12 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without a Bench (Tips and Videos)

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You have minimal equipment, but you still want to get in an amazing upper body workout.

You have only one set of dumbbells and the floor, but you want to get a good chest pump.

Don’t worry! This is completely doable. You do not need expensive, state of the art equipment to make muscle gains.

All you need is a set of dumbbells and a floor or yoga ball.


The 12 best dumbbell chest exercises without a bench are:

If you’re looking for some dumbbell chest exercises without a bench, I’m going to give you 12 exercises that you can add in to your workout.

Anatomy And Functions Of The Chest

The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscle and bone. It is a vital area of the body as it houses organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and trachea. The chest also provides upper body and enables correct breathing. 

The predominant muscles in the chest are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

Pectoralis Major

  • This is the most superficial muscle.
  • It is a large, fan shaped muscle that stretches from the head of the clavicle to the sternum.
  • Functions to adduct and medially rotate the upper limbs and draw the scapula forwards and downwards.

Pectoralis Major

pectoralis major muscle dumbbell chest exercises without a bench
  • This is a smaller muscle that sits below the pectoralis major.
  • It begins at the 3rd-5th ribs and inserts into the scapula.
  • Functions to stabilize the scapula by bringing it anterioinferiorly against the thoracic wall.

The pectoral region also contains the serratus anterior and subclavius.

Serratus Anterior

serratus_anterior muscle dumbbell chest exercises without a bench
  • This muscle sits laterally in the chest wall.
  • It consists of multiple strips of muscle that extend from ribs 1-8 to the medial border of the scapula.
  • Enables scapular rotation so that the arm can be extended overhead by more than 90 degrees. The serratus anterior also holds the scapula against the ribcage.

Subclavius

  • This small muscle sits underneath the clavicle and runs horizontally.
  • It functions to anchor and depress the clavicle.
  • This muscle also provides a small amount of protection against trauma to the clavicle.

What Makes A Good Dumbbell Chest Exercise Without A Bench?

A good alternative to a conventional bench-based chest exercise is one that targets the same muscles. A dumbbell chest exercise performed without a bench can be just as effective if it activates the pectoralis major and minor, and stimulates hypertrophy in these muscles.

When you can overload the exercise, you are able to make strength gains. This is definitely the case with dumbbell chest exercises that you don’t need a bench for.

12 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without A Bench

Here is a list of dumbbell chest exercise that can be done without a bench. All of these exercises require a set of dumbbells and either the floor or a yoga ball. They are all simple and easy to set up, but very effective to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains.

1. Dumbbell Floor Chest Press

This exercise mimics the bench dumbbell chest press closely. In fact, it’s literally the same exercise, just without the bench.

It’s super simple, making it perfect for beginners, but there is a limited range of motion compared to a traditional bench dumbbell chest press.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Lie flat on the floor on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  • Grab one dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip
  • Rest your triceps on the floor and your elbows at 90 degrees, perpendicular to the floor. The dumbbells should be above your chest and directly above your elbows
  • Push the dumbbells up towards the ceiling, and extend your arms until they’re straight
  • Pause and return to the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets

Coach's Tips

  • Focus on pushing your head, shoulders, and hips into the floor
  • Slow down the tempo of your reps to increase the muscle stimulating effects of the exercise

2. Reverse Dumbbell Floor Chest Press

This movement is the same as the first exercise, but instead of using an overhand grip, you use an underhand grip. 

You'll notice different muscle activation here. Specifically the inner and upper chest will feel different with this movement.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Lie flat on the floor facing upwards, with your feet planted flat on the floor and your knees bent
  • Grip a set of dumbbells, one in each hand, using an underhand grip
  • Hold the dumbbells by your sides above your chest. Your palms should be facing towards you
  • Press the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended
  • Return slowly the starting position
  • Repeat for the required number of reps and sets

Coach's Tips

  • If you’re using very heavy dumbbells, use your thighs to help you get them into place
  • Be careful not to rest your elbows on the floor between each rep. This will take the tension off the muscle and make it easier for you
  • Use a full range of motion by extending and flexing your arms as much as you safely can

3. Standing Dumbbell Chest Press

The standing dumbbell chest press only requires one dumbbell and targets not only your chest muscles, but also your core.

Once again, you can really feel the inside portion of your chest on fire here. Choosing a lighter weight will allow you to functionally feel the movement better.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Pick up one dumbbell and stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Holding the dumbbell close to your chest with your arms bent. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle so that the rest of your body is parallel with the floor (bridge position)
  • Squeezing the dumbbells with your palms, push it away from your chest until your arms are fully extended
  • Return to the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets

Coach's Tips

  • Keep your arms in line with your chest. As you get tired, your arms might start to drop to make the exercise easier. They need to stay horizontal throughout.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged.
  • Make sure your spine and neck stay neutral to avoid risk of injury.

4. Dumbbell Push Ups

The push up is a staple bodyweight chest exercise.

