We love the barbell bench press as much as you do, but just because you’ve been doing it every Monday night since high school doesn’t mean you can’t change it up every once in a while. Pressing with dumbbells is safer for your shoulders and activates more pectoral muscle, which means more focused training directly on your chest. Plus, at times when a home or hotel gym is all you have access to, dumbbells are the best weapon you’ve got. Follow this routine for four weeks, and we bet you’ll add as much as another quarter inch to your chest.
How It Works Dumbbells don’t let you go as heavy as barbells, so don’t fight it—instead, follow this workout, which focuses on higher reps and keeping the muscles under constant tension so they work to exhaustion. Dumbbells also let you train your muscles through a larger range of motion—pressing with a barbell cuts you off a few inches short—and they correct strength imbalances between sides. If you find yourself in a gym so bare bones that the dumbbells you have still aren’t heavy enough to provide enough challenge, simply perform your reps more slowly. In your race for bigger gains, slow and steady sometimes is the fastest path.
Directions Perform the workout once per week, resting at least a day before and after any shoulder training. Exercises marked “A,” “B,” and “C” are done in sequence, so you’ll perform one set of each without rest in between.
Lie back on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the dumbbells into each other as hard as you can, as if you were crushing something in between them. Keep the tension as you lift the weights over your chest.
Lie back on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand over your chest. Spread your arms apart and lower the dumbbells out to your sides until you feel a stretch in your pecs. Squeeze your pecs as you bring the weights together again.
Get into pushup position with your hands just outside shoulder width and place your feet on a box or bench so your body angles toward the floor. Lower your body until your chest is about an inch above the floor and then press up. Stop a rep or two shy of your max.