16 minutes, two dumbbells, and four moves to build core strength and upper body muscle

This short resistance training routine builds strength even when you're short on time with just a pair of dumbbells

Woman doing a renegade row with two dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not every workout needs complex moves on large gym equipment—sometimes, it pays to strip things back, pick up two dumbbells, and take on just four moves to build upper body muscle. 

This workout from NASM-certified personal trainer Sadie Lee Thomas is proof of just how effective these types of routines can be. She uses compound exercises that use several muscles simultaneously, so you can develop strength in just 16 minutes. 

With only four exercises and a pair of dumbbells, this routine will target your chest, triceps, obliques, lats and your core. It only takes 16 minutes so it's ideal if you're looking for a quick home workout. 

If you don’t have any weights at home, take a look at our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells, which you can increase the weight of as you get stronger, using a technique known as progressive overload.

This is a circuit style workout, meaning you’ll complete 45 seconds of every exercise, followed by a 15 second rest four times round. Try not to rest in between rounds if you want to burn out your muscles in a short space of time.

Watch Sadie Lee Thomas' four-move dumbbell workout

Whether your new to these exercises or could use a refresher, follow along with Thomas' demonstrations. There are different parts to each of the moves in this workout, so try practicing them without weights first in order to perfect your form. 

Thomas moves slowly through each of the movements, rather than rushing through repetitions, moving intentionally and with care will challenge your muscles more than moving explosively in this case, particularly if you’re using a lighter weight.

If you want to focus on building muscle in one specific area, like your shoulders or your chest for example, make sure you’re engaging the mind-muscle connection, squeezing the specific muscles as you move, to maximize gains.

Don’t forget to stretch before working out, particularly with strength sessions in order to prevent injury and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is due by tiny tears in your muscle fibers caused by your training. 

Your body needs protein to repair and strengthen this damage, so it's worth picking up a bag of the best protein powers for weight loss and making a post-workout smoothie to help your recovery along.

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.