Upper Body Dumbbell Workout


These instructions are for an upper body dumbbell workout. Each exercise will give you a step by step of how to perform each move with an image showing how the particular exercise is done.

These will work the upper body muscles including the biceps, triceps, pectorals (chest), the shoulders and to some extent some back muscles.

When using dumbbell weights you want to have multiple weights available. This way you can use the heavier weights for the larger muscles like the biceps and a lighter weight for the less used muscles like the triceps.

There are two exercises for each of the major muscles in this part of the body. You can do them in the order shown below, or pick and choose the ones you want to include in your routine. As with any exercise, make sure to do it correctly in order to minimize risk of injury and to properly strengthen the muscles.

List of Exercises

To view the instructions these upper body dumbbell workouts, use the links below or simply scroll down the page. If you are looking for just the  upper back area, check out this page..

Why Dumbbells

To strengthen the muscles in the body, you need to provide resistance while doing the exercise. You can do this by using your own body weight, with resistance bands, weight lifting or using dumbbell weights. Dumbbell weights are an easy way to provide varying levels of resistance by using different weighted dumbbells.

They can easily be used at home or in the gym. You don't have to spend lots of money to get started with dumbbells. While there are limitations on how much weight you can have with dumbbells, they are a great way to start any strength training routine.

As you build and tone your muscles, you may have to move up on the weights or begin to use free weights and a weight bench to add additional resistance. However, if you are just looking to continue toning your body, the dumbbells will do the trick.

Upper Body Dumbbell Workout Exercise #1 - Bicep Curls

This upper body dumbbell workout will really isolate the bicep muscles and is the primary muscle strengthened with this move. This large muscle is located in the upper front part of the arm between the shoulder and elbow.

How to do the Bicep Curl

Make sure to use a weight that is proper for your fitness level. This is a larger muscle, so try using a heavier dumbbell for this workout.

  1. Stand with your legs hip width apart and a dumbbell weight in each hand.
  2. Place your arms by your side with your palms facing out.
  3. Now slowly and deliberately raise the dumbbell weights up to your shoulders bending at the elbows.  Be sure to keep your elbows as close to your body as you can.
  4. Slowly return to starting position.
  5. You can do this exercise lifting both arms simultaneously or by alternating lifting the right arm and then the left.
  6. Repeat for 8 to 16 repetitions. 

If you are just starting out, try fewer reps to start with and then work up to more repetitions. Be sure to breathe in and out as you do this exercise.

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Exercise #2 - Hammer Curls

The dumbbell hammer curl is very similar to the bicep curl. In this move, you will hold the weight slightly different than the typical bicep exercise. By holding the weight differently, you are focusing the strength training in other parts of the muscles.

How to do the Hammer Curl


With a hammer curl, you are still strengthening the bicep muscle, but to a lesser extent. Instead, the brachialis muscle is more of the focus with this move. This muscle runs along the outside of your upper arm. While this is the primary muscle targeted with this curl, it's not the only one that will be strengthened. Additional muscles engaged and used with this move include the biceps, shoulders and the trapezoids.

  1. Stand with legs hip width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Place your arms by your side with the palms facing toward your body.
  3. Now slowly lift your arms up to your shoulder bending at the elbow.  Keep your elbows close to your body.
  4. As you inhale, slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Alternatively, you can do this upper body dumbbell workout one arm at a time. Just keep alternating arms for several repetitions.

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Exercise #3 - Tricep Extension

As the name suggests, this upper body dumbbell workout will strengthen the tricep muscles. The tricep brachii muscle, Latin for three-headed muscle, is the large muscle in the back of your upper arm. The primary purpose of this muscle is to facilitate the extension of the elbow. In other words, straightening your arm.

The opposing muscle is the biceps which are located in the front of the upper arm. It's always a good idea to exercise the opposing muscles in the same workout to really strengthen that area of the body.

How to do the Tricep Extension

The tricep muscle is one of the most under used muscles. So use your lighter weights to start out for this part of your upper body dumbbell workout. Use the steps below to do this move correctly.

  1. Stand with your legs hip width apart and hold one dumbbell weight in both hands.
  2. Your hands should be gripping the bar just below the weight at one end.
  3. Place your arms straight up reaching to the ceiling with arms next to your ears.
  4. Now slowly extend your arms behind your back bending at the elbows.
  5. Return your arms to starting position and repeat for several reps.
  6. Remember in inhale and exhale as you do this movement

Note:  You can do this exercise with just one arm at a time or as explained above. If you want to do this with just one arm at a time, just use one hand to grip the weight and place your arm straight up with your elbow by your ear.

Remember the tricep is an under used muscle, so if you are just starting out, don't over do it the first day of you workout.

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Exercise #4 - Tricep Kickback

While the bicep is the muscle many like to flex and show off, the triceps actually make up two thirds of the upper arm. This particular exercise will only target these muscles. There are no additional stabilizers or extensors used while doing this move.

How to do the Tricep Kickback

Since the tricep is a smaller muscle in comparison to many others, you may want to use a lighter weight. Use the steps below to do this exercise correctly.

