When it comes to bodybuilding, one of the most common questions I’m asked is about targeted muscle growth.
‘How can I grow my lower chest’ is up there amongst the most frequently asked of the lot.
You can see why. We’re not short of general chest exercises, and there’s plenty of overlap from shoulder exercises to help the upper chest. The poor old lower chest is somewhat neglected in most chest workouts though.
In this article, I’m going to show you a list of my preferred lower chest dumbbell exercises. We’ll also dip into the science behind chest training, learning how variety can impact pec development.
- Benefit 1: New Training Stimulus
- Benefit 2: Unilateral Training Benefits
- Benefit 3: Performance Benefits from the Pressing
- Step 1: Mix the Movement Patterns
- Step 2: Remember the All-Or-None Law of Muscle Contraction
- Step 3: Never Ignore the Decline
- Step 4: Don’t Over-Focus on One Small Area
- Step 5: Always Use a Full Range of Motion
- 1. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- 2. Decline Dumbbell Fly
- 3. Incline Push Ups on Dumbbells
- 4. Decline Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Presses
- 5. Decline Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- 1. Focus on Control and Tempo
- 2. Work on the Mind-Muscle Connection
- 3. Lift Light at First
- 4. Don’t Overdo the Lifts
- 5. Treat Them the Same as Other Lifts
Lower Chest Dumbbell Exercises: Benefits of Performing the Exercises
In the documentary ‘Pumping Iron’ Arnold Schwarzenegger describes building a physique like a sculptor making a statue. You have to add muscle all over the body, targeting certain areas. That’s exactly why a bodybuilder would target very specific areas like the lower chest.
Here are a few of the other benefits of lower chest training…
Benefit 1: New Training Stimulus
If you’ve spent the last few years hitting your chest with the same handful of exercises, actively targeting the lower chest will reap new rewards. Any change in training stimulus can provide a lot of benefits, including new muscle growth.
You’ll also learn new exercises and develop better motor control of the dumbbells. Lifting and lowering dumbbells is harder than barbells because you’re working each side independently.
Benefit 2: Unilateral Training Benefits
I usually focus on unilateral training benefits from a performance point of view, but here there’s an aesthetic one. Thanks to us almost all having a dominant side, we usually have a degree of muscle imbalance.
In some cases, it isn’t a big problem. It doesn’t cause injury or look silly. In larger cases, it does.
Unilateral training (making both sides work on their own) is a great way to iron out any side differences in your physique, so you don’t end up with one side bigger than the other.
Benefit 3: Performance Benefits from the Pressing
In order to hit the lower chest, we need to adjust exercises and angles. This adjustment, plus the use of dumbbells helps to recruit more muscle fibers. The more muscle fibers engaged in an exercise, the more contractile ability it has.
This means greater strength, more ability to lift a weight etc.
This strength benefit isn’t just limited to lifting either. It’s a benefit that will translate to general athleticism.
5 Steps to Use the Lower Chest Dumbbell Exercises for Bigger, Stronger Pecs
Simply adjusting the exercises you perform isn’t enough to trigger growth and strength improvements in your chest. You have to make sure you’re doing things properly. Here’s a quick 5 steps to use…
Step 1: Mix the Movement Patterns
You’ll notice that the lifts in this article aren’t all presses – there’s dumbbell flyes in there too. This is down to a couple of factors.
The first one is anatomy. The pectoral muscles are attached in several places on the ribs, sternum and humerus (upper arm). This means in order to maximize their contractions, we have to train them in different directions.
Using a variety of exercises and movement patterns allows us to train the muscle fully, activating all of the fibers.
When we look at a research paper published by Miguel Jagessar and Michael Gray in 2010, they suggest using dumbbells, in particular dumbbell flyes as an effective accessory exercise for pectoral development.
Include a variety of movement patterns and reap the rewards.
Step 2: Remember the All-Or-None Law of Muscle Contraction
In physiology, there’s something known as the ‘all or none law’. It basically dictates that you can’t partially contract a muscle. In more detailed terms, I’ll borrow this description…
‘The all-or-none law states that “the strength of a response of a nerve cell or muscle fiber is not dependent upon the strength of the stimulus”. If a stimulus exceeds a certain threshold, all the muscle fibers within the motor unit will contract simultaneously, and to the maximum possible extent. In simple terms, the motor unit will always give a maximal response or none at all.‘
In more practical terms, it means you can’t isolate selected muscle fibers, so you should always work through a full range of motion with each rep.
Step 3: Never Ignore the Decline
The old-school bodybuilders knew what they were doing when they started to play around with bench angles. They realized these seemingly small differences in training approaches (same exercise, different position) could elicit different effects on the body.
Fast forward to now, and with the benefit of modern equipment, we can measure the impact these changes have across the muscle activation.
