All you need is four moves and two dumbbells to strengthen your arms

Build upper-body muscle and work your core with this beginner-friendly dumbbell routine

person doing dumbbell arms workout
(Image credit: Getty Images/Patricio Nahuelhual)

Toned biceps, bigger shoulders, increased strength; whatever your goal is for your arms, you've got to train the muscles. But if you're new to upper-body workouts, this four-move dumbbell routine is the perfect place to start. 

All you need is a pair of dumbbells (or good adjustable dumbbells, if you want to easily switch loads between exercises) to get started. This beginner-friendly routine was created by fitness trainer Hayley Madigan and is a great introduction to muscle-strengthening exercise. 

She advises you to start with a lighter weight for the first few moves, before increasing the load towards the end of the routine. This helps you perfect your form, so that you can get the most from your training and avoid injury. 

Watch Hayley Madigan's four-move dumbbell workout


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The goal is to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise. For a full workout, Madigan recommends trying to complete this a total of three times. If this is your first time doing a workout like this, try taking 15 seconds of rest between each exercise and 30 seconds of rest before completing the circuit again.

Before you start, it's important to choose a dumbbell weight that feels challenging, so that you work your muscles hard, but not so heavy that you struggle to maintain proper form. As you repeat this workout and get stronger, you can increase the weight of your dumbbells in line with the progressive overload technique. This involves increasing your workout resistance over several weeks (either by increasing the weight or number of repetitions) to force your muscles to grow and strength to increase. 

Although many people think of workouts like these for building visible arm and chest muscle, there are more practical benefits too. Functional strength training like this is designed to make every day activities easier, like picking up groceries or reaching a high shelf. And while the routine targets your arms, shoulders, and back, you'll also work your core muscle — a section of mid-body muscle — which is responsible for things like balance and stability. 

If it's your first time training upper body, you might suffer from some achy muscles tomorrow. While annoying, this is totally normal and something we now know as DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). To help your muscles recover, make sure to give yourself adequate rest. 

Lois Mackenzie
Fitness Writer

Lois Mackenzie is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering strength training workouts with weights, accessible ways to stay active at home, and training routines for runners. She joined the team from Newsquest Media Group, where she was a senior sports, trends, and lifestyle reporter. She is a dedicated runner, having just completed her first marathon, and an advocate for spending time outdoors, whether on a walk, taking a long run, or swimming in the sea. 

Lois holds a Master's degree in Digital Journalism, and has written for Good Health, Wellbeing & The Great Outdoors,, and Newsquest Media Group, where her reporting was published in over 200 local newspapers.