I’m no stranger to weak arms. Growing up a runner, you can bet I never performed a dumbbell arm workout!
Heck, I never learned what a proper push-up looked like…let alone could do one.
My arm weakness became embarrassingly evident when I went to college. I struggled to get luggage into the train’s overhead rack while traveling during Christmas break. And turning a patient during nursing school clinicals was always accompanied by a snide remark about how I’d need help.
I’m definitely not the most buff human around now either, but I never wanted to worry about not being able to lift something by myself. Those little moments were the jumping off points for my dedication to weight training.
Now that I’m a certified personal trainer, I’ve spent hours studying the best arm exercises to build strength and to do so safely. Today we’ll target the muscles in your forearms, upper arms, and shoulders; in short, every part of your arms. This dumbbell arm workout will also utilize little tips and tricks to absolutely maximize your strength gains.
You ready to get strong? Let’s go!
The Best Dumbbell Arm Workout for Arm Strength
Before starting the workout, perform a 5 minute walking warm-up. While walking, I’ll also stretch my arms/shoulders and perform arm circles and shoulder shrugs to make sure they’re warmed up as well.
Dumbbell Arm Workout Notes
Below I’m providing 6 exercises, specifically selected and modified to promote maximum arm strength. In order to make this effective, we’ll be using HEAVY weights. Remember: heavy is relative to each person and each muscle group. The weights you use for bicep curls will very likely be too heavy for shoulder raises. Adjust accordingly and don’t hurt yourself!
Perform 3 sets of 6 reps for the first 3 exercises. For the 4th and 5th exercises, perform 3 sets of 3 reps. And for the 6th, perform 3 sets of 20 seconds. (Don’t worry, I repeat this below.)
Complete all sets for an exercise before moving on to the next exercise.
Because these are heavy weights, rest for about 1-2 minutes between sets to fully recover. I usually just use 1 minute.
Hate standing around during a rest break? Me too! Sip lightly on some water or stretch to make the time productive!
For workouts where you’re aiming to gain strength like this, 12 to 25 total sets are recommended for the whole workout. With 6 exercises and 3 sets of each, that will land you right in the middle at 18 sets. If you finish the workout and think you could have given more, next time complete 4 sets for each.
The weight should be HEAVY. It it feels easy, the weight isn’t heavy enough. However, you should still be able to complete all reps for each exercise. Please be mindful, though, and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Please note: Check with your physician before starting any exercise routine. See this Disclaimer for more details.
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1 | Dumbbell Push Press
This move is like an overhead press, which works your shoulders, but with a twist for added safety!
Hold the dumbbells just next to your shoulders with your palms facing in towards each other.
Instead of just pushing your arms up straight overhead, bend your knees slightly first. Then explosively push back up into a standing position while bringing your arms up overhead, with your hands straight over your shoulders, palms still facing each other. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 6 reps.
Why this is a great arm exercise: The push press is a great way to use heavier weights while decreasing the risk of shoulder injury. The momentum from your legs makes it easier for your arms to move past the high-risk part of the movement that often puts excessive strain on your shoulders.
2 | Combo Shoulder Raise
Shoulder raises are an excellent way to work – you guessed it – your shoulders! But instead of doing just a front shoulder raise or a lateral (side) shoulder raise, this dumbbell arm workout combines them!
Start by holding two light-to-moderate weight dumbbells down by your sides (trust me, it’ll feel heavy pretty quick). Face your right palm forward but your left palm towards your thigh.
Together, raise both arms in the direction each thumb is pointing (right arm out to the side, left arm forward) up to shoulder height. Slowly lower both arms back down to your sides.
For the next part, rotate your palms so that your arms do the opposite movements: a lateral raise with your left arm and a front raise with your right arm. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 6 reps.
Why this is a great arm exercise: Shoulder raises hit all parts of your shoulders: deltoids, upper trapezius, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior. But each different version of the shoulder raise affects which muscle is working the hardest. So the combo shoulder raise is an extra effective exercise! Because the lateral raise targets your middle deltoids and the front raise targets your front deltoids, you’re giving your shoulders one of the best workouts around!
