Start strength training and build upper-body muscle with this five-move beginner dumbbell workout

Strengthen your arms, chest and back with this simple dumbbell routine

Woman doing a bicep curl in a gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you work out from home, you might assume that you're limited to bodyweight workouts like HIIT or yoga. But with just a pair of dumbbells, you can start building muscle and do all kinds of different routines.

This session from personal trainer and online coach Julie Ledbetter is ideal for beginners. It's made up of five exercises which target a wide range of upper-body muscles, including the shoulders, chest and the triceps. 

Take a look at Ledbetter's Instagram reel below, where she demonstrates each of the exercises. She also lists recommended repetition (rep) counts for each movement. Complete the routine three times, with a two minute rest in between rounds, to get a comprehensive upper-body strength workout.

Watch Julie Ledbetter's beginner dumbbell workout

Take note of Ledbetter's form in her video. One good form tip to remember is to engage the core whenever you're moving. You can engage the core by tucking your ribcage in and squeezing your glutes. Not only will this maximize overall muscle engagement, but it will also improve your posture and take some of the pressure off your lower-back.

Why you should start strength training with dumbbells

Dumbbells are useful strength training tools. You can use them to isolate specific muscles with moves like bicep curls, while also ensuring you're targeting each side of the body equally.

If you're new to strength training, start with a weight that feels challenging yet manageable. If you opt for dumbbells that are too heavy, this might have a negative impact on your form, which could lead to injury—it's better to start with a lighter option and work your way up. 

Gradually increasing the weight you lift is also an effective way to build muscle. This is the basis of the progressive overload principle, which involves doing the same exercises on a regular basis and increasing the weight or number of repetitions. 

If you don't have dumbbells at home, we'd recommend investing in a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells so you can increase the load without needing to buy a new set of weights each time.

If you're looking for more upper-body workouts, try these tricep and chest moves and these shoulder dumbbell exercises.

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.