Who needs a gym when you have a perfectly simple and intense workout you can do right at home? With a variety of workout gear in your arsenal, no tool is quite as versatile or convenient as dumbbells. It does not take very long to set up a home gym complete with a comfortable bench and a handful of dumbbells that can be adjusted to suit your needs as you bulk up.
Best of all, you never even have to hit the gym and be subjected to that one guy who grunts with every lift just to get attention – you know the one – the guy who is always insisting on taking off his shirt.
Another perk? You save money. No expensive gym memberships. No forking over hundreds and you can work out while you watch Game of Thrones…. Win/win.
Dumbbells are not as basic as you might think. They offer a versatility that no other equipment can give you, with traits you cannot find in more expensive work out tools. It is also one of the few instruments that provided both beginners and hardcore heavy lifters with an effective workout that really works.
With that in mind, I have complied a list of the best complete upper body workouts that you can do without a gym or a trainer — just a bench and dumbbells.
Remember that it is imperative that you use moves that target multi-joints and compound movements to achieve results in larger muscle groups. These groups include the back, shoulders and chest. Doing so works multiple joints at once and this translates to more muscle tissue growth.
These groups can also stand to carry more weight, which means that they require more weight to really grow in a way that is extremely noticeable. If you are lifting to gain large muscles… keep this in mind.
1. They Work Multiple Muscles with Minimal Effort.
When you use dumbbells as part of your workout, you are automatically engaging every target muscle as well as multiple assisting muscles that are needed to engage the target area. Every time you lift, you are working much harder than you may even realize and while this means you may need to lift lighter weights than you thought you would require, the amount of movement that is happening in your muscle’s inner workings are making up the difference.
Because so much is happening behind the scenes, you really have to be sure to warm up completely prior to working your sets. This will help to protect you from injury… and remember an injury can set you back significantly. It is always best to make time for warming up, even if it shortens your workout.
2. They Train Weaknesses.
When starting an upper body dumbbell workout for beginners, most people feel a little intimidated when they realize that working both arms symmetrically reveals their weaknesses. For example, one arm may want to come up slower than the other and you might feel more resistance in certain areas.
If this is the case, it is actually a good thing and it allows you to know immediately what areas you need the most work in so that you can train according to your own needs.
3. They Offer a Wider Range of Motion.
Barbells offer a very limited range of motion. Dumbbells allow you to move in multiple planes and target several ranges of motion in one workout. This longer motion range allows for a larger bulk out and muscle development.
Upper Body Dumbbell Workout For Beginners
Work one arm rows with each arm to work the lower lats.
4 sets x 6 to 10 reps
Complete flat bench dumbbells presses to work the pecs.
4 sets x 6 to 10 reps
Do seated overhead presses to isolate the three delt heads.
4 sets x 8 to 12 reps
Target the upper traps with the dumbbell shrug.
3 sets x 8 to 10 reps
Complete overhead extended dumbbell extensions while sitting to work upper traps.
3 sets x 8 reps
Work triceps with one arm seated overhead extensions.
2 sets x 10 reps
Alternate dumbbell curls to work biceps.
2 sets x 12 reps
Complete wrist curls to target the brachioradialis.
2 sets x 12 reps
*Note: This list does not contain a warm up routine. Be sure to incorporate one before beginning.
Training Tips: Getting it Right for Perfect Form and Better Results
About One Arm Dumbbell Rows:
When working an arm at a time, this move is unmatched when it comes to growth potential. In this move, you can feel out what works for you and in doing so find ways to work even more muscles while you lift, inviting in more muscle fibers and force than you might be able to achieve while using both arms simultaneously.
Perfecting the Move: You are going to want to lean forward from your waist while placing one of your knees along with the same coordinating hand on your bench. While doing this, you will need to keep the opposite foot on the floor by the bench, holding the dumbbell in this same hand.
Fully extend your arm, letting the weight hang down towards the floor below. While pulling your elbow back as high as you are able, squeeze the shoulders together. Now, lower the weight along the same trial that you lifted upwards with. Then repeat sets and switch to the other side.
Hardcore Hints: The natural thought here is going to be to pull the dumbbell straight back to the shoulder… but there is a better, more efficient way to achieve a better range of motion. Simply pull in a line that goes up and backwards to meet your hip.
Because lower lats can be one of the hardest areas to train, every extra amount of tension counts to reach the results you desire.
