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 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. 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. 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 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 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,  a cardio session like those included in our running plan for beginners, or slow things down with these anti-aging yoga moves

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.