It only takes four moves and 16 minutes to grow shoulder muscle and build a stronger upper body

Build pushing power, strengthen your shoulders, and build a robust upper body with this quick workout

A woman holding dumbbells doing a home workout
(Image credit: Getty / Prostock-Studio)

You might think you need the gym and several expensive weights machines to build upper body strength, but that's not always the case, as this short dumbbell routine shows in just 16 minutes. 

This muscle-building shoulder workout from NASM-certified personal trainer Sadie Lee Thomas is the perfect example of why simple is sometimes best—all you need are four moves and two dumbbells. 

If you don’t have a pair at home, take a look at our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells, which are ideal if you’re short on space but want to experiment with different weights. 

To start the session, do a short warm up, then set a 16-minute timer then complete each exercise for 30 seconds, followed by a 30-second rest. After four rounds of each exercise, move on to the next one. 

When the clock hits zero you will have completed 16 working sets, making this an impressively time-efficient way to train your shoulders.  Take a look at Thomas’s demonstrations to see how you should perform each one with correct technique.

Watch Sadie Lee Thomas's dumbbell shoulder workout

One of the most important things to consider when tackling this workout is which dumbbell weight you should use

As a general rule the dumbbells should be light enough to allow you to work for the majority of each 30-second set without putting them down, but heavy enough that the last 10 seconds feel challenging. 

This will take advantage of the progressive overload principle, which means lifting progressively heavier weights to continually challenge your body and trigger adaptations such as strength increases in the targeted muscles.

This workout primarily targets the shoulders, but it will also work your triceps (the long muscles that run down the back of your arm). To help you hit these muscles effectively, all the dumbbell exercises are completed in a kneeling position.

This prevents you from using your legs to generate momentum during the lift, as you might if your were standing, so more emphasis is placed on your upper-body muscles. 

If you already have a shoulder injury, consider trying this shoulder muscle pain workout instead to build up strength in the joint and relieve pain. You can also try some yoga for shoulder mobility and strength as a lower-impact alternative.

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.