Chest and Back Workout with Dumbbells

Chest and Back Workout with Dumbbells

Building your upper body strength is one of the best things you can do to take your fitness to the next level. It can also help improve the quality of your life in general.

We use our chest and back muscles all the time. We use them when we’re carrying dirty laundry, taking the garbage out, pushing a shopping cart, and in many other situations too!

Being strong can also help lower your risk of injury (1), and improve your athletic performance (2). Plus, if you’re looking to bulk up, you won’t come close to reaching your potential by skipping these muscles.

Heck, the extra strength will benefit your other workouts as well.

So, if you want to build more muscle and strength in your upper body, you must train your chest and back.

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I highly recommend throwing dumbbells in the mix too. Dumbbells are incredibly versatile and can help train your stabilization strength unlike machines.

As a result, dumbbell exercises are just straight-up effective.

So, let’s run through some awesome workouts and exercises you can do for your back and chest with a pair of dumbbells!

Is It OK to Train Back and Chest Together?

First, I wanted to answer the most common question we get here at 1st Phorm about training your back and chest. Most people wonder if it’s a good idea to train these muscle groups together.

The answer is, definitely! Working out your back and chest together is one of the most effective combos for a tough workout.

Sure, training your chest is pretty much the opposite of training your back. I mean, when you really think about it … your chest is mostly involved in pushing movements, and your back is mostly pulling movements. But even though they do different things, they can still help each other.

For example, when doing a dumbbell pullover, which many people do as a chest workout, your back actually does a lot of the work too.

When doing chin-ups, which primarily targets your back, your chest gets engaged to an extent as well.

That’s not just true for the muscles of your chest and back either. Your biceps are involved in many back exercises, and your triceps are involved in many chest exercises.

That’s why so many people pair their chest and triceps in one workout … and their back and biceps in another workout. However, there's quite a bit of crossover here as well.

When doing a chest fly, your biceps help keep your elbows bent and pull the weight a little too.

When doing a straight-arm pulldown to isolate your lats, your triceps also help pull the weight down too.

So really, all of these muscles are getting worked to some degree regardless. With that being said, it's not bad to switch up your workouts to pair your chest and back together.

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Just make sure you give yourself enough rest for both muscle groups to recover before training them again.

Now, hitting two big muscle groups can make for a really long workout. One strategy you could use to shorten the workout time, and make it effective, would be to do supersets.

What is a Superset?

Supersets are a popular option, but especially when working your upper body. This is because it saves time and offers a very challenging muscle-building workout.

If you’ve never heard of this concept, let me teach you.

A superset is when you perform two exercises back to back without any rest between them. So basically, you treat two exercises as if they are one big set! Can you see where the name "super"set comes from now?

Supersets are most commonly done with muscle groups that “oppose” each other. Some people also do them with two exercises that focus on the same muscle group. This can help to really fatigue a specific muscle group.

Another option is to do supersets with both lower-body and upper-body exercises together.

But the point is ... with supersets, you can maximize your time and effort in the gym. You do this by doubling the amount of work you do in roughly the same timeframe.

That, and you're also building a little cardiovascular endurance while you’re at it.

Now, keep in mind that supersets may be more intense if you are just beginning your fitness journey.

Workouts for Beginners

Sure, your chest is getting a little rest while you do a back exercise before going back to chest again ... but your heart is still pumping blood the whole time, and you’re still exerting a lot of energy and effort.

Now, that doesn't mean it’s a bad idea to do supersets as a beginner, but I want you to be informed before you get started. It’s going to burn, and you’re going to be breathing pretty heavily throughout the workouts most of the time.

Once you train enough though, and you start to get used to the workload ... it'll get "easier" to keep pushing yourself, just like with anything else.

Now that you know what supersets are, let’s dive into the exercises and workouts you can do!

​​Chest and Back Exercises with Dumbbells

Let's kick things off with 10 of my favorite dumbbell exercises for chest and back day. Then, we'll run through a few workouts you can try out for a dumbbell-focused chest and back day.

1. Dumbbell Bench Press

When it comes to working your chest, there’s nothing better than the classic bench press. It targets your chest, triceps, and shoulders, and it's a staple in most people's routines for good reason!

With a dumbbell in each hand, lie flat with your back flat on a bench and your feet planted on the floor. Pull your shoulders down and back while puffing your chest out. You should also have a slight arch in your back.

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Push the dumbbells out in front of your chest with your palms facing forward. This will be your starting position. Start by lowering the dumbbells toward your chest in a slow and controlled manner. Your elbows should bend about 45 degrees away from your body throughout the movement.

When the dumbbells reach your chest, pause, then press them back up to the starting position. Squeeze your chest muscles at the top for a second, and then repeat for reps.