  1. Using a bench, place your left knee and left hand on the side of the bench while holding the dumbbell weight in your right hand.
  2. Keeping your back straight, bend your right arm bringing your arm parallel to the floor and slightly above your back
  3. Make sure your palm is facing your body your arms next to your body keeping the elbows close to your body.
  4. Now straighten your elbows and reach your arms behind you and up slightly towards the ceiling.
  5. Make sure to keep the upper arm stationary to contract the tricep muscles.
  6. While inhaling, return your arms to starting position and repeat for several reps.
  7. Switch sides and repeat the above steps for your left arm.

You can also do this upper body dumbbell workout without a bench. Simply bend your body at the torso until your back is even with the floor. Keep your feet shoulder width apart.

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Exercise #5 - Side Lateral Raise

The side lateral raise using dumbbells will really work and strengthen your shoulder muscles. The shoulder muscle is known as the deltoid named after the Greek letter delta (triangle) due to it's shape. This upper body dumbbell workout is an isolation move that focuses on the deltoids, primarily the lateral shoulder fiber. An isolation exercise, versus a compound exercise, will primarily strengthen the focused muscle.

How to do the Side Lateral Raise

Below are the step by step instructions along with an illustration of this workout to ensure you are stengthening this muscle correctly.

  1. Stand with legs shoulder width apart and place a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your side with arms straight and palms facing your body. This is the starting position.
  3. Lift your arms at the sides with a slight bend in the elbows and with your hands tilted slightly forward.
  4. Raise the arms until they are parallel to the floor. Hold in this position for a few seconds.
  5. While inhaling, slowly lower the arms to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat these steps for several repetitions.

Since this exercise only targets the shoulder, for a complete upper body strengthening routine you want toinclude other dumbbell exercises for the upper body.

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Exercise #6 - Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press will target the deltoids, which are the muscles in the shoulder. Unlike the side lateral, this will strengthen more muscles in one move. The primary focus is the anterior deltoid, or the front of the shoulder.

It will also strengthen the remaining deltoid muscles which are the lateral (middle) and the posterior or back of the shoulder. Additional primary muscles used in this workout include the triceps. These muscles assist in the pressing motion.

How to do the Shoulder Press


Use the steps below and the illustrations to do this move correctly. Doing an exercise properly ensures that you strengthen and tone the muscles while minimizing injury.

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor and shoulder width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell weight in each hand. Bend your arms at the elbows on the side of your body until your upper arm is parallel with the floor.
  3. Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing outward. This is your starting position.
  4. As you exhale, press the dumbbells upward toward the ceiling until they are straight above your head.
  5. Hold that position for a brief moment and then slowly return to starting position.
  6. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.

If you prefer, you can sit on a workout bench that has a back, and do this upper body dumbbell workout while sitting down.

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Exercise #7 - Dumbbell Chest Press

As the name of this exercise suggests, the chest is the primary target for this move. The chest, known as the pectoralis muscle, is the broad muscle that covers your chest. There is the major and minor pectorals in this part of the upper body. Both of these are used during this workout.

How to do the Dumbbell Chest Press

While the most common position for this move is lying flat on an exercise bench, you can use an incline, decline or even an exercise ball. The instructions below are for a flat bench. If you use an incline or decline, the steps are exactly the same, your body is just at a different angle.

  1. Sit down on an exercise bench while holding the dumbbell weights in each hand with palms facing each other. Rest the weights on your thighs.
  2. As you lie back, use the thigh muscles to help lift the weights up into position.
  3. Place your feet flat on the floor on either side of the bench. 
  4. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder width with plams facing away from you. Your arms should be at a 90 degree angle and positioned at the sides of your chest.
  5. As you exhale, press your arms up until the weights are touching each other. Squeeze the chest muscles at the top of this move.
  6. Slowly return to starting position.
  7. Repeat this for several repetitions.

Tip: When you are done, be sure you don't just drop the weights as this can cause injury to the shoulders. Instead, return the weights by using your thighs to guide them as you come back to a sitting position.

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Exercise #8 - Dumbbell Fly

The dumbbell fly is the last of the upper body dumbbell workout exercise in this instructional series. This is another great move for building strength in the chest muscles.

How to do the Dumbbell Fly

Both the pectoralis major and minor are used during this workout. In addition to the pecs, the deltoids are strengthened with this workout. In addition to the pecs, the deltoids are strengthened during this exercise. The deltoids are the muscles in your shoulders.

  1. Sit down on an exercise bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Lie down on the bench while using the thighs to help lift up the dumbbells up shoulder width apart with palms facing away from you.
  3. Bring your arms up in front of your chest keeping the elbows slightly bent to where the dumbbells are almost touching. This is your starting position.
  4. Bring your arms out and down in a large arc until you feel the stretch in your chest.
  5. As you exhale, bring your arms back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat this move for several repititions.

Tip: If you don't have an exercise bench, you can modify this and do it standing up. When doing this standing up, be sure to keep your arms approximately shoulder high.

Additional Articles

Dumbbell Exercises
Find out the pros and cons of using dumbbells for your strength training routine.

Resistance Band Exercises
If you don't have dumbbells handy, try using resistance bands instead. Check out the benefits of resistance band exercises.

Upper Body Stretches
After giving your upper body a great workout, stretch out those muscles with these upper body stretches.