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There are so many different arm exercises out there that it can be overwhelming to know which ones are a good choice. While the wild exercises you see on Instagram may be fun, crazy inverted one-handed push-ups may not be for you, especially if you're just starting out. Here at voltrxsport, I've compiled a list of basic dumbbell upper body exercises to tweak and strengthen.
These are the exact same arm exercises that I did when I first started working out. 10 years later, I still revisit this dumbbell upper body workout regularly because it tones and strengthens your arms, shoulders and back directly and wonderfully.
It's a great way to use dumbbells to work your upper body, but if you're thinking, "Well, I don't have any weights, so I'm out", let me stop ya right there. I didn't have any weights when I started working out - and I was too scared to go to the gym (which is silly and the subject of another post). Being a super poor college student, I didn't have any money to spend on weights, but I did have a huge jar full of quarters, although ironically, that wasn't enough to buy weights. So I got creative and filled two sandwich bags with quarters and bam: weights. So you see, you don't need shiny, brand new weights to get started. I know you have some things around your house that you can use.
Change in sandwich bags like mine, gallon jugs of water, laundry detergent, grab your kids (just kidding, kinda). My point is, don't let this be an excuse for you.
I've given you the how-to's for each upper body exercise so you understand proper form and engagement, therefore preventing injury and getting the most out of this workout.
You can find a simple one-page cheat sheet for this entire workout at the bottom of this post.
How many sets and how many reps?
Just started. 3 sets of 10 reps each, moderate weight.
This is not my first time. 4 sets of 10-12 reps with moderate weight or 4 sets of 6-8 reps with heavy weights.
If we're talking about classic dumbbell arm exercises, this has to be the king. Everyone knows your old faithful bicep curls, but are you doing them right? Engage your wrists so they stay in line with your arms and don't "break" at the joint. Move up and down in a slow, controlled motion and give a little extra squeeze at the top.
Proper form for bicep curl arm exercises
Incorrect form for biceps curl arm exercises
If you are not fully engaging your back muscles during a shoulder press exercise, you are cheating yourself. Obviously, it's a shoulder exercise, but it's also for all those lovely back muscles. Make sure you're standing straight and have good posture - think sultry Victorian grandmother's posture, oh you're so fit, dear. Start with a strong "T" and lift the weight over your head to bring them together. Control the weight back to the start. That's it - I told you these were easy!
Shoulder press exercises with dumbbells
Again, you need to channel your inner Victorian grandmother so you don't bend over to do this classic arm exercise. Nice, soft knees bend and dangle forward from the waist while keeping your back straight. Lift your elbows back and bring your shoulder blades together - a good rule of thumb is that your fingers should be in line with the bottom of your rib cage, give or take a little for comfort's sake.
Keep your elbows up and lengthen your arms back. Keep your elbows up. I lift a little more as I lengthen my arms. Control the weight back to the start. Repeat and feel the 'za burn.
Arm exercises - triceps extensions with dumbbells
Triceps extension with dumbbells - incorrect form
As in tricep extension, you want a nice, soft bend in the knees and hinge forward from the waist. Hold the weights in front of your chest and bring your arms outward creating a ‘T’ shape. Think of bringing your shoulder blades together here, don’t just work your shoulders, work your back muscles. Control the weights back to start.
Reverse Fly with Dumbbells
There are two variations of this simple shoulder exercise you can do, usually I split half and half for a set. Both variations work your deltoid muscle but one engages the posterior (back) part of your delt more and the other engages the anterior (front) of your delt more.
Variation 1: With your palms facing in towards your thigh, raise your arms straight out to the side to shoulder height, making sure you’re not locking your elbows. With control, lower back to start. Pretty simple right? I told you.
Variation 2: For this variation, the only difference is you rotate from your shoulder so your palms face forward. Still lift out to the side and return with a controlled motion.
Shoulder Exercise- Lateral Raise with Dumbbells
Again, there are variations for this upper body exercise and again, I usually do half and half for a set. Remember about your lovely back during this exercise. It’s not just a shoulder exercise, it uses your back muscles, so notice and connect with those muscles. You can do dumbbell front raises one arm at a time but I prefer to do both arms at the same time for purely personal reasons: 1) less time, and 2) I can better engage my chest muscles across my front wall.
Variation 1: With palms facing in towards your thighs, raise your arms to the front until shoulder height, making sure you’re not locking your elbows. Control the weight back to start.
Variation 2: Rotate your shoulders so your palms face each other. Lift to the front and return to start.
Upper Body Exercise- Front Raise with Dumbbells
You get to lay down for this dumbbell exercise and that’s what us tired moms are looking for right?! Lay on the floor with the weight raised above you at chest level. Make sure you’re not locking your elbows and bring the weights out to opposite sides, making a ‘T’ shape. Lower as far as is comfortable. Return to start. This is an exercise for chest and shoulders, so connect with both.
Upper Body Exercise- Chest Fly with Dumbbells
BONUS: PUSH UPS
Anyone else think push ups are the worst?? Just because I love working out, does not mean I love every exercise and push ups are HIGH on the list of my most hated. But I still do them, sometimes. It’s more comfortable to have my hands wider apart because I have a wonky shoulder but play around with your hand placement during push ups. Keep your core (including the back of you!) engaged and lower and lift with control. Don’t forget to breathe and exhale as you lift.
Upper Body Workout- Push ups
Upper Body Workout- Incorrect Push Up Form
Starting with this dumbbell upper body workout will give you a solid foundation for toning and strengthening your arms, shoulders, and back. These simple arm exercises are the go-to for a reason and all you need to start working out your upper body- they’ll still be your go-to classic in 10 years like they are for me.