3 | Seated Dumbbell External Rotation
The health of your rotator cuff is vital to proper arm function as you age. Nobody wants to have shoulder pain; it affects almost everything you do! So let’s combat it by adding external rotations to this strong arms workout!
Sit on a bench with a dumbbell in your left hand. Put your left foot up on the bench with your knee bent. Put your left arm out in front of you – bent 90 degrees, like you’re checking your watch – and rest the crook of your arm on your knee. (You can put your right hand on the bench behind you for support.)
Keeping your arm bent 90 degrees, rotate your left forearm up so that the dumbbell is up towards the sky. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 6 reps.
Why this is a great arm exercise: Strengthening your rotator cuff muscles – the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor – decreases the risk of shoulder injury. Plus it will help prevent your shoulders from rounding forward, improving your posture! It’s a dumbbell arm workout must!
4 | Bicep Curl with Triple Stop
I bet you’ve heard of bicep curls before. They’re such a weight training staple, it’s probably not surprising to see them in this dumbbell arm workout. But we’re about to make them much more effective!
In a standing position, start by holding dumbbells with arms down by your sides and palms facing forward. Keeping your upper arms in the same position, bend your elbows and bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders. Pause.
As you lower the dumbbells back down, stop in three places and hold for 10 seconds. The first stop should be about 2 inches down, the second should be at 90 degrees, and the third should be 2 inches from the bottom. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 3 reps.
Why this is a great arm exercise: By stopping and holding the dumbbells on the eccentric part of the movement (when your muscles are lengthening while resisting the weight), you boost the muscle growth you normally get from this exercise. Holding also helps you build strength at your weakest points, plus 10 degrees above and below each joint angle.
5 | Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension with Triple Stop
Now it’s time to focus on the back of the arms and target the triceps. And we’re using that same triple stop technique to ramp up the strength gains!
In a standing position, hold dumbbells in each hand and extend your arms straight overhead. Your palms should be facing each other. Keeping your upper arms in the same position, you’re going to bend your elbows to bring your forearms down behind you.
As you lower the dumbbells, stop in three places and hold for 10 seconds. The first stop should be about 2 inches down, the second should be a couple inches above 90 degrees, and the third should be at 90 degrees. Lower a couple more inches after the last hold if possible. Pause.
Straighten your arms, bringing the dumbbells back up straight overhead. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 3 reps.
Why this is a great arm exercise: Tricep extensions are a great way to target your triceps brachii, the large muscle that runs down the back of the upper arm. This is the muscle you’ll want to tone if you’re looking to get rid of your “bat wings.” Since your rear shoulder and upper back muscles stabilize your shoulders during this exercise, you’ll also be working them too!
6 | Hex Dumbbell Hold
Alright, we’ve worked your shoulders, biceps, and triceps. But your dumbbell arm workout wouldn’t be complete without targeting your forearms and wrists!
In a standing position, grip the wide end of a dumbbell in each hand. Select the heaviest weight you can hold for 20 seconds.
Perform 3 sets of 20 second holds.
Why this is a great arm exercise: Even just holding weights in this manner can strengthen your forearms and wrists. By holding the weight for 20 seconds, you’ll build maximum strength in these areas.
And there you have it! A challenging dumbbell arm workout that’ll help you gain strength quickly!
When I timed this workout, it took me about 32 minutes to complete (including all rest breaks).
And as you can probably tell, you’ll definitely need a few different sets of dumbbells to complete this workout. Access to a bench would also be helpful, but the seated dumbbell external rotations can be performed on the floor if needed.
Even though you’ll need “heavy” weights, heavy will be different depending on which exercise you’re doing. I use 4 different amounts of weight when I complete this workout to make it as challenging for each exercise as possible.
Amazon is a great place to get cheap dumbbells. Target is too – which is where I bought the set of dumbbells I have at home.
Stay tuned for more workouts to come!
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Let me know if you try out this workout in the comments below!