2. Dumbbell Chest Flyes

To really work your pecs, biceps, and shoulders, dumbbell chest flys are an amazing choice. I incorporate them in my workouts all the time!
With a dumbbell in each hand, lie with your back flat on a bench. Like with the dumbbell bench press, pull your shoulders down and back and puff your chest out a bit.

Position the dumbbells out over your chest with your palms facing each other. You should also have a slight bend in your elbows.

Keep your arms locked in the same position as you open up your chest and bring your arms out to either side of your body. You should feel a stretch in your chest as you do this. When your palms are facing the ceiling, pause, then squeeze your chest to pull your arms back to the starting position.

Repeat this for reps.

3. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Similar to a bench press, an incline bench press is going to target your chest, triceps, and shoulders. The incline helps to ensure you’re targeting more of your upper chest and shoulders.

Set a bench to a 45-degree angle, grab a dumbbell in each hand, and lie with your back flat on the bench. Pull your shoulders down and back while puffing out your chest slightly.

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Push the dumbbells over your chest to put yourself in the starting position. From here, lower the dumbbells toward your chest with your arms staying about 45 degrees from your body.

When the dumbbells reach your chest, press them back to the starting position. Squeeze your chest at the top, and repeat this for reps.

4. Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell pullovers are going to work your back, chest, and triceps. Plus, it will help a lot with shoulder flexibility to improve your range of motion.

Setting up for this exercise is a little different ... so bare with me. You actually want to position yourself on the side of a bench. Sit on the side of the bench with your upper back resting on it. Place your feet flat on the ground, with your knees pointed toward the ceiling.

With a single dumbbell in hand, push your glutes off the ground to form a bridge with your legs and upper back on the bench. Push the dumbbell above your chest and cup the underside of the top weight with both hands together. One half of the dumbbell should still be hanging below your hands.

With a slight bend in your elbows, bring your arms back behind your head while holding the dumbbell. Keep reaching behind you until you feel a stretch in your back below your shoulders.

Once the weight is behind your head, use your chest and your upper back to pull it back up to the starting position.

Squeeze your chest at the top, and repeat for reps.

5. Dumbbell Bent Over Row

Your back, biceps, and rear delts are going to get a serious workout from this one. This is a great exercise for building both strength and muscle in your back!

Get in position by holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your thighs.

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Hinge forward at your hips and lower your torso to the point that it's about parallel to the floor. The dumbbells should be hanging straight down from your shoulders. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the entire movement as well.

To begin, focus on pulling your elbows back to pull the dumbbells up to your sides.

When you can't pull your elbows any higher, squeeze your back muscles for a second. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

6. Chest Supported Dumbbell Y-Raise

This is a great exercise that targets the middle traps which often get neglected. I highly recommend keeping this as a regular part of your exercise routine! This is especially true if you're someone who sits at a desk all day.

Don’t try to go too heavy. Keep the movement slow and controlled.

Grab a dumbbell in each hand and set a bench to 45 degrees. Lay on the bench face-forward with your chest near the top. Let your arms hang freely off either side of the bench and your palms facing each other.

Pinch your shoulder blades together and keep your arms straight as you pull them overhead at a 45-degree angle. This should look like you’re making the letter Y with your arms.

When you reach the top, squeeze your shoulder blades together for a second. Then, slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.

Repeat this for reps.

7. Dumbbell Shrugs

This will build those large muscles that sit on both sides of your neck in your upper back called your traps. You can use a good amount of weight here, but make sure you aren’t cheating the reps.

This exercise starts with you standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand held at your thighs.

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With your hips bent forward slightly, pull your shoulders back and up as high as you can shrug.

Squeeze your traps for a second at the top, then slowly lower your shoulders back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

8. Bridged Dumbbell Decline Floor Press

This exercise will target your chest and triceps, but it will also give your glutes and core a solid test too.

Lie on your back and plant your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your chest with your upper arms still on the ground. Lift your hips off of the floor and toward the ceiling to get into a glute bridge position. Maintain this position the entire set.

From here, use your chest and triceps to press the dumbbells up until your arms are straight. Squeeze your chest at the top for a second, and slowly return your arms back to the ground. Repeat this for reps.

9. Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Flys

This exercise will mostly target your rear delts (the back part of your shoulders), but it will still work other muscles in your upper back too. It’s very important to balance the amount of work you give to all parts of your shoulders.

Since every chest exercise will work the muscles in the front or side of your shoulder ... it's good to incorporate movements like these often. Otherwise, your shoulders may start to round forward in an unhealthy position.

Don’t go too heavy here either, because your rear delt is made up of a small muscle that you could injure without proper form. Instead, place more of an emphasis on your form to get the full benefits.

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You'll start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand. With a slight bend in your knees, bend your hips forward until your back is as close to parallel with the floor as you can get. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement as well.

With your palms facing each other, pull your arms out to each side until you cannot go any higher. Your arms should be out to your sides with your hands as far away from each other as you can get them.

