This upper-body dumbbell workout sculpts your arms in just 5 exercises

a photo of Emily Skye doing dumbbell flies
(Image credit: Emily Skye)

If you’re short on time and looking for an arm workout that will work your upper body in under 15 minutes, look no further. We turned to fitness trainer Emily Skye (opens in new tab), creator of the workout app, Emily Skye FIT (opens in new tab), for a quick arm workout and she delivered — read on to sculpt your upper body in just five exercises. 

For this workout, you’ll need a set of dumbbells. If you’re still working out at home, check out the best adjustable dumbbells here. When it comes to selecting the right weight for you, be sure to find one that is challenging by the final few reps, but doesn’t force you to compromise your form. If you’re new to exercise or returning to exercise following an injury, be sure to check your form with a personal trainer to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of injury.

Looking for more arm workout inspiration? Read what happened when our fitness writer did 50 Arnold presses a day for a week in an attempt to build her shoulders, plus check out these 3 best dumbbell workouts for triceps

Emily Skye’s upper body dumbbell workout 

Spend 30 seconds on each exercise with a 10-second rest before moving on to the next. Rest for 30 seconds at the end of the workout. Complete the circuit three times. 

If you're more advanced, you can increase the time spent working for more of a challenge, or increase the number of times you complete the circuit. 

Arnold press

a photo of Emily Skye doing standing arnold press

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

Named after the Terminator himself, this is a total shoulder shaper that activates your deltoids from all angles.

How to do an Arnold Press

  • Sit on the workout mat with your legs extended in front of you, back straight and core engaged.
  • Hold the dumbbells up at your chest, palms facing your body.
  • As you lift your arms to raise the dumbbells, rotate your hands outward so that your palms face forward when your arms are fully extended above your head.
  • Rotate your hands inward as you lower the weights to return to the starting position.
  • Keep going until you hit 30 seconds.

Kneeling Zottman curl

a photo of Emily Skye doing kneeling zottman curls

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

Want to sculpt your biceps and forearms with one move? You can’t go past Zottman curls. By kneeling for this exercise, you take your leg strength out of the equation, meaning your core and arms have to work even harder. "This is how we fast-track results!" says Skye.

How to do a kneeling Zottman curl:

  • Kneel on the workout mat with your knees around shoulder-width apart and your core engaged.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, with your palms facing your thighs.
  • Rotate your hands outward so as you begin the bicep curl, your palms are traveling directly toward your shoulders.
  • At the top of the curl, rotate your hands inward so you lower them palm-down back to your thighs.
  • Don’t pause the dumbbells at the top or bottom of the curl, keep the reps coming at a steady pace.
  • Keep going until you hit 30 seconds.

Kneeling flies

a photo of Emily Skye doing dumbbell flies

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

Want to look and feel super confident? Back flies zoom in on your rear shoulders and upper back to power up your posture and leave you standing tall and proud.

How to do kneeling flies:

  • Kneel on the ground, keeping your knees wide.
  • Engage your core and glutes, keeping your back straight and letting your arms hang by your sides.
  • Keeping your back flat, raise the dumbbells out to the side, feeling the squeeze in between your shoulder blades. (Your upper arms should be around the level of your shoulders at the top of the fly.)
  • Lower your arms back down to the starting position.
  • Don’t pause the dumbbells at the top or bottom of the fly for more than a beat – keep the reps coming at a steady pace.
  • Keep going until you hit 30 seconds

Renegade row

a photo of Emily Skye doing renegade rows

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

Light your core on fire while you sculpt strong shoulders and biceps. To modify, perform the exercise on your knees. Read what happened when our fitness editor did 40 renegade rows a day for a week here

How to do renegade rows:

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands positioned beneath your shoulders and a dumbbell in each hand.
  • With your core muscles engaged (squeeze your glutes and tense your abdominals), row the right dumbbell up in line with your belly button.
  • Return to the start position, and complete with the left dumbbell. This is one rep. To reduce the difficulty, perform the exercise on your knees.
  • Keep going until you hit 30 seconds.

Dumbbell floor press

a photo of Emily Skye doing dumbbell floor presses

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

Floor presses will help you to develop a strong chest, which is essential for upper body health, stabilizing the shoulders, and improving posture.  

How to do a dumbbell floor press: 

  • Lie face up on the floor, with your knees bent, holding two dumbbells at chest height.
  • Press the dumbbells up towards the sky, trying to keep them controlled and moving in a straight line.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Keep going until you hit 30 seconds

Rest for 30 seconds at the end of the circuit, before repeating. 

Looking for more arm workout inspiration? Check out this 15-minute dumbbell arm workout, as well as 6 resistance band exercises that build your arms without weights

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.