You don't need the gym to build muscle, just a resistance band, a pair of dumbbells and these five exercise swaps

Build strength in your chest, back, shoulders and arms with this quick home workout

Woman doing an overhead press with a resistance band.
(Image credit: Getty)

If you exercise at home, you might worry about missing out on the many machines gyms have to offer. But you don’t need heaps of equipment to put on muscle; instead, you can build strength by keeping things simple.

There’s so much you can do with compact, affordable kit like dumbbells and resistance bands. If they’re not already part of your home workout set-up, take a look at our guides to the best adjustable dumbbells and resistance bands to find out more about our favorites.

With just a pair of dumbbells and a single resistance band, this routine from certified personal trainer Elise Young allows you to recreate an upper-body gym workout at home. 

She provides five swaps for popular gym machine movements, so you can enjoy the same strength-boosting benefits from your living room (without paying a monthly membership fee). 

Watch Young's video below to find out how to do the five exercises, then perform each one for three or four sets of eight to 12 reps. Leave a 60-second rest between each set to let your body recover slightly, then start your next set. 

Watch Elise Young’s gym vs. home upper-body workout.

Young's selected substitutes challenge the same muscles as the gym machine movements. You’ll work your chest, back, shoulders and arms, making it a comprehensive upper-body workout.

One advantage machines have over free weights like dumbbells is that they force you to stick to a set movement pattern, so you can't go too wrong with your technique.

However, this is also a downside of machine-based exercises. By giving you greater freedom of movement, dumbbells activate more stabilizing muscles than a machine, so you get more bang for your buck when training with free weights. 

To get the most out of this workout, use dumbbells and a resistance band that are heavy enough to challenge you, and opt for a heavier weight or band if you’re breezing through all 12 reps. 

After all, if the exercises feel too easy you'll miss the intended stimulus of the workout and your muscles won't get the message to grow stronger. 

If you don't have a higher resistance band to hand, try moving your hands closer together when holding it to increase the difficulty of the band pull-downs. 

For more at-home upper-body work, try this resistance band routine to target your back muscles, or this equipment-free 30-minute workout for beginners .

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.