Forget the gym — this 6-move dumbbell workout builds upper body muscle and enhances posture

a woman with a defined core is lifting two light dumbbells
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

While the modern day gym is kitted out with various different machines and pieces of equipment to train the upper body muscles with, you can get some serious results from simply working with a set of dumbbells and a good set of exercises. We've got just the routine to prove this to you.

For this type of workout, we like using a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells and changing the weight as needed as you progress through the moves. But if you're using fixed weights, just be sure to choose a load that'll challenge you but won't affect your form.

All you need to get stuck into this routine from fitness trainer Lisa Lanceford is a pair of dumbbells. You'll want to make sure the size of the weight is suited to all six exercises included in the routine. Then, with weights by your side, you'll be ready to take on Lanceford's upper-body workout. 

What is the upper-body dumbbell routine?

The goal is to complete three to four sets of all six exercises. The repetition ranges vary per move, which is outlined below for you. You'll also be able to check out Lanceford's demonstrations of each exercise in her Instagram tutorial as well. 

Taking note of Lanceford's correct form will pay off, helping you avoid injury from poor form and maximizing your gains by targeting the right muscles. Helpfully, Lanceford has highlighted in the video which part of the upper body each move will be targeting.

So if you don't feel like you are hitting the right spot during one of the moves, refer back to the videos and try again. Or, lower the size of the weight you are working with. These are the six exercises with rep ranges:

  • Side plank dumbbell reach throughs: 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets each side
  • Dumbbell front raises into lateral raises: 8-10 reps, 3-4 sets
  • Dumbbell bicep curl into hammer curl: 8-10 reps, 3-4 sets
  • Alternating dumbbell floor press: 16-20 reps, 3-4 sets
  • Alternating dumbbell renegade rows: 16-20 reps, 3-4 sets
  • Bench dips: 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets

This upper-body workout focuses on developing strength, endurance, and muscle tone in the upper body. Working with a selection of dumbbells and one bodyweight exercise to finish with, this routine targets the shoulders, arms, chest, and upper back.

Exercises like dumbbell front raise into lateral raises and side plank dumbbell reach-throughs strengthen the shoulders and core, helping to improve stability and alignment in your upper body. 

Moves like the alternating dumbbell renegade rows and dumbbell biceps curl into hammer curl target the upper back and arms, promoting balanced muscle development and aid in keeping your shoulders out of a slumped position. 

Meanwhile, alternating dumbbell floor presses and bench dips engage the chest and triceps, contributing to an open, upright chest position.

a man doing a dumbbell biceps curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As you can probably tell, having a strong upper body is crucial for maintaining good posture, as the muscles in the shoulders, chest, and back play a significant role in keeping the spine aligned and the body upright.

Strong upper-body muscles can help counteract the effects of prolonged sitting, which can lead to slumping and back pain. More specifically, muscles like the trapezius, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids pull the shoulders back and support the upper spine, while the chest and shoulder muscles contribute to an open, upright posture.

As well as enhancing your posture with a workout like this dumbbell one, you will help to tone and define your upper body muscle by incorporating a balanced mix of compound and isolation exercises, which target all major muscle groups in the upper body. The variety of movements ensures that muscles are worked from different angles, enhancing muscle definition and symmetry.

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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.