How to Do the Dumbbell Push-Up for a Stronger Chest and Core

fit man doing a dumbbell push-up outside on the grass
The dumbbell push-up works the same muscles as a regular push-up, but it's easier on your wrists.
Image Credit: HD91239130/iStock/GettyImages

Regardless of your fitness level, push-ups are the foundation of many strength workouts because they work your entire body. They're also incredibly versatile, with many push-up variations to choose from. But the dumbbell push-up is one that really maximizes the exercise's benefits.

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  • What are dumbbell push-ups?​ They're essentially the same as regular push-ups, except that you grip a dumbbell in each hand instead of placing your hands flat on the floor.
  • What muscles do dumbbell push-ups work?​ They target many of the same muscles as the traditional push-up. Your core and glutes stabilize your body, while your arms, chest, back and shoulders lower and push your body away from the ground, says Reyci Martorell, MSEd, CSCS, CPT , NSCA, NASM, member of the World Gym's Coaches Council.
  • Is it harder to do push-ups with dumbbells?​ Yes and no. Doing dumbbell push-ups versus regular push-ups means your body is slightly elevated, which can make the move a little easier. Gripping dumbbells also takes some of the stress off your wrists by putting them in a neutral position.

    On the other hand, elevating your hands on dumbbells allows your chest to sink lower, "making the range of motion bigger and the push-ups deeper," says Vanessa Windt, CPT, ISSA-certified personal trainer in Los Angeles, California. Deeper push-ups are more challenging. However, increasing the range of motion is a choice: "You don't have to go this low on dumbbell push-ups if it's too hard," she says.

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How to Do the Dumbbell Push-Up With Perfect Form

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Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Grip a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor so your arms are straight, palms facing each other. The dumbbells shouldn’t roll when you perform the push-up.
  2. Place the dumbbells so they’re in line with or slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Extend your legs behind you so your head, hips and heels are aligned. This is a high plank.
  4. Brace your core. Then, bend at your elbows to lower your torso to the floor. Make sure your elbows are no more than 45 degrees from your body.
  5. Push your hands into the dumbbells to extend your arms and return to a high plank. Your body should come back to a plank in a straight line.

Tip

Don’t allow your low back to sag or your hips to rotate or hike upward at any point during the exercise.

If you can’t do a push-up from a high plank, perform the exercise with your knees on the floor (see variation below). You can also modify the exercise by changing the position of the dumbbells.

“When the dumbbells are parallel and close to each other, you put more load on your triceps, and this can make push-ups harder,” Windt says. But if you place the dumbbells wider apart and tilt them out a little, you’ll put more of the focus on your chest, which can make them easier, she notes.

Choosing hexagonal dumbbells versus rounded ones also gives you more stability on the ground.

Watch the Full Tutorial

4 Dumbbell Push-Up Benefits

1. Easier on Your Wrists

Regular push-ups are done by lowering yourself to the floor with your palms flat on the ground and your wrists flexed.

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"Some athlete's wrists are extremely tight and placing them flat on the ground in a flexed position under load can create a tremendous amount of pain, discomfort and irritation," Martorell says.

But holding onto dumbbells while doing push-ups can place your wrists in a neutral position, which transfers some of the weight away from your wrists.

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2. Less Stress on Your Shoulders

Some people lack the internal shoulder rotation needed for traditional push-ups, especially in the bottom position. But if you turn your hands so that your palms face inward — as with dumbbell push-ups versus regular push-ups — it can relieve the stress on your shoulders.

This may enable you to go deeper into the push-up and have a more effective workout, says Danny Lehnert, DPT, CSCS, a board-certified orthopedic specialist at Eclipse Wellness in Ashburn, Virginia.

3. More Muscle Engagement

Elevating your hands on dumbbells allows you to go deeper into the bottom position of the push-up. More depth equals more muscle engagement, especially in your chest and shoulders, Martorell says.

4. Challenge Your Stability

Supporting your body weight on dumbbells may be easier on your wrists, but your core muscles have to work harder to keep you stable. Especially if you choose rounded dumbbells over hexagonal ones.

Your forearms will also get a greater workout with dumbbell push-ups: "Dumbbells can move slightly, so you're relying on your forearms to hold you in position," Lehnert says.

4 Dumbbell Push-Up Form Tips

1. Brace Your Core

It's important to keep your abs tight so your lower back doesn't arch during the push-up. Arching your lower back not only takes the focus away from the muscles you're trying to target but also adds stress, which increases your risk of lower back discomfort and pain.

"I tell clients to tighten their core as if they're about to get punched before they come down into the push-up," Windt says. Squeeze your core and glutes to keep your body aligned from the top of your head to your heels.

2. Keep Your Wrists Straight

The dumbbell push-up is only good for weaker or immobile wrists if you keep them in a neutral position. Letting them bend (flex) will cause discomfort or pain. Focus on maintaining a strong grip on the dumbbells throughout the exercise to keep your wrists straight.