Squeeze your rear delts at the top of the movement for a second. Then, slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

10. Arnold Press

This exercise was made famous by the most iconic bodybuilder ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This will target your chest and shoulders, and can really help you build muscle in your upper body.

Start by sitting on a bench set up at 90 degrees with a dumbbell in each hand held at your shoulders. Your palms should start the movement facing you.

Start by pressing the dumbbells overhead while also turning your elbows out to either side. Your palms should also rotate in until their facing away from you as you press the dumbbells up.

When you reach the top, squeeze your chest and shoulder muscles for a second. Then, slowly return back to the starting position. You will rotate your palms back until they're facing you again at the bottom of the movement. Repeat this for reps.

Beginner Chest & Back Workout with Dumbbells

If you're new to weightlifting, this could be a great example routine for you. I even included a few supersets to try out!

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 3 8-12
Dumbbell Single-Arm Row 3 8-12 Each Arm
Dumbbell Chest Flys
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Pullover)
2 12-15
Dumbbell Pullover
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Chest Flys)
12-15
Reverse Dumbbell Flys
(Superset w/ Chest-Supported Y-Raises)
2 12-15
Chest-Supported Y-Raises
(Superset w/ Reverse Dumbbell Flys)
12-15

Intermediate Chest & Back Workout with Dumbbells

This could be a great workout for you if you haven't done a chest and back workout with dumbbells before. Give it a try, or check out the advanced workout if you think you can handle more.

 Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row 3 8-12
Dumbbell Bench Press 3 8-12
Dumbbell Pullover
(Superset w/ Arnold Press)
2 8-12
Dumbbell Arnold Press
(Superset w/ Pullover)
8-12
Dumbbell Shrugs
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Chest Fly)
2 12-15
Dumbbell Chest Fly
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Shrugs)
12-15
Chest-Supported Y-Raises
(Superset w/ Reverse Dumbbell Flys)
2 12-15
Reverse Dumbbell Flys
(Superset w/ Chest-Supported Y-Raises)
12-15

Advanced Chest & Back Workout with Dumbbells

For my advanced lifters, this is a great workout for your chest and back! Plenty of work, and plenty of supersets!

 Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row 4 8-12
Dumbbell Bench Press 4 8-12
Dumbbell Pullover
(Superset w/ Arnold Press)
2 8-12
Dumbbell Arnold Press
(Superset w/ Pullover)
8-12
Dumbbell Shrugs
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Chest Fly)
2 8-12
Dumbbell Chest Fly
(Superset w/ Dumbbell Shrugs)
12-15
Chest-Supported Y-Raises
(Superset w/ Reverse Dumbbell Flys)
2 12-15
Reverse Dumbbell Flys
(Superset w/ Chest-Supported Y-Raises)
12-15

Superset Chest & Back Workout with Dumbbells

Again, the idea of a superset is to do 2 exercises back to back (alternating between exercises after each set) that will be working opposing muscle groups. So you will pair a chest exercise with a back exercise to superset.

That way, your chest gets a little rest while you work your back, and vice versa when working your chest. The rest period isn’t taken until both sets for those 2 exercises are finished.

By the end of this workout, you’ll be totally worn out I promise! Remember this is just an example, and if you want to make substitutions ... you absolutely can.

 Superset Exercise Sets Reps
Superset 1 Dumbbell Bench Press 3 8-12
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row 8-12
Superset 2 Dumbbell Chest Fly 3 8-12
Dumbbell Chest-Supported Dumbbell Y-Raise 12-15
Superset 3 Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 2 8-12
Dumbbell Shrugs 8-12
Superset 4 Arnold Press 2 8-12
Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Flys 12-15

Optimize Your Workouts with 1st Phorm

While it is super helpful to have a game plan for your workouts in the gym, that's only part of it. By that I mean, getting results isn't just about the workouts you do.

Earning real and long-term results comes from optimizing your workouts, nutrition, recovery, and much more. If you aren't seeing the results you want, that's what we're here for.

We even offer the perfect tool to help you reach your fitness goals: The 1st Phorm App.

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Not only can you get great chest and back workouts in the app, but you can also get full workout programs. On top of that, you can work 1-on-1 with your own personal advisor to help get your nutrition in check.

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Don’t let yourself keep falling short of your goals. That’s not what we want, and that’s why we created the 1st Phorm App.

If you need any help, or have any questions, reach out to our team! We have a full staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches who are happy to help. Just shoot us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 anytime!

References:

(1) Fleck SJ, Falkel JE. Value of resistance training for the reduction of sports injuries. Sports Med. 1986 Jan-Feb;3(1):61-8. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198603010-00006. PMID: 3633121.

(2) Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Stone MH. The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance. Sports Med. 2016 Oct;46(10):1419-49. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0. PMID: 26838985.

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