The Best Workout for Upper Body with Dumbbells

Struggling to build strength in your upper body? You’re not alone! This article will guide you through the best workout routines to maximize your gains and build muscle with dumbbells.

Quick facts: Best Workout For Upper Body With Dumbbells

  • ✅ Incorporating dumbbell exercises into your workout routine can help develop strength, muscular endurance and coordination (American Council on Exercise).
  • ✅ Dumbbell training is an effective way to target the upper body muscles, including the chest, shoulders, back and arms (American College of Sports Medicine).
  • ✅ Using dumbbells for upper body exercises helps to increase range of motion and activate more muscles than barbells (ACE Fitness).
  • ✅ The most effective upper body exercises with dumbbells are the bent-over row, lateral raise, overhead press, and biceps curl (Harvard Health Publishing).
  • ✅ Combining upper body exercises with dumbbells with core and lower body exercises helps develop symmetry and balance throughout the body (

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It is important to do a warm-up before starting any workout. Doing a warm-up before your upper body workout with dumbbells can help to improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, it can help to increase your heart rate, warm up your muscles, and increase your range of motion.

Let’s look at some of the best warm-up exercises for upper body workouts with dumbbells:

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic Stretching is a warm-up technique that uses low-intensity, dynamic movements to help prepare the body and muscles for a workout. This type of stretching helps to increase flexibility, range of motion, and power in the muscle without the risk of stretching too far. It also helps to prepare the muscles for higher intensity exercises by incorporating light movement while using body weight or light resistance.

Dynamic stretching typically involves multi-directional movements that mimic the intended exercise or activity, but at a lower intensity level than will be used in the actual exercise. For example, when performing a workout with dumbbells targeting upper body muscles, dynamic stretching might include:

  • Arm circles
  • Torso twists
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Side bends


Cardio exercises are a great way to get your upper body warmed up before you start lifting. Doing a few rounds of simple cardio exercises such as jogging or biking can help raise your heart rate, increase blood flow to the muscles, and prepare your body for the workout ahead.

Your arms and shoulders will especially benefit from the warm-up, as these muscle groups often require more time than other areas of the body in order to loosen up and become ready for exercise. When completed with basic stretching exercises as well, this warm-up will ensure that your upper body is primed for its best performance during more intense dumbbell exercises.


Training your chest with dumbbells is an effective way to help build strength and tone your upper body. Dumbbell exercises can provide a great amount of versatility in your routine, and there are a variety of exercises you can do to target different muscles.

Let’s explore the best chest exercises you can do with dumbbells:

Flat Bench Press

The flat bench press is one of the best exercises you can do with dumbbells to work your upper body. It is a compound exercise that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

To perform this exercise you’ll need a flat bench, two dumbbells, and an adjustable weight rack (if available). Begin by lying on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor and holding the dumbbells at shoulder level with an overhand grip. Take a deep breath in and press the weights up towards the ceiling as if you were doing a regular pushup. As you exhale, return to the starting position in control.

This exercise can be done for reps or time-based reps – aim for 10–15 reps or 30–45 seconds per set for 3 sets total. Try to increase weight each session as your muscles become stronger.

The flat bench press is an excellent way to build strength in your chest and upper body while still keeping it relatively safe from injury.

Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is one of the best exercises to target your upper body with a set of dumbbells. The exercise targets your chest muscles (pectoralis major) as well as the muscles in your anterior deltoids, triceps, and biceps. It strengthens the chest while helping you add mass and definition to the upper body.

To perform the Incline Bench Press, lie on an incline bench set at approximately 30-45 degrees with a pair of dumbbells resting above you. Grab hold of the dumbbells and press them straight up in an arc motion towards the ceiling until your arms are nearly fully extended above you. Once reaching full extension, slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position and repeat for desired number of reps. Remember to keep your back flat against the bench, use a slow and controlled motion during both the upward and downward phases of each rep, exhale on each upward motion and inhale on each downward motion.

