Upper Chest Dumbbell Exercises To Build Mass and Strength

If you’re looking to build more thickness, muscle mass and strength in your chest, then you must add dumbbell exercises that you need to add to your upper chest workout routine.

Having a well-developed upper chest contributes to the fullness of the upper body and has functional benefits.

However, it is not easy to achieve a sculpted chest, and it requires a targeted approach that focuses on upper chest muscles.

In this post, we will explore the way to effectively train the upper chest. We will discuss the following topics:

Know About Chest Muscles

The chest muscle is commonly known as the pectoralis (pecs) muscle, which is divided into upper and lower sections. The upper region of the chest is the hardest area of the chest to build.

The pectoralis major has two functional subdivisions –the upper and lower regions.

  • The upper region is referred to as the sternoclavicular head because of its attachment to the clavicle.
  • The lower regions are sometimes referred to as the sternocostal head because of their attachment to the ribs.
Chest ( pectoralis) anatomy

How To Train Upper Chest With Dumbbell

If you want to develop the upper chest to get more defined pecs, you need to read this whole blog. Here I’m going to show you the only way you can effectively improve the visual appearance of this portion of the chest muscle.

Here’s a twist, you cannot directly improve only this portion of the pecs, but because of the contrast this area provides, you can make it start looking better quickly if you do the right things.

One of the most important things you can do if you want to build a bigger upper chest with dumbbells is to remember to not just focus on strength-building exercises, but also need to focus on isolation exercises.

Here are some key tips for effective upper chest training.

1. Pressing Position

The pectoral muscles work differently depending on the angle at which you bring your arm forward.

  • The upper chest muscle fibers are the target of Incline pressing.
  • The lower chest muscle fibers are the target of decline pressing.
  • It is possible to target your complete chest muscle with a flat pressing.

An incline bench press will work the upper chest more than a flat or decline bench press. If you want to increase the stimulation of the upper chest, you should aim for an angle of at least 30 degrees.

The study found that the most activity for the upper part of the pectoralis major muscle was occurred when the bench was angled at 30 degrees.

At a zero-degree bench inclination (flat bench), the middle and lower parts of the pectoralis major muscle displayed higher electrical activity.

If you go beyond 30 degrees, you will be transferring the emphasis from your upper chest to your front delts.

Upper Chest activation in incline bench press

2. Grip Position

Change your grip from overhand to underhanded has a profound effect on upper chest muscle activation. Changing your grip can increase upper chest activation by up to 30%.

A group of Canadian scientists found that the muscle activity of the upper pecs in weight-trained subjects performing reverse-grip bench presses was more than 30% greater than when they did standard-grip bench presses.

The reverse-grip bench press is one of the best exercises you can do to build the upper chest.

10 Upper Chest Exercises With Dumbbells

Here is the list of the best upper chest dumbbell workouts which help to train the chest at various angles and strengthen and to build a well-developed chest.

1. Incline Dumbbell Press

If you’re looking for a straightforward dumbbell upper chest exercises to add to your routine, the Incline dumbbell press is a great staple exercise to get you started.

Just like the Incline bench press, the Incline dumbbell press works mostly on the upper pecs, but dumbbells allow full range of motion, and therefore in some ways better than the bench press. It adds an extra range of motion at the top for complete chest development.

Incline Dumbbell Press

How To Do Incline Dumbbell Press

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lie on an incline bench (30-45 degree inclined).
  2. Clean the dumbbells and lift them straight overhead. Feel a good chest squeeze at the top.
  3. Lower the dumbbells and feel a good chest muscle stretch at the bottom.
  4. Repeat the desired number of reps and sets.

Tips

  • Exhale whilst pushing dumbbells upwards and do in a controlled manner.
  • Set the bench at about 30-45 degrees inclined. Do not go more upright as the stress shifts more to the shoulders rather than the chest area.
  • Vary bench angles to hit different angles of the chest.

2. Dumbbell Incline Alternate Press

The dumbbell incline alternate press builds size and strength in your chest, specifically targeting the upper chest. Armed with an incline bench and a pair of dumbbells, this exercise can bolster your entire upper body fitness routine.

You can do this upper chest exercise with a dumbbell during your chest workout for some serious strength.

Dumbbell Incline Alternate Press

How To Do Dumbbell Incline Alternate Press

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lie on an incline bench (30-45 degree inclined).
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest with your arms fully extended and your palms facing outward.
  3. Pull your shoulder blades together, slightly stick out your chest, and lower both dumbbells to the sides of your chest.
  4. Now, press one dumbbell upward, keeping the other at your side.
  5. Then, as you lower the dumbbell, press the other one upward.

