8 Dumbbell Arm Workouts for Building Muscle (From a Trainer)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: June 22, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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Whether you want to maximize lean muscle mass or just want to tone your upper body a bit more, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve with a pair of dumbbells.

But many people approach arm workouts with exactly the same exercises over and over again, which can limit the results you get.

And what’s worse, many people resort to the chest press and overhead press and wonder why they don’t get the right results.

As a certified personal trainer, I have come up with a great list of exercises to build muscle effectively.

Quick Summary

  • The best dumbbell arm workouts for building muscles include dumbbell curls, tricep kickbacks, forearm curls, lateral raises, hammer curls, front raises, and overhead triceps extensions.
  • Dumbbell workouts are very powerful for maximizing lean muscle mass, or giving someone a toned body.
  • To effectively achieve your fitness goals, whether it's body toning with 12-18 reps across three sets or bulking up with 8-12 reps of heavier weights, it's crucial to combine the right technique with an optimal number of sets and reps.
  • Personally, I find the emphasis on technique and variety in dumbbell exercises to be crucial for balanced muscle growth and preventing workout monotony.

1. Dumbbell Curls

dumbbell-bicep-curl

The biceps curl is probably the go-to exercise for upper arms, but it’s all about the technique. Start off with a suitable dumbbell weight and stand with your feet flat and hip-width apart.

Let the dumbbell hang down with your arm beside your body.

Slowly bend your elbow and lift the dumbbell up for a count of 2,  then slowly lower it down again for a count of 3.

It's worth nothing that a study found on the National Library of Medicine website suggests dumbbell curls may be preferable for the improvement of biceps brachii force in training programs [1].

2. Triceps Kickback

triceps kickback

Grab a dumbbell and get into the starting position with your knees slightly bent, one foot a full step in front of the other, and keeping your hips stable.

Lean forward slightly and keep your upper arm next to your body with your elbow bent 90 degrees.

With palms facing forward, stretch your left arm out behind you and then slowly reverse.

3. Forearm Curls

Forearm Curls

This is something many athletes forget, and then they end up with out-of-proportion upper and lower arms.

Sit down on a bench and rest your lower arm on your thighs so that your wrist can bend up and down freely with elbows slightly bent.

Then curl up only your wrist slowly to work those lower muscles.

4. Lateral Raises

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

The lateral raise is a great shoulder exercise, but part of your muscles wrap around the shoulder joint and thereby bulk up the arm.

With a dumbbell in each hand, start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and light dumbbells hanging down each side of your body.

Then slowly lift up the weights on each side until you reach about shoulder height before lowering them down again.

5. Hammer Curls

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

The hammer curl is similar to the regular dumbbell curl where you have a weight in each hand, but you hold and lift it as if you’re gripping a hammer to drive a nail.

Get into the start position with a dumbbell in each hand and arms straight down beside your body and palms facing your thighs.

Then alternate the lifting action in a slow movement.

6. Overhead Triceps Extension

Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions

Here’s a second exercise for your triceps, and the starting position is standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Lift the weight overhead with a straight arm and palms facing forward.

Keep your elbows tucked in close to your head as you bend the joint and lower the dumbbell behind you.

7. Front Raises

man doing alternating dumbbell front raises

The start position is very similar to lateral raises, but rather than palms facing forwards, they should be facing backward.

You should have a light dumbbell in each hand and then lift them straight up in front of your body until you reach shoulder height.

And then lower them down again.

8. Preacher Curls

Dumbbell-Preacher-Curl

If you’ve increased your lifting weights over a few months, it might be worth making your curls more difficult for your arm muscles with a preacher bench.

Start in a seated position and bend forward with your arms resting on the bench and a slight bend in the elbows.

Slowly lift the weight up for a count of 2 and then lower it back down again.

You can do this one arm at a time or work them both as a compound arm  exercise.

How Should You Integrate A Dumbbell Arm Workout?

person grabbing a dumbbell from a stack

I always emphasize these three important tips to my clients when planning their new workouts.

1. Sets And Reps

Doing these exercises correctly is all about a combination of the right technique and picking the best number of sets and reps for your goals.

If you’re looking for some body toning, then aim for 12 to 18 reps across three sets.

But if you want to bulk up your arms, then you’ll want to pick a heavy enough weight to struggle with 8 to 12 reps.

2. Picking The Right Upper Body Days

I generally advise clients to pick at least two exercises from the above list that they aren’t already doing and add them to an upper-body day which includes a bench press.

Alternating between arm and chest muscles and using similar equipment can make your workout flow more easily.

3. Mixing Things Up

Don’t fall into the trap of always doing the same routine. You’ll gain a lot more benefits from switching out the exercises and changing the order of them.

The more you can avoid getting to a stage of too much muscle memory, the better results you’ll have for your arm and shoulder muscles.

 

4. Stable Stance

A stable stance is foundational for any dumbbell exercise. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent provides balance and support, reducing the risk of injury.

This stance ensures that the body is well-aligned and ready to handle the weights without unnecessary strain on any part.

5. Correct Posture

Maintaining a straight back and engaged core during dumbbell exercises is crucial for spinal health and injury prevention.

This posture ensures that the load is evenly distributed, reducing the risk of back strains. It also helps in effectively targeting the intended muscle groups without compensating with other parts of the body.

6. Full Range of Motion

Utilizing a full range of motion in exercises ensures that the entire muscle group is engaged and strengthened.

This approach promotes balanced muscle development and flexibility. Partial movements can lead to muscle imbalances and reduced joint mobility, which might increase the risk of injuries.

Related:

FAQs

Can You Get Jacked With Just Dumbbells?

Yes, you can get jacked with just dumbbells. You can even get ripped if you use just one dumbbell as long as you use it in the most effective way. Simple adjustments to your body position and keeping your core braced will make big differences.

Are Dumbbells Good for Toning Arms?

Yes, dumbbells are good for toning arms. They are great to use for your forearms, biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles, with the right technique bringing you either a toned or muscular appearance.

References: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737788/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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