20 Min. Dumbbell Upper Body Workout

Good morning! Today I have a quick but killer upper body workout to share.

You can take this one to the free weights section at the gym, or even complete it in the comfort of your home with a few sets of dumbbells.

The workout you see below is a modified version of one I threw together for myself the other day. Whenever I feel like I need a good arm or upper body workout, I turn to a couple of circuits similar to what you see below and up my weights when it feels easy to breeze through.

Also, (just to note) I realize that the dumbbell dead lift is technically considered a lower body exercise. It does, however, work the back and biceps, and is a complimentary exercise to the muscles used in the other two circuit exercises.

You can easily complete this one in 20 minute or less, once you understand all of the exercises. Grab a light, medium, and heavy set of dumbbells, and give it a go!


20 Minute Dumbbell Upper Body Workout

Just for reference, I labeled what kind of dumbbell weight you should use for each exercise.

weight room with dumbbells

Your weights will probably vary, but I used the following sets for my workout:

light: 5-8 lbs.

medium: 10-12 lbs.

heavy: 15-20 lbs.


If you are newer to lifting, I suggest you start here:

light: 3-5 lbs.

medium: 8-10 lbs.

heavy: 12-15 lbs.


Exercise Breakdown


• dumbbell bench presses (heavy)

Start laying flat on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand. I tell clients to put their feet directly on the floor, but for whatever reason, I like to place my feet on the bars. Proper form would be on the floor!

Pull your belly button into your spine and keep a slight posterior tilt throughout the exercise. (Basically, just make sure your back is touching the bench and avoid arching.) Bend your elbows only to ninety degrees or shoulder height, and push the arms straight by extending the elbows towards the ceiling.

dumbbell chest press exercise on bench demo

If you can get through three sets of 12 reps without struggle, you should bump up your weight.


• dumbbell scaption (light)

Start in a standing position with your feet under your hips, and hold a light set of dumbbells by your sides. Keeping your arms straight and shoulders pressed down, lift your arms up and forward (in a diagonal plane) until your arms are parallel to the ground (about shoulder height).

dumbbell scaption exercise

Slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position and repeat.


• dumbbell triceps kickbacks (light)

(You can also choose to do one arm at a time and use a bench for support, if you’d like.)

Start with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet planted one in front of the other. Keep your back straight with a slight bend in the knees and bend forward at the waist so your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your head up!

triceps kickbacks exercise

Pull your arms tight to your sides and also parallel to the floor. Keep a 90-degree angle between your forearm and upper arm throughout the duration of the exercise. Use your triceps to lift the weights until the arm is fully extended, briefly pause, then return to the starting position.


• dumbbell dead lifts (medium-heavy)

Start in a standing position with your feet under your hips. Holding two dumbbells by your sides, keep your arms straight and your knees slightly bent. Slowly hinge forward (bend at your hip joint – not your waist!) and lower the weights as far as you can without rounding or arching the back. Keep your shoulders pressed down and look forward, not directly at the ground.

dumbbell dead lift exercise

As you lower, bring the dumbbells in front of your body and close to your legs. Squeeze your glutes and keep your core tight to pull yourself up quicker then you bent down.


• single arm dumbbell bench rows (heavy)

(You can do standing dummbell bent over rows instead.) Just be mindful of your posture and don’t arch your back!

Start by kneeling with one knee on the bench with the other out to the side. Grab a heavier dumbbell and be careful not to grip it too hard. The focus on this exercise should be using your back to lift the elbow back, versus squeezing the biceps and forearms.

dumbbell one arm rows

Keep your arm close to your side and lift the elbow up to row. Extend the arm straight towards your starting position and repeat.

Keep your body exactly where it is, shoulders squared off to the bench, and don’t use your legs. Only your arm should be moving!


• dumbbell biceps curls

I didn’t picture this one, but I figured you’ve seen it a time or fifty. For good measure, here are some tips on form:

Grab a set medium set of dumbbells and start in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart. Rotate your palms to the front (holding a dumbbell on each side) and engage the core to keep your body exactly where it is. Keeping your shoulders down, squeeze the dumbbells up to your shoulders and then slowly lower them back down.

Keep the elbows locked into your sides!



Please me know if you decide to give this workout a try, as I always welcome feedback.

Enjoy your Thursday!

Disclaimer: Although I am a certified personal trainer, I am not necessarily your personal trainer. The workouts I post are what work best for me, and might not be the right type of exercises for you. I always recommend consulting a doctor or health professional before making changes to your diet and/or fitness routine. <3

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