Dumbbell push ups are a great exercise if you struggle with wrist mobility, as it removes the extreme wrist extension needed for traditional push ups.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Place two dumbbells on the floor in front of you at shoulder width apart.
  • Adopt a push up position with your hands gripping the dumbbells, palms facing in towards each other. You should be resting on your toes.
  • Lower yourself under control until your body is close to the floor (not touching it).
  • Pause for a second before lifting yourself back up until your arms are fully extended once again.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.

Coach's Tips

  • Engage your core and make sure your knees do not bend.
  • Work on lifting yourself explosively up from the bottom of the push up.
  • Tuck your pelvis in to avoid excess arching of your lower back.
  • Only attempt this movement if you are comfortable doing push ups and have built the necessary strength to support yourself.
  • Make sure you use hexagonal dumbbells, not circular ones, otherwise you’ll start rolling around all over the place.

5. Decline Dumbbell Push Ups

Decline dumbbell push ups are more challenging than traditional dumbbell push ups. The extra pull of gravity means you have to work harder to push yourself back up during each rep.

The decline push up also increases upper chest activation, using a higher bench will target different muscles here. 

Step By Step Instructions

  • Place two dumbbells on the floor in front of you at shoulder width apart, and place a box or aerobic step behind you.
  • Adopt a push up position with your hands gripping the dumbbells, palms facing in towards each other.
  • Lift your feet on the box behind you, resting on your toes.
  • Lower yourself under control until your body is close to the floor (not touching it).
  • Pause for a second before lifting yourself back up until your arms are fully extended once again.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.

Coach's Tips

  • Brace your core throughout the movement.
  • Tuck your pelvis in to avoid arching your lower back.
  • Do not touch the floor as you get to the bottom of the rep as this disrupts the time under tension in the pecs.

6. Dumbbell T Press

This exercise combines push ups with a twisting movement. For this reason, it requires a lot of core strength and stamina.

You will probably have to significantly lower the weight due to the unique unilateral nature of the exercise

Step By Step Instructions

  • Place two dumbbells on the floor in front of you at shoulder width apart.
  • Adopt a push up position with your hands gripping the dumbbells, palms facing in towards each other.
  • Start by doing a traditional push up.
  • When you are pushing yourself back up and your arms are straight, lift one dumbbell off the ground whilst rotating your upper body. Your body should create a T shape.
  • Return the dumbbell to the ground and repeat on the other side. This is one rep.
  • Perform the exercise as many reps and sets as required.

Coach's Tips

  • Stay under control and slow down the tempo to avoid sharp twisting movements and decrease your risk of injury.

7. Svend Press

The svend press is a lesser known chest exercise that doesn’t require a bench.

It challenges the chest muscles in a unique way compared to more popular dumbbell exercises like the chest press or chest flyes. As it is performed standing, it also engages the core and leg muscles.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a single dumbbell with both hands using an overhand grip.
  • Bend your elbows to hold the dumbbell right next to your chest.
  • Squeeze your palms together using your pecs and push the dumbbell away from you until your arms are fully extended.
  • Pause for a second and really focus on squeezing your palms together, before returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat this movement for the desired number of reps and sets.

Coach's Tips

  • Keep an eye out for your arms dropping as you start to fatigue. Make sure you keep them in a straight line directly in front of your chest
  • If you have a weak serratus anterior, relax your abs and slightly arch your back
  • If you are struggling to do this movement with a dumbbell, try using a plate instead

8. Yoga Ball Dumbbell Chest Press

The yoga ball is great to switch up any exercise. It requires you to have more balance and control compared to a bench.

The dumbbell chest press can be done using a yoga ball if you do not have a bench available.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Sit on a yoga ball with your knees bent and your feet planted firmly on the floor.
  • Grab a set of dumbbells, one in each hand, using an overhand grip.
  • Lean back so that your middle to upper back is resting on the ball.
  • Begin with your elbows bent and the dumbbells are either side of your chest.
  • Squeeze your pecs to bring the dumbbells up above your chest until your arms are fully extended.
  • Pause for a second before return to the starting position under control.
  • Repeat for the number of reps and sets in your program.

Coach's Tips

  • Engage your core and your glutes to stay balanced.
  • Be careful not the bring the dumbbells to far down between each rep, as this puts you at risk of a shoulder injury.

9. Yoga Ball Dumbbell Chest Flys

The yoga ball can also be used to do dumbbell chest flys. Again, it enhances your balance and stability due to the unstable surface.

This exercise also targets your glutes and legs more than using a bench.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Sit on a yoga ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold a set of dumbbells, one in each hand, using an overhand grip.
  • Lie back to rest on your middle to upper back and hold the dumbbells directly above your chest. Have your arms extended but with a slight bend at the elbows.
  • Open your arms in an arc motion until they are parallel to the floor and you feel a nice stretch in your chest.
  • Squeeze your pecs to bring the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps and sets.

Coach's Tips

  • Keep your core tight and your glutes activated to maintain balance and stability.
  • Focus on pushing your hips upwards and your shoulders down into the ball.

10. Yoga Ball Dumbbell Pull Overs

Traditionally, the dumbbell pull over is performed leaning over a bench, but using a stability ball adds an extra element to the exercise. It forces you to engage your core muscles to stay balanced and stable on the ball whilst moving the dumbbell.

