbbell chest exercises with good muscle-building practices, you can build the pecs of your dreams!
What OTHER dumbbell exercises do YOU perform to get bigger pecs?
Let me know in the comments below! There are many ways to build a bigger chest, so I may have missed one!
Alternatively, download the FREE Kalibre Muscle Blueprint below!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)