Tips

  • Make sure to utilize a full range of motion throughout the exercise.
  • Keep both keep firmly placed on the floor throughout the exercise.
  • Vary bench angles to hit different angles of the chest.

3. Dumbbell Incline Around the World

Dumbbell Incline Around the World is another great exercise for your upper chest dumbbell workout. To do this exercise, you can still use an incline bench, but you’ll need to adjust the bench so that get the good contraction.

Dumbbell Incline Around the World

How To Do Dumbbell Incline Around the World

  1. Lie on an incline bench holding a dumbbell in each hand next to your thighs with palms facing up.
  2. Take the dumbbells and create a semicircle by rotating them up over your head with the motion staying parallel.
  3. All the movement should happen with the arms parallel to the bench at all times.
  4. Breathe in as you perform this portion of the movement.
  5. Reverse the movement to return the weight to the starting position as you exhale.
  6. Repeat this exercise for as many repetitions as needed.

Tips

  • Perform press in a controlled manner.
  • Make sure to utilize a full range of motion throughout the exercise.

4. Incline Dumbbell Reverse Grip Bench Press

The incline reverse-grip dumbbell bench press is a very effective compound exercise which targets the upper chest muscles for maximum muscle and strength gains.

Now, it’s an unconventional movement compared to the regular dumbbell press with an overhand grip, but it’s beneficial for emphasizing the upper chest muscles due to the reverse hand position.

Dumbbell Incline Reverse grip Bench Press

How To Do Dumbbell Incline Reverse grip Bench Press

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lie on an incline bench (30-45 degree inclined).
  2. Extend the dumbbell above your chest.
  3. Keep your elbow slightly bent, lower the weight down until it is about chest level and hold.
  4. Bring your arm back toward the midline of your body and focus on using your upper pec muscles to draw them back together.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips

  • Beginners should start light and practice good form before training heavy.
  • Keep both keep firmly placed on the floor throughout the exercise.

5. Dumbbell Incline One Arm Fly

When doing an upper chest workout with a dumbbell, there are plenty of single-arm exercises you can add to correct potential imbalances.

The Dumbbell Incline one arm fly is a unilateral variation of the incline dumbbell fly. This exercise is best used on upper hypertrophy days or chest workouts in more traditional bodybuilding splits.

Dumbbell Incline One Arm Fly

How To Do Dumbbell Incline One Arm Fly

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lie on an incline bench (30-45 degree inclined).
  2. Extend the dumbbell above your chest. Keep your elbow slightly bent, lower the weight down until it is about chest level and hold.
  3. Bring your arm back toward the midline of your body, focusing on using your upper pec muscles to draw them back together.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips

  • Perform press in a controlled manner.
  • Set the bench at about 30-45 degrees inclined. Do not go more upright as the stress shifts more to the shoulders rather than the chest area.

6. Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball

If you want to try new exercises for your upper chest with dumbbells, try doing the Incline Press with a dumbbell on a ball.

It is a variation of the incline dumbbell bench press and an exercise used to build the muscles of the chest. The shoulders and triceps will be indirectly involved as well.

The purpose of using a stability ball instead of an inclined bench is to add instability to the exercise, which forces the recruitment of many stabilizer muscles, especially in your core.

Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball

How To Do Dumbbell Incline Press on Exercise Ball

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit down on a Swiss ball.
  2. Slowly, step forward until your torso forms a 45-degree angle to the ground.
  3. The Swiss ball will be positioned under your upper back and shoulders.
  4. Raise dumbbells until dumbbells are straight above your chin with arms straight. Be sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
  5. Begin exercise by lowering dumbbells down until they are just outside your upper chest.
  6. Pause, then push dumbbells straight back up to the starting position as quickly as possible. This completes one rep.
  7. Repeat the press for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Be sure to keep core tight and feet planted into the ground to keep balance and strengthen the core.
  • Exhale as you push the weight up, and inhale as you lower the weight down.
  • Lower weight down until upper arms are just past parallel to the ground.

7. Incline Dumbbell Twist Fly

The Incline dumbbell twist fly is a slight variation of the incline dumbbell fly to train the upper chest.

The incline used in an incline dumbbell twist fly helps you better isolate the muscles of the upper chest, and the contraction produced by twisting the weight is greater than one typically experiences from the traditional incline dumbbell fly.