This exercise can be used as a back exercise as it targets the lats as well as the chest. Depending on your hand positioning will switch the emphasis onto each particular muscle.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Sit on a yoga ball and hold a single dumbbell with both hands.
  • Lie back so that your mid back is resting on the ball.
  • Extend your arms directly above your chest.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head, keeping your arms straight, until you feel a stretch in your latissimus dorsi muscles.
  • Carefully bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for as many reps and sets as you need to.

Coach's Tips

  • Keep your core engaged throughout to stay stable on the yoga ball
  • When you bring the dumbbell back to the starting position, think about rotating your hands and arms inwards towards your body to activate the chest rather than the lats

11. Standing Upward Chest Fly

The standing dumbbell chest fly is a very unique exercise that many bodybuilders use to activate their chest. 

It mimics the front deltoid raise but you're only using the mid and upper chest here. It can really help with activating your chest at the beginning of a workout as well.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand shoulder width apart with two light dumbbells. Start off at a lower weight and eventually get to higher weights.
  • Make sure you grab the dumbbells with an underhand grip
  • Raise the dumbbells from the starting position to shoulder height. Lift as if it was a front shoulder raise while trying to touch the dumbbells together.
  • Once you get to the top of the movement, slowly lower the weight down to the starting position.
  • Repeat for as many reps and sets as you need to.

Coach's Tips

  • This exercise is about contraction of the chest muscles. Keeping the weight lower will help you activate the chest and prevent injury.
  • Keep your body tight and make the movement slow and controlled. There is no benefit from speeding up the movement. 

12. Cross Body Dumbbell Raise

The last exercise on our list is the cross body dumbbell raise. This neat exercise is meant to help with upper chest activation. Even Athlean X advocates the resistance band version of this exercise.

The starting position starts in a similar way to the standing chest fly. However, instead of raise your arms in an upward manner, you raise them cross your body. After a few reps, your upper chest will get an awesome pump.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Start with holding dumbbells along your side with an overhand grip.
  • You should be standing at a shoulder width stance
  • Keep your body tight and raise one of your dumbbells up across your body toward the opposite side.
  • Hold the movement at the top of the lift. You may have to use a more supine grip to feel the upper chest.
  • Slowly lower it to the bottom starting position. This is one rep.
  • Repeat for as many reps and sets as you need to.

Coach's Tips

  • Similar to standing chest flys, lower the weight to focus on the movement and contraction of the upper chest.
  • Different lifters may need to lift at a different angle to feel the upper chest. Experiment at a lower weight and use different cross body angles to feel the muscle contract.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Program These Exercises Into My Routine?

I recommend using lower reps when it comes to the chest. Focus on reps between 1-6 and perform 3-5 sets of each exercise. If you’re a powerlifting, work in the 1-3 rep range. The idea is that you are performing the exercises almost to failure to stimulate new muscle growth.

What Weight Should I Use?

Depending on the exercise, the weight you use will vary. For example, you are doing a yoga ball dumbbell chest exercise, you will probably have to use a lower weight than if you used the floor or a bench.

From my experience, clients love to push themselves a little too far with chest exercises and end up ‘ego lifting’. Their form goes out the window and they start using momentum or additional muscles to move the weight. Instead, lower the weight and focus on your form and technique before increasing the weight.

Be sure to play around before getting into your working sets to see what weight feels best for you. Most importantly, stay safe and do not attempt to lift weights that are way too heavy!

Final Thoughts

Working out doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s pretty obvious that you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a brand-new bench because what really matters is that you’re challenging your muscles in one way or another.

All you need is a set of dumbbells to really get the chest muscles working. There are so many dumbbell chest exercises you can do without a bench. Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity to put together a great workout.

Add in some of the dumbbell chest exercises without a bench above to your workout. Make every rep count by slowing the tempo down and focusing on the mind-muscle connection.

If you can, purchase a range of dumbbells so you can increase the weight overtime. This will ensure you are able to effectively overload the muscles and continue to see progress, even without a bench!

References

[1] Fradkin AD., Gabbe BJ., and Cameron PA. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials? J Sci Med Sport. 2006 Jun;9(3):214-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2006.03.026.Epub 2006 May 6

[2] McCrary JM., Ackermann BJ., and Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jul;49(14):935-42. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094228. Epub 2015 Feb 18.

[3] McMillian CJ., et al. Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):492-9. doi: 10.1519/18205.1.

[4] Abad CCC., et al. Combination of General and Specific Warm-ups Improves Leg Press One Repetition Max Compared with Specific Warm up in Trained Individuals. Jour of Str and Cond Res. 2011. 25(8)/2242–2245.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.

About The Author

Athina Crilley

Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate and a qualified health, nutrition, and recovery coach. She believes that health and fitness is a lifestyle and should be enjoyable. Athina currently works with online clients to achieve their goals and creates helpful and informative content online through her podcast and social media platforms. She has also written and published a book all about her struggles and recovery from an eating disorder called ‘Diaries of An Anorexic’.

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