A Chest and Back Dumbbell Workout That Also Works Your Abs


Like tuning an instrument to get the perfect pitch, this chest and back dumbbell workout tunes your upper body, tightening your core and strengthening your back and chest to perform powerfully. And it’s not just your athletic performance that benefits.

“This workout targets the biggest muscles in your upper body to help with posture and to counteract the many hours a day we spend sitting, driving, or hunched over our phones,” says Izzi Lynn, instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp and host of our Movement of the Month Club focusing on dumbbells.

The six dumbbell exercises below build the kind of strength that everyone needs—functional, practical, and ready for anything.

Join the movement

If you’re following along with our July 2024 Movement of the Month Club, these are the moves for week 3. You’ll do one dumbbell exercise each day, Monday through Saturday, really focusing on nailing your form. (But you can do this workout anytime!)

Then on Sunday, you’ll do the full workout. You’ll do the chest press for 60 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of alternating hammer presses, then 60 seconds of tabletop crunches and 30 seconds of reverse crunches. Rest for 1 minute before repeating the whole circuit.

Next, you’ll do the bent-over row for 60 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of lat pullovers, then hold an elbow plank for 60 seconds. Rest for 1 minute before repeating the whole circuit.

Here’s your chest and back dumbbell workout

1. Chest Press

No bench? No problem. Chest presses primarily work the same muscles as a bench press— the pectoral muscles, as well as the triceps and shoulders—and are beneficial for both daily activities and athletic performance.

  1. Lie on the ground with a dumbbell in each hand, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Start with the dumbbells above your chest, elbows bent to 90 degrees, but pointing away from your body at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Push the dumbbells up so that your arms are directly over your shoulders and your palms face away from you.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells down.
  5. Repeat for 60 seconds.

2. Hammer Press

The neutral grip of the hammer press helps you strengthen the upper pectorals, triceps, and shoulders, while maintaining joint safety.

  1. Lie back on a bench or the ground with a dumbbell in each hand, holding them with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  2. Start with the dumbbells at shoulder height and press them straight up over the chest until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Lower the dumbbells until your triceps nearly touch the floor.
  4. Press back up and continue for 60 seconds.

3. Tabletop Crunch + Reverse Crunch

This variation of the classic crunch helps reduce the strain on the lower back and focuses more on the abs, making it ideal for building core strength and definition.


  1. Lie on your back. Bend your knees and lift your legs until your shins are parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree angle at your hips and knees.
  2. Place your hands lightly behind your head and engage your core.
  3. Lift your upper back and shoulders off the floor toward your knees, exhaling as you crunch.
  4. Slowly lower your upper body back down to the starting position while inhaling.
  5. Repeat for 60 seconds.

Reverse crunches are particularly effective at targeting the lower abdominals, a region often difficult to engage with other exercises. They also improve pelvic stability and help reduce lower back pressure.

  1. Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides, palms facing down, or with your hands behind your head. Lift your legs so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Roll your pelvis toward your chest, lifting your hips and knees towards your chest. Use your abs to lift your hips off the floor, not momentum.
  3. Carefully lower your hips back down to just above the floor without letting them rest completely.
  4. Repeat for 60 seconds.

4. Bent-Over Row

Counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting with the bent-over row. It strengthens the muscles of the back and the biceps, crucial for improving posture and back strength.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and bend forward at the hips, keeping your back flat and letting your arms hang straight down.
  3. Pull the dumbbells to your side, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 60 seconds.

5. Lat Pullover

Mimic the effects of the lat pulldown machine at the gym with the lat pullover, which targets the latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles of the back, as well as the triceps and chest. It also helps increase shoulder flexibility, contributing to better upper-body muscle symmetry.

  1. Lie on a flat bench or the ground, holding the head of one dumbbell with both hands, extending your arms over your chest.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, lower the dumbbell back and over your head until your biceps are by your ears.
  3. Bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 60 seconds.

6. Forearm Plank

Can’t go wrong with a classic core move! The forearm plank is an excellent core stabilizing move that strengthens the abs, back, and shoulders, helping reduce the risk of back pain.

  1. Lie face down with your forearms on the ground and your elbows aligned below your shoulders.
  2. Lift your body off the ground, forming a straight line from your head to your heels.
  3. Hold this position, keeping your abdominals engaged and your body rigid.
  4. Maintain the pose for 60 seconds or as long as you can without compromising form.




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