The best upper-body dumbbell workout at home


Kevin Mangelschots

How do you get in shape when you can’t afford a gym membership and don’t have access to a home gym?

By performing an upper-body dumbbell workout at home. With just dumbbells as your training tool, you can make a pretty awesome and effective workout. This is how.

Workout time:

Workouts per week:

Rest time between sets:

Training level:

Exercises performed:


Program goal:

30–45 minutes

2, preferably 3 times per week

2–3 minutes


Flat-bench dumbbell press, bent over two-dumbbell row, seated overhead dumbbell press, dumbbell shrug, seated one-arm overhead dumbbell extension, one arm standing dumbbell curl


Strength, muscle mass, toning, diet, cardiovascular improvement

The upper-body dumbbell workout program

Picture of a man lying down on a bench and in the starting position of a bench press with a man spotting him.

Compound exercises

  1. Flat-bench dumbbell presses 3 sets x 5, 8, 10 reps.
  2. Bent over two dumbbell rows 3 sets x 5, 8, 10 reps.
  3. Seated overhead dumbbell press 3 sets x 5, 8, 10 reps.

Isolation exercises

  1. Dumbbell shrugs 3 sets x 5, 8, 10 reps.
  2. Seated one-arm overhead dumbbell extension 2 sets x 12, 12 reps.
  3. One arm standing dumbbell curl 2 sets x 12, 12 reps.

Upper-body dumbbell workout program explained

A woman performing dumbbell curls in the gym.

  • Flat-Bench dumbbell press

    Lie flat on a bench, or if you don’t have a bench at home, you can even lie down on the floor.

    Next, take a dumbbell in each hand. Place the dumbbells in front of your chest, just slightly to the side.

    Extend both elbows and push the dumbbells upwards in a straight line.

    Lastly, lower the weights again in a controlled manner by bending the elbows until both dumbbells are next to your chest/shoulders again.

  • Bent over two-dumbbell row

    Take a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly, and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. DON’T bend the upper back as this will lead to injuries.

    Keep your torso stationary and bring the dumbbells upwards to your side by bending your elbows. Keep your elbows tight to your body.

    Lastly, lower the dumbbells in a slow and controlled manner and repeat for as many reps as necessary.

  • Seated overhead dumbbell press

    The seated overhead dumbbell press is a staple exercise to get bigger shoulders.

    Sit up straight and grab a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells upwards until they are in front and just above your shoulders with your palms facing forward, away from your body.

    Push the dumbbells upwards in a straight line by extending your elbows.

    Lower the dumbbells in a controlled manner until they are just above and in front of your shoulders.

    Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

  • Dumbbell shrug

    Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be straight and next to your body, with your palms facing towards your body.

    Shrug your shoulders upwards towards the ceiling and lower them again in a controlled manner.

    Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

  • Seated one-arm overhead dumbbell extension

    Sit up straight with a dumbbell in one hand.

    Hold the dumbbell above your head with your arm fully extended.

    Bend your elbow. Lower the dumbbell behind your head until your elbow is at about 90°.

    Straighten the arm again by extending your elbow.

    Repeat as many times as necessary.

  • One arm standing dumbbell curl

    Grab a dumbbell in one hand. Your palm should be facing up. This means your arm is supinated.

    Curl the arm by bending your elbow as far as possible.

    Lower the dumbbell again by extending your elbow in a controlled manner.

    Repeat as many times as necessary.

Advantages of training with dumbbells

Multiple dumbbells in the gym.

  • Longer range of motion

    When you are lifting with a barbell, your lifting path is straight up. With machines, your path is predefined as well. However, lifting with dumbbells has the benefit that you can move in more directions than one singular path.

    This means you lift through a bigger range of motion, which will result in larger strength and muscle gains.

  • Requires a lot of balance

    When lifting with dumbbells, your agonist muscles and the synergistic muscles that surround it are required to work hard to keep the dumbbell balanced and steady when lifting.

    One of the advantages of dumbbells is that it recruits a lot more muscles in the lifting process.

    The downside, however, is that to recruit so many muscles at once for balancing purposes, the amount of weight you can potentially lift goes down. So if you’re looking to get strong, a barbell might be more suited to your goals.

  • Requires symmetry

    You are often working out with two dumbbells at the same time. That being said, both arms are forced to work out independently, requiring perfect symmetry to complete the lifts.

    Muscle imbalances will be spotted soon, so make sure to work on your weak spots.


“Wake up and workout” written on a sign with multiple workout tools surrounding it.

It’s possible to gain strength and muscle mass at home with only minimal training equipment. The following guide regarding the best rep ranges to get stronger, more muscular, or better endurance can aid you with that.

A pair of dumbbells are cheap and are easy to store somewhere in the house because they don’t take up a lot of space. I would suggest investing in adjustable dumbbells instead of fixed-weight dumbbells.

Buying new, heavier fixed-weight dumbbells each time because you get stronger along the way can get expensive quickly. With adjustable dumbbells, you can simply buy some heavier-weight plates.

Most of the exercises you perform, no matter which workout program, should be compound exercises as they build the most strength and mass compared to isolation exercises.

There are, however, limits to how strong and big you can get with dumbbells, as there’s only so much weight you can load onto them.

If you want to get strong, then investing in a barbell is your best bet. This doesn’t stop the dumbbells from being a viable, strong, and cost-effective training tool to get you in shape. No matter if your goal is getting stronger, gaining more muscle mass, or getting in shape. With dumbbells, you can do it all!

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