Forget push-ups — It only takes 5 exercises to build your core and shoulders with this workout

a photo of a woman with strong shoulders holding dumbbells
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to sculpt strong muscles. In fact, you can work your shoulders and your core using just a set of dumbbells and five different exercises with this simple workout you can do from home. Read on to find out more. 

The workout, created by trainer Becky Greenan, uses five different exercises in a circuit that you repeat two to three times. It targets the shoulder muscles as well as the abs for an upper-body burn. It’s also a good one to add to your workout routine if you’re short on time, equipment, or space. All you’ll need is a set of weights — if you’re still working out from home, we’ve hand-picked the best adjustable dumbbells for your workouts here. 

Remember, when it comes to choosing the right weight for you and your workout, the weight should feel challenging, but not impossible. At no point should the dumbbells compromise your form — if you’re struggling to complete your final few reps without arching your back or changing how you move, swap the weights for a lighter set. In the description of her workout, Greenan writes “grab a light set of dumbbells and try them out. I’m holding 5lbs in each hand. Be sure to focus on your breathing with each rep to keep your core engaged.”

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s always a good idea to check with a doctor or personal trainer before adding new workouts to your routine. If you suffer from shoulder or back pain, be sure to get a professional to check your form before trying this from home. 

What is the workout? 

Ready to get started? The workout involves five different exercises. Complete the circuit two or three times through, taking a small rest between circuits to reset should you need it. 

Modified V-sit with alternating reverse fly: 16-20 reps

To do this exercise, start by sitting on your exercise mat holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees and press your feet flat into the floor. From here, lean your torso back slightly, keeping your back straight — you should feel your abs working hard here to hold your body in the V-sit position. Keeping your arms straight out in front of your body, complete a reverse fly on one side, taking the dumbbell out to the side of your body, then bringing it back to your starting position and repeating on the opposite side. 

Side plank with lateral raise: 12 reps on each side

For this exercise, get into a side plank position, either on your elbow or with your palm pressed into the mat. As you’re adding weight to the plank, you can lower your bottom knee to the floor as Greenan has in the video for added stability. If you’re really looking to up the ante, stack your feet. From here, hold a dumbbell in the top arm, and complete a lateral raise, lifting the dumbbell up towards the ceiling and back down towards your leg, while holding the plank. Complete 12 reps on one side before switching to the other. 

Kneeling lean back with front raise: 8-12 reps

For this exercise, start by kneeling on the floor with your thighs perpendicular to the floor, your toes tucked, and a dumbbell in each hand. Complete a leaning camel — engage your core, and lean your torso back — this will target your quad muscles. At the same time, complete a front raise, lifting both dumbbells up and out in front of your chest. Pause, then reverse the movement slowly and with control so you are back in your starting position. 

Glute bridge pull-over: 8-12 reps

For this exercise, start by lying on your back, with your knees bent and your feet pressed into the mat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and press your hands together so the dumbbells are touching. Raise the dumbbells to the ceiling, above your head, and raise onto your tip-toes. From here, complete a glute bridge, lifting your hips towards the ceiling, and at the same time, lower both dumbbells to the ground behind your head. Pause, then reverse the movement, but don’t lower back down from your toes. 

Modified V-sit Russian twist combo: 8 reps on each side

Finally, start by getting into a V-sit position once again, bending your knees, and lowering your torso back so your abs are engaged. Instead of keeping your feet pressed into the mat, this time raise up onto your tip-toes, so only your toes are touching the mat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and press the dumbbells together out in front of you. Slowly and with control, lower both dumbbells down to one side of your body, and then the other, switching sides as you go. To increase the intensity, hover your legs off the floor completely. 

What are the benefits? 

Compared to bodyweight exercises like push-ups, there are several benefits to adding weights to your workouts. Eventually, moving our body’s weight alone stops being challenging. To keep getting stronger, we need to add dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or another weight source to produce the same levels of exertion. This is what’s known in exercise science as the Overload Principle.

This workout targets your shoulder muscles, as well as your core. Strong shoulders are essential for everyday activities like lifting something down from a shelf, or carrying heavy shopping bags, but they also play an essential role in many athletic movements. Any sport that involves a throwing or rowing action will require you to use your shoulder muscles. Strong shoulders can also help enhance your posture. 

As well as this, working on your core strength is far more than just an aesthetic goal. Strong abs can help protect your spine from injury, and help you sit and move with better posture. Your abdominal muscles (like the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques) are responsible for stabilizing your hips, spine, and the rest of your body during any type of movement, so whatever sport you play, working on your core strength can help. 

If sculpting visible six-pack muscles is your goal, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters.

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.