30 Minute Dumbbell Upper Body Workout Routine

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Us iron addicts make excuses to work out.

A trip to the store for some milk turns into a 2 hour adventure. The gym is across the street and it just wouldn’t be right not to stop in for a quick pump.

Ever been just sick enough to miss a day of work, but not sick enough to hit the gym? You may even skip a wedding because your buddy decided to get married on leg day, which is just too too important. It’s his fault for having a weekday wedding.

But, for many of you it’s the opposite. You make excuses not to work out. You don’t have time to work out. You’re always traveling. You’re too tired. Your socks don’t match your gym shorts. Your dog ate your dumbbells again. I’ve heard them all.

Related: Choosing the Best Cardio Workout for You

It’s time to cut the word excuse out of your vocabulary. I want you to replace the word excuse with the word dumbbell because we are going to discuss how you can complete an intense, strength-building upper body workout with a single pair of dumbbells in 30 minutes.

Yes, I said 30 minutes. That work lunch break you just took where you sat in the break room scrolling through Instagram? In that same amount of time you could have killed an upper body workout.

Dumbbells are a versatile piece of workout equipment. You can use them in countless exercises to strengthen all muscle groups throughout the body. But, in this article we are going to focus on building strength and definition within your biceps, shoulders, and triceps.

Since we are using only dumbbells and hitting this workout hard and fast, this is the perfect workout to hit at home, on vacation in the hotel gym, on your lunch break or even in the gym as an upper body workout within your normal split workout routine.

Before we get into the fun stuff, it’s important to get a brief overview of the muscles you will be working and how to perform each one properly so you know which muscles are targeted and which muscles to squeeze with each exercise.

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Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

Your shoulder muscle group is made up of the anterior head, middle head, and posterior head. The anterior head is responsible for flexion and makes up the front portion of your deltoids. The medial head is responsible for abduction and makes up the middle and sides of your deltoids. The posterior head assists with extension movements and makes up the rear part of your deltoids.

Seated or Standing Dumbbell Press

Just as you would normally hit bench press first on a chest day or rows on a back day, you want to start your shoulder training with a multi-joint movement. Also known as compound movements, we are going to start the shoulder part of this routine with overhead dumbbell presses.

Overhead presses are a great way to begin your shoulder training because the exercise engages all three delt heads. This exercise can be performed sitting on a chair, bench, or exercise ball, as well as standing straight up with a slight bend in your knees. It’s important to bring your arms to at least a 90 degree angle or slightly below on the downward movement and squeeze your delts as you push the weight upward.

Side and Front Lateral Raises

Dumbbell lateral raises are going to target your middle delts. With the dumbbells at your sides and your thumbs facing forward, raise the dumbbells up and to your sides with a slight bend in your elbows. Front lateral raises are going to target your front delts.

With front lateral raises you will use a similar movement as with side lateral raises, but your thumbs will be facing each other with your dumbbells in each hand. Raise the dumbbells up in front of your body then raise them back down near your waist. That constitutes one rep.

It’s important to really focus on your form with these exercises and not use the momentum of swinging your body to get the weight up. Allow your shoulders to do the lifting.

Bent Over Back Pulls

Bent back pulls focus on building strength and definition in the posterior head or your rear delts. Start this exercise by picking up your dumbbells and bending your knees. Bend down, keeping your back flat, as you would with bent over rows or dead lifts, and let the dumbbells hang down below you with your thumbs facing each other.

Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle as you pull them straight back, squeezing the top rear portion of your shoulders then back down for one repetition. Make sure you’re pulling the weight up towards the top of your upper body during the pull-back movement and not pulling the weight down towards the middle of your body.

Dumbbell Push Ups

Dumbbell Triceps Exercises

The triceps muscle group is made up of the lateral head, medial head, and long head. It’s important to hit each head within the triceps muscle group in order to develop horseshoe-like triceps.

Skull Crushers

Another exercise normally performed with a barbell or EZ curl bar, lying triceps extensions or “skull crushers” are going to engage all muscles within the triceps muscle group. If you have a bench to lay on, great, but if you don’t you can lay down anywhere flat on your back while holding the dumbbells in a hammer position in each hand above your body with your arms straight.

Bring the weight straight down to around your ears and push the weight back up. You should feel the squeeze in your triceps as you push the weight back up. It’s important to focus on that squeezing movement as you push back up to get the blood flowing to each muscle within your triceps.

Single Arm Triceps Kickbacks

With your knees bent and back flat, pick up one dumbbell in your right hand and place your left hand on your left knee as you are slightly bent over. Put the dumbbell next to your thigh, just below the waist, with your thumb facing forward and palm facing in.

Push the weight straight back behind your body as you slightly turn your wrist outward to feel the squeeze in your triceps and bring back to the starting position. This isolation movement will target the lateral head in your triceps.

Dumbbell Pushups

While pushups will target some muscles in your chest, we are going to focus on putting the emphasis of the movement into your triceps. Place the dumbbells on the ground in a position where you will grab them with your thumbs facing forward and your palms facing each other. Put the dumbbells on the ground shoulder width apart then move them each inwards toward each other about an inch.

Grab the dumbbells and move your body down about half way, not all the way down, and push yourself back up while squeezing your triceps. Focus on feeling the squeeze in your triceps rather than your chest. With this exercise we are replicating a similar movement as doing a triceps dip movement, hitting all three heads in the triceps.