Decline Bench Press

The Decline Bench Press is a great exercise to strengthen the upper body when using dumbbells. This variation of the traditional bench press targets the lower chest muscles and allows for greater shoulder and arm mobility. As this exercise often requires more challenging weight than a regular bench press, it’s the perfect workout for those looking to take their upper body strength to the next level.

When doing the Decline Bench Press, start by lying on your back with your feet raised and held firmly in place. Grasp two dumbbells and hold them over your chest with your arms slightly bent. Slowly lower your arms until they are parallel to your shoulders, then push them back up again straightening them above your chest. Ensure you maintain proper form throughout this entire movement.

Doing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps should leave you feeling an intense burn in those targeted areas of your upper body!


Working out with dumbbells can be an effective way to target your back muscles. There are different exercises you can do to target different muscles. You can use some of these exercises to create a back workout that will help you to build strength and tone your muscles.

Let’s take a look at some of the best exercises for your back with dumbbells:

Bent-over Rows

Bent-over rows are a classic upper-body exercise that targets the back, shoulders, biceps and core. The exercise is performed with dumbbells and can be done as part of a full-body workout or solely as an upper-body workout.

When performing bent-over rows, keep your back flat, your core engaged and your elbows tucked close to your body. This exercise can be done using one arm or both arms simultaneously. Start with lighter weights if you’re just learning the form and work up to heavier weights as you become more experienced. Depending on how you’re using the exercise, you might use these movements with higher reps for toning or lower reps for strength training.

Single-arm Rows

Single-arm Dumbbell Rows are a great exercise to build muscle and strength in your upper back. This exercise targets your middle and lower back, which helps improve posture and spinal stability.

To do the single-arm row, start by bracing your abs and engaging your core. Then, hold a dumbbell in one hand and bend forward at the hips until your torso is parallel to the ground while keeping a straight spine. From here, keep you elbow close to your body as you drive it up towards the sky while slightly rotating it outward then slowly lower down until the dumbbell is in line with your shoulder. Make sure to keep your torso still throughout the movement.

To increase the intensity of this move, you can:

  • Increase the reps or weight of the dumbbells used.
  • Try adding an explosive component such as a push up after each row repetition.

Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldowns are a great exercise to help strengthen the back muscles and develop upper body strength. This exercise is performed using a cable machine attachment that consists of a bar attached to a weight stack, with adjustable handles/grips. The goal of Lat Pulldowns is to pull the bar down towards your chest while keeping your elbows close to your sides and your shoulder blades pulled back and down.

Performing this exercise with dumbbells instead of an adjustable cable machine can add even more challenge, as you’ll be forced to maintain good form and balance throughout the entire motion.

Lat Pulldowns are excellent for developing the muscles of the middle back, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius and erector spinae muscles. As you get stronger, you can increase resistance by adding additional weight or using different grip variations. Proper technique is key for maximizing results; always keep your shoulders back and down, maintain good posture throughout the motion and don’t forget to breathe!


Shoulder exercises should be an integral part of any upper body workout. Stronger shoulders are key to developing a strong, healthy upper body and can help prevent injuries.

We are going to look at the best workout for your shoulders using dumbbells, so let’s get started:

Seated Overhead Press

The Seated Overhead Press is a great compound exercise for strengthening and building the shoulders. It can be done using dumbbells or a barbell, and is best performed while seated in an upright position with your feet flat on the floor. This allows your body to remain stable, giving you better control over the weight as you complete each rep.

To perform this exercise, begin by bringing the weights up to shoulder height with your arms bent at 90° angles. From here, press the weight upward until your arms are fully extended overhead before slowly lowering it back down to shoulder height. Make sure that you don’t lock out your elbows as this can place excessive strain on the joint.

This exercise should be completed in three sets of 8-10 reps with a break between each set.

