You don't need to spend hours in the gym to build functional muscle, try this 12-minute home workout instead

All you need is a couple of dumbbells

A man performing a renegade row with dumbbells as part of an upper-body workout
(Image credit: Getty)

You don't need to live in the gym to build strength and muscle. This workout can be done at home with just a couple of dumbbells, hitting every major upper-body muscle group in 12 minutes. 

We like lifting with a set of the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in new tab) as they allow us to adjust the weight for each exercise to suit our strength level. However, a fixed-weight dumbbell set or a pair of kettlebells can also be used. Even two filled water bottles will work if you're just starting your strength training journey. 

This session has been created by NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist Jay Maryniak, also known as JTM_FIT (opens in new tab). It uses just five moves to hit your upper body hard, targeting the shoulders, back, chest, biceps and triceps. 

Each exercise is performed for 30 seconds, followed by a 15 second rest. After you've completed all three exercises, take a slightly longer 45 second break then return to the first exercise. Complete this circuit three times to finish the workout. 

To scale this session to suit your strength level, you can increase or decrease the weight, as well as upping the speed and intensity of your movements. However, you should never lift so heavy or move so fast that you sacrifice your form.  

Follow along with Maryniak's video below and copy his technique to ensure you're performing each exercise optimally. 

Watch JTM_FIT's 12-minute upper-body dumbbell workout

With this workout, Maryniak is able to hit every major muscle group in your upper-body by exclusively using compound exercises (opens in new tab). These are movements that use multiple joints at once, activating several muscles at the same time — for example, close-grip push-ups involve movement at the elbow and shoulder, engaging the triceps, shoulders and chest simultaneously.

A study published in the Frontiers in Physiology (opens in new tab) journal found that resistance training programs containing multi-joint (or compound) exercises are "more efficient for improving muscle strength and maximal oxygen consumption than programs involving single-joint (or isolation) exercises" (for example, a bicep curl).

If you want to try this workout, you can use it as a standalone upper-body strength session. Or, if you want to do more, you can use it as a finisher to fatigue your muscles after resistance training (like this chest and back (opens in new tab) workout). 

The following day, you're going to want to allow your chest, back, shoulders and arms to recover, so try switching up your training with one of the best leg workouts (opens in new tab),  a cardio session like those included in our running plan for beginners (opens in new tab), or slow things down with these anti-aging yoga moves (opens in new tab)

Harry Bullmore is a fitness writer covering everything from reviews to features for LiveScience, T3, TechRadar, Fit&Well and more. So, whether you’re looking for a new fitness tracker or wondering how to shave seconds off your 5K PB, chances are he’s written something to help you improve your training.


When not writing, he’s most likely to be found experimenting with a wide variety of training methods in his home gym or trying to exhaust his ever-energetic puppy.


Prior to joining Future, Harry wrote health and fitness product reviews for publications including Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Runner’s World. Before this, he spent three years as a news reporter with work in more than 70 national and regional newspapers.