5 Essential Upper-Body Dumbbell Exercises

Pushkar Garg 01 November, 2019 Updated on : 07 Nov 2019


Dumbbells are convenient, easy to use, and readily available. Buying a couple (or more) of dumbbells for a home workout is more logical than buying all the heavy-duty machines found in a gym. Neither is it affordable or convenient. All you need is a pair of dumbbells and an adjustable bench and you have a modest gym setup at home with which you can get fit and sculpt a great body.

It might be challenging but you can just about work your entire body with dumbbells if you’re up to the challenge. Multi-joint compound moves are great for large muscle groups like the chest, back, and shoulders. Since they engage more than one pair of joints, they work more muscle tissues simultaneously.

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Complete Upper-body Dumbbell Workout

Flat Dumbbell (Bench Press)

You must have heard of this one with a bar. Well, this one is the same except for with dumbbells held straight. The Flat Dumbbell Bench Press strengthens the chest, shoulder (front), and arm (back) muscles. Depending on the weight of the dumbbells, do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Take a minute break between each set and increase weight when you can easily do 12 reps. To avoid shoulder injury, don’t lower the dumbbells too much. A good stretch felt in the chest is enough.

How to do Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench and place your feet firmly on the floor
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms over your chest. Your palms must face forward
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells by lowering your arms. They should bend outward until they reach the sides of your chest
  4. Press back up to the original position by extending your arms over your chest again
  5. Hold for a couple of seconds before repeating

Crush Press

The Crush Press has the same benefits as the dumbbell bench press. It will be one of the few upper-body exercises suggested by your gym instructor. Remember to push the dumbbells together while lifting and lowering, which will provide the best impact on the target muscles. Repeat 8-12 times in a set; do 3 sets.

How to do Dumbbell Crush Press

  1. Lie down on your back on the flat bench. Place your feet firmly on the floor and extend your arms over your chest just like in the previous exercise
  2. Your palms should face each other; “crush” the dumbbells against each other. Make sure your wrists are straight
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells; bend your arms till they reach down to the middle of your chest
  4. Reverse the motion to extend your arms back straight over your chest
  5. Pause for a couple of seconds and repeat

Incline Chest Fly

You must have heard of or even done the Chest Fly at the gym on one of the machines. The good thing is that you can get Incline Chest Fly benefits with the help of dumbbells as well. This exercise strengthens the chest and shoulder muscles. Due to the position, the palms tend to face each other, which is something you should avoid. Keep them facing forwards to work the chest muscles properly. Do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

How to do Incline Dumbbell Chest Fly 

  1. Set the bench at 45 degrees and lie on your back. Place your feet firmly on the floor
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms over your chest. Keep your elbows soft and face your palms forward
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells in an arch until you feel a stretch in your chest
  4. Raise the dumbbells smoothly to come back to the starting position

Seated Shoulder Press

The seated shoulder press is great for your shoulders and the back of the arms. This one is a little tricky; you might experience discomfort in your shoulder. Bring in your elbows and face your palms against each other to avoid that. However, if the pain doesn’t subside, stop doing the exercise and see a physiotherapist as soon as possible. Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps if there’s no discomfort.

How to do Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Set the bench exactly upright at 90 degrees and sit with your feet firmly planted on the floor
Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Your palms should face forward with your elbows out
Press the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended; the dumbbells should be directly overhead
Pause for 1-2 seconds and then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position

Chest Supported Row

The Chest-supported Dumbbell Row is a great upper-body workout for the upper back muscles and the front of the arms. Ensure keeping your chest flat and in contact with the bench to avoid strain on the back. Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

How to do Chest-supported Dumbbell Row

Set the bench at a 45-degree angle. Lie facedown so that your head and upper chest reach over the end of the bench
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, let them hang straight down. Your palms should face each other
Pull the dumbbells through the shoulder blades and elbows. Perform a rowing motion by bending your arms till they reach the bench’s height
Hold for 1-2 seconds and then lower them back down to the starting position

There are several other upper-body dumbbell exercises that you can perform at home. Master these and then move on to the others. Keep a lookout for our other bodybuilding blogs.

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