A trainer reveals how to train like Jessica Alba to build core stability and strengthen your upper body

Develop stronger shoulder, back and core muscles at home with just a few dumbbells

Jessica Alba arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscars dinner party in 2023
Jessica Alba arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscars dinner party in 2023
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jessica Alba is no stranger to training hard, recently giving Instagram fans a sneak peek into her fully-stocked home gym by sharing one of the rigorous workouts. 

But most of us (celebs aside) don’t have a gym’s worth of equipment in our house. So I set Trainer Academy expert Domenic Angelino a challenge: Design an Alba-inspired dumbbell workout for Fit&Well readers to try at home. 

Like Alba’s session, his workout focuses on strengthening your shoulders and back, but it uses minimal equipment. It also includes plenty of core stability work, which Angelino says is a consistent feature of the Fantastic Four star’s training. 

The Jessica Alba workout

1. Warm-up

A woman jogging

(Image credit: Getty / Vgajic)

Get your blood pumping with a brisk walk. This can be done on a treadmill or outside. Immediately after the walk, run at a slow, comfortable pace for two-and-a-half minutes. 

You may also want to take a look at some of the dynamic stretches in our warm-up feature to prime your muscles for the moves ahead.  

2. Dumbbell Pendlay row

Sets: 3 Reps: 8 Rest: 60 seconds 

  • Stand upright with your feet slightly beyond than shoulder-width apart and two dumbbells on the floor in front of you. Hinge at the hips to bend over and grasp them. 
  • Keeping your back flat, powerfully row both dumbbells up to the bottom of your rib cage, then control them back to the floor. 

Trainer’s insight

Alba performs a cable machine back-strengthening exercise while sitting on a bosu ball. Angelino says the Pendlay row is the exercise that will "most closely replicate this movement pattern and its training effect". 

If you cannot reach the dumbbells on the ground while keeping a straight back, you can swap this move for bent-over rows or place the dumbbells on a raised surface in front of you like a step.  

3. Seated dumbbell overhead press

Sets: 3 Reps: 8 Rest: 60 seconds 

  • Sit on a chair with a dumbbell in each hand, held at your shoulders. 
  • Brace your core and press the dumbbells upwards until your arms are fully extended overhead. Your biceps should end up by your ears. 
  • Control the dumbbells back down to your shoulders, then repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions. 

Trainer’s insight

"When performing this exercise, try to keep your forearms up [or vertical] as you lower the weight. Don’t allow them to drop down."

4. Side crunch

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 (each side)  Rest: 45 seconds 

  • Lie on your right side with your right arm extended along the ground in front of you and your left hand on your hip. Keep your legs together and bend your knees slightly. 
  • Use your abdominal muscles to lift your right shoulder off the ground as far as you comfortably can, then control it back down to the ground. 
  • Repeat this for the prescribed number of repetitions, then do the same on your left side before resting. 

Trainer’s insight

"This exercise was performed with a stability ball originally, but since most people don’t have access to one it’s fine to perform this on the floor," Angelino explains. "Since you’ll be lying on the floor, make sure you are on top of something soft like a mat or thick rug."

Take a look at our guide to the best yoga mats if you need some extra cushioning for moves like this.  

5. Lying leg raise

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 Rest: 45 seconds 

  • Lie flat on your back on the ground. You can have your arms flat on the ground by your side or put your hands under your hips for extra support. 
  • Brace your core then, keeping your legs straight, raise your legs until they are vertical. 
  • Slowly lower your legs until they are almost touching the ground, then before they do lift them to vertical again. If this feels too difficult, try raising your legs so your thighs are vertical and your knees are at a right angle at the top of the rep. 

Trainer’s insight

Alba performs this move on a weight bench, but Angelino says it is fine to do it on the floor too, so long as you have a soft surface to lie on.

6. Leg lift with hip raise

Sets: 3 Reps: 12 Rest: 45 seconds 

  • Lie flat on your back on the ground with your arms by your side. 
  • Lift your feet towards the ceiling, keeping a slight bend in your knees, then use your abdominal muscles to tuck your tailbone and lift your hips off the floor.
  • Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position then, just before they touch the ground, start the next rep. 

7. Single-arm dumbbell row

Sets: 3 Reps: 12 (each side) Rest: 45 seconds 

  • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and place your left hand on a sturdy surface at about knee height. 
  • Step slightly forward with your left foot to assume a staggered stance, then hinge at the hips to bend over, keeping a flat back. This is your starting position.
  • From here, row the dumbbell up to the bottom of the right side of your rib cage, then slowly lower it back to the starting position. Once you’ve done this 12 times, repeat the process on your left side then take 45 seconds of rest. 

8. Seated dumbbell curl

Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 60 seconds 

  • Sit on a chair holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging towards the ground. 
  • Pull your shoulders back and down and keep your upper arms at your sides, then curl both dumbbells as far towards your shoulders as you can. Try not to move your elbows as you do this, instead thinking of them as a hinge for the movement. 
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, and repeat this 15 times. 

Trainer’s insight

Tip number one from Angelino is to make sure your chair is sturdy enough to support the weight of you and the weights you’re lifting. If you don’t have a suitable chair, you can also perform the move standing, he adds.

9. Downward dog stretch

Woman doing a 30-minute strength workout to undo the damage of sitting

(Image credit: Getty Images)

 Sets: 2 Reps: 30-second hold Rest: 60 seconds 

  • Start on all fours, with your hands, knees and feet on the ground.
  • Curl your toes under and lift your hips into the air. Your back and legs should be flat. Think about pushing through your hands to create distance between your hands and shoulders, then try to push your heels towards the ground. 

Trainer’s insight

Up to now, we’ve mostly focused on strengthening your muscles. Now it’s time to stretch them, with a view to boosting your flexibility. 

Differences between Alba’s workout and this one

"Alba’s workout is designed in a way that emphasizes core stability over just training the muscles you’d typically associate with each of her exercises," Angelino explains. 

For example, she performs an overhead press while sitting on a stability ball. This exercise would usually target the shoulder and triceps muscles, but by adding instability "the muscles of her abdomen, like her transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal obliques and external obliques, are more improved than they otherwise would be

"This training disposition is pretty consistent through her workout," the trainer says. 

Angelino’s workout doesn’t use a stability ball as this isn’t a piece of equipment people commonly have at home. 

"If you do have a ball, it’s totally fine to use one in the manner that Jessica Alba did in her post [for the overhead press and side crunches]," he says.  

Although he warns: "Training using those pieces of equipment [a stability ball] is best suited for people who are pretty familiar with their bodies and have been training successfully for a while. 

"This is because of both the increased injury risk and the way that training with a ball can make it more complicated to perform exercises with effective form."

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.