Lateral Raises

Lateral raises are a classic exercise for strengthening the shoulders. They are commonly done with dumbbells and target the anterior (front) and middle deltoid muscles. To perform this exercise correctly, you should stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your knees slightly bent. Holding the weights in front of you with your palms facing each other, raise your arms out to the side until they reach shoulder level. Hold this position briefly before slowly lowering them back down in a controlled motion.

Lateral Raises can be done as part of any workout focusing on upper body strength and muscle definition. It is important to remember that form is key when performing any exercise – incorrect form can lead to undesired results or even injury! Doing a few sets of lateral raises during your workouts at home or at the gym can help build strong, sculpted shoulders in no time!

Front Raises

Front Raises are a compound exercise targeting the deltoid muscles of the shoulders. The primary muscles targeted are the anterior deltoids, with assistance from the middle and posterior deltoids as well as other minor stabilizing muscles. It works best with dumbbells, but can also be done using cables or resistance bands.

To perform this exercise, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length in front of your thighs. While engaging your core and keeping your chest up, raise both arms in an arc out to the sides until they reach shoulder height. Then slowly lower them back to starting position.

For added difficulty, try:

  • Lifting one side at a time instead of both together for an even more intense workout.


Working out with dumbbells can be an effective way to build your upper body strength, particularly in your arms. With a few simple exercises and some adjustment of your technique, you can create a challenging workout for your arms that will help you build muscle and tone your biceps and triceps.

Let’s take a look at some of the best exercises for arms with dumbbells:

Bicep Curls

Bicep curls are one of the best exercises for building upper body strength with dumbbells. It works a number of different muscles in the arms, including the biceps and triceps, as well as the forearms and shoulder muscles.

This exercise can be performed with either one or two arms at a time, depending on the amount of weights being used. For those just starting out, it’s recommended to begin with lighter weights to get acquainted with proper form and technique. Once you’ve acquired these fundamentals, you can increase the weights to challenge your muscles more and gain strength quickly.

When performing bicep curls, it’s important to ensure that your elbows stay close to your body throughout each rep. This helps maintain good form which is essential for targeting the desired muscles groups effectively and avoiding potential injury.

Tricep Extensions

Tricep extensions are an ideal exercise for targeting the triceps, one of the three major muscles in the upper arm. This exercise can be done with a pair of dumbbells, making it easy to modify the intensity.

To perform a tricep extension, start by sitting on a bench or chair with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a weight in each hand and sit up tall. Bend your elbows and bring your dumbbells up towards your shoulders before extending them down towards the floor behind you. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout this motion and remember to keep them slightly bent at all times to protect your joints. At the bottom of each press, pause for 1-2 seconds before releasing back up towards the starting position.

Complete 10-15 repetitions of this exercise for two sets.

Hammer Curls

Hammer Curls are one of the most effective exercises for targeting your upper body with dumbbells. This exercise works the biceps, forearms and shoulders simultaneously, and is one of the safest strength-training exercises available.

To perform a hammer curl, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other. Then, curling up the weights while keeping your elbows tucked close to your body and slowly extend them back to the starting position. This exercise can be performed in an alternating fashion as well, where you curl one weight at a time before switching arms.

Hammer curls will help improve overall fire power by strengthening muscles in both arms in unison – an important factor for maintaining balance and proper posture during any movement or activity involving lifting weights.


When using dumbbells to workout your upper body, targeting the core muscles is essential for a full body workout. Core muscles are the muscles located in the abdominal area and around the spine. Strengthening these muscles helps improve stability, posture, and balance.

Let’s look at the best exercises for working the core with dumbbells:


The Plank is one of the best upper body exercises for toning and strengthening your arms, chest, and shoulders. It is a simple but effective exercise that can be done using just your body weight or with dumbbells for extra resistance.

To perform a plank you start in a basic push-up position then lower yourself onto your forearms in an aligned line from your head to toes. Make sure to keep hips level throughout the exercise and hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds (or more if you can handle it).

