Forget pull-ups — this dumbbell workout builds your shoulders and biceps in just 5 moves

a man doing a dumbbell bicep curl
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for a good upper body session? Ditch the pull up bar or other upper body machines found in the gym and instead pick up a pair of dumbbells and get ready to train your biceps and shoulders with this five move workout.

A standard pair of dumbbells will work for this routine or if you want to work with more than one size of weights, it’s worthwhile looking into using a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells, as this style of weight allows you to scale the weights as you train from one pair. 

If you are new to strength training then it’s worth speaking to a professional fitness trainer who can work with you on building confidence with weight training and teach you proper form. Even if you are a seasoned dumbbell user, avoid trying to lift too heavy for this routine as some exercises will feel more challenging than others with the dumbbell.

 See below to find a breakdown of the workout. 

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ProForm 50 lbs Rapid Strike Dumbbells Set: was $349 now $299 @ Best Buy
With this set of adjustable dumbbells you can adjust each weight from 10 lbs to 50 lbs in 10 lb increments between moves or gradually as you get stronger. This is a great $50 discount to take advantage of plus, the set comes with a storage tray and integration with the iFit workout app. 

What is the five move shoulders and biceps workout? 

Build and tone muscle in your shoulders using this dumbbell-only workout designed by fitness trainer Fiona Judd. Although you are only using one piece of equipment, Judd has put together exercises that will target and strengthen all three heads of the shoulders and the biceps. 

The aim is to complete eight reps of each exercise, allow yourself 30 seconds of rest between each exercise and strive for three rounds — if you have enough gas in the tank.

Judd’s selection of dumbbell exercises involves movements that engage both the shoulder and bicep muscles simultaneously. They are compound exercises because they require the coordination of multiple muscle groups and joints to perform the movements effectively. Compound exercises are beneficial for overall muscle development and functional strength, making them a valuable addition to your workout routine.

Dumbbell workouts like this one offer an excellent means to build upper body muscle. Firstly, exercises targeting the shoulders and biceps not only contribute to aesthetic goals but also enhance overall upper body strength and functionality. Strong shoulders improve posture, stability, and range of motion, while strong biceps play a crucial role in various upper body movements, including pulling, lifting, and carrying. Additionally, dumbbell exercises allow for a wide range of motion and offer unilateral training, helping to address muscle imbalances and enhance overall stability and coordination. 

If you want to continue working toward your upper body strength goals beyond this one dumbbell routine, it's essential to incorporate progressive overload and variation into your regular fitness regime. Increasing resistance, volume, or intensity gradually leads to continual muscle adaptation and growth. Incorporating different exercises, rep ranges, and training techniques like supersets or drop sets can also challenge the muscles in new ways, preventing plateaus and encouraging continuous gains.

As well as targeting your shoulders and biceps, targeting other upper body muscles with dumbbells is equally important for balanced muscle development and overall strength. Exercises such as dumbbell chest presses, rows, tricep extensions, and lat pullovers effectively engage muscles like the chest, back, and triceps. 

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.