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell Biceps Exercises

Your biceps are comprised mainly of two heads: the long head and short head. The long head constitutes the outer portion of the bicep while the short head makes up the inner portion.

Bicep exercises where your arms are at or in front of the midline of your body will target the long head; where as exercises where your arms are behind the midline will strengthen the short head.

There is also the brachialis, which lies beneath the long and short heads, which assists in giving your biceps a thicker look.

Standing Bicep Curls

Pick up your dumbbells and stand straight with your arms hanging at your sides. Hold the dumbbells just below your waist with your palms facing up and curl both arms up towards the top of your chest.

Bring the weight back down to the starting position keeping your palms facing up, similar to performing a straight bar barbell curl. As you are bringing the weight up squeeze your biceps, as if you were flexing your arms.

Bent Over Biceps Curls

With this exercise you are going to put your body in the same position as triceps kickbacks: bent over with your knees bent and your arms holding the dumbbells behind your body. With your thumbs facing forward, curl the weight up towards your armpits while turning your wrists and the weights 90 degrees so your palms are now facing up.

Squeeze the bicep as your bring the weight up and turn your arm back to the starting position as you bring the weights back behind your body. By performing this curl movement with your arms behind the midline of the body we are focusing on developing the short head of the bicep.

Hammer Curls

This exercise is very similar to the standing bicep curls we just discussed, however you will be holding the dumbbells with your thumbs facing forward and palms facing in. Gripping the dumbbells like a “hammer” you will curl the weight up until your arms make a 90 degree angle then bring the weight back down.

Whereas we are bringing the weight up near the top of the chest with standing bicep curls, with hammer curls you will raise the weight up just to a 90 degree mark. With this bicep exercise you are targeting development in the brachialis and long head.

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The Upper Body Dumbbell Workout Routine

It’s time to grab the dumbbells and get to work. I recommend using a moderate weight to perform this routine as you will be performing repetitions in the 6-12 range. Depending on your strength level use a set of dumbbells in the 5-30 pounds range.

You are going to perform 10 repetitions for the first set of each exercise, then as many reps as you can in the allotted time frame. If you can get 10 reps on your second and third sets, great. If not, it’s okay. We are focusing on short rest periods and keeping the muscles under a constant state of tension and failure.

Before beginning the exercise take 1-2 minutes to stretch and warm up as necessary.

Shoulder Routine – Total Time: Approximately 9-10 minutes

Shoulder Workout Routine
9-10 Minutes
Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Press  3  *See below
Side and Front Lateral Raises – alternate between side raises and lateral raises, so in a 10 rep set you will perform 5 reps of each raise  3  * See below
Bent Over Back Pulls  3  * See below
  • Set 1 – 10 reps (approximately 30 seconds), 15 second rest
  • Set 2 – As many reps as possible in 30 seconds, 15 second rest
  • Set 3 – As many reps as possible in 30 seconds, 60 second rest, then move onto the next exercise

On your final set of bent over back pulls, rest 60 seconds then move onto the biceps and triceps routine.

Biceps and Triceps – Total Time: Approximately 17-18 minutes

With the biceps and triceps routine you are going to superset a bicep exercise with a triceps exercise. When you are finished with the bicep exercise you will immediately begin the triceps exercise with no rest in between.

You will take a short rest once you have finished the superset. For the triceps kick backs you will do each arm individually, but still follow the same rep scheme and time frame for each arm. So, instead of the superset taking 60 seconds to complete, the triceps kick backs superset will take 90 seconds to complete.

Arm Workout Routine
20 Minutes
Exercise Sets Reps
Superset 1: Standing Bicep Curls and Skull Crushers  3  *See below
Superset 2: Bent Over Bicep Curls and Triceps Kick Backs  3  *See below
Superset 3: Hammer Curls and Dumbbell Pushups  3  *See below
  • Superset 1: 10 reps of bicep exercise followed immediately by 10 skull crushers (1 minute),
    30 second rest
  • Superset 2: As many reps in 30 seconds bicep, followed by as many reps in 30 seconds triceps, 30 second rest
  • Superset 3: As many reps in 30 seconds bicep, followed by as many reps in 30 seconds triceps, 60 second rest, then move onto your next superset

Boom! Enjoy the Upper Body Gains!

Boom. You’re done. Your upper body is on fire now. Looks like you’re going to have to work the rest of your shift shirtless because you can’t fit into your collared shirt anymore.

This routine will give you an upper body that people want to use to hang-dry their towels on. You will have shoulders and arms begging and screaming to you every morning, “No, no, no. Not the collared shirt. Grab the tank top. I need to breathe.”

You will have geologists fighting to study you because you have officially transformed your shoulders into boulder shoulders. This routine is the real deal. Now grab those dumbbells and let’s make some gains.

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Name: Brently Rousset

Bio: Born, raised, and currently residing in beautiful San Diego, CA, I've been around some form of fitness almost my entire life. My mom was an aerobics teacher at the local gym when I was in elementary school through middle school. My dad had a full home gym in the garage and raced mountain bikes professionally through my high school years. My parents engrained the importance of health and fitness into me from a young age. I started playing soccer in my elementary days only to leave it behind for my true loves of basketball and surfing.