Adding dumbbells is a great way to increase the challenge of this exercise and get more out of it. To add dumbbells, simply:

  • Place them between your two hands while keeping straight arms as you would in a regular plank, or
  • Clasp them together and raise them off the ground as if doing an overhead press.

Whichever variation you choose make sure to keep perfect form throughout the entire movement for maximum results.


Crunches are one of the most effective exercises for working out your upper body with dumbbells. This popular exercise works your rectus abdominis (the muscles in the front of your abdomen) and transverse abdominal muscles (the muscles that wrap around the sides and back of your torso). Doing crunches with dumbbells helps to increase the intensity of a workout and engage more muscle groups than just doing bodyweight crunches.

To do a crunch with dumbbells, hold a weight in each hand near your head and lift it up as you contract your abdominal muscles to bring your torso into a crunch position. Slowly lower your body back down to complete one repetition. You can also twist left and right as you lift up for increased range of motion. The weight should be light enough that you can focus on proper form while still mataining control of the movement throughout each rep.

Doing crunches with dumbbells is an excellent way to sculpt strong upper abs while developing core stability.

Russian Twists

Russian twists are an excellent exercise to work on core strength and stability. It is an isometric exercise that targets your obliques, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis and lower back muscles. It can be done with either a medicine ball or dumbbell – the load you choose depends on your level of ability.

To do the Russian twist, start by sitting with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands and twist from side to side as far as possible without losing form for a set duration. This will help build total body balance, strength and stability that you need in your daily life.


Cool-down exercises are an important part of any upper body dumbbell workout. Cool-down exercises help your body to slowly transition back to its resting state after strenuous activity. Cool-down exercises also help reduce muscle soreness, as well as decrease the chance of injury caused by tightening muscles.

Let’s look at some cool-down exercises for an upper body workout with dumbbells:

Static Stretching

Static stretching is a key element of cool-down after a strength workout. It helps to transition your body from exercise mode to rest and recovery mode, easing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. Static stretching involves holding a single position for at least 15-30 seconds, which is known to increase flexibility in your joints and muscles.

When it comes to an upper body workout with dumbbells, static stretching should target the areas that were worked during the exercise. This should include movements such as:

  • Arm circles
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Neck stretches
  • Triceps stretches

which focus on the major muscle groups used in the workout. Additionally, ensure you breathe deeply during the stretches to promote increased circulation of oxygenated blood throughout your body. Don’t forget to include smaller muscle groups too such as those in our hands, wrists and fingers.

Finally conclude your cool-down with diaphragmatic breathing exercises or relaxation techniques such as yoga Nidra or progressive muscle relaxation for improved physical recovery.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a self-massage method in which a foam roller is used to apply pressure to the muscles and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding your muscles). This can help reduce pain, improve circulation, and promote flexibility.

When it comes to upper body workouts with dumbbells, foam rolling serves as an important cool-down activity. Rolling out your chest, shoulders and back will help reduce tension and soreness while also improving range of motion. Start in the centre of your body and roll outwards to prevent injury. Foam rolling also helps you stretch your muscles so that they are better able to contract during vigorous exercise.

It’s important to take the time for proper cool down activities like foam rolling after a tough workout – whether with dumbbells or any other type of resistance training!

FAQs about: Best Workout For Upper Body With Dumbbells

Q. How often should I do an upper body workout with dumbbells?

A. It is recommended to do an upper body workout with dumbbells twice a week, alternating between chest, back, shoulders, arms and abs. It is important to give your muscles time to recover between workouts.

Q. How many sets and reps should I do?

A. It depends on your fitness level and goals. Generally it is recommended to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise. If you’re looking to gain muscle, you can increase the number of sets and reps.

Q. What are some of the best exercises for upper body with dumbbells?

A. Some of the best exercises for upper body with dumbbells are chest press, bent-over rows, shoulder press, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and overhead press.

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