In a study from 1997 titled Electromyographical Activity of the Pectoralis Muscle During Incline and Decline Bench Presses, Glass and Armstrong concluded…
‘Results showed significantly greater lower pectoral concentric activation during decline bench press. The same result was seen during the eccentric phase.
No significant differences were seen in upper pectoral activation between incline and decline bench press.
It is concluded there are variations in the activation of the lower pectoralis major with regard to the angle of bench press, while the upper pectoral portion is unchanged.‘
These results were repeated in a 2016 study by Lauver et al, titled ‘Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise’.
In the study they learned that:
‘…the contraction of the lower pectoralis was greater during -15° bench press.’
This shows clearly that the angle of the exercise plays a significant role in the activation of the muscle. If you want the lower pectorals to do more of the work, you absolutely have to work at a decline.
That’s not to say all of your work has to be done with a steep decline, but it has to feature in the workout.
Step 4: Don’t Over-Focus on One Small Area
Let’s take a hop back to step 2 – the all or none law of muscle contraction. When we’re training, we have to consider that the whole muscle contracts when we lift. Whilst we may emphasize an area of the tissue, we still train the entire thing.
This means we can’t neglect the rest of the muscle when we’re training our chest. We have to still hit the muscle on flat and incline benches because we want to maximize the stimulation to the muscle.
This means we can’t rely on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting great results. It just won’t work.
In this list, I’ve put down exercises to target the lower chest, but remember to still perform their flat and incline variations as well, where it’s appropriate.
Step 5: Always Use a Full Range of Motion
As we’ve discussed at length in these articles, time under tension is a key part of muscle growth. This has been studied with particular emphasis on the bench press.
Martinez-Cava et al performed a study on ‘Bench Press at Full Range of Motion’ in 2022.
They concluded that…
‘Based on these findings, the full range bench press stands as the most effective exercise to maximize neuromuscular improvements in recreational and well-trained athletes compared with partial range of movement variations.‘
When performing a decline press, your range of movement is compromised slightly because of the joint angles. This means you’ve got to really open up the chest with your dumbbell pressing to get the absolute most out of every rep.
Lower Chest Dumbbell Exercises – The Top 5
Given we’re targeting a very small area of the muscle, we have to focus on the exercises that maximize the quality of contraction. The quantity of exercises isn’t important here – we don’t want to put them in for the sake of it.
These 5 lower chest dumbbell exercises are all effective and easy to perform in a home gym.
1. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
Decline dumbbell bench press isn’t as popular as other forms of the lift, but it’s a very effective way of hitting the lower chest as we’ve seen from the research. Don’t decline too far though – a 25KG plate or two, or 15-degree decline is perfectly suitable.
If you don’t have a bench that can decline, simply stack plates, benches or something similar underneath to create a sufficient angle (as seen in the video). As always, lift well, lift hard and keep your form good.
Expect a reduced range of movement here, but work through as large a range as you can to maximize the effectiveness.
Equipment needed for decline bench press:
SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells
These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.
We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.
The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.
The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.
How to do decline dumbbell bench press:
- Set your bench to a decline – don’t go too steep, because you want a good range of movement
- Take your dumbbells, lie back and position your hands slightly wider than your torso
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a full depth, just either side of your lower chest
- At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells up to a full extension of the elbow
2. Decline Dumbbell Fly
The dumbbell fly is a great way of challenging the chest. It includes a pectoral stretch, an eccentric contraction of the muscles and controlled internal rotation at the shoulder.
The dumbbell fly is a very popular exercise in bodybuilding circles because it’s a perfect way to add variety and challenge the muscle fibers in a new way. We’re not going too hard here – we don’t want to stress the shoulders too much.
Keep the weights directly ahead – the temptation with the decline is to let them drift backwards, towards the head. Don’t allow this to happen.
Equipment needed for decline dumbbell flyes:
This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.
We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.
Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.
With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.
How to do decline dumbbell flyes:
- Set the bench to a slight decline
- Pick the dumbbells up, lie back and hold them directly in front of you
- Lower them slowly out to the sides, maintaining an almost-straight arm throughout the movement
- When you feel a full stretch, pause and pull the dumbbells back up and to the center, under control throughout
- Repeat as many times as necessary
3. Incline Push Ups on Dumbbells
Before we start, let’s say one thing – this is an ADVANCED exercise, because it’s going to require you to stabilize your weight over a couple of dumbbells, which isn’t going to be easy.
An incline push up on dumbbells is a great way to train the lower chest, because it demands three different things… a push that engages the lower chest through a longer range of motion, stabilization at the chest and shoulder, and core stability.
It’s a movement that mimics the decline push up, but with a different stimulus.
