Forget push-ups — 5 dumbbell exercises to sculpt arm muscles like Miley Cyrus

Woman standing next to a window lifting two dumbbells in front of her
(Image credit: Getty images/ unknown)

Miley Cyrus' arms are trending. Yes, the woman who just won her first-ever Grammy at the 2024 ceremony has had the spotlight stolen away — by her own arms.

And it seems her supremely sculpted limbs are still causing a bit of a stir. So much so that the search terms “Miley Cyrus arms” and #mileycyrusarmsworkout are still clocking up millions of views on TikTok. 

Miley has previously credited her regular Pilates routine with helping her hone a strong physique, and the fitness industry has since been quick to whip up “Miley Cyrus arm workouts,” inspiring others to sculpt, shape and tone their arms just like the Grammy Award winner. 

Left image Miley Cyrus accepting Grammy Award and right image woman performing dumbbell biceps curls

(Image credit: Getty Images and Shutterstock)

Well, we have good and bad news: standalone Miley-inspired arm workouts won’t shape Miley-esque arms because each of us responds differently to training stimuli. And even if you lift weights or practice Pilates regularly, that doesn’t guarantee the same sculpted look as the pop star. But with expectations realistically set, some of the best arm workouts and upper body exercises practiced consistently could help build and tone your arms and improve muscle definition.

Here are five muscle-torching arm exercises we recommend to achieve arm shape — and you just need a set of light dumbbells to do them.

What are the 5 dumbbell arm exercises? 

Add these five exercises to your upper body workouts.  

1. Dumbbell skull crushers

Ilio of dumbbell skull crusher

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We prefer using dumbbells or kettlebells for skull crushers because you can increase your range of motion more than barbells and work both arms independently, but you can use a barbell. Hold one weight in both hands or dual load by holding one in each hand, which will require more stability. The arm exercise kills the triceps and helps overload the muscle group without lifting super heavy weights. 

Here’s how to do a skull crusher exercise in more detail, plus tips and tricks. 

2. Dumbbell triceps dips

Dips don't require weights, meaning you can dial up the intensity for your triceps using your body weight alone. The exercise also targets your pectoral (chest) muscles and the anterior deltoids (the fronts of your shoulders), helping to build shape in your upper arms. 

Use an elevated surface like a stable workout bench, push-up bars, or heavy kettlebells to position your hands away from the ground. Here’s how to do triceps dips

3. Dumbbell biceps curls

The biceps curl and hammer curl target the biceps heads differently, so we recommend choosing the best arm exercise for you and your muscle-defining goals. 

The biceps brachii in the upper arm has two heads: long and short. Biceps curls primarily work the short head using a palms-up (supinated) grip, and hammer curls target the long head (the outer muscle), plus other muscles like the brachialis and brachioradialis (a key forearm muscle) using a neutral grip — more muscles mean more bang for your buck.

To help develop the muscle peak (which the biceps curl is very effective at) plus hit the outer part of the biceps brachii and the forearms, we love using hammer curls to build enhanced muscle definition and strengthen the wrists and forearms. 

4. Dumbbell Arnold press

The Arnold press is one of the best compound exercises for building shoulder strength and muscle and perfectly complements your arm workouts by stimulating all three shoulder heads — the anterior, posterior and lateral deltoids — and triceps to help hone 3D shoulder muscles. 

We recommend learning how to do an Arnold press with proper form and checking out variations you can try to make the move harder. Above, we used two kettlebells, which can be substituted for dumbbells. 

5. Dumbbell Zottman curls

a photo of Emily Skye doing kneeling zottman curls

(Image credit: Emily Skye)

To do Zottman curls, you'll perform a biceps curl by curling the dumbbells toward your shoulders, then turn your palms to face away from you and lower the weight again, as you would with a reverse curl.

Zottman curls target the upper and lower arms and builds wrist and forearm strength by targeting the biceps brachii during the concentric phase (lifting) and the brachioradialis and brachialis during the eccentric phase (lowering). If you want to enhance your arm muscles, consider adding Zottman curls to your routine.

Vector dumbbell reverse curls

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to build the best arm workouts 

Arm exercises: Compound versus isolation exercises

If you plan to build an arm workout or freshen up your existing routine, we recommend a mix of push and pull compound exercises. Pushing moves like push-ups or the overhead press recruits the pectorals, anterior deltoids and triceps to assist, whereas pulls like rows engage the posterior deltoids, various back muscles and biceps to assist.  

Next, add isolation moves for your biceps and triceps, which will help create arm definition and strengthen the muscles that assist with heavier lifts. Variations of dips, extensions, or curls will help you hone these specific arm muscle groups. 

Structure: Sets and reps

Now, think about your sets and reps. For hypertrophy training (the process of building and shaping muscles), aim for roughly 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise during an arm workout as a general rule of thumb. We cover hypertrophy versus strength training to help you program for your goals. Alternatively, add a short arm workout finisher to your upper body workout to fatigue your arms at the end of your working sets.

Bottom line

You don’t need heavy weights to build your arms, but how much muscle you build ultimately comes down to how consistently you train, diet and progressively challenging your muscles to grow. Upper body workouts that include arm exercises several times a week alongside your other training or a combination of Pilates and strength training 3-4 times a week are guidelines only. Everyone enjoys training differently, so always prescribe workouts you enjoy and can stick to.

Results like Miley’s are down to consistency, proper nutrition and challenge. Plus, let’s face it — celebrities can access some of the best personal trainers, round-the-clock advice and technology out there to help transform their bodies. Just remember, it will take several months of consistency to notice changes to your arms.

5-move arm workout to try

Ready to get started? This workout only uses two light dumbbells to build arm muscle. Give it a try. 

EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute)

  • Minute 1: Skull Crushers x 8-12 reps (dual load)
  • Minute 2: Triceps dips x 8-12 reps
  • Minute 3: Biceps curls x 8-10 reps (dual load)
  • Minute 4: Arnold press x 8-10 reps (dual load)
  • Minute 5: Zottman curls x 8-10 reps (dual load)

Perform between 8-12 reps of skull crushers within the first minute, then rest. On the next minute, perform the triceps dips, then rest. Continue with a new exercise every minute ensuring you take 10-15 seconds of rest before the next exercise begins. 

Aim for 3-4 rounds depending on your ability.

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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.