Incline Dumbbell Twist Fly

How To Do Incline Dumbbell Twist Fly

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand in each hand with a neutral grip and lie on an incline bench.
  2. Hold the weights above you at shoulder height.
  3. Slightly retract your shoulder blades, unlock your elbows, and slowly lower the dumbbells laterally while maintaining the angle at your elbow.
  4. Once the dumbbells reach chest level, reverse the movement by squeezing your pecs together.
  5. As the dumbbells are returning to the starting position, twist the handles so that the bottom of the dumbbells almost touch.
  6. Without allowing the dumbbells to touch, start the next repetition by untwisting the handles back to a neutral position, and continue until the set is completed.

Tips

  • Imagine you’re trying to hug a tree while completing the exercise.
  • Avoid touching or banging the dumbbells together at the top of each repetition to keep constant tension.

8. Incline Dumbbell Fly

The Incline dumbbell chest fly is a strength training exercise in which the hand and arm move through an arc while the elbow is kept at a constant angle.

The Incline chest flya bodybuilding favourite, is an isolation exercise and is usually performed after big compound lifts, like the bench and incline press. It is considered to be the perfect finishing move and a great way to focus on your chest after many pressing exercises.

Do not only do a Flat chest fly, but also add an incline bench position because the incline bench position isolates the harder-to-develop upper pectorals.

incline dumbbell fly

How To Do Incline Dumbbell Fly

  1. Set an incline bench at a 30-to 45-degree angle. Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lift your arms straight up from your shoulders and the dumbbells directly over your upper chest.
  3. Slowly lower your arms out to your sides until your wrists come to about shoulder level or slightly above
  4. Bring your arms back toward the midline of your body, focus on using your pec muscles to draw them back together.

Tips

  • Maintain control, with a 4-second descent, slight pause and contract with a reverse motion, hold and repeat.
  • Pick a weight that you can control, that’s not too light or too heavy — find what’s right for you.
  • Maintain tension in your abs and don’t allow your lower back to excessively arch.

9. Incline Bench Dumbbell Pullover

Incline bench dumbbell pullovers is the best exercise to build a strong rib cage and build serratus anterior muscle to build a chest and back.

This exercise is similar to a chest dumbbell press, the only difference is that the dumbbells are held close together in this exercise

It allows for a wide range of motion, thus providing a deep pectorals and lats stretch.

Incline Bench dumbbell Pullovers

How To Do Incline Bench Dumbbell Pullover

  1. Set the bench position between 30-45 degrees. Now lie across on an Incline bench.
  2. Grasp a dumbbell with both hands, and get it straight over your chest.
  3. Lower the dumbbell in an arc slowly, getting a good stretch in your rib cage.
  4. Lower the dumbbell as far as possible, and then raise it back to the starting position.

Tips

  • Maximum stretching ensures the greatest expansion of the rib cage.
  • Vary the position of the bench to hit different angles of the upper chest.

10. Standing Upward Chest Fly

Standing dumbbell chest fly is a good exercise to target your upper chest. With only a pair of dumbbells, you can make your chest area broader and more developed.

This exercise is like a front raise that you would do for your shoulders, but with a simple twist of the wrists that makes it an effective chest exercise. For this one, you will require a dumbbell in each hand.

Standing Upward Chest Fly

How To Do Standing Upward Chest Fly

  1. In a standing position, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing upward. 
  2. Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and your arms down straight in front of your centre.
  3. Extend your arms up and out to the sides, keeping your elbows straight and your arms at chest level.
  4. Bring them back to the centre to finish a single rep. 

Tips

  • Exhale during the concentric (muscle-shortening) part of the motion.
  • Your arms and shoulders will work, but most of the work should be done with the pecs.

Sets and Reps For Upper Chest Workout Routine

Of course, the number of sets and reps will be determined based on your fitness journey, but here is a great starting point:

Sets

According to the latest scientific evidence, 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group may optimize muscle growth.

  • Beginners: ~10 sets per week.
  • Intermediate: ~15 sets per week.
  • Advanced: ~20 sets per week.

When a certain amount of volume stops being effective and your progress stalls, you can add sets to increase volume and use that as a driver of renewed progress. 

Reps

The best rep ranges and loads to work with.

  • For muscle endurance: Aim for 15-20+ reps, with a moderate amount of resistance.
  • For muscle strength: 6-10 reps, with a heavier amount of resistance.
  • For muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle size): Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, with a moderate to heavy amount of resistance.

