You know those days when the gym is so crowded that all you can do is stick to dumbbells? Or maybe you don’t even have access to a gym, and you’re looking for dumbbell-only exercises you can do at home. Either way, this workout is perfect for you! We’re going to be doing a dumbbell-only upper body workout that will target the chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and back.
The following are all my favorite simple movements for upper body. We’re going to be working in the hypertrophy rep range, meaning that the workout is optimized to make your muscles larger and more defined! I suggest doing 8-12 repetitions of each movement the circuit for 2-4 sets with 2-3 minutes rest in between. And don’t forget to warm up with some dynamic stretching before getting started!
Chest flies – Flies are a great way to work the chest when you don’t have a super heavy weight around because you should be able to lift a little less on a chest fly than on a chest press (due to the difference in lever length – aka lengthening your arm actually increases the resistance on an exercise!) For these you’ll lie on your back with your knees pointing up at the ceiling, shoulders packed behind your back, and core engaged. You’ll start by holding the dumbbells up above your chest and then open up your arms, carrying the dumbbells with you. Inhale as you do this and then exhale as you return the dumbbells overhead. This exercise will be harder the more you lengthen your arms (but make sure that they’re never fully straightened or locked!)
Bicep curls – You know when you’re carrying a bunch of groceries on your arm? Well, bicep curls can help make that a little easier! You’ll be in a standing position, holding the dumbbells in each hand and facing your wrists forward. Curl up and bring the weights to your shoulders while keeping your elbows in the same place. Exhale as you curl up and inhale as you curl down.
Shoulder press – One of my personal favorite exercises! You’ll begin with your wrists facing forward and holding the dumbbells in each hand. Lift them up overhead and make sure that your wrists are over your shoulders – a mirror is very helpful here. It might feel like your arms are overhead but they could actually be out in a Y – use a mirror if you can to make sure that the wrists are actually over your shoulders!
Tricep kickbacks – You’ll begin in a strong stance with knees slightly bent and hips hinged back, chest slightly forward. Bend at the elbows and hold the dumbbells in front of you, then straighten your arms to send the dumbbells back. Keep your elbows tucked into your side.
Narrow to wide row – This is a compound movement for the back that combines two of my favorite variations of rows. You’ll set up in the same neutral stance that you just did for the tricep kickbacks, hips shifted back and chest forward. For the narrow row, your wrists will be facing one another and you will use your upper back to lift the elbows upward. After the narrow row, go immediately into the wide row: this time you wrists will be facing back and you will lift the elbows out into a 90-degree angle. You’ll also want your gaze to be forward and down here, so if you’re doing these in front of the mirror then looking in the mirror is actually going to strain your neck (you look great, I promise!)
I hope you enjoy this dumbbell-only upper body circuit! Repeat 2-4 times and don’t forget to stretch and foam roll afterwards!
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Video: Maille O’Donnell