Build stronger arms and back muscle with just two dumbbells and six moves

You don't need the gym to develop functional strength and make every day lifting tasks easier

Woman doing a dumbbell curl
(Image credit: Getty)

You don't need to go to the gym if you want to build a strong upper-body. In fact, there's a whole world of dumbbell exercises that will help you to develop strength in the muscles in your back and arms.

Plus, you don't need to lift super heavy weights. It's all about finding a weight and repetition range that feels challenging to you, as well as moving slowly and intentionally so that you increase the time your muscles are under tension, which is a great way to build strength over time.

This six-move dumbbell workout from personal trainer Elise Young proves just how versatile a pair of dumbbells can be. If you don't already have any or you're looking to upgrade, adjustable dumbbells are ideal if you're short on space and looking to increase the weights you're lifting over time, without investing in a brand new pair.

You can do this workout from the gym or at home, as it's a full standing workout, so you won't need much space. However, it's vital that you do each exercise with proper form to get the most from your training and avoid injury, so use Young's demonstrations to practice your technique before you start. 

Watch Elise Young's six-move dumbbell workout

The aim is to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, with a weight that is challenging but still allows you to do the round with proper form. If you're wondering what dumbbell weight to use, don't go for the heaviest load right away; work your way up to that level as you get stronger. 

Over time as you get stronger, you should be able to lift more thanks to the progressive overload technique, so make sure to increase the weight if you notice yourself easily making it to twelve reps without struggling. 

Young recommends completing between three and four rounds overall, so you can use this as a full upper-body workout which will target a wide range of muscles in the shoulder and back.

As this is a standing workout, posture is crucial to prevent injury and maximize the strengthening benefits of each exercise. Try to engage your core by tucking your ribcage in slightly and squeezing your glutes. 

Avoid arching your back and keep your chest facing forwards without lifting it up. Your shoulders should be relaxed. Roll them back and down before you start each exercise. And when you're standing up straight, look straight forwards and avoid straining your neck by looking down or up while moving.

You can also try specific exercises to improve posture or some core strength moves, which will also help you to improve your posture and stability.

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.