7 Dumbbell Chest Press Variations for Bigger, Stronger Pecs

Trying different chest press variations can help you hone in on different parts of your pecs and avoid a strength plateau.
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Chances are the chest press is the meat and potatoes of your pec workouts. While this go-to chest exercise reaps results, over time, though, those gains can grind to a halt.

"Our pec muscles stop growing when the fibers learn and adapt to the same chest press routine," Ben Walker, personal trainer and owner of Anywhere Fitness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Once you've reached this pec peak or plateau, it's time to change up the exercises and movement patterns in your chest press workouts, Walker says. One way to perk up your pec program is by trying different chest press variations.

Before you challenge your chest muscles with the seven dumbbell press variations below, first perfect your form for the standard chest press.

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First, Master the Standard Chest Press

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Time 30 Sec
Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Start in a prone (overhand) grip with your palms facing away from you toward your feet.
  3. Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward and inward until your arms are almost fully extended and the dumbbells nearly touch.
  4. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows again, lowering your arms gently back to the starting position.

Now Try These 7 Chest Press Variations

Getting chest gains might be as simple as switching your hand position. "By changing the grip, we're creating something 'new' for your body," which can help you break through a plateau, Walker says.

While the overhand (prone) grip chest press is the king of exercises for developing your pec muscles overall, the neutral grip position is great for targeting the inner fibers of the pectoralis major, places more emphasis on the triceps, allows for an extended range of motion and reduces strain on the shoulder joints, Walker says.

Incorporating unilateral exercises, like alternating or single-arm variations, in your chest press routine, is another smart strategy. "The unilateral movement offers a new method of achieving hypertrophy and is key for training the stabilizer muscles or muscular imbalances," Walker says. That's because one-sided exercises allow you to "focus on isolating the lift on one side, while improving muscular stability and balance on the other," he explains.

"In turn, practicing this training method will improve your bilateral movements with the chest press and allow you to maximize more power in your lift," Walker says.

And if you're accustomed to performing the chest press on a flat back, adjusting your angle on a bench can amp up your pec performance too. Doing the exercise on an incline targets the upper fibers of your pectoralis major, works your shoulder muscles (anterior deltoid) and is safer for your rotator cuff, Walker says.

Conversely, the decline chest press zeroes in on the lower area of your pecs. "Nevertheless, incorporating all three planes of the dumbbell chest press is a better training method if looking to get that rounder sculpted chest," Walker says.

To continue building strength and muscle, Walker recommends changing your chest press workout on a weekly basis. For example, one week perform the chest press exercise with a standard overhand grip, then switch to the neutral grip the next week. Continue to circulate between grips, and as you grow stronger, gradually increase the weight in slight increments.

"Another key reason for rotating your chest press exercises is the recruitment of more muscles," Walker says. "Continuing to rotate weekly, you'll notice your muscles are more functional, balanced and conditioned to push more weight while maintaining correct form — another factor needed for achieving muscle growth."

Plus, recruiting more muscles during your chest workouts means you burn more calories and fat.

Tip

  • Neutral grip = your palms facing each other
  • Prone grip (overhand) = your palms facing away from you

1. Neutral Grip Chest Press

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Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Hold the dumbbells by your chest with a neutral grip (your palms facing each other) so the handles of the dumbbells are parallel to your body.
  3. On an exhale, extend and straighten both arms directly above your chest.
  4. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows again, lowering your arms gently back to the starting position.

2. Chest Press With Alternating Arms

Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Start in a prone (overhand) grip with your palms facing away from you toward your feet.
  3. Extend both arms above your chest.
  4. Keeping your left arm raised and your core engaged, lower your right arm down, then press the weight back up.
  5. This is one rep. Continue the same movement, alternating sides.

3. Single-Arm Neutral Grip Chest Press

Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Hold the dumbbells by your chest with a neutral grip (your palms facing each other) so the handles of the dumbbells are parallel to your body.
  3. Extend your right arm until completely straight above your chest.
  4. Slowly lower your arm back to the starting position.
  5. Continue for desired reps, then repeat on your left side.

4. Single-Arm Prone Grip Chest Press With Isometric Holds

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Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Start in a prone (overhand) grip with your palms facing away from you toward your feet.
  3. Extend both arms above your chest.
  4. Keeping your left arm raised and your core engaged, lower your right arm down, then press the weight back up.
  5. Continue for desired reps, then repeat on your left side.

5. Rotational Chest Press

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Body Part Chest
  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
  2. Hold the dumbbells by your chest with a neutral grip (your palms facing each other) so the handles of the dumbbells are parallel to your body.
  3. Press the weights up, rotating your palms away from you so that your thumbs face each other as you fully extend your arms.
  4. Lower your arms to the starting position, returning to the neutral grip at the bottom of the movement.

6. Decline Chest Press With Prone Grip

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Body Part Chest
  1. Sit on the end of a declined bench at 30 degrees and rest the dumbbells on your knees.
  2. Hook your feet under the footpads and lie down.
  3. With a prone grip (your palms facing away from you), bring the dumbbells just outside of your upper chest.
  4. Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward and inward until your arms are almost fully extended and the dumbbells nearly touch.
  5. Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

7. Incline Chest Press With Prone Grip

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Body Part Chest
  1. Sit on a bench inclined at 45 degrees and rest one dumbbell on each knee with feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Grab the dumbbells with a prone grip, lie back and lift the weights to the sides of your chest.
  3. Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward and inward until your arms are almost fully extended and the dumbbells nearly touch.
  4. Hold briefly at the top of the movement, squeezing your chest.
  5. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.