Forget Arnold presses — 3 dumbbell exercises to blast your chest, back and tricep muscles

Man leaning against a tyre with one hand and performing a dumbbell bentover row with his left arm
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

This upper body routine helps build stronger, leaner muscles, so if you want to put your pecs, back, and triceps through the wringer, it's one to add to your next strength session.

We love the Arnold Press. It targets all three deltoid heads — the frontal, lateral, and posterior delts — and sculpts 3D shoulder muscle definition. But if you're not a fan, it's not the only way to blast your chest, back, shoulders, and arm muscles. In fact, you only need three exercises and 15 minutes for this workout. 

We recommend a set of the best adjustable dumbbells and a sturdy workout bench, but other than that, all you need is your body weight and a whole bucket load of willpower.  

Woman holding two dumbbells out in front of her at shoulder height during outdoor workout in the sunshine

(Image credit: Shutterstock images)

When attempting to build muscle mass, remember to be consistent with your strength programs, using the progressive overload principle of gradually increasing overall volume over time. Schedule plenty of rest, or else your muscle fibers can’t recover from the damage exercise causes. That, alongside good quality protein intake, will help scale up muscle growth tenfold. 

This 15-minute dumbbell workout only features three moves, but trust us, you won’t need more. You could slip this into your home workout routine or save it for the gym using one or two weights, just scale to what works best for you. The best kettlebells for weightlifting are another option if you prefer them. 

What is the 3-move dumbbell workout?

Watch the videos below for each exercise and how to do them with proper form. If you’re unsure at any point, ask a personal trainer to watch you or use a mirror to make adjustments, and stop if you experience pain or dizziness. 

Use a set of weights you can lift for endurance rather than strength training — that means choosing slightly lighter than you think but still challenging. The last few reps of each set should be tough to complete but manageable. 

Set a timer for 15 minutes, then start with one rep of each exercise. Add two reps per round, climbing the ladder of reps gradually. Move with control, maximizing your end range of every move without rushing, and get ready to feel the burn.

1. Dumbbell renegade row

This row variation hits nearly every muscle group. Starting in a plank position, hold a dumbbell in each hand underneath your shoulders. Keep your core engaged and hips square to the mat and in line with your shoulders, then begin to row one dumbbell at a time toward your hip. Your elbow should reach above your back for one rep, and avoid swinging your torso as you move.

Here’s how to do renegade rows in more detail.  

2. Tricep dips

Dips burn out the triceps and target your pecs and anterior deltoids. Place your hands on the workout bench behind you and your feet on the floor in front. You could keep your feet flat and knees bent or extend your legs to make the move harder. Fingers should point toward your body. Bend your elbows and lower your bum toward the floor. Pause, then drive back up. Your back should stay straight and close to the bench at all times. 

We cover tricep dips in more detail here.

3. Dumbbell bench press

Although it’s a classic strength exercise, we love programming the bench press with high reps and sets to test endurance rather than maximum load. Start by lying on your back on the bench or the floor with your feet supported. Lower the weights to your end range and explosively drive upward during this concentric phase. Increasing the range of motion stimulates muscles for longer, helping them to grow, research shows.

Engage your core and grip a dumbbell in each hand over your chest with both arms extended. Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells on either side toward your shoulders, pause, then push back up to the starting position. A small arch in the back is fine, but drive from your core and not your lower back. 

Here’s how to bench press with different types of weights.   

If the bench press doesn’t do it for you, try the dumbbell pullover below instead. It works the pecs, lats, triceps and anterior deltoids, but despite not hitting your shoulders as hard, it’s great for developing shoulder mobility or athletes working with shoulder injuries.  

Bottom line

Dumbbell training allows you to slowly increase load and build strength and endurance, depending on how you use them. This 15-minute workout aims to help you reach total fatigue quicker by minimizing rest and increasing the time your muscles work using high reps —  a method called time under tension.

If you plan to repeat this 3-move workout, we’ve rounded up the 7 best dumbbell shoulder exercises for you to cherry-pick new upper body moves from. 

Aim to increase your range of motion during each move. For example, lowering as far as possible with control during the tricep dips, then explosively pushing up with power — this improves the strength of your muscles during the eccentric phase. But most importantly, don’t rush and enjoy the lower rep ranges. Those top-end reps are going to hurt. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.