Develop upper-body muscle in just 20 minutes with this five-move workout

All you need is a pair of dumbbells

A woman performing a dumbbell shoulder press
(Image credit: Getty)

If you ask people to name a muscle-building exercise, many will come back with the same answer: bicep curls. They wouldn't be wrong either, but there are plenty more fish in the sea when it comes to building a strong upper-body. 

Take this five-move workout from personal trainer Hayley Madigan (opens in new tab), for example. It uses just two dumbbells to torch your triceps, biceps, back, shoulders, chest, core and more in under 20 minutes (talk about time-efficient). This minimalistic approach to equipment has the added benefit of allowing you to try this session at the gym or at home, if you have some of the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in new tab) or fixed free weights at your disposal. 

Before you give this workout a go, watch Madigan's video below to find out how to perform each of the five exercises with perfect form. Complete the prescribed number of repetitions of each movement, rest for 45 seconds, then repeat the movement for three sets in total. Once you've finished three sets of each exercise, the workout is complete. 

Watch Hayley Madigan's dumbbell arm workout

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Madigan's session is an example of a resistance training workout. Unlike high- (opens in new tab)intensity resistance training sessions (HIRT) or HIIT workout for fat loss (opens in new tab), which aim to spike your heart rate and burn calories, the order of the day with this training style is gaining strength and size in your muscles. 

It achieves this by challenging you to complete loaded movements that apply mechanical tension to your muscles (or, in other words, try to stretch them). By working against this force, your muscles sustain damage which is then repaired by your body to make the targeted muscles bigger and stronger. There are also longer rest times than HIIT or HIRT workouts, allowing your muscles to partially recover so you can face each set with renewed strength and intensity. 

Exercise is only part of the battle when you are looking to build strength and muscle – you also have to put in some work in the kitchen. If gains are your goal, the most important macronutrient to consume is protein as this is made up of amino acids, which are responsible for maintaining and repairing your muscles. 

The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight, but a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in new tab) states that people who lift weights may need to consume 1.2g-2g per kilogram of body weight to maximize hypertrophy (muscle gain). 

It's best to try and consume as much of this as possible from food, but if you need to supplement your intake to hit your daily protein quota then the best protein powders for weight loss (opens in new tab) can be a helpful addition to your diet. 

Harry Bullmore is a fitness writer covering everything from reviews to features for LiveScience, T3, TechRadar, Fit&Well and more. So, whether you’re looking for a new fitness tracker or wondering how to shave seconds off your 5K PB, chances are he’s written something to help you improve your training.


When not writing, he’s most likely to be found experimenting with a wide variety of training methods in his home gym or trying to exhaust his ever-energetic puppy.


Prior to joining Future, Harry wrote health and fitness product reviews for publications including Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Runner’s World. Before this, he spent three years as a news reporter with work in more than 70 national and regional newspapers.