Upper Body Dumbbell Workout for Strength and Mass (45-Min With Coaching!)

By 23 November 2020Training

Dumbbells are a phenomenal training tool for increasing muscular strength, power, mass, and even endurance. Home workouts are becoming increasingly more popular, so lifters from all walks of life are reaching for training tools like dumbbells to continue making progress.

As opposed to barbells where we often add weight to create progressive overload for our strength goals, we’re usually a bit more limited and capped to the weight of our heaviest dumbbells. So, when it comes to improving certain adaptations ? such as strength and hypertrophy ? we have to get creative with how we increase our effort for our home dumbbell workouts.

In the workout below, we go through an upper body dumbbell workout that is designed to increase strength and hypertrophy. By manipulating aspects like tempo and adding pauses, we’re able to increase effort despite not having heavier dumbbells, which is a tool that we’d love for you to learn and employ, too!

If you’re interested in a walkthrough of this workout with tips, then check out the video below from Coach Jake. For those training with dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and their bodyweight at home, make sure you check out our “Home Workout Bundle“. It’s the perfect, affordable tool for tackling your goals while gyms are closed!

45-Minute Upper Body Dumbbell Workout

This dumbbell upper body workout is designed to maximize your upper push pull gains and save you time overall when training at home. We focus on two heavier movements to start, then we implement dumbbell supersets to target the chest and back in a timely manner.

A1. Dumbbell Bench Press

how to dumbbell bench press, dumbbell only upper body workout

Sets and Reps: 4 x 8

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: 3010
  • Intensity: 1-2 Reps In Reserve

How To Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Grab two dumbbell (or use a single if you only have one) and lay back on a bench.
  2. Ground the upper back, butt, and feet to create a stable base to press from.
  3. Keeping the elbows around 45 degrees, press the weight up and squeeze the triceps and pecs slightly together at lockout.
  4. Lower the dumbbells down to pec level or just below, go with what’s comfortable and feasible, then repeat the pressing process!

B1. Dumbbell Row

how to do dumbbell row, dumbbell only upper body workout

Sets and Reps: 4 x 10

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: 3010
  • Intensity: 1-2 Reps In Reserve

How To Dumbbell Row

  1. Leaning on a bench or coffee table (anything that’s roughly 2 feet high) brace and grab a dumbbell, then stagger your feet.
  2. Set the back and create tension through the grounded hand and your feet.
  3. Initiate the row and think about “pinching a piece of paper between the armpit” at the top of the contraction. Actively think about squeezing your lat!
  4. Lower the dumbbell in a controlled manner and allow the lat to stretch at the bottom. Then, repeat the rowing process for the following reps.

Dumbbell Superset 1

C1. Incline 1.5 Dumbbell Bench Press

how to do incline dumbbell bench press, dumbbell upper body workout

Sets and Reps: 4 x 10

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: Smooth and controlled tempo throughout the set.
  • Intensity: 1-2 Reps In Reserve

How To Incline 1.5 Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Grab dumbbell and set up an incline to your traditional incline bench setting. Kick up the dumbbell and press them up and get settled.
  2. Lower the dumbbell down, then once you hit depth, press up about 50% of the range of motion as your normal press.
  3. Once you hit 50%, lower the dumbbells back down in a controlled manner, and then press them all the way up.
  4. At lockout, squeeze the triceps and pecs, then repeat this controlled process!

C2. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

how to do chest supported dumbbell row, dumbbell upper body workout

Sets and Reps: 4 x 10-12

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: 3011 (1-sec pause at top!)
  • Intensity: 0-1 Reps In Reserve

How To Do Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows

  1. Set an incline bench press up to a height that you’d normally use for incline bench presses.
  2. Position the body on the incline bench with the head just off the top.
  3. Grip dumbbells on the ground, then row upwards thinking about driving the elbows down and back as if you’re trying to elbow someone behind you.
  4. At the top, contract and control the weight, then slowly lower the down to its starting position.

Dumbbell Superset 2

D1. Dumbbell Z-Press OR Half-Kneeling Dumbbell Shoulder Press

If the the dumbbell Z-press is too difficult or advanced due to mobility issues, then reach for a half-kneeling dumbbell shoulder press.

dumbbell shoulder exercises in a dumbbell upper body workout

Sets and Reps: 3 x 10

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: 3010
  • Intensity: 2-3 Reps In Reserve

How To Dumbbell Z Press

  1. Sit on the ground with the legs extended out in front of you and angled to the side.
  2. Grab dumbbells and lift them to a traditional shoulder press starting position.
  3. Ground the legs, squeeze the core, then press upwards resisting the urge to fall backwards with the dumbbells.
  4. Lockout, squeeze the triceps and delts, then lower the dumbbells down in a controlled fashion.

How To Half-Kneeling Shoulder Press

  1. Grab a padded surface, then kneel on it with one leg and bring your opposed leg to 90 degrees.
  2. Grab one dumbbell and bring it to a traditional starting position for shoulder press on the side of the body that has the leg grounded. Use your other arm as a counter-balance if you need to!
  3. Press and think about bringing your bicep to your ear and at lockout squeeze your delt and triceps.
  4. Lower the weight slowly to its starting position, then repeat this process.

D2. Dumbbell Meadows Row

This is modified version of the traditional Meadows row that is performed in a landmine. For this variation, you’ll grip the barbell.

how to do dumbbell meadows row, upper body dumbbell workout

Sets and Reps: 3 x 10-12

Performance Notes

  • Tempo: Smooth tempo throughout.
  • Intensity: Choose a lighter weight and focus on the lat contraction!

How To Do Dumbbell Meadows Rows

  1. Take a staggered foot position and lean on to the front leg with the same side arm.
  2. Grip the dumbbell with a pronated grip (palm down) and aim to grip the dumbbell slightly on the side that is closest to you (so the hand is not directly centered).
  3. Establish your balance, then row the dumbbell upwards and contract the lat at the top.
  4. Once you’ve hit the top of the exercise, lower the dumbbell back down and maintain your torso integrity throughout similar to traditional Meadows Rows.

Upper Body Dumbbell Workout FAQs

Who should use this upper body dumbbell workout?

This upper body dumbbell workout is an awesome option for beginners, intermediates, and advanced lifters. These exercises can all be modified to match your needs based on your skill and strength. All you need is a single dumbbell to start tackling this workout.

How often should I do this workout?

You can use this upper body dumbbell workout 1-2x a week for benefit. Our advice, if you plan to use it twice a week, then tackle this workout with smooth tempos on day, then add pauses and drop the weight on the second. This will allow you to focus on strength, hypertrophy, and exercise mechanics.

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake Boly, CSCS, M.S. is a weathered veteran of the fitness industry. Prior to Pheasyque Lab, he was the Fitness Editor at BarBend.com for four years. To date, Jake has written over 1,700 articles about fitness and health and has trained hundreds of athletes all while continuing to push the boundaries of fitness and health content creation.

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