You wake up in the morning, all the gyms are closed. Apocalypse? Might be. A reason to give up chest training as your favorite bench is locked away? Hell no.
Who said you need more than dumbbells to build massive pecs? They are wrong.
Here is why.
Not only is building a strong chest possible without a bench—with dumbbells it is actually preferable. If you care about your longevity in the gym in addition to all those gains, learn what you should and what you shouldn’t do with dumbbells.
This is what you should do.
#1 Dumbbell Floor Fly
Dumbbell floor flys eliminate the biggest danger of dumbbell bench flys—if you are to fail on the way up, you can just dump the weight without jeopardizing your anterior shoulder capsules and AC joints. Why? Because the floor is your safeguard that protects you from injuries.
You should control the weight throughout the entire range of motion, especially on the way down. Don’t overload your muscles, play it slow and safe within the 8–12 reps range. Keep your elbows bent, don’t allow them to straighten out too much.
Top Tip: arching the lower back helps increase the range of motion and reduces the risk of getting shoulder injuries.
#2 Dumbbell Eccentric Floor Fly
This is the alternative technique for those who want to go really heavy when doing flys. The trick is that you overload the eccentric part of the movement, while “cheating” on the way back. As in regular floor flys, the floor acts as your safety net and you can drop the weights freely. At the same time, you can pick heavier dumbbells since you cheat when going upwards.
Focus on lowering as slowly as possible to get the maximum from the overloaded eccentric phase. When pushing the dumbbells up, keep your knuckles rotated about 45 degrees outwards to protect your shoulder capsules. Arch your lower back for more shoulder safety.
Gym Wisdom: Don’t worry about the lack of adduction, there are plenty of other exercises to address that. And by the way, negative abduction is, in fact, adduction, too.
#3 Dumbbell Floor Press
In contrast with a barbell press, using dumbbells gives you much more of the adduction component that helps you activate the chest. The floor still acts as your spotter and doesn’t allow you to go too low.
How to get heavy dumbbells into position: Sit down and place the dumbbells by your quads. Grab one and set it up on your hip, repeat this with the other one. Get yourself tight, activate your lats, and roll back.
Working with heavy dumbbells is all about maintaining proper technique. Always keep your elbows tucked to support the weights. Slightly arch your back to stabilize your shoulder blades. Don’t lay your arms down between reps, raise them back up right before your triceps hit the floor.
Common Mistakes: Spreading your elbows wide puts your AC joint in danger if you fail to handle the weight (a hint: if your knuckles face towards your head, your elbows are not tucked). Keeping your back flat creates unnecessary risks to your shoulder ligaments, so arch it.
This is what a risky technique (especially with heavy dumbbells) looks like:
#4 Dumbbell Floor Svend Press (Squeeze Press)
Many great athletes add isometrics to their workout routines. Without a bench, one of the best options for your pecs is the svend floor press. It combines the best from both the isometric and dynamic worlds.
The isometric part is squeezing the dumbbells together, and it helps you improve the feeling of your chest contracting. The dynamic part is pressing the dumbbells. The key of the svend press is to crush the dumbbells together, squeezing your pecs throughout the entire range of motion.
Don’t overload yourself with massive weights, stay within a 10–15 rep count.
Most Common Mistake: Slumping your back when squeezing the dumbbells removes some of the work from your chest. Arch your lower back and retract your scapula to avoid this.
#5 Stability Ball Dumbbell Chest Fly
No bench? No problem. Stability ball exercises are a whole different world, often underutilized yet effective. And leave out all those massive dumbbells—you don’t go heavy on flys, especially on a ball.
This accessory exercise helps you improve your coordination and learn how to activate your entire body. Even better, it doesn’t work your triceps, giving you more versatility when creating your dumbbell no-bench chest routine.
Key Points: Don’t let your arms come any closer inward than right over your shoulders because this removes tension from your chest. Don’t let your butt sit down, keep it up and tight.
#6 Stability Ball Dumbbell Pullover
A dumbbell pullover? Isn’t that a back exercise? It is, except it can also be one of the best accessory chest exercises if you implement a couple of tweaks.
First, don’t lower the dumbbell all the way down past your head; you don’t need this in the chest pullover version. Second, what matters is how you initiate the contraction back to the top.
Instead of pulling with your lats, you should add extra squeeze on a dumbbell, pushing your hands inward and your arms down. This way you are actually engaging your chest.
