Has your training (and your gains as a result) hit a plateau? Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. Even the most avid of squat-rack-regulars will occasionally hit a wall that can seem almost impossible to smash through.
This list of upper-body exercises will help you build the upper body you’ve always wanted. Plus, you can do them from the comfort of your own home — all you need for this upper-body dumbbell workout are dumbbells (or resistance bands) and a bench or stability ball.
Luckily, they’re not the only effective exercises for molding chest, arm, shoulder, and back muscles. By diversifying your iron-pumping portfolio, you can work even more muscle groups to create the best upper body workout for your goals.
1. Bent-over row:
Benefits: No one can ever do enough rows. By offsetting many of the postural issues associated with sitting hunched over a computer all day, rows can help eliminate back pain and correct your posture, giving your entire body a visual lift.
- Stand tall, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides, with your palms facing your body.
- (You can also use a resistance band: Loop the band around each foot. Hold the left handle in your right hand and the right handle in your left hand so that that the band forms an “X.”)
- Keeping your back flat, core braced, and knees slightly bent, bend at the waist so that your back is just above parallel with the floor.
- Your arms should hang toward the floor.
- Row the dumbbells to the sides of your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Pause, then slowly lower your arms back down, and repeat.
2. Arnold press:
Benefits: Arnold Schwarzenegger was smart in the gym, and this exercise remains a weight room favorite after decades. Why? Because it hits all three sections of the deltoid muscle at one time: the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear).
- Hold two dumbbells in front of your chest with your palms facing toward your body, keeping your elbows close to your body.
- Press the dumbbells up above your head, rotating your palms out so that when you reach the overhead position, they face away from your body.
- Reverse the motion to lower the dumbbells back down, corkscrewing your hands so your palms end facing your body, and repeat.
Related article: 7 Advantages Of Dumbbells And Why You Should Ditch The Barbell
3. Dumbbell bench press:
Benefits: For those who struggle with push-ups, the bench press allows you to train the pecs, triceps, and shoulders in a different way. For push-up masters, the bench press allows you to use more than just your body weight to work these muscles, which is vital to adding significant strength or definition.
- Lay with your back on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand directly above your chest.
- Raise your arms straight above your chest, palms facing forward.
- Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
- Pause, then press up and slightly in so that you end with your arms fully extended, and repeat.
Benefits: This move might look simple, but there’s actually a lot going on — specifically when it comes to building your lats and pecs. Bonus: You’ll feel your core fire up with every rep, too.
- Lay with your back on a flat bench, holding a set of dumbbells.
- With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbells together above your chest.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears.
- Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.
5. Dumbbell rear-delt fly:
Benefits: Speaking of the delts, the posterior delt (aka rear delt) is sorely undertrained — this is one reason shoulder injuries are so common. If you only train the section of the delts you can see head-on, you’ll alter the shoulder positioning. This limits certain movements and causes the joint to work inefficiently.
- Stand tall or sit on a bench, holding a set of dumbbells down at your sides.
- Keeping your back flat, push your hips back to hinge forward if standing, and lower your chest until it is almost parallel with the ground.
- Allow the weights to hang straight down at arm’s length, palms facing each other.
- Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows and keeping your back flat, lift the dumbbells to the side by squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Stop when the dumbbells are in line with your body.
- Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to start, and repeat.
6. Standing biceps curl:
Benefits: Apart from building the biceps — everyone’s favorite vanity muscle — biceps curls are actually excellent for promoting shoulder stability. The trick is to focus on keeping your shoulders stationary with very rep.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding two dumbbells at your sides, palms facing away from your body.
- Keeping your back straight and your elbows locked at your sides, slowly curl the weights as close to your shoulders as possible.
- Slowly lower back to start and repeat.
7. Skull crusher press:
Benefits: Biceps may get most of the glory when it comes to arm muscles, but the triceps occupy more upper-arm mass. Not only does this move help you build tris that’ll pop, but the press action also activates the shoulders.
- Stand holding a single dumbbell with both hands by its weighted ends at shoulder height, with your elbows tucked.
- Press the weight straight overhead.
- Without moving your upper arms, lower the weight behind your head.
- Reverse the movements to return to the starting position, and repeat.
8. Seated overhead triceps extension:
Benefits: Round out the tricep exercises with this exercise. It isolates the tricep muscles, making the most out of every rep.
- Seated at the end of a bench, hold one end of the dumbbell with both hands behind your head, arms bent at 90 degrees.
- Keeping your back flat and your elbows tucked, slowly push the weight up, stopping just short of full extension.
- Pause, and then lower the weight slowly back down, and repeat.
9. Floor chest fly:
Benefits: This move targets the chest muscles in ways other exercises like push-ups and bench presses can’t. And you don’t even need a bench — just a set of dumbbells!
- Lay with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat, holding a pair of dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other.
- Allow a slight bend in your elbows.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells out to your sides, creating a wide arc with your arms until your upper arms lightly touch the floor.
- Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the top, and repeat.