This dumbbell workout only uses five exercises to build and strengthen the shoulders

With a pair of dumbbells and these five moves you can improve upper body strength and grow muscle

Man doing a dumbbell workout
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're eager to improve strength in your shoulders and build some muscle in your upper body, then grabbing a pair of dumbbells is a great place to begin. With this type of weight, you can perform a selection of versatile exercises that target the upper body and you don't need a lot of space to complete a dumbbell workout.

A pair of the best adjustable dumbbells are well suited to beginners as you can modify the weight to suit your strength abilities and it gives you scope to progress up into larger weights without having to shell out for a whole set of individual weights. But any gym goers can easily work through an upper body dumbbell session in the free weights section of your gym.

This shoulder-based strength session comes from online fitness trainer Lisa Lanceford. The five upper body exercises are designed to work your shoulders and the best way to get the most out of this short workout is to focus your efforts on form over how heavy you are lifting. Once you master this, then you can consider training with progressive overload.

You won't perform more than ten reps for any of the exercises, but as with any resistance training, you should always ensure to slot in rest periods between each set. Taking between two and five minutes of rest between each set helps to avoid your muscles from getting too worn out and helps maintain a good level of force production for your next set.


Another reason why dumbbells are such a useful weight when trying to build muscle and improve strength in a particular muscle group is because they allow unilateral training.

What this means is that you can train both sides of your body, and in this case both shoulders, equally. This is a good way to avoid over training or compensating with your more dominant side. Anyone recovering from an injury can benefit from unilateral training as it helps iron out muscle imbalances.

The first move in Lanceford's dumbbell shoulder routine is a great example of an alternating unilateral move. We've listed this, as well as the rest of the moves, so that you can take these exercises and either perform as a full workout or add some into a full body session.

  • Alternating lateral raise variation 3x6
  • Cuban press 3x10
  • Twisting frontal raise 3x10
  • Lateral to frontal raise variation 3x10
  • Reverse flys 3x10

Building up a strong set of shoulders is important. Your shoulders are what enable you to lift and move heavy things and they can make your posture better. Simple bodyweight training such as planks and dead bugs are also great exercises to improve posture.

Once you build a good base level of strength in your upper body you will then be able to increase the weight that you are working with. Progressive overload will gradually increase the challenge of your workouts to place greater stress on your muscles, which in turn boosts strength gains, muscle growth, and builds endurance.

The key word here is 'progressive'—you should avoid jumping up weights too fast as this can stunt your progress. It's also important for you to properly warm up and cool down after each strength session. You can roll out tensions that have built up in your body by using one of the best foam rollers, which are a money-efficient way to massage your muscles.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. 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.