The Best 14 Upper Body Exercises to Do with Dumbbells

Tone muscles in your chest and the back of your shoulders and arms with these easy upper-body exercises.

View as Slideshow

Flat dumbbell bench press

01-flat-dumbbell-bench-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

For this classic upper body exercise, lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet firmly on the floor and your arms extended over your chest, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should face forward.
  1. Slowly bend your arms to lower the dumbbells down and outward until they are on either side of your chest.
  2. Extend your arms straight up and over your chest again, pressing back up to the starting position. Pause briefly at the top before repeating for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: Strengthens the muscles in your chest, the front of your shoulders, and the back of your arms. Form tip: Don’t lower the dumbbells too deep, or you’ll risk injuring your shoulders. You should feel a nice stretch in your chest and still be able to see your knuckles and thumbs in the bottom position. You can also get full-body, mix-and-match workouts to help you burn fat, tone muscle, and reboot your body in my new book 60 Second Sweat.

Incline dumbbell chest press

02-incline-dumbbell-chest-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Lie on your back on an incline bench set to 45 degrees with your feet firmly on the floor and your arms extended over your chest, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should face forward.
  2. Slowly bend your arms to lower the dumbbells down and outward until they are on either side of your chest.
  3. Extend your arms straight up and over your chest again, pressing back up to the starting position. Pause briefly at the top before repeating for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in your chest, the front of your shoulders, and the back of your arms. Form tip: Don’t lower the dumbbells too deep, or you’ll risk injuring your shoulders. You should feel a nice stretch in your chest and still be able to see your knuckles and thumbs.

Dumbbell crush press

03-dumbbell-crush-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet firmly on the floor and your arms extended over your chest, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Turn your hands in so your palms are facing, to “crush” the dumbbells up against each other.
  2. Pushing the dumbbells together, slowly bend your arms to lower the dumbbells down just to the middle of your chest.
  3. Extend your arms straight up and over your chest again, pressing back up to the starting position. Pause briefly at the top before repeating for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: Strengthens the muscles in your chest, the front of your shoulders, and the back of your arms. Form tip: Make sure you keep pushing the dumbbells together during both the lowering and lifting phases, as this increases the demand on the target muscles.

Content continues below ad

Incline dumbbell chest fly

04-incline-dumbbell-chest-fly-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Lie on your back on an incline bench set to 45 degrees, with your feet firmly on the floor and your arms extended over your chest, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should face forward.
  2. Keeping your palms facing forward and your elbows soft, slowly lower the dumbbells down in an arching motion until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest muscles.
  3. Smoothly raise the dumbbells back to the starting position in the reverse motion, and repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise trengthens the muscles in your chest. Form tip: While holding your dumbbells in this upper body workout, keep your palms facing forward, rather than facing each other, to better work your chest muscles. Think about hugging a large barrel or beach ball sitting on your chest during the lifting phase.

Seated dumbbell shoulder press

05-seated-dumbbell-shoulder-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Sit on a bench with the back pad angled to a completely upright position at 90 degrees, with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with your elbows out and your palms facing forward.
  2. Press the dumbbells upward until they are directly overhead and your arms are fully extended.
  3. Pause for a full second in the overhead position before lowering the dumbbells back down to the starting position. Repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your shoulders and the back of your arms. Form tip: If you find this upper body exercise causes any shoulder discomfort, bring your elbows in and allow your palms to face each other.

Dumbbell push press

06-dumbbell-push-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, with your elbows out and your palms facing forward.
  2. Bend your knees and lower yourself down about 6 inches into a quarter squat.
  3. Explosively—with as much force as possible—press the dumbbells overhead by extending your arms, pushing your feet down into the floor, pushing your hips forward, and straightening your legs.
  4. Pause in the overhead position for a full second before lowering the dumbbells slowly back down to shoulder level.
  5. Take a full second to check your form before repeating for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your shoulders and the back of your arms while building total-body power and explosiveness. Form tip: Focus on snapping your hips explosively—with as much force as possible—during the lifting phase.

Content continues below ad

Single-arm dumbbell push press

07-single-arm-dumbbell-push-press-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder level, with your elbow out and your palm facing in. Let your left arm hang by your side.
  2. Bend your knees and lower yourself down about 6 inches into a quarter squat.
  3. Explosively—with as much force as possible—press the dumbbell overhead by extending your arms, pushing your feet hard into the floor, pushing your hips forward, and straightening your legs.
  4. Pause in the overhead position for a full second before lowering the dumbbell slowly back down to shoulder level.
  5. Take a full second to check your form before repeating for the suggested number of reps, and then switch to the left side.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your shoulders and the back of your arms, while building total-body power and explosiveness. Form tip: Keep your core tight, and do not allow the weight of the dumbbell to bend you laterally to the side. If it helps your balance, you can put your left arm out to your side.

