Even though there are many training tools available, dumbbells are amongst the easiest to use and most convenient. Anyone can create a home gym with only a few adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable bench, and get a good workout without spending money on a gym membership. Dumbbells have some advantages that other weight-training equipment doesn’t, so using only dumbbells is a great challenge for beginning lifters and a good way to change things up for more advanced trainees.

We are going to show you how to do a complete upper body workout using only a pair of dumbbells and an adjustable bench. It is important to select multijoint or compound moves when choosing exercises for larger muscle groups such as the chest, back, and shoulders. These engage more than one pair of joints and will recruit more muscle tissue. You will be able to move more weight than with single-joint movements, which is necessary if you want to build bigger muscles.

The Dumbbell Advantage

Balance required

The use of dumbbells calls on more muscles to complete each exercise, though you may not be able to lift as much weight. Be sure to warm-up thoroughly before beginning to work, in order to reduce the risk of injury.

Perfect symmetry

If both of your arms are forced to work independently, you will quickly notice any imbalances between the two. Be ready to train your weaker arm more, which will help keep your overall symmetry balanced.

The longer range of motion

You can use a longer range of motion with dumbbells than with barbells because you can move them in more than one plane. This is beneficial for overall muscular development.

Equipment for a Full Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

To do all of the exercises in this upper-body dumbbell workout you’ll need:

Dumbbells

If you’re working out at home, you probably don’t have a full set of dumbbells to use.

The best solution for this case is a set of adjustable dumbbells or two to three pairs of dumbbells with different weights. If you are unsure of which weights to use, a good starting point for most people is a pair of 10-pound, 30-pound, and 50-pound dumbbells.

A Flat or Adjustable Bench

If you want extra back support while doing overhead pressing exercises, it’s best to use an adjustable bench, though you can do this upper body workout at home with weights using a flat bench.

Warming Up for an Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

Doing a thorough warm-up before your first exercise in each workout accomplishes several things:

  • It helps you troubleshoot your form and “groove in” proper technique.
  • It increases the temperature and blood flow to your muscles, which can boost your performance and thus muscle and strength gain over time.

You can save time by not warming up before every upper-body dumbbell exercise.

A good warm-up before your first exercise in each workout will help prepare you for the rest of your workout.

Here’s the protocol you want to follow before your first exercise of the workout:

  • Estimate roughly what weight you’re going to use for your three sets of the exercise (this is your “hard set” weight).
  • Do 6 reps with about 50% of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.
  • Do 4 reps with about 70% of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.

Then, do all of your hard sets for your first exercise, and then the rest of the exercises for that workout. You only need to warm up for your first exercise.

How to Do This Workout

Instead of doing each exercise for a set amount of reps, do as many reps as you can for each exercise in the circuit, then move on to the next exercise. Once you’ve completed all the exercises in the circuit, rest for one to two minutes, then repeat the entire circuit. Doing upper-body dumbbell workouts as a circuit will help you save time without compromising performance. To do this, alternate between exercises that train different muscle groups (a technique known as “supersetting”). Instead of doing each exercise for a set amount of reps, do as many reps as you can for each exercise in the circuit, then move on to the next exercise. Once you’ve completed all the exercises in the circuit, rest for one to two minutes, then repeat the entire circuit.

I like to do supersets with two exercises that work different muscle groups, alternating between them. I rest for less time between sets than usual, so I can finish my workout and get out of the gym faster.

This type of workout involves completing several mini circuits, each consisting of two exercises. There is a period of rest in between each set.

You can for example do a set of dumbbell bench presses followed by a set of one arm dumbbell rows. You would keep alternating between the two exercises until you finish all of your sets for both.

This can help you save time on your workouts by using the set for one exercise as a break for the other. For example, your “dumbbell bench press muscles” can rest while your “dumbbell row muscles” are working. This allows you to finish your workouts faster without sacrificing your strength.

For each move, do as many reps as possible in 60 seconds, then immediately continue to the next move. At the end of the circuit, rest for 1 minute, then repeat the entire circuit. This upper-body dumbbell circuit has pairs of exercises marked “A” and “B.” For each move, do as many reps as possible in 60 seconds, then immediately do the next move. After the circuit, rest for 1 minute, then repeat the circuit.

. Do exercise “A,” wait the given time, then do exercise “B.” Repeat this process until you have done all of the sets for that pair of exercises, then move to the next pair of exercises and repeat the process.