Equipment needed for incline push ups on dumbbells
How to do incline push ups on dumbbells
- Set the dumbbells down on their ends, not their sides (higher incline = more lower chest recruitment), just wider than shoulder width
- Place a hand on each dumbbell, and start with arms fully extended
- Slowly lower yourself down through the movement
- Lower yourself until you’ve reached full depth. You’re looking for more than 90 degree elbow bend and a full stretch of the chest
- Slowly press yourself back up to a straight arm position.
- Repeat as many times as required.
Note: If you like using your dumbbells only, check out our dumbbell chest exercises without a bench as well.
4. Decline Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Presses
This is a movement that many lifters overlook because the barbell version is slightly easier. Easy doesn’t always mean better though, so throw this exercise into your workout more often!
The decline close grip bench press is a challenging exercise because it’s forcing the chest to work extra hard to keep the dumbbells close together.
Keeping the dumbbells close is challenging, then you’ve got to add in the dumbbell pressing element as well, so it’s twice the effort of normal!
Equipment needed for decline close-grip dumbbell bench presses
How to do decline close-grip dumbbell bench presses
- Set the bench to a slight decline
- Pick the dumbbells up, lie back and hold them directly in front of you
- Keep the dumbbells together, and starting from an arms fully extended position, lower them down to your chest
- Keep the dumbbells squeezed together throughout the lowering phase
- When the dumbbells touch your chest, press them back to a full extension, keeping them tight together throughout
- Repeat as many times as required
5. Decline Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
The final exercise of the 5 is the decline reverse grip dumbbell press. The reverse grip element provides an interesting challenge to the workout.
It’s an interesting exercise to me, because research suggests that when performed on a flat bench, it doesn’t activate the abdominal head of the pectoralis major (lower chest) very effectively.
However, when you add the decline element, anecdotally lots of lifters report it works very well, and I’m inclined to agree. The problem is that there’s no research on such a niche topic, so we’re going to have to go with anecdotal evidence here!
Equipment needed for decline reverse grip dumbbell bench presses
How to do decline decline reverse grip dumbbell bench presses
- Set the bench to a slight decline
- Pick the dumbbells up, lie back and hold them directly in front of you in a reverse grip (palms upwards)
- Keep the dumbbells in this position, and starting from an arms fully extended position, lower them down to your chest
- Stop when you reach a full range and the dumbbells are either side of your torso
- Keep the dumbbells in a reverse grip throughout the entire movement
- When the dumbbells touch your chest, press them back to a full extension
- Repeat as many times as required
Bonus Tips to Maximize the Lower Chest Dumbbell Exercises Effectiveness
Here are a few little pointers to help make these exercises as effective as possible. These points can make the adjustment to adding them into your workouts a lot easier…
1. Focus on Control and Tempo
Take your time to slowly perform the exercises. The time under tension allows you to keep control of the weight throughout the movement. This makes your technique better and increases the effectiveness of the exercise.
Aim for 2-4 seconds on the lowering phase, and 1-2 seconds to explode back up.
2. Work on the Mind-Muscle Connection
You’re aiming for a very specific area of muscle, so you really need to concentrate on maximizing the ‘feel’ of the exercise. You can do this by really focusing on what you’re feeling as you raise and lower the weights.
Try to visualize the area you’re trying to train. The bodybuilders of the 70s golden age started this approach, and it remains popular to this day.
3. Lift Light at First
If you’re not used to these exercises, treat them as you would any other new movement – by practicing them with a lighter weight. Slow yourself down, lift light, focus on the movement and make it work for you.
You can always increase the weight when you get the technique right.
4. Don’t Overdo the Lifts
In an attempt to build a bigger lower chest, don’t neglect the other lifts that train your chest muscles. You’ve still got to hit the others, so maybe throw these exercises in twice per week on a dedicated pressing day or two.
You’ll still hit your lower chest when pressing on a flat bench too, just not quite as effectively. These exercises are very focused, so use them as a supplement to the main chest training you do.
5. Treat Them the Same as Other Lifts
What I mean by this is to progress them as you would any other lift. Increase the weights when appropriate, use the same rep ranges as other lifts etc. Don’t treat them as anything special, they’re just other lifts for a different body part.
Lift well, vary the sets, weights and reps, and enjoy the results! Don’t overthink them.
Lower Chest Dumbbell Exercises: The Bottom Line
For many lifters, the lower chest is an ongoing problem. By using these exercises throughout your training, you’ll address the issue. By adding them into your upper body/chest training for a few months, you’ll bring up your lower chest well.
Hitting these exercises 2-3 times per week will see your chest development get better, without a doubt.
Print these off, practice them, and go get busy in the gym! You’ve got a chest to build!
By the way, if you want to train your chest in a more general sense as well, check out our ‘Chest to Treasure Workout’ – it’ll blow up your chest in no time at all, giving you a great rack ahead of beach season!