Dumbbell thruster

08-dumbbell-thruster-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet about hip width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting the dumbbells lightly on your shoulders as if in a rack, with your elbows pointed slightly up and your palms facing in.
  2. Keeping an upright posture and not allowing the dumbbells to tip down, bend your knees and lower yourself down into a full squat, with your thighs below parallel to the floor, as low as you can comfortably go.
  3. Explosively—with as much force as possible—stand back up and press the dumbbells over your head until your arms are fully extended, keeping your palms facing in.
  4. Return the dumbbells to the starting position. Take a full second to check your form before repeating for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your shoulders, the back of your arms, and your hips and thighs, while building total-body power and explosiveness. Form tip: You may have heard that in a full squat, the back of your thighs should touch your calves. But if you have any tightness in your joints, you may not be able to get that low. Don’t force it; just go as low as you comfortably can.

Dumbbell iron cross

09-dumbbell-iron-cross-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides with the palms facing forward.
  2. Raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder level, creating a cross with your body. Your palms should remain facing forward.
  3. Hold this position for the suggested amount of time.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the sides of your shoulders and upper back. Form tip: Start with a very conservative dumbbell weight on this exercise. If you cannot maintain the cross position for the suggested amount of time, reduce the weight you are using.

Content continues below ad

Power dumbbell front raise

10-power-dumbbell-front-raise-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in toward your thighs.
  2. Bend your knees, leaning slightly forward, and lower yourself down about 6 inches into a quarter squat.
  3. Explosively—with as much force as possible—push your hips forward, straighten your legs, and raise the dumbbells in front of you until they are completely over your head, keeping your elbows straight and palms facing in.
  4. Pause for a full second in the overhead position before lowering the dumbbells back slowly to the starting position and immediately lowering yourself back into the quarter squat. Repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your shoulders, while building total-body power and explosiveness. Form tip: Except when you pause in the overhead position, you should be moving constantly through this exercise; find a rhythm to keep the movement fluid.

Chest-supported dumbbell row

11-chest-supported-dumbbell-rows-raise-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Set an incline bench to about a 45-degree angle and lie face-down with your head and upper chest hanging off the end of the bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang straight down with your palms facing each other.
  2. Keeping your chest firmly on the bench pad, pull through your shoulder blades and elbows, and bend your arms to row the dumbbells up until they meet the bench.
  3. Extend your arms to lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position, and repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back and the front of your arms. Form tip: Make sure your chest stays flat and secure against the bench; don’t use your lower back.

3-point dumbbell row

12-3-point-dumbbell-row-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand alongside a flat bench with your feet about hip width apart. Bend from the waist and plant your right hand on the bench. Your right hand and two feet form the 3 points. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and let your arm hang straight down. Your back should be flat, and your neck should form a straight line with your back.
  2. Draw your left shoulder blade toward the middle of your back as you simultaneously bend your elbow and row the weight to your rib cage.
  3. Pause for a full second in this position. Then slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position. Complete all repetitions on the left arm before switching sides.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back and the front of your arms. Form tip: Do not rotate your torso during the lifting phase of this exercise; keep your back and core perfectly still.

Content continues below ad

Bent-over dumbbell rear-deltoid raise

13-bent-over-dumbbell-rear-deltoid-raise-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Push your hips back and bend over until your upper body is parallel to the floor, with your arms hanging straight down, palms facing each other and elbows straight.
  2. Using the upper-back muscles, slowly raise the dumbbells out to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your neck in a straight line with your back. Pause for a full second in this position before lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position, and repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back and rear shoulders. Form tip: Use a conservative dumbbell weight. Avoid using momentum to throw the dumbbells up to the sides.

Dumbbell pullover

14-dumbbell-pullover-the-best-14-upper-body-exercises-dumbbellsMichael Bambino & Co.

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet pressed firmly into the floor. Make a “diamond” out of your hands, with one hand on top of the other, and place the head of a dumbbell between your hands.
  2. Raise your arms above your chest with the dumbbell hanging down from above. Keeping your arms straight, slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head until you feel a comfortable stretch in your rib cage.
  3. Once you reach this position, immediately raise the dumbbell back to the starting position, and repeat for the suggested number of reps.
What it does: This upper body exercise strengthens the large muscles in your back that run along the sides of your spine, as well as the muscles in the back of your arms and your chest. Form tip: To engage your core and protect your lower back, push your lower back into the bench during the lowering phase of the exercise. Don’t bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells; keeping your arms straight recruits the target muscles more effectively.

For more expert workout plans to help you at home or at the gym

60secsweat_frontcover My book 60 Second Sweat uses HIIT and metabolic resistance training (MRT) to help you burn fat and build muscle in less time.  

Content continues below ad

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.