Neglecting the upper portion of your chest and over-relying on flat movements such as bench presses and pushups are two of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to building a balanced physique. To rectify this situation, include more upper chest-focused movements and perform these first in your workouts, advises trainer Greg Merritt. Common upper-chest moves with dumbbells include incline presses and flyes, but if you don't have access to an incline bench you'll have to get creative.
Floor presses are staple powerlifting accessory moves for building triceps strength and boosting bench press performance, but they also target the upper chest. Lie on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand and press the dumbbells up as if you were lying on a flat bench. To further activate your upper chest, strength coach Anthony Mychal recommends performing them one arm at a time. You can either do all your reps on one side, then switch, or hold one dumbbell at the top while you press the other and alternate sides.
Dumbbell pullovers were originally used by bodybuilders to expand the rib cage. Whether this actually works is debatable, but the exercise definitely builds the upper chest. Place your upper back on a weight bench with your feet on the floor and hold the plate end of a dumbbell in both hands. Bring the dumbbell down behind your head until you feel a stretch across your chest, then pull it back until it's above your chest. You can use heavy weights on pullovers, but you may need a training partner to help you get in position and hold your legs down, notes personal trainer and bodybuilder Eric Broser.
Reverse Grip Dumbbell Presses
Just switching your hand position can turn a dumbbell press from an all-over chest move to an upper-chest activity, according to Broser. Usually performed with a barbell or in a Smith machine, reverse grip presses -- using an underhand grip -- also work with dumbbells. You'll need to go a little lighter than on standard presses as the grip can be difficult to master at first.
You don't have to use dumbbells to target your upper chest. Try pushups with your feet on an elevated surface such as a bench or chair. Better still, place a pair of dumbbells shoulder width apart on the floor, put a hand on each one and perform pushups. Work on trying to squeeze your upper chest as hard as you can at the top of each repetition.
Vary your rep ranges depending on your goal. For size and strength perform three to six sets of five to 10 reps on your upper chest exercises, or two to three sets of 15 to 20 for muscular endurance. Train your chest once a week and add in one flat or decline move at the end of every session for balance. Warm up with some light cardio and one to two easy sets on every exercise. Cool down with a chest stretch by placing your forearms against either side of a doorway and leaning forward until you get a stretch across your chest for 15 to 20 seconds.