How to Make the Chest Bigger With Dumbbells

Athletic man working out his chest with dumbbells on a bench press

You've got to break down to build up. Tiny fibers in your muscles get broken down when you move your muscles against enough resistance; as they repair and rebuild, your muscles grow stronger and bigger. It doesn't matter what you're moving -- your own body weight, barbells or dumbbells -- if you're progressively challenging the muscles, they'll grow.

Dumbbells have the added benefit of enabling you to work each side of your chest together or independently, and they broaden your arsenal of chest exercises. Don't forget to work out the rest of your body and eat a healthy diet to promote balanced and healthy muscle growth.

Do Dumbbell Presses

Dumbbell presses should be the foundation of your chest-building workout. In fact, you can get better results using dumbbells than a barbell, according to research by Dr. Tudor Bompa. Using electromyography, Bompa found that flat, decline and incline dumbbell presses generated more pectoral muscle fiber activation than flat, decline and incline barbell presses. Dumbbell presses also increase range of motion better than barbell presses.

Flat Dumbbell Press

Sit on the bench in the flat position. Grab the weights and lie back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at right angles.

Position the weights on either side of your chest, then press them up above your chest and bring them almost to touch in the center. Keep a slight bend in your elbows.

Bend your elbows to right angles bringing the weights down and away from each other. Stop when you feel a slight stretch across your chest.

Contract your chest muscles and press back to the starting position, bringing the weights almost to touch. Hold the contraction at the top of one to two seconds and repeat.

Incline Press

Position a weight bench at about 45 degrees. Sit down and pick up your dumbbells. Position them at shoulder height at the sides of your chest.

Press the dumbbells up above your chest -- not your face -- opening your elbows out to the sides. Fully extend but do not lock out your elbows.

Squeeze your chest at the top, hold for a second and then lower back down until you feel a slight stretch through your chest.

Decline Press

Pick up your weights and sit on a decline bench with your shins under the padded leg braces. Lie back and position the dumbbells at the sides of your chest with your elbows bent.

Use the same motion as you did in the regular press to extend your arms, positioning the weights above your chest and close together.

Bend your elbows, lowering the weights down and away from each other. Contract your chest muscles and press back up.

Do Dumbbell Flyes

Hit your outer chest muscles and get greater lateral contraction with dumbbell flyes. You won't be able to lift as much as the dumbbell press, so be sure to switch up your weights. Do these at the end of your chest workout when your muscles are fatigued.

Sit on a flat weight bench. Pick up your weights and lie down. Position the weights straight above your chest with your palms facing in. Bend your elbows slightly.

Slowly open your arms in a wide arc until you feel a stretch through your chest.

Hold the stretch for a second or two, squeeze your chest muscles, then begin to close the arc, raising the weights back up above your chest. Bring the weights close at the top but do not touch them together.

Dumbbell Incline Bench Flyes opening arms workout exercise at gym

Dumbbells encourage greater muscle contraction.

Do Enough Sets and Reps

In order to encourage hypertrophy, or muscle growth, you have to have the right load and volume. And, you have to gradually increase this over time. How many sets and reps you do depends on your current strength and past lifting experience. If you're just starting out, begin with one to three sets of 12 reps. Start with a weight that is manageable, but challenging on the last few reps. You'll gradually increase this over time and work to failure as you get stronger and more experienced.

Once you get there, or if you're already there, work up to three to five sets of six to 12 reps. Choose a weight that is heavy enough that you can't or nearly can't finish your last rep. Continue to increase your load each week.