About the Flat Bench Dumbbell Press:
This exercise works multiple joints and is a favorite among bodybuilders because it builds mass in multiple areas at once. You will also know straightaway which side of your pecs is strongest. You will love this move for its ability to let you press up and in… as opposed to the barbell form of this workout which only allows you to push straight up.
Perfecting the Move: Start out by lying down on your bench and placing your feet on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each of your hands beside your shoulders. Isolate and press weights upward until they are close to touching. Lower to the starting position.
Hardcore Hints: Never let the dumbbells meet. This means that you will let go of the tension you have just built up in the pec area and grow accustomed to a short break over time. This may not seem like it would make a difference but it can lead to slower, lackluster growth if you consistently make this mistake.
Instead, stop when the weights are only a few inches apart. This way, your pecs do not get a break, leading to larger growth and more definition.
About the Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press:
This exercise is freeing if you are accustomed to barbells. Without the limiting bar inside your hand, you are able to pull elbows out beside your head. This will create resistance in the middle delts. This is an area that will make your body look wider and more bulked out. Lifting with a barbell also emphasizes the use of upper delts in a more intense way.
Perfecting the Move: Bring the bench upward to support your back. Holding a dumbbell in each hand over the shoulder with your palms facing forward, lift the dumbbells overhead into an arced position… Remember not to let the weights touch. Lower and repeat.
Hardcore Hints: You are going to want to stop at the 90-degree angle because this range of motion feels most natural. Instead, keep going and pull until your elbows are pointing at the floor. This will leave the weights around your shoulder range. It is a safe move for all muscle groups, providing two workouts in one move.
About the Dumbbell Shrug:
There is not much of a range of motion in this workout so you are going to need to be very fluid with your movements. Keep control and avoid pronounced movement. Using the palms inward grip will keep your muscle groups safe during this routine so be sure to use it.
Perfecting the Move: Stand up with a dumbbell in each hand. Grasp them at your sides. Chest up with clenched abdominals, do a shoulder shrug straight upwards reaching for the ceiling.
Squeeze your traps when you reach the top. Bring the weight down slowly and lower your shoulders as much as you can without injury.
Hardcore Hints: Never roll your shoulders with this move. It will not target the upper traps as accurately. It can also cause injury to the rotator cuff and if you blow your rotator cuff… you are out of commission.
About the Seated One Arm Overhead Extension:
This move is a great go-to because with your arm up over your head, you are able to target the largest muscle in the back of your arms.
Perfecting the Move: Sit upright on your bench with your feet on the floor. Hold a dumbbell over your head with a fully extended arm. Isolate by bending only at the elbow and lowering the dumbbell back behind your head to form a 90-degree angle.
Once you feel your triceps come into a stretch, pull back upward into an extended arm and squeeze the triceps at the top of your set. Switch to the other side.
Hardcore Hints: There is a two arm workout in this move if you are interested. If you use it, keep your elbow tight to avoid injury.
About the Alternating Dumbbell Curl:
This move is entirely different than a barbell curl because it will allow you to achieve supination when you bring your arms to the top. Remember to keep your palms turned inward and then turn your wrists when you get towards the top of a set, slowly and controlled to avoid injury and maximize tension.
Perfecting the Move: Stand up while holding a dumbbell in each of your hands by your side. Chest upward, tight elbows — curl towards the shoulder on the same side of each dumbbell and turn the wrist as you move upward. Lower and repeat.
Hardcore Hints: This exercise is very easy to get very wrong. What you do not want to do more than anything else is bring the weight up too high. Sure it looks like an impressive party trick…
…but what it really does is remove your elbow from your side and prevent you from working in an isolation on the biceps. So remember keep those elbows to the back.
About the Dumbbell Wrist Curl:
You will always want to work this set last. This is because if you were to do this too early in the game your muscles would fatigue and shorten your grip (and your stamina for your workout.) This can spell disaster for your workout and your body if you were to lose your grip in a bad space.
The moves that come before this one also require your forearms to be as fresh as possible… so never move this set up.
Perfecting the Move: Sitting at the end of your bench, forearms lying on it flatly, hold a dumbbell in each of your hands — palms upward. Let the dumbbells roll to your fingers and isolate your wrists with a curl that brings the weights right back to the starting point.
Hardcore Hints: To achieve a better range, hold your thumbs on the same side as the handle. This gives you the perfect isolation and target for your lower forearm.