Have you run out of exercises or they’re variations to make your workouts more exciting and give you a new stimulus to increase the potential of your gains? In this post I listed 15 of the best upper body dumbbell exercises that I could think of that will make your workouts more enjoyable and efficient.
What Are The Best Upper Body Dumbbell Exercises?
Here are my picks for the best upper body dumbbell exercises
Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises
The main movement that everyone is familiar with has to be the bench press. It’s one of the best compound exercises to build strength and muscle in your upper body.
But it’s important to include some variations so that you introduce the muscle to new stimuli and don’t develop an overuse syndrome. That’s where the dumbbells come in handy.
The dumbbell flys are an excellent way to work the chest muscles through their full length with relatively light weight. If you want to hit more of your upper chest then you can simply switch to an incline bench!
It can be a great exercise to induce hypertrophy and get a massive pump. That’s why I think it’s one of the best upper body dumbbell exercises.
Dumbbell Bench Press
One of many great variations for the regular barbell bench press. The movement pattern is very similar but because you’re using 2 separate weights, one in each hand, the movement becomes a lot more unstable.
Plus if you’re familiar with powerlifting then you know that leg drive is a huge component of bench pressing. Switching to dumbbells takes that away to some degree, forcing you to decrease the weight.
You’ll still be getting a good stimulus for your chest, shoulder and triceps, but it makes the movement more friendly for your shoulder joints, especially when doing high volume/repetition sets.
Best Dumbbell Back Exercises
Rows are an important movement to include in any routine. If you add dumbbells to the mix then you should never run out of variations to hit your back with a new stimulus.
Bent Over Rows
Bent over rows are an incredible way for you to work your lats and your upper back muscles. They’re very accessible since you only need a pair of dumbbells to perform them.
Now, in the video the instructor tells you to protract your shoulder blades. That’s a good idea if you want to involve more of the upper back musculature and build overall strength in your back.
But if you want to focus on increasing the size of your lats more than anything, then I’d say don’t protract and try to keep the tension in your lats even at the bottom. This increases the time under tension which is associated with hypertrophy.
Dumbbell seal rows are one of my favorite upper body dumbbell exercises. The reason being is that they take away almost all of your ability to aid your lats and upper back with your lower back and legs.
The same principle applies here as with the bent over dumbbell rows. If you’re looking to maximize muscle growth in the lats, don’t protract your upper back at the bottom. Go to the point where you feel your lats are under the most tension and then come up.
This one is honestly something special. I was first recommended this by my physio because of my weak upper back muscles. When I started doing them, I immediately felt a contraction in my upper back like I’ve never felt before. It was amazing!
With monkey shrugs, you have to keep in mind that if you first start doing them, you’ll want to pick very light dumbbells. If you start too heavy then you won’t be able to fully incorporate your upper traps.
Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises
In my opinion, the arnold shoulder press is the best upper body dumbbell exercise for the shoulders. It works through the full range of motion of the shoulder joint, stimulating both the frontal deltoids and the medial deltoids.
Range of motion (ROM) is one of the key factors influencing hypertrophy.
Leaning One-Arm Lateral Flys
One of the main exercises for building your medial deltoids. There really isn’t a better way to hit the side delts than the dumbbell lateral flys. Although there are some variations you can do to make the exercise more efficient.
I like the leaning one arm lateral flys the most because they allow you to keep the tension on your medial head at the bottom, and work them through a larger range of motion.
Rear Delt Flys
For those of you looking to build your rear delts, the reverse flys are a must. They allow you get a nice stretch on your posterior deltoids and work them through their full range of motion.
Just don’t be greedy and take a weight that’s so heavy that your whole back has to step in to get the weight moving. Pick a very light weight and do a lot of repetitions.
You can take it slow on the way down to fatigue the muscle even more.
Best Dumbbell Triceps Exercises
The dumbbell variation of skullcrushers is great because it allows you to take a neutral grip, meaning your palms will be facing each other. In my opinion, this makes the movement feel more natural and helps you focus more on the triceps.
Whether performed with dumbbells or a barbell, are one of the best upper body dumbbell exercises because they work all 3 triceps heads (Medial, Lateral and Long Head).
Most people don’t know this, but the long head of the triceps crosses over the shoulder joint and attaches to the scapula. Not only does it perform elbow extension like the other triceps heads, it also plays a role in shoulder extension.
That is special because most other triceps exercises don’t go into shoulder flexion, meaning you won’t be able to recruit the long head of your triceps. This is horrible because the long head is the largest part of your triceps.
This means that if you want to build the biggest and strongest triceps possible then you should include an exercise, like the skullcrushers, in your workout.
Standing One-Arm Triceps Extensions
The standing triceps extensions is a popular exercise, probably because you can perform them with a very heavy dumbbell when using both arms. I wouldn’t recommend that, because that puts a lot of stress on your shoulder joints, especially if you already struggle with shoulder mobility.
Instead, do them with one arm at a time and pick a very light weight. That means you’ll have to perform a lot more reps to reach the same intensity but it will be better for your elbows and shoulders.
To make it more challenging, lower the weight very slowly to increase the time under tension and cause more damage to the muscle fibers.
Best Dumbbell Biceps Exercises
An excellent exercise to train both the short head and the long head of your biceps. It’s one of my favorite because it allows you to work through the full range of motion of the biceps.
You’ll get a nice stretch at the bottom and a good squeeze at the top, especially if you slightly flex your shoulder.
Hammer curls are a great variation to the standard dumbbell curls. They target the long head of the biceps more than the regular curls and they also work your forearms in a different way then most exercises do.
Seated Incline Dumbbell Curls
Seated incline dumbbell curls are a killer exercise. What makes them so deadly is the fact that you’ll be putting your biceps in a position where they can’t relax at the bottom of the movement. This means that there is constant tension on your biceps.
The next time you see someone doing curls with their whole body, tell them to try the seated incline curls with the same weight and watch them get destroyed.
Best Dumbbell Core Exercises
Dumbbell Russian Twists
Russian twists are one of the most beginner-friendly core exercises. They target the obliques very well, as they involve the rotation of the trunk, and are easy to progress.
One of the first progression would be to add a weight to the movement. In my opinion, dumbbells are better than weights because they are more comfortable to hold and allow you to rotate more to the side.
Overhead Dumbbell Crunches
Even though the overhead dumbbell crunches don’t make you go through a huge range of motion, they provide you the opportunity to squeeze you abs harder than any other exercise.
As with any other ab exercise, I’d recommend you do 20+ repetitions to really fatigue the abs. If you do less than 15 reps or so, you’ll likely be doing them with a weight that gets too heavy at the end, meaning your body will start activating other muscles as well.
For the upper body, you can do a full workout only using dumbbells. This makes them an ideal piece of training equipment to get for you home gym. They take up very little space, especially if you get adjustable dumbbells.
Then, if you have a bench and some dumbbells, you can just pick one or two exercises for each muscle group from this list and do a workout without even leaving your home. If you don’t know how to start or have any questions related to training, check out my services page!