All You Need Is A Pair Of Dumbbells To Build Muscle In Your Arms And Shoulders

Woman lifts a dumbbell in the gym
(Image credit: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The chest and back tend to hog the limelight in upper-body workouts, especially if you’re following a push/pull split, but your athletic potential and real-world functional strength will be limited if you neglect to train your arms and shoulders. 

From carrying the shopping and lifting your luggage into the overhead compartments to bracing your fall and any kind of throwing action, your arms and shoulders need to be strong, robust and mobile to stand up to the rigors of daily life and sport. 

That’s where this spicy six-move arms and shoulders workout comes in. Devised by Jess King, personal trainer at F45 Mill Hill, London, you can tag it on to your regular workouts for a ruthless bis, tris and deltoids finisher, or use it as a standalone session when time is tight. 

“Not only can it increase your muscle strength, muscle tone, and lean muscle mass,” says King, but it “can also reduce your risk of injury, improve your posture, protect your bones, and stabilize your joints”. 

How To Do This Arms And Shoulders Workout

This six-move strength session includes four shoulder exercises, one biceps move and one triceps move. The four shoulder exercises will work each part of the deltoids—front, lateral and rear—for balanced muscle development. 

Follow the sets and reps listed below, aiming for a controlled two- to three-second eccentric (lowering) phase of each exercise to maximize time under tension and encourage greater muscle growth.

After each set, rest for 30-45 seconds, and always aim to use a weight that pushes you close to failure at the end of each working block. Ideally you want to have one or two “reps in reserve” at the end of each set, rather than pushing to complete failure, so select your weights wisely. 

If you have limited options because you’re exercising at home, increase or decrease the number of required reps or duration of the rest period, or slow down the tempo further for a greater challenge. 

Arms And Shoulders Workout Overview

  1. Dumbbell shoulder press 4 x 8-12 
  2. Lateral raise 4 x 8-12
  3. Alternating hammer curl 4 x 8-12 each side
  4. Wide-grip upright row 4 x 8-12
  5. Triceps kick-back 4 x 8-12
  6. Front raise 4 x 8-12

Arms And Shoulders Workout In Full

1 Dumbbell shoulder press

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates two positions of the dumbbell shoulder press

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 4 Reps 8-12 Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: front and lateral deltoids and triceps 

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. Brace your core, then press the weights up until your arms are at full extension, with your biceps close to your ears. Lower slowly to shoulder height and repeat. 

2 Lateral raise

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates the lateral raise

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 4 Reps 8-12 Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: lateral deltoids

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding light dumbbells by your sides, palms facing. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights out to the sides until the dumbbells reach shoulder height. As you raise the weights, slightly tilt the front of the dumbbell down to fully target the lateral deltoids. Lower the weight under control.

3 Alternating hammer curl

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates the alternating hammer curl

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 3 Reps 8 each side Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: biceps and forearms  

Stand holding dumbbells by your sides, palms facing. Bend your elbow to raise one dumbbell to your shoulder. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then lower under control as you curl up with the other arm. Keep your elbows tight to your body and avoid swinging the weights up and down with each rep.

4 Wide-grip upright row

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates the upright row

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 4 Reps 8-12 Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: front, lateral and rear deltoids and trapezius 

Using a wide grip will shift the focus of this exercise to the harder-to-target rear deltoids, so start light as you familiarize yourself with the movement. Stand with your core engaged and hold the dumbbells with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing backwards. Leading with your elbows, lift the weights, keeping them close to your body but still shoulder-width apart, as far as your mobility will allow. For most people, this will be no higher than chest height. Lower under control and repeat. 

5 Triceps kick-back

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates two positions of the triceps kick-back

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 4 Reps 8-12 Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: triceps

Again, begin with a light dumbbell. Holding dumbbells by your sides, hinge forward at your hips until your upper body is at a 45° angle to the floor. Bend your arms to tuck your elbows in close to your ribs. Locking your elbows in position, use your triceps to extend your arms behind you. Squeeze your triceps hard at the top of the lift, then lower under control. 

6 Front raise

F45 trainer Jess King demonstrates the front raise with dumbbells

(Image credit: F45)

Sets 4 Reps 8-12 Rest 30-45sec

Target muscles: front deltoids 

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding dumbbells by your thighs, palms facing you. Brace your core and keep a slight bend in your arms as you raise the weights to shoulder height. Pause, then lower with control.

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is an experienced health and fitness journalist, and was formerly health editor for TI Media’s portfolio of women’s titles. Lucy qualified as a level 3 personal trainer with Train Fitness in 2016, and also holds qualifications in pre- and post-natal fitness, as well as in nutrition for exercise.