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Two Dumbbell Only Upper Body Workouts To Try


The humble dumbbell is often overlooked in favour of a barbell or cables, but there are so many benefits to training with dumbbells. One major advantage is that you can complete a dumbbell workout with minimal space, making it ideal for those favouring home workouts, or if you train at peak gym times. 

Another benefit of using dumbbells is that it requires a greater level of stabilisation vs barbells, which means the same exercise with dumbbells recruits more muscle fibres and works those smaller stabilising muscles. Dumbbell training also helps to address strength imbalances as limbs have to work unilaterally. If you find one side of your body is weaker than the other, using dumbbells allows these muscles to catch up over time. 

If you are short on time when working out, dumbbells are quicker and easier to just grab and go. There is no setting up a bar, and no waiting for machines to free up - just grab the weights you need and get started!

Want to try training with dumbbells but not sure where to start? We've shared two of our favourite dumbbell only upper body workouts below. Both workouts are designed to hit your shoulders, chest, back and arms without needing much space or kit, or you can mix and match your favourite exercises from both to make your own workout. 

Looking for a workout that targets all over? Check out our full body dumbbell workout for beginners here.

Dumbbell only upper body workout with PT Dan

For this workout, you'll need access to dumbbells and an adjustable bench.

Complete 4 sets of 10 reps for each of the following exercises, with a 45 second rest between sets. 

  1. Arnold Press

    • Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at the top of a bicep curl with your palms facing towards your body
    • Rotate your arms to the side so that your palms are facing forward 
    • Push the dumbbells above your head by extending your elbows, keeping your biceps in line with the side of your head
    • Reverse the movement to return to starting position
    • Repeat
  2. Incline Chest Press

    For this exercise, you'll need to set up a bench at a 30 - 45 degree incline

    • Sit on the bench and lean back, holding a dumbbell in each hand
    • Bend your elbows and position the dumbbells in line with your shoulders. Your arms should fall just below your ribs
    • Bracing your core, push the dumbbells straight up towards the ceiling
    • As you push the dumbbells upwards, bring your hands together so the dumbbells almost touch at the top
    • Reverse the movement to lower the dumbbells, making sure to keep your elbows close to your chest
    • Repeat


  3. Renegade Row Press Ups

    • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, put yourself into a plank position. The dumbbells should be directly under your shoulders
    • Lower your chest towards the dumbbells and then perform a push up, using your chest and triceps to drive your body upwards
    • At the top of the push up, drive your left elbow back and towards the ceiling to perform a dumbbell row 
    • Lower the dumbbell back to the floor and repeat with your right arm
    • This is one full rep 
  4. Fly to Close Grip Press

    • Start by laying on a flat bench with feet flat on the floor
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms extended fully above your chest
    • Lower the dumbbells towards your chest by driving your elbows downwards
    • Push the dumbbells back towards the ceiling
    • Push your arms out to the side and lower the dumbbells towards the floor
    • As your elbows reach in line with the bench, push the dumbbells back up into starting position
    • Repeat
  5. Prone Incline Curls

    • Set up a bench so its at 30 - 40 degrees
    • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, face towards the bench and lower yourself so that your chest leans on the top of the bench. Keep your feet flat on the floor for stability
    • Hold the dumbbells with an underhand grip, arms extended with your hands below your shoulders
    • Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders before lowering the dumbbells in a controlled movement
    • Repeat
  6. Tricep Overhead Press

    • Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding one dumbbell in front of your chest with your hands around the top of the dumbbell
    • Push the dumbbell above your head by driving your elbows upwards until your arms are in line with your ears. This is your starting position
    • Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head towards the floor, keeping your upper arm besides your head
    • Once you reach the bottom of the movement, extend your elbows to drive the dumbbell back towards the ceiling
    • Repeat

Upper Body Dumbbell Workout With PT Harley

The workout is split into 3 supersets, which you do back to back for 40 seconds each with a 20 second recovery after each superset. Repeat each superset 3 times over with a 1-minute rest in between rounds.

1a. Push Press

  • Front load the dumbbells, resting the end of the dumbbells gently on your shoulder region
  • With a slight bend at the knees, generate power through your legs and drive the dumbbells up above your head
  • Focus on keeping the dumbbells above the midline for each rep to avoid hyperextending the spine
  • Keep the core engaged throughout

1b. Lateral Raises

  • Take one leg back to act as a stabiliser during the movement
  • Move the dumbbells from the midline laterally up in line with the shoulders and return back to your starting position
  • Keep the chest up and core engaged throughout

2a. Hammer curls

  • Take one leg back to act as a stabiliser during the movement
  • Grip the dumbbells with your palms facing into your body
  • Curl one of the dumbbells up to the shoulder and focus on squeezing the bicep as it contracts
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position, keeping the eccentric part of the movement controlled throughout
  • Remember to fully extend the bicep before switching sides

2b. Lying Tricep extension

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and grip the dumbbells with palms facing together
  • Position the dumbbells shoulder width apart, and extend them fully in line with the shoulders
  • Keeping control of the movement throughout, slowly bend your elbows and bring the dumbbells towards your ears
  • From here, use your triceps to drive back to the starting position

3a. Bent over row

  • Hinge at the hips with a slight bend in the knee whilst keeping the spine neutral throughout
  • Brace the abs and grip the dumbbells with palms facing inwards and shoulder width apart
  • With the dumbbells at the knees pull in towards the rib cage whilst squeezing the shoulder blades together and engaging the back muscles
  • To avoid too much involvement from your bicep in this movement, try to pull through your elbow and keep the arms nice and close to the body throughout

3b. Upright Row

  • Keep your shoulders pinned back and down throughout
  • With the palms facing towards your legs, pull the dumbbells level with collar bone
  • Keep the elbows aligned and keep the dumbbells close to the midline throughout the pull
  • Maintain tension with the core to keep a nice neutral spine position

Looking for more workout ideas? We've plenty of upper body workout ideas here, or why not download the free PureGym app where we have free workout ideas for home and the gym!

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