It is always best to start with a lower number of reps and sets, and then gradually increase as your strength improves

Beginner Upper Chest Workout Plan

If you’re new to lifting weights, don’t worry. This beginner-friendly chest workout routine is a great place to start.

When this gets easy, choose a heavier free weight. After you’ve upped your weight several times and feel strong in the movements below, move on to the intermediate routine. Until then, you can follow this beginner chest workout plan.

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Incline Dumbbell Press48-1260-90 sec
Incline Dumbbell Fly48-1060-90 sec
Incline Dumbbell Pullover38-1060-90 sec

Technique To Train Upper Chest With Dumbbell

Weight training with dumbbells can be beneficial for achieving hypertrophy and putting an increased impact on the specific muscle group.

It is possible to grow the upper portion of the chest, but it can be the hardest part to grow, especially if you are not using an effective approach for training the upper chest.

To strengthen your upper chest, you should try increasing the intensity of your workout. Drop-sets, forced reps, and the pause and go method are some of the methods for intensifying your workouts.

However, with dumbbells, you can easily increase the intensity of your workout on your own. For example, if you want to do drop sets on the barbell bench press, you’ll need a partner to drop the weight from the barbell.

If you’d like to drop sets with dumbbells, you can easily do so by picking up lighter dumbbells.

Advantage of Doing Upper Chest Dumbbell exercises

There are multiple reasons that motivate you to do dumbbell upper chest exercises, and below I’ve mentioned the seven of them.

  • Upper chest dumbbell exercises require more balance than barbells or machines that can lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment.
  • It requires more muscular control than barbells, enhancing kinesthetic awareness.
  • When you are doing an upper chest workout with dumbbells, it’s impossible to take compensating movement from your strong side. This reduces the risk of muscle imbalance.
  • Dumbbell exercises allow for greater joint safety and stabilization and allow the joints to move naturally within their range of motion.
  • It affords a greater level of variety, which prevents physical and mental burnout.
  • Dumbbells variations allow for a greater range of movement (ROM), which leads to an increased number of muscle fibers recruited.
  • Chest exercises with dumbbells allow unilateral training (training one limb at a time), increase core stability, and improve muscular imbalances.
  • Upper chest dumbbell workouts are perfect for the at-home exerciser with the limited space.

FAQ

Can I do upper chest exercises with dumbbells?

Any upper chest moves that you can do with a barbell can be done with dumbbells. Below are some of our favorites, many of which are classic moves that you are probably already familiar with, but have been given a clever twist that yields even greater gains.

It’s time to try out the upper chest workout with dumbbells. Some people might think that training with dumbbells is outdated and ineffective.

However, due to the increased range of motion and ability to intensify the workouts, dumbbell chest workouts have shown benefits over other chest exercises.

Is the upper chest hard to build?

The upper portion of your chest can be one of the hardest muscle groups to grow. You need to approach training for the upper chest in a considered way.

How do you work your upper chest with dumbbells?

There are many good exercises with dumbbells that work your upper chest. The incline dumbbell bench presses are one of the best upper chest exercises. You could also add incline dumbbell flies.

 If you really want to improve your upper pecs, this adjustable incline bench is your new best friend.

Should I prioritize the upper chest?

Having a well-built upper chest is an important part of having an aesthetic physique. Learn how to maximize your upper chest training.

How do you target a top chest?

If your upper pecs are really lagging, the best way to bring them out is to always start with incline moves. A few good choices to train the top part of the chest are incline dumbbell press, incline bench press, lower pulleys cable fly, incline-bench cable flyes, and incline-bench dumbbell flyes.

What Is the Best Dumbbell Upper Chest Workout?

If you’re ready to build some serious pressing strength and size in your chest, try one of the workouts above. It’s designed to fit a specific goal and experience level.

Conclusion

Dumbbell upper chest exercises are highly recommended for anyone interested in building upper body strength and gaining muscle size.

It is easy to do and requires no more scientific details and fancy equipment. If you do these dumbbell upper chest exercises consistently, the results will speak for themselves.

References

  1. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct 8;17(19):7339. Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.
  2. Comparative Study Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(3):309-16. Epub 2015 Mar 23. Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise.
  3. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020 Aug 1;13(6):859-872. Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men.
  4. Glass SC, Armstrong T. Electromyographical activity of the pectoralis muscle during incline and decline bench presses. J Strength Cond Res. 1997;11(3):163–167.

Upper Chest Dumbbell Exercises To Build Mass and Strength

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