The 12 Best Upper Body Dumbbell Exercises For Building Muscle

There are so many effective dumbbell movements for your upper body hypertrophy sessions that we couldn’t add them all to this list. This is condensed down to just 12 movements that can make up the bulk of your upper body training. Moving consistently through these exercises will enable results in both muscle gain and strength, so get moving and try out the tri-set provided at the bottom.

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In This Resource
  • Benefits Of Dumbbell Upper Body Training
  • Effective Tool For Muscle Growth of Back and Chest
  • Improved Aesthetics
  • Increase Strength of Muscles
  • Training Considerations
  • Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) Protocols
  • Training Splits With Dumbbells
  • Sample Dumbbell Upper Body Tri-Set Workout
  • References

Upper body workouts are comprised of emphasis around the chest, back, shoulders and arm muscles. Dumbbell workouts can be an excellent way to target all these different muscle groups. We provide an exercise or more for each of these muscle groups.

Benefits Of Dumbbell Upper Body Training

Effective Tool For Muscle Growth of Back and Chest

Dumbbells are probably second only to the barbell for upper body exercise with weights. They allow overload through almost every movement pattern and don’t require as much stabilisation as the kettlebell making them more effective in some instances. If your goal is to gain muscle, you will likely have a large number of dumbbell exercises in your programme. Consider adding a tempo to some of these dumbbell upper body exercises for increased muscle growth.

Improved Aesthetics

If you’re just trying to look better naked or you’re preparing for a show, muscle gain will be a key part of improving your aesthetics and dumbbell upper body exercises will be one of the main tools you use to achieve this aim. Don’t miss out on the dumbbell arm exercises for improving aesthetics.

Increase Strength of Muscles

Using heavy dumbbells is a little less effective than heavy barbells, that being said they can still be a very useful tool to increase strength. Also the muscle gained through the hypertrophy training will help with increases of strength.

Training Considerations

Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) Protocols

Using high volume through each movement pattern will be crucial to gaining muscle. This will mean doing 8-12+ working sets for each movement pattern / muscle group. When writing your training plan, ensure that each muscle group is getting the volume it requires to grow. These guidelines are based on the latest research (1) and advice from some of the leaders in the field at RP Strength .

Training Splits With Dumbbells

There are many different ways you can organise and structure your training, the main two being either the upper and lower split and the full body split. There are many factors that go into choosing which one of these suits you best including:

  • Training Age
  • Preference / Enjoyment
  • Other Activities (running, swimming etc)
  • Training frequency
  • Using a full body split is probably the most effective as it allows you to be more dynamic and adapt to which muscle groups need attention. That being said, if you love running and would rather do an upper lower split timed around your different runs, that makes perfect sense too.

    Sample Dumbbell Upper Body Tri-Set Workout

    Complete 3 rounds

    1. DB Strict Press

    Complete 12 repetitions

    2. Alternating Bicep Curls

    Complete 15 repetitions

    3. DB Tricep Extensions

    Complete 8 repetitions


  • Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Jozo Grgic & James Krieger (2019) How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency, Journal of Sports Sciences, 37:11, 1286-1295, DOI:  10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906
  • If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below, or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle. This resource was written by Sean Richard Klein. Sean has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

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