Remember, it’s not about simply moving from point A to point B, it’s about how you get from point A to point B. To make this exercise effective, concentrate on squeezing your hands, rotating your arms inwards, and feeling the contraction of your pecs.
Top Mistake: Do not lower the dumbbell below the level of your head. Of course, your lats are strong and you will handle it, but the key is to activate your chest and not your back.
#7 Stability Ball Dumbbell Press
Getting in position on a stability ball while holding heavy dumbbells alone is its own exercise. From there, the rest is just a basic bench press. Except that there’s no bench, and the ball starts rocking as you try to put the dumbbells up.
You should activate your entire body to maintain balance. Keep your core on, your hamstrings and your butt up and tight, and your feet pushing against the ground.
Getting in position: Never pick the dumbbells up off of the floor while you’re lying on the ball. Sit down on the ball, put the dumbbells up on your hips, and roll out.
Top Tip: The wider your hands are, the more you work your chest. The closer your elbows are to your torso, the more you work your triceps. If you feel that your triceps “steal” some work from your chest, start with your elbows tucked in to give preliminary fatigue to your triceps.
#8 Standing Upward Chest Fly
The best thing about standing chest flys is that you don’t need a bench, which is always busy anyway. And no, this is not another shoulder workout set. Your front deltoids surely do some work, but the key is to contract your chest.
Your focus during this exercise should be on feeling that it is your chest that does all the work, not your deltoids. Keep your forearms in supination, pointed upwards. Lock your arms nearly straight and squeeze your chest throughout the entire set.
There’s no need to go heavy. Pick the weights so you can keep your reps to 8–12 per set without achieving muscle failure.
Top Mistake: Do not swing the dumbbells, the entire range of motion should be under your control.
#9 UCV Raise
This exercise is not about getting huge gains right away but about improving your ability to contract your chest to get better results in the long run. The movement of your arm follows your upper chest fibers and helps you achieve the maximum contraction.
Forget about lifting heavy—UCV raise is about lifting smart. Don’t just try to throw the dumbbell up, focus on squeezing your chest while you slowly raise your arm across your body. Think about following the fibers.
Top Mistake: Adduction is important, but so is abduction, or moving your arm away from the midline of your body. Don’t drop the weight during the negative phase.
#10 Cavaliere Crossover (aka Low UCV Raise)
Named after Jeff Cavaliere, a famous physical therapist and fitness guru, Cavaliere crossover removes tension from your deltoids, allowing you to go really heavy. It eliminates arm elevation but retains arm adduction, leaving all the work to be done exclusively by your pecs.
Your main focus should be to always remember these two things: to hold the weight in the upper point for at least a split second, and then to move it slowly back to the lower point.
Most Common Mistake: Biomechanically, Cavaliere crossover is so safe that it incites you to use way more weight than you can handle. This, in turn, completely ruins your technique: you start swinging a dumbbell back and forth, shaking your body trying to create momentum that helps you throw the dumbbell up.
Don’t do it; instead, focus on performing a slow concentrated movement.
#11 Plyo Taps
Plyometrics is one of the best ways to build a powerful chest without a bench. It trains you to exert maximum force in short intervals of time. The higher the dumbbells, the more explosively you have to push, and the more powerful your pecs become.
Don’t focus on achieving muscle failure because this exercise is not about getting huge gains. It trains you to use your muscles and generate maximum power, so the key is to focus on the force and speed of every push. If you want to go harder, increase the height of your dumbbells instead of increasing the rep count.
Top Tip: If you can’t add more weight to a dumbbell to make it higher, put it on top of a box, a book, or a similar thing.
#12 Pecs Minor Dumbbell Stretch
When working on building massive pecs major, many forget about their pecs minor. You might say, who cares about pecs minor? They don’t make the chest look big and round!
Yes, they don’t. But pecs minor tend to become tightened and short, bringing your shoulders up and forward, which ruins your posture and leads to other health issues.
How to do it: Position yourself on a foam roller, lift your arms out to the side, allow the dumbbells to sink lower than your elbows, and try to stay there for 30–45 seconds. The external rotation of the shoulders is what stretches your pecs minor.
Gym Wisdom: This exercise is not primary or accessory, it is corrective, but just because it’s small that doesn’t make it less important. Do it at least from time to time.
The Bottom Line
Here you go with 12 great dumbbell chest exercises to do without a bench. At home, outdoors, or in a gym—you can do them anywhere to shake up your workout routine and target your pecs with new angles.
Like it? Got any questions? Let us know in the comment section below.
Find out everything you need to know about floor press vs bench press!
Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.