I tried this 6 move dumbbell-only workout to blast my upper body — here’s what happened

woman performing a biceps curl
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I love the feeling after I do an upper-body session at the gym, but it's dedicating the time to it that I struggle with. Plus, just to add another excuse to the bank, I'm not long out of marathon training where I was really only focusing on strengthening my lower body and core. 

So while I ease myself back into strength training my whole body again, I decided to find a minimal equipment and simple upper body workout. Thankfully, I stumbled across this six-move dumbbell only workout from fitness trainer Fiona Judd.

Come morning, afternoon or late evening, my local gym is always packed, meaning it's hard to get my hands on multiple pieces of equipment during my workouts. The fact this arm workout only requires a pair of dumbbells was a game changer for me. 

Of course, if you own a set of the best adjustable dumbbells then this is also a perfect workout for using at home.

What is the six-move dumbbell workout?

There are six exercises to complete and three rounds of the routine in total. Allow yourself short rest periods in between both reps and sets; this allows the muscles to recover and prevents fatigue.

Judd recommends working with 5-10 lbs dumbbells and if you want to implement progressive overload into the routine to maximize your gains, you can move up from there.

I was only able to get a hold of a pair of 10 lbs dumbbells in my gym, but if I could have, I would have picked up one lighter option as back up for some of the more demanding arm exercises in the workout.

  • Front raise into side raise: 8 reps
  • Biceps curl into hinged curl: 8 reps
  • Triceps press into kickback: 8 reps
  • Upright row into Around the Worlds: 8 reps
  • 90-degree hammer curl: 8 reps on each arm
  • 1 1/2 overhead extension: 8 reps

It's an efficient way to train the upper body

One big reason why I loved this workout is down to the fact each part combines two movements in one, maximizing efficiency and targeting multiple muscle groups at once. Perfect if you're a bit of slacker like me when it comes to upper body day and you just want to get in, get on and get out.

For example, the front raise into side raise engages the front and lateral deltoids, saving time while effectively working the shoulders. Similarly, the biceps curl into hinged curl targets both the biceps and muscles in the upper back, doubling up on enhancing muscle activation.

This dual-action approach not only increases overall workout intensity but also promotes balanced muscle development and functional strength.

It combines compound and isolation exercises

Adding to the efficiency of this workout, I felt like I was getting a very thorough upper body session complete despite the fact I was only using one set of weights and just six moves. This is thanks to the combination of isolation and compound exercises included in the short routine.

Compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. One example in this routine includes the upright row into Around the Worlds and the triceps press into kickback. The upright row engages the shoulders, traps, and upper back, while the Around the Worlds component involves shoulder and chest muscles.

Meanwhile, isolation exercises target a single muscle group such as the 90° hammer curl, which isolates the biceps with minimal involvement of other muscle groups.

By incorporating both compound and isolation exercises, this workout provides a great opportunity to target a wide range of muscles across the upper body, promoting more balanced muscle development and increasing your functional strength. 

If you have a spare moment, you can read up about isolation vs compound exercises and which is better for building muscle.

a woman performing dumbbell flies

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I had to grab a lighter dumbbell for some moves

If possible, I'd advise starting with a lighter dumbbell rather than picking a heavier weight that you won't be able to confidently and efficiently lift for each exercise. 

I found being limited to one size of dumbbell meant my form flopped a little in some of the more demanding moves like biceps curls which put all the work onto one muscle.

To avoid targeting the wrong muscles or injuring myself I dropped the rep number for the harder exercises. Next time I'll make sure to have a lighter weight option available to complete the routine in full.

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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.