Upper body dumbbell workouts are a boon for building your top half. 

What makes them so effective is they allow you to do top-tier exercises for your chest, back, shoulders, and arms. They also allow you to train with heavy weights through long ranges of motion, making them ideal for gaining size and strength.

That’s not all, either: Upper body dumbbell workouts are perfect if you like to train at home and have limited equipment. In other words, they’re highly adaptable, allowing you to train wherever and however you like.

To make these workouts effective, however, you need to have a few things ironed out.

For instance, you need to know the best upper body dumbbell exercises, how to organize these exercises into practical and productive workouts, how many sets and reps to do for each, how long to rest between sets, and so on.

And that’s where this article can help.

In it, you’ll learn everything you need to know about creating top-tier dumbbell upper body workouts, including what equipment you’ll need, how to make your workouts highly efficient, the best dumbbell upper body exercises for building muscle and getting strong, and more. 

Equipment for Your Full Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

People often refer to upper-body dumbbell workouts as “dumbbell and bench” workouts because these are the pieces of equipment required for most exercises. Specifically, to make a dumbbell and bench workout work, here’s what you need:

  • Dumbbells: If you train in a gym, you should have a full rack of dumbbells to train with, giving you the most flexibility possible. If you train at home, you likely have less equipment to work with. In this case, the best solution is a pair of adjustable dumbbells, or two or three sets of dumbbells of varying weights: a light (10-to-15 pounds), moderate (20-to-40 pounds), and heavy (45-to-60 pounds) set works well for most. 
  • Bench: Having a flat or adjustable bench is highly beneficial for any upper body free-weight workout. While flat benches are adequate, adjustable benches allow you to perform a wider variety of upper body dumbbell exercises. They can also make some exercises safer (they offer back support during overhead pressing exercises, for example)

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The Best Full Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

Here’s the full dumbbell upper body workout:

1A. Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-4 min rest

1B. One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-4 min rest

2A. Arnold Press: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

2B. Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

3A. Biceps Curl: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 1-to-2 min rest

3B. Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 1-to-2 min rest

About This Upper Body Dumbbell Workout

Here’s what you need to know before starting our dumbbell workout for your upper body.

How to Do This Upper Body Circuit Workout with Dumbbells

To maximize efficiency without compromising performance, you’ll perform this upper body workout with dumbbells as a circuit. 

In other words, you perform the exercises in pairs, or “supersets,” alternating between two exercises that train opposing muscle groups and resting once you’ve finished your second exercise.

In this upper-body dumbbell workout, the paired exercises are marked “A” and “B.”

For each superset, perform exercise A, then immediately perform exercise B, and then rest for the given time. Repeat this process until you’ve done all the sets for that pair of exercises, then move on to the next pair of exercises and repeat the process. 

Warming Up for Your Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

Here’s the warm-up protocol you want to follow for this free-weight workout for your upper body:

  • Roughly estimate what weight you’re going to use for the exercises in your first superset (this is your “hard set” weight).
  • Do 6 reps with about 50% of your hard set weight for both exercises (back-to-back) and rest for a minute.
  • Do 4 reps with about 70% of your hard set weight for both exercises (back-to-back) and rest for a minute.

Then, do all your hard sets for your first superset and the rest of the exercises for that workout.

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The Best Upper Body Dumbbell Exercises

These are the best exercises for your upper body with dumbbells

1. Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is one of the best dumbbell exercises for your upper body because it allows you to handle heavy weights and trains multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including your pecs, triceps, and deltoids. That’s why every effective upper body workout with dumbbells revolves around the dumbbell bench press

How to:

  1. While sitting on a flat bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. 
  2. Lie back and bring the dumbbells up so you’re holding them on either side of your chest by giving them a nudge with your thighs.
  3. Push the dumbbells over your chest until your arms are straight and your elbows are locked. 
  4. Lower the dumbbells to the starting position.

2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

One-arm bent over rows allow you to train your entire back with heavy weights safely and progress regularly, making them an excellent dumbbell upper body exercise.

How to:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. 
  2. Plant your left knee and hand firmly on a bench, your right foot on the floor a foot or two from the bench, and let your right arm hang straight toward the floor. 
  3. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell upward until it touches your torso, then return it to the starting position. 

3. Arnold Press

Arnold Press before/after

The Arnold press emphasizes your side delts more than other overhead pressing variations, making it an excellent upper body dumbbell exercise for balanced shoulder development. 

How to:

  1. Sit on an upright bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your thighs.
  2. Hoist the dumbbells up so you’re holding them just in front of your shoulders with your palms facing you.
  3. Press the dumbbells straight overhead while rotating your wrists until your arms are straight and your palms are facing away from you.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

4. Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell Pullover - Perpendicular

The dumbbell pullover is unique upper body dumbbell exercise because it trains both your lats and pecs simultaneously. It also trains your muscles through a full range of motion and while stretched, which increases muscle growth.

How to:

  1. While lying on a flat bench with your feet on the floor, and your head as close to the end of the bench as possible, hold a dumbbell at one end with both hands and rest it on your chest.
  2. Press the dumbbell over your chest until your elbows are almost completely locked out. 
  3. While maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbell in an arc over your head until your biceps are next to your ears.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

5. Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Alternating Dumbbell Curl before after

Alternating dumbbell curls train each arm independently, which helps you find and fix muscle imbalances.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides and your palms facing forward.
  2. Without twisting your wrist, bend your right elbow to curl your right hand toward your right shoulder.
  3. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position, then repeat the pattern with your left hand to complete one full rep.

6. Overhead Triceps Extension

Overhead Triceps Extension

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension emphasizes and fully stretches the long head of the triceps, so it’s ideal for adding mass to your upper arms.

How to:

  1. Sit up straight on a bench. 
  2. Grip one end of a dumbbell using both palms and lift it overhead so your arms are straight. Your palms should be flat against the end of the dumbbell and facing toward the ceiling. 
  3. Lower the weight until it’s behind your head by bending at the elbow, then extend your arms and return to the starting position.