If you asked 100 people what their favorite body part to train was, you could guarantee at least 50% would say arms, and the percentage is probably even higher if you only asked men. The vast majority of people would likely tell you that dumbbells are among their favorite ways to train arms too.
The problem is, when you actually look at the dumbbell arm workouts many people are using, it is incredible how many simply haven’t been designed to provide optimal results. This can range from people using just a few basic exercises to those performing moves that simply aren’t that beneficial.
This leads to people putting in a great deal of effort but leaving a huge amount of potential growth in the gym. Fortunately, not only are dumbbell arm workouts extremely effective, but they are also incredibly easy to design and utilise if you know what you are doing.
That brings us to the purpose of today’s article. We are going to show you the very best dumbbell exercises to build incredible arms and explain exactly how you perform each one in great detail.
So, if you are looking to build a pair of arms that will make you the envy of all your friends and have nothing but a pair of dumbbells to do it with, this is the article for you.
Getting Started With Dumbbell Exercises For Arms
When you are trying to improve the size, strength, or tone of your arms, dumbbell exercises are a great way to go. This is because they allow you to use large amounts of weight, but also give you the freedom to train through your own range of motion or work the arms independently of each other.
There are numerous dumbbell exercises that you can use to train your arms, but it is very important to make sure you create and perform a balanced workout. A dumbbell arm workout should include exercises for all of the major parts of your arms, which includes the biceps, triceps, and forearms.
There are also exercises made mainly to target your shoulders and chest that can help you train and develop your arms. Adding in some of these will help to give you better balance in your whole upper body and can also offer a fuller development of the connective tissues and the arms themselves.
All you need to get started is a pair of dumbbells. It is best if you purchase an adjustable pair if you are training at home, as these will allow you to easily adjust the weight of the dumbbells between exercises and give you plenty of room to grow and keep progressing.
The Best Dumbbell Biceps Exercises
The bicep muscles sit at the front of the upper arm and account for roughly 40% of the muscle in the area. They consist of two main heads called biceps brachii. The long head runs down the outside of your arm and the short head runs up the inside. You also have the brachialis sat under the long head.
The biceps are among the most popular muscles to train as they are very prominent and they play an important role in several physical activities, such as throwing a ball or swinging a bat.
Concentration curls can be done while either sitting on the end of a bench or standing and bending over. Either way, place one hand on a knee for support and grip a dumbbell with the other. Allow the weight to hang so that your elbow and tricep rest near the inside of your thigh, but not on it.
Concentrate only on your bicep, engage it, and contract it as hard as you can to curl the weight up to your chest. When you reach full contraction, supinate your wrist, twisting it so your little finger rises and your thumb falls, which will allow you to reach peak tension, then squeeze as hard as possible.
Pause for a second or two then lower the weight slowly back down until you are almost back at the starting position. You will then immediately begin repeating the movement and keep doing so until you hit your target number of reps. