Dumbbell arm workouts: Build your upper body muscle with these exercises

Posted by for Strong Women

One piece of kit, six muscle building exercises. Add this arm workout to your home workout repertoire for a stronger upper body.  

There’s so much you can do with a single pair of dumbbells, but some of our favourite ways to use them is to build up our upper body strength. Building strong arms in particular will help with everyday pushing and pulling (hello to opening stubborn jars) but also assist in our bigger lifts.

“The best way to build strength is to focus on compound exercises,” explains trainer and Strong Women ambassador Alice Miller. Those are the big moves that target lots of muscles in one go and mean you can lift heavy. 

As you now probably have a bit more time on your hands, you might also want to spend the time working on any weaknesses or balances that you have by doing isolation work. “If a chin up is a big goal for you, work on lots of different pulling variations but also add in bicep curls to strengthen and build muscle in your arms to help you with that move.” 

We’ve rounded up the best moves that target your upper body. Do this workout and expect your arms left shaking arms.


This workout mixes up compound and isolation exercises to strengthen and burn out your arm muscles. “With these moves, going to failure, or until you can’t push anymore reps, is really important in order to stress the muscle and make it bigger,” reminds Alice. “If you’re just doing three sets of 10 reps and you’ve got more in the tank, you won’t be getting the same results as if you go to failure on your sets.” Pick up some heavy weights and push yourself.

Chest press

While a floor press mainly works your chest muscles, your triceps always come into play on pushing movements.

Bicep curls

These aren’t just for grunting men in the gym. Hold the dumbbell in your hand with the palms facing forwards and curl your arm up so your first meets your shoulder. There are so many different variations of curl to try, so play around with shape and time to target all sections of the muscle. Turn your wrists wider, slow down the tempo or curl inwards towards the opposite shoulder to target different sections of the muscle. 

Arnold press

It’s important not to forget the little muscles, and this move will target all three sections of your deltoid in that upper arm area. 


Use arm extensions to target your tricep, the muscle at the back of your arm. Overhead extensions involve taking a heavy dumbbell in one hand, or a lighter weight in each hand, and extend the arms over the head. Keeping your biceps close to your ears as you bend your elbows so your wrists come to the top of your neck, and extend back up. Don’t let your elbows collapse outwards to really feel the move.

Bent over extensions are similar: hold dumbbells in both hands as you bend over in an almost 90° angle. Bring your arms up to right angles and kick the arm backwards so that it’s straight, only moving through the elbow.


Rows can be done in a standing, bent over position to work the back but also strengthen the biceps. Doing them in a plank position like this will also strengthen your core, too.


Another great tricep move that isn’t as scary as it sounds, promise! Lying down, take the dumbbells above your head at 90° to your body. Bend the elbow as you bring the weight towards your head (you can see where the name comes from) and extend back up. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Share this article