Looking to build a bigger, broader chest and stronger, more defined abs? This dumbbell chest and core workout is a great way to get started.

You’ll be familiar with most of the exercises in this dumbbell chest and core workout, but tried and tested is no bad thing. So, grab a pair of adjustable dumbbells and get ready to target your torso and midsection.

For the main body of the session, you’re going to hit your pecs from every angle, starting with the heavier stuff while you’re feeling fresh, then progressing to the lighter isolation work.

Once your chest is fully inflated and you’re feeling like prime Schwarzenegger, you’re then going to tag on a bit of functional core work.

Essential for every facet of fitness, a stable midsection also protects against injury, improves posture, and will keep your now-DD pecs from knocking you off balance.

Why you can trust the workouts in Men’s Fitness

At Men’s Fitness we pride ourselves on delivering information that serves a singular purpose: to improve some aspect of your health, fitness or wellbeing. For over 16 years, we’ve been publishing authoritative health and fitness content – written by our expert editors and contributors – in the form of the monthly Men’s Fitness magazine. Each of our workouts has been created by either a highly experienced editor or expert contributor, and has been tested and used in real-world situations.

The exercises in this dumbbell chest and core workout

1. Dumbbell incline bench press (4 sets | 8-10 reps)
2. Dumbbell flye (3-4 sets | 10-12 reps)
3a. Dumbbell pull-over (8-10 reps)
3b. Weight plate pinch raise (3 sets | 10-12 reps)
4. Spiderman push-up (3 sets | to failure)
5a. Side plank reach (15 reps)
5b. Dumbbell crunch reach (3 sets | 15 reps)
6a. V sit-up (15 reps)
6b. Extended plank (3 sets | 15 reps)

1. Dumbbell incline bench press

Man performing an incline bench press
Rest60-90 secs

Why we like it: Using dumbbells rather than a barbell for incline bench presses requires greater stability for those unilateral movements. As a result it can help you develop a more balanced physique.

How to do a dumbbell incline bench press: 

  • Set the bench to a 45-degree incline
  • Pick the dumbbells up off the floor and sit on the seat of the bench
  • Kick your knees up as you lean back onto the bench – using the momentum from your kick to bring the dumbbells to the sides of your chest
  • Tense your glutes and core, then powerfully press the weights toward the ceiling, stopping when the dumbbells are an inch or so away from each other
  • Lower with control – all the way down until the dumbbells are at chest height – then repeat
Man performing a dumbbell flye

2. Dumbbell flye

Rest60-90 secs

Why we like it:  The dumbbell flye is ideal for acting as a chest opener, reducing upper back pain and increasing shoulder mobility.

How to do a dumbbell flye:

  • Lie back on the bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand with arms straight and palms facing
  • With your chest up and a slight bend in your elbows, lower the weights out to the sides until you feel a good stretch across your pecs
  • Reverse the movement, focusing on moving the weights with your pecs, until your arms are extended
  • Stop the weights just before they touch and squeeze your pecs for a count of one – you should really feel it in your inner chest

3a. Dumbbell pull-over

RestStraight into 3b

Why we like it: An ideal exercise for improving shoulder mobility, you can increase its effectiveness by performing it on an exercise ball.

How to do a dumbbell pull-over:

  • Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor
  • Holding a dumbbell over your chest, keep your arms long and begin to lower the weight over your head towards the floor
  • Pause when you feel a good stretch through your pecs and upper back, then squeeze your lats to bring the dumbbell back to the start

3b. Weight plate pinch raise

Rest60 secs, then repeat 3a

Why we like it: This is a great one for improving grip strength, which is transferrable to so many other exercises – ensuring your grip doesn’t give out before you do.

How to do a weight plate pinch rise:

  • Stand holding a pair of light weight plates (2.5kg should do) together at chest height
  • Not got plates? Hold a dumbbell end over end instead – pressing it hard between your hands
  • Keeping the plates pressed firmly together, slowly extend your arms straight out and slightly up until your elbows are completely locked out
  • The aim of the game here is to go slow and purposeful – you’re using light weights, so need to make the contraction count

4. Spiderman push-up

RepsTo failure
Rest60 secs

Why we like it: This is a simple but effective full-body exercise, hitting your shoulders, chest, arms and legs simultaneously, with that knee-to-elbow motion emphasizing your core.

How to do a spiderman push-up:

  • From a push-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart, begin to lower yourself to the ground, while simultaneously bringing one knee up and out to the side
  • Keeping tension throughout, try to connect your knee with your elbow at the bottom of the push-up
  • Return that leg as you drive yourself back up to the start position
  • That’s one rep. Now go again with the other leg

5a. Side plank reach

Man performing a side plank reach
Man performing a side plank reach
RestStraight into 5b

Why we like it: This one works your deep spinal stabilizing muscles and is a great core exercise that won’t put too much stress on your back.

How to do a side plank reach:

  • Start in the side plank position with your core engaged
  • Raise your right hand, then twist your torso so your right hand and head are pointed to the ceiling
  • Twist back down and around so your hand goes under and across your chest
  • Return to the start

5b. Dumbbell crunch reach

Rest60-90 secs, then repeat 5a

Why we like it: There’s loads of opportunity for variation here by changing the weight you’re working with or varying the arm angle.

How to do a dumbbell crunch reach:

  • Lie flat on the floor, with knees bent and a dumbbell held in your hands
  • Straighten your arms, holding the dumbbell overhead
  • Keep your lower back flush to the floor throughout
  • Engage your core and use your abs to crunch up, keeping the weight in a fixed position overhead
  • Reach as high in the air as you can, hold for one second at the highest point, then slowly lower back to the start

6a. V sit-up

Man performing a V sit-up
RestStraight into 6b

Why we like it: A great core strengthener and stabilizing exercise for cyclists, it can be done anytime, anywhere, using just your own bodyweight.

How to do a V sit-up:

  • Lie flat on the ground
  • Raise your legs as high as you can, keeping them straight and together, and lift your torso up towards your thighs so you form a V-shape
  • Keep your back straight and try to keep your movements smooth and controlled – avoid jerking
  • You can keep your hands on the floor, or bring them up to meet your feet
  • Slowly lower back to the ground

6b. Extended plank

Extended Plank demonstration
Extended Plank in Dumbbell Chest & Core Workout
Rest60-90 secs, then repeat 6a

Why we like it: Extending your arms from the usual plank position works the upper back and upper abs harder to maintain a neutral spine.

How to do an extended plank:

  • Assume a push-up/straight-arm plank position –  your body should form one straight line from your head to your heels, with no lifting or sagging at the waist and no rounding through the back.
  • Squeeze your entire core, your glutes and your quads, and tuck your backside under a little to keep your lower back in good alignment
  • Maintaining this position, and keeping torso movement to an absolute minimum, ‘step’ both hands further out
  • Hold for one second, then step back to the start. That’s 1 rep

If you need a new dumbbell set, we recommend the Jordan Fitness Premium Urethane Dumbbells, which offer a floor-friendly design and a wide range of weights. 

Photography: Eddie Macdonald | Model: Harry Sellers