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Upper Body Workouts

Upper Body Dumbbell Workout And Exercises To Consider

by Power Life Team | February 11, 2021

Dumbbells are not only a popular and useful piece of gym equipment, they’re also exceptionally accessible. So, if you’re looking to build upper body strength, look no further than this upper body dumbbell workout. No other gym equipment is required. Just make sure to get your doctor’s approval before giving any new exercise a try.

What Are Dumbbells?

Dumbbells are a widely used piece of equipment for strength training. They’re made up of a “handle” grip with a weight on either side.

dumbbells | My Power LifeWhat makes them so popular is that they’re small, relatively easy to transport, and inexpensive enough to buy for home use. You can buy dumbbells as either a single weight or as a set with removable weight layers so you can adjust the weight.

Why the silly name? Apparently, during the Tudor period in England, athletes used hand-held church bells to work out. Obviously, this was highly annoying to anyone at close range, so they removed the bell clappers to silence them – and thus, the bells became “dumb.”1

What Size Dumbbells Should I Use?

The general guideline for choosing the right weight of dumbbell is that it should be heavy enough that you struggle to complete the last few reps of a set. However, if the weight has you struggling sooner than that, or if you can’t maintain good form or control, then it’s too heavy.2

Depending on the exercise, you may need several different sized weights. Different muscle groups require heavier or lighter weights –– just like when you use a machine at the gym. So, it’s always a good idea to have a few different dumbbell weights in your collection.

The Complete Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

Below you’ll find seven key upper body exercises that will give your upper body a complete workout. All you need for each is a set of dumbbells.

bicep curl | My Power LifeYou can either complete these as a circuit, or you can finish all three sets of one exercise before moving onto the next. But do your best to move through all of them. And, as Tony Horton says,

“Best” means showing up and doing your best without being attached to the outcome.”

What Can I Use Instead Of A Bench For An Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout?

Though upper body exercises often incorporate a bench (and if you’re at the gym, you’ll easily find one) they’re not necessary. You can use an alternative version of the exercise where you stand or lie flat on the ground instead.

Bonus Power Pointer: You can also make a “bench” using a stability ball. Start by sitting on your stability ball, then walk your feet forward until your upper back, shoulders, and neck lie flat on the ball.

1. How To Do A Dumbbell Bicep Curl

The Basic Bicep Curl

bicep curl | My Power Life

The bicep curl is a simple, effective way to work your biceps – an important part of an upper body workout.


  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, holding your set of dumbbells at your sides with palms facing forward.
  2. Now, imagine that your upper arms are glued to your ribs. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back to your starting position, in a fully-controlled manner.
  4. Focus on keeping your back straight and your chest out.

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

Note: Make sure you’re not “swinging” your curl. That is, using momentum to raise or lower the curl. You should always be curling with slow and controlled movements throughout the entire range of motion. If your bicep curls feel too difficult, switch out for a lighter weight.

2. How To Do The Dumbbell Bench Press (Or Floor Press)

There are many ways to do a dumbbell bench press, so work with whatever equipment you have available to you. You could use a flat bench, an incline bench (using an adjustable bench), a stability ball, or simply the floor.

dumbbells | My Power LifeA dumbbell press targets the chest muscles, triceps, shoulders, and core.


  1. Lie flat on the floor (or a bench) with your knees bent and feet planted.
  2. Hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip and your arms bent at 90 degree angles.
  3. Focus on keeping your core nice and tight to protect your back, then press the dumbbells toward the ceiling until your arms are straight up in an overhead position.
  4. Slowly and with control, lower the dumbbells back down until your triceps rest on the floor.
  5. Rest for a moment, so that your pecs can switch off and back on again after the chest press. Then, start your next rep.

If your shoulders come off the ground as you have your arms bent, your dumbbells are too heavy. So, try it again with a lighter set.

Reps: Target three sets of 8-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

3. How To Do A Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The Arnold Press

The Arnold press (named for the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger) targets many of your upper body muscles at once.


  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, holding your dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing inwards.
  2. In a single motion, rotate your hands so your palms are now facing outward in a pronated grip. At the same time, push the dumbbells high above your head (like a shoulder press). Your arms will finish in a “straight up” position (shoulder width apart).
  3. Pause at the top, then reverse the motion to return to your starting point –– palms facing back and inward toward the chest.

It’s important to focus on keeping your core fully engaged to protect your back. If this feels too difficult, try using lighter dumbbells, or do one arm at a time.

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

4. How To Do A Dumbbell Lateral Raise

upper body dumbbell workout | My Power Life

This exercise helps build stability and strength in your shoulders but be aware, you’ll probably want to use less weight with this one. You can always increase your weight as you gain strength.


  1. Stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight against your sides. With a straight back, engage your core and squeeze your thighs.
  2. Slowly lift the dumbbells out and up (as though you are going to fly) until your arms are parallel with the floor. Keep your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back down again, maintaining complete control. You must avoid using any momentum or “swing.”

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

5. How To Do A Dumbbell Hammer Curl

The hammer curl targets the biceps and forearms. Make sure you don’t lean back or swing your dumbbells. Take it slow and steady.

dumbbell hammer curl | My Power LifeStep-by-step:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be straight down, palms facing your body.
  2. Engage your core and, keeping your biceps as still as possible, bend from the elbows keeping your palms facing inwards.
  3. Lift the dumbbells until they reach shoulder-level. Hold for a moment.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

6. How To Do A Reverse Grip Bent Over Row

A reverse-grip bent-over row is great for your entire back, especially for your posture.


  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold dumbbells in a reverse grip (palms facing upward).
  3. Hinge your torso forward from the hips. Your knees should be slightly bent and your back should be flat. The dumbbells should rest just below your knees.
  4. Slowly pull the dumbbells up under your chest as far as they’ll go. The movement is a lot like you’re rowing on a rowing machine, but your hands are flipped over instead.
  5. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

7. How To Do A Dumbbell Plank Row

Last but not least, the plank row challenges your core while targeting the muscles of the middle and upper back, shoulders, and arms. The key is to keep your plank as balanced and straight as possible while you lift each arm.

upper body dumbbell workout | My Power LifeStep-by-step:

  1. Begin in a plank position with a dumbbell under each hand. Ensure your back is nice and straight and that your hands are directly under your shoulders.
  2. Keeping your body as still as possible, row one arm up, keeping your arm close to your ribs.
  3. Repeat with the other arm.

Reps: Target three sets of 10-12 reps, with a short 15-second rest between each set.

If you have the stamina, you can also challenge yourself to a 90-120 second plank hold to finish this move off.

Upper Body Dumbbell Workouts For A Better Lifestyle

Strength training doesn’t just help to make upper body muscles stronger and more toned, it also serves an essential, “functional” purpose. All of these daily movements require upper body strength –– carrying groceries, lifting kids, pulling open doors, twisting jars, reaching for an item on a shelf, and closing windows.3

So, it seems to reason that gaining greater upper body strength as you age will serve you greatly. What better reason to start incorporating an upper body dumbbell workout into your schedule? Again, make sure to get your doctor’s approval before giving any new exercise a try.

Learn More:
Workout Tips To Help Take You From Beginner To Advanced
The Ultimate Full Body Workout Routine For Strength, Fitness, And Growth
Medicine Ball Full Body Workout: Top Moves And Exercises That You Should Know