A Grueling Dumbbell Chest Workout That Doesn’t Include a Single Push-Up

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You can't have an affective dumbbell chest workout with chest flyes.

Push-ups are among the best and most popular full-body exercises out there, strengthening your chest, arms, upper back and abs, as well as your glutes, hip flexors and lower back. But if you absolutely despise this exercise, where does that leave you?

Before you start stressing, read this: There are plenty of challenging chest exercises out there that aren't push-ups. So, if sculpted pecs are your goal, give this dumbbell workout a try — it may have you missing push-ups after all!

Tip

The below workout is based on tri-sets and giant sets. For each tri-set, you'll perform three exercises back-to-back with little to no rest in between the exercises and you'll only rest in between sets. For the giant set, you'll do the same thing, but there are four exercises you'll do back-to-back.

Chest Tri-Set #1: Chest Press Variations

The goal of this first tri-set is to engage as much of your pectoral muscle as possible, says Cameron Yuen, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. You'll start with the most difficult chest press variation and finish with the easiest. And each variation trains your pectorals at a slightly different angle, changing the emphasis from upper to lower.

Move 1: Low-Incline Chest Press

  1. Set a bench to a low-incline position (about 20 to 30 degrees).
  2. Lie on your back on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights with straight arms above your chest. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and tighten your abs.
  3. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they are just above your chest.
  4. Press the weights back up over your chest.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Tip

No bench available? There are plenty of creative exercise bench alternatives you can try at home.

Move 2: Flat Chest Press

  1. Set a bench to a flat position, parallel to the floor.
  2. Lie on your back on a weight bench (or floor) with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights with straight arms above your chest. Bring your feet up onto the bench, knees pointing up.
  3. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they're above your chest.
  4. Press the weights back up over your chest.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Tip

As soon as you finish the incline set, drop the bench flat with the feet on top of it, Yuen says. "This will also help you prevent overarching your back. You won't have as much stability, but the goal with these isn't to push maximum weight. Instead, focus on engaging all of your pec fibers."

Move 3: Decline Chest Press

  1. Set a bench to a decline position (about 45 degrees), hooking your feet under the bench for security.
  2. Lie on your back on a weight bench (or floor in a glute bridge) with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights with straight arms above your chest. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and tighten your abs.
  3. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they're directly above your chest.
  4. Press the weights back up over your chest.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Chest Tri-Set #2: Flyes and Squeeze Press

In this tri-set, you'll start by hitting the lower and upper portions of your pectoral muscles with the two dumbbell fly variations. Then, finishing off with a dumbbell squeeze press, you'll target the entire pec muscle to give it one final burnout.

Move 1: Incline Dumbbell Fly

  1. Lie down on an incline bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand directly over your chest.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, rotate your shoulders so your elbows point out to the sides and your palms face each other. This is the starting position.
  3. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest in an arcing motion until you feel a mild stretch (not pull or pain) in your chest.
  4. Exhale as you reverse the motion and use your chest muscles to press the dumbbells back to start.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Move 2: Decline Dumbbell Fly

  1. Drop your bench down to a decline. Lie down, holding a dumbbell in each hand directly over your chest.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, rotate your shoulders so your elbows point out to the sides and your palms face each other. This is the starting position.
  3. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest in an arcing motion until you feel a mild stretch (not pull or pain) in your chest.
  4. Exhale as you reverse the motion and use your chest muscles to press the dumbbells back to start.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Tip

Once you complete the flat dumbbell fly, immediately drop your bench and repeat the same exercise. This switch will hit both your upper and lower pec muscle fibers, Yuen says.

Move 3: Flat Dumbbell Squeeze Press

  1. Set your bench to a flat position.
  2. Lie down with your back flat against the bench, legs rooted on the ground, abs tight.
  3. Hold the weights against one another with straight arms, fingers on each hand facing each other.
  4. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they're directly above your chest.
  5. Press the weights back up over your chest, holding them in the same position.

Reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12

Chest Giant Set Finisher

For this final set of exercises, move from one exercise to the next as fluidly as possible without pausing between, Yuen says. You'll perform each exercise until your form begins to break down (aka fatigue).

"This will be one giant drop set," Yuen says, meaning you'll likely need to decrease the weight between exercises. "You shouldn't have enough in the tank for another set."

Move 1: Flat Dumbbell Squeeze Press

  1. Set your bench to a flat position.
  2. Lie down with your back flat against the bench, legs rooted on the ground, abs tight.
  3. Hold the weights against one another with straight arms, fingers on each hand facing each other.
  4. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they're directly above your chest.
  5. Press the weights back up over your chest, holding them in the same position.

Move 2: Flat Dumbbell Fly

  1. Lie down on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand directly over your chest.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, rotate your shoulders so your elbows point out to the sides and your palms face each other. This is the starting position.
  3. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest in an arcing motion until you feel a mild stretch (not pull or pain) in your chest.
  4. Exhale as you reverse the motion and use your chest muscles to press the dumbbells back to start.

Move 3: Flat Dumbbell Press

  1. Set a bench to a flat position, parallel to the floor.
  2. Lie on your back on a flat weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights with straight arms above your chest. Bring your feet up onto the bench, knees pointing up.
  3. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they're directly above your chest.
  4. Press the weights back up over your chest.

Move 4: Flat Dumbbell Isometric Squeeze

  1. Lie on a flat bench, holding your dumbbells against one another, fingers facing each other.
  2. Lock your elbows out and hold the weights up straight over your chest.
  3. Hold here as long as possible, breathing deeply.
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