3. Lower Your Chest, Not Your Head

Many people drop their heads toward their hands when they lower into a push-up. However, this puts pressure on the front of your shoulders, increasing the risk of shoulder pain and injury. Instead, shift forward a little as you come down, so your chest — not your head — comes toward your hands, Windt says.

4. Keep Your Shoulders in Mind

Elevating your hands on dumbbells allows you to reach your chest lower than you could with your hands on the floor. This requires your shoulders to work through a greater range of motion, making push-ups harder.

But just because you ​can​ bring your chest to the floor that doesn't mean you have to, Windt says. If that's too challenging for your shoulders, limit your range of motion. Only go as deep as your shoulder mobility allows.

Also, remember to keep your shoulders back and down throughout the movement; don't let them creep up toward your ears.

Dumbbell Push-Up Alternative

If you're not able to do a dumbbell push-up from the high plank position, you can do it on your knees. Just remember to brace your core and tighten your glutes throughout the movement so that your hips stay level the entire time.

Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Grip a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor so your arms are straight, palms facing each other. The dumbbells shouldn’t roll when you perform the push-up.
  2. Place the dumbbells so they’re in line with or slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Get into a plank position on your knees, bracing your core and tightening your glutes.
  4. Bend at your elbows to lower your torso toward the floor. Make sure your elbows are no more than 45 degrees from your body. Remember to keep your back straight and hips level throughout the entire movement.
  5. Push your hands into the dumbbells to extend your arms, returning to the plank position on your knees.

3 Dumbbell Push-Up Variations

1. Dumbbell T Push-Up

This dumbbell push-up variation involves lifting one dumbbell off the ground and raising it as far into the air as possible. Doing this helps build single-arm strength, shoulder stability and core strength, Lehnert says.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Grip a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor so your arms are straight, palms facing each other. The dumbbells shouldn’t roll when you perform the push-up.
  2. Place the dumbbells so they’re in line with or slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Extend your legs behind you so your head, hips and heels are aligned. This is a high plank.
  4. Brace your core. Then, bend at your elbows to lower your torso to the floor. Make sure your elbows are no more than 45 degrees from your body.
  5. Push your hands into the dumbbells to extend your arms, returning to a high plank.
  6. As you push yourself back up, lift your right arm as you rotate your body to the right. You can take the dumbbell with you or leave it on the floor. Rotate until your right arm is directly overhead and in line with your right shoulder. Your body will look like a “T” when viewed from the side.
  7. Return your hand to the floor. That’s 1 rep.
  8. Perform another push-up and repeat the “T” on the opposite side.

Tip

Don’t allow your lower back to sag or your hips to rotate or hike upward at any point. If you can’t do a push-up from the floor (yet), perform the exercise with your knees on the floor.

2. Dumbbell Push-Up to Renegade Row

Combining a row with a push-up incorporates more core strength and stability work. It's also a great way to target more of your back muscles, Windt says.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Grip a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor so your arms are straight, palms facing each other. The dumbbells shouldn’t roll when you perform the push-up.
  2. Place the dumbbells so they’re in line with or slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Extend your legs behind you so your head, hips and heels are aligned. This is a high plank.
  4. Brace your core. Then, bend at your elbows to lower your torso to the floor. Make sure your elbows are no more than 45 degrees from your body.
  5. Push your hands into the dumbbells to extend your arms and return to a high plank.
  6. Shift your weight onto one arm and row the other dumbbell until your elbow is slightly higher than your torso.
  7. Return the dumbbell to the floor.
  8. Shift your weight onto that arm and row the other dumbbell. That’s 1 rep.

Tip

Don’t allow your lower back to sag or your hips to rotate or hike upward at any point. If you can’t do a push-up from the floor (yet), perform the exercise with your knees on the floor.

3. Dumbbell Push-Up to Shoulder Press

Sneak in some extra biceps and shoulder work with this dumbbell push-up variation. Hopping into and out of a standing position will also increase your heart rate.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Grip a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor so your arms are straight, palms facing each other. The dumbbells shouldn’t roll when you perform the push-up.
  2. Place the dumbbells so they’re in line with or slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Extend your legs behind you so your head, hips and heels are aligned. This is a high plank.
  4. Brace your core. Then, bend at your elbows to lower your torso to the floor. Make sure your elbows are no more than 45 degrees from your body.
  5. Push your hands into the dumbbells to extend your arms, returning to a high plank.
  6. Hop both feet forward, landing with your heels on the ground, so they’re just behind the dumbbells.
  7. Stand up, holding the dumbbells at your sides.
  8. Curl both weights to your shoulders and press the dumbbells overhead.
  9. Reverse the movement until you’re back in a push-up. That’s 1 rep.

Tip

Don’t allow your low back to sag or your hips to rotate or hike upward at any point during the exercise. If you can’t do a push-up from the floor (yet), perform the exercise with your knees on the floor.

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