The Complete Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row (Lower lats) 4 Sets x 6, 6, 10, 10 Reps
  • Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press (Pecs) 4 Sets x 6, 6, 10, 10 Reps
  • Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press (All three delt heads) 4 Sets x 8, 8, 12, 12 Reps
  • Dumbbell Shrug (Upper traps) 3 Sets x 8, 8, 8 Reps
  • Seated One-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extension (Triceps long head) 2 Sets x 10, 10 Reps
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl (Both biceps heads) 2 Sets x 10, 10 Reps
  • Dumbbell Wrist Curl (Brachioradialis) 2 Sets x 12, 12 Reps

*You shouldn’t take your warm-up sets to muscle failure.

Choose a weight that makes you unable to complete the reps within the given range.

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

The following text is discussing the benefits of training one arm at a time. The main benefit is that you can use a little body English to recruit more muscle fibers and generate more force.

Do it Right

To do this workout, lean forward at the waist and place one knee and the hand on the same side on a flat bench. Keep your other foot on the floor next to the bench, and pick up a dumbbell in the hand on the same side. Let the weight hang down straight, with your arm fully extended. Bend your elbow to pull the weight toward your hip, keeping the elbow close to your body. Pull your elbow back as far as you can, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then lower the dumbbell along the same path. Repeat this a few times, then switch arms.

Power Pointer

A common mistake when working out is to bring the dumbbell straight up to the shoulder. However, the best line of pull is up and back toward your hip. This provides a greater range of motion and time under tension for the lower lats.

Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press

The multijoint chest exercise is effective in building mass. You will be able to tell if one side of your pecs is stronger than the other, but you will have a longer range of motion with this exercise than with the barbell version because you can press in both up and in.

Do it Right

Begin by lying faceup on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Next, grasp a dumbbell in each hand just outside your shoulders. Press the weights up and together with as much force as you can, stopping when they are an inch away from each other. Finally, return to the starting position slowly.

Power Pointer

Do not let the dumbbells touch each other at the top so that you keep the tension on your pecs and do not develop the habit of taking a break at the top of each repetition. Keep a few inches between the weights to keep your pecs from relaxing.

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press

If you don’t have a barbell in your hands, you can draw your elbows all the way back so they are outside your ears. This will make the middle delts work harder, and this is the delt head that makes you appear wider. With a barbell, your elbows have to travel forward to the bar, which uses the front delts more than the middle delts.

Do it Right

Adjust the bench to support your back and hold a dumbbell in each hand above your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Press the weights overhead in an arc and lower them back to the start.

Power Pointer

Do not stop the downward motion when your arms reach a 90 degree angle, continue until your elbows point towards the floor and the weights are just above shoulder level. This is safer for your shoulders and you will engage more muscle fibers using this greater range of motion.

Dumbbell Shrug

The range of motion in this exercise is only a few inches. The up-and-down movement should be fluid and controlled, not explosive. Using dumbbells with a neutral (palms-in) grip helps keep your arms and shoulders in the most comfortable and safest position possible.

Do it Right

Stand straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, with your palms facing in. Keeping your chest up and abs tight, shrug your shoulders straight up toward the ceiling, squeezing your traps at the top. Slowly reverse the motion, letting the weights lower your shoulders as far as possible.

Power Pointer

Keep the motion of rolling your shoulders strictly up and down to avoid causing severe strain on the delicate rotator cuff muscles.

Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a great way to develop proportional shoulders by shifting the emphasis to the side delts.

How to:

  1. While sitting on an upright bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs.
  2. Hoist the dumbbells up so you’re holding them just in front of your shoulders with your palms facing toward you, giving them a little nudge with your thighs. 
  3. Press the dumbbells straight up over your head while rotating your wrists until your arms are straight, your elbows are locked, and your palms are facing away from you.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover targets both your lats and pecs at the same time, making it an effective exercise for developing upper body strength. Additionally, the pullover works your muscles through a full range of motion, which can lead to more muscle growth.

How to:

  1. While lying on a flat bench with your feet on the floor, hold a dumbbell at one end with both hands and rest it on your chest. Make sure your head is as close to the end of the bench as possible. 
  2. Press the dumbbell over your chest until your elbows are almost completely locked out. 
  3. While maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, lower the dumbbell in an arc over your head until your biceps are next to your ears.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Training each arm with a dumbbell allows you to achieve balanced muscle growth, preventing one arm from being stronger than the other.

How to:

  1. Stand up straight holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing each other and your arms hanging straight at your sides. 
  2. Keeping your left arm at your side, flex your right arm, and curl the dumbbell up until it’s in front of your right shoulder. 
  3. As you lift the dumbbell, rotate your wrist so that your palm is facing toward your shoulder at the top of the rep. 
  4. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position, and repeat with your left arm.

 

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