You don’t need the gym to build a stronger core and upper body — just a pair of dumbbells and 6 moves

a photo of a woman performing incline push ups on a set of stairs
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Your arm and core muscles are two good muscle groups to pair together in a workout — including one that can look as simple as a six move routine. No fancy equipment, just a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells or one standard pair of dumbbells, yourself and a good workout playlist to motivate you.

We found this minimal equipment workout routine on the Instagram account of fitness trainer Britany Williams, and it's perfect if you want a time-efficient workout that doesn't require you to go to the gym to complete it. The six exercises combined target the upper body and ab muscles by incorporating activities that engage the core, chest, triceps, and shoulders, while also involving versatile movements like wood chops and bicycles to enhance muscle activation and overall strength.

Keep reading if you fancy giving it a go.

What is the workout?

There are six exercises in total, with the aim of this upper body and core workout being to perform ten reps of each exercise that you repeat three times over. Half of the exercises incorporate dumbbells into them, so make sure you have this weight on hand before getting started. The other half of the exercises simply use your body weight as a force of resistance to work against.

Williams' upper body and abs workout promotes muscle and strength gains by combining resistance training with bodyweight exercises, using dumbbells to increase resistance and challenge muscle fibers, while bodyweight movements like planks and push-ups enhance overall muscle engagement. 

You can watch each exercise being demonstrated below, which will help guide you into getting the form right for each move.

The inclusion of dumbbell exercises such as the chest press and tricep skull crushers provides resistance training, which is essential for muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. Dumbbells allow for progressive overload, meaning you can gradually increase the weight as you get stronger, stimulating muscle growth over time. Additionally, exercises like the incline push-ups rely on bodyweight resistance to further challenge the muscles and promote muscle development; they can be intensified by increasing the number of reps or sets.

The workout also incorporates movements like the forearm plank reach and ab bicycles, which help to strengthen the core but also enhance overall stability and coordination. This style of movement engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, promoting functional strength that translates into everyday activities and exercise performance.

It's good to mix up your workouts, not only so that you are allowing yourself adequate recovery but also so that you can improve cardiovascular health, build muscle strength, and enhance overall physical performance. So be sure to combine this upper body and core focused routine with lower body strength sessions, cardio workouts, and some stretching.

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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.