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

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Last updated: May 28, 2023

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.
  • For maximum results, mix up different dumbbell exercise routines.

1. Dumbbell Curls

woman raising up two dumbbells

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 down again for a count of 3.

2. Triceps Kickback

man in a Triceps Kickback position

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

man in a forearm curl position

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

woman in a lateral raise position

The lateral raise is a great shoulder exercise, but part of your muscles wrap around the shoulder joint and thereby bulk up the arm [1].

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

shirtless man working out with dumbbells in gym

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

woman using dumbbell for triceps

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

asian woman holding up two red dumbbells smiling

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

tattooed man working out his arms in gym

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

Here are three important tips that you need to keep in mind when you plan your 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].

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.

Related: Dumbbell Crossfit Workout Routines


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.

Will You Try These Dumbbell Arm Exercises ?

Using dumbbells to work on your arms isn't about finding the one exercise to get more muscle definition.

It’s about picking several dumbbell exercises and then regularly mixing them up on your upper body days.

And, to get the most out of these workouts, I recommend adding a high-quality pre-workout to your stack.

Here are a few that we thoroughly tested:

You can add a few more pounds or reps with these supplements, and they add up fast.


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