It only takes four dumbbell moves to start building upper body muscle—here’s how

Here's a quick way to challenge your upper body and stimulate muscle growth without lots of equipment

Woman flexing her bicep
(Image credit: Getty)

If you don't train your upper body often, you may feel a bit lost when it comes to carving out a workout for just this area of your body. Nailing some basic dumbbell exercises will help you to activate and grow various upper body muscles and this four-move routine is a great example.

Any dumbbells will do but if you're newer to weight training make sure you have some lighter options available. This means you can perfect your form without injuring yourself with a weight that your muscle can't yet handle. Some of the best adjustable dumbbells are best suited to beginners as they allow you to modify the weight as and when you wish during a workout.

Maddie Lymburner, best known online as MadFit (opens in new tab), is the workout instructor behind this quick upper body workout. She demonstrates each move to show you how you can master the routine on your own. With a pair of dumbbells you will perform bicep curls, lateral raises, rows, and chest presses to help tone and build the muscles in your arms, shoulder, chest, and back.

Although four exercises might not sound like that great a challenge, you will be completing each exercise for 12-15 reps and repeating the full routine three times over. MadFit recommends taking minimal rest in-between the exercises, which is a good way to increase your muscle endurance while building muscle.

Watch MadFit's Four-Move Upper-Body Dumbbell Workout

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This upper body workout adopts the format of a high intensity resistance training session. This is similar to HIIT (high intensity interval training) where you have longer active periods followed by shorter rest periods to achieve increased fat burn and an improved metabolism.

The added bonus of adding in weights is that you still achieve the same results as you would from a normal HIIT workout for fat loss and you get stronger while targeting muscle growth.

It's still possible to build upper body muscle even without weights. For example, you can tailor these shoulder bodyweight exercises into your routine. Bodyweight exercises can help build up a good base level of strength before taking on a more intense muscle-building regime.

Whether you are using weights or not, you will want to ensure that you incorporate progressive overload into your training. You do this by gradually increasing the frequency, weight size, or volume of repetitions in your resistance workouts. This will help you to avoid a plateau in training, build on strength, stimulate muscle growth, and increase endurance.

Another way to optimise your muscle growth results is to fill your diet with lean sources of protein. Protein helps our muscles to rest, repair, and grow in-between exercise.

You can use one of the best protein powders for weight loss to top up your daily intake. Protein is also useful for keeping you fuller for longer making it a great food to eat when trying to lose weight and build lean muscle mass at the same time.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

Jessica is Staff Writer at Fit&Well. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 


When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.