While your bodyweight is one hell of an exercise tool, there are some upper-body muscles that are best challenged with external resistance, like dumbbells. For example, you can totally work your triceps and chest by doing “push” movements sans weights, like push-ups and triceps dips. You can challenge your shoulders with pretty much any plank move. But your biceps and back muscles respond best to “pull” movements, for which you need something to work against (basically, something to pull against gravity). That’s where this dumbbell arm, chest, and back workout comes in.
The exercises in this workout are simple and effective. Many more complex exercises are based off these basic movement patterns, so mastering them will help you build a strong foundation so that you can tackle more unique and involved workouts later. This combination of exercises will hit your triceps, biceps, pectoralis muscles, and muscles in the shoulders and upper back, including the rhomboids, deltoids, rhomboids, traps, and lats. Basically, it works your entire upper body.
Since the exercises are so straightforward, this dumbbell arm, chest, and back workout is also really easy to adjust to best meet your fitness needs and goals. Want to build strength? Use a heavier weight and do fewer reps of each exercise, slowly progressing to more weight when you no longer feel challenged. Want to work on muscular endurance? Use a lighter weight and do more reps. (You can find more specific info on how many reps and sets to do to work toward certain goals by reading our guide to using free weights.)
Either way, this dumbbell workout makes a great go-to on upper-body days.
What you’ll need: One set of dumbbells. The rule is, generally, for building strength, to choose weights that you can do 6-8 solid reps with. For endurance, you want something that feels doable in the 15-20 rep range. If you’re not totally set on one or the other, and want to just work your arms, back, and chest muscles, choose medium-weight dumbbells (try 5, 8, or 10 pounds, depending on your current upper-body strength) and follow the rep suggestion given with each exercise below.
You may also find that you need lighter weights for some exercises—for example, smaller muscles, like triceps, won’t be a strong as biceps or other bigger muscles. Feel free to do fewer reps of those moves if you don’t have a second, lighter pair of dumbbells on hand.
- Bicep Curl to Overhead Press — 10-12 reps
- Overhead Triceps Extension — 8-12 reps
- Alternating Forward to Lateral Raise — 8-12 reps
- Bent-Over Row — 10-12 reps
- Upright Row — 10-12 reps
- Skull Crusher — 8-12 reps
- Chest Press — 8-12 reps
Try to do three rounds of the exercises for a complete arms, back, and chest workout.
Here’s how to do each move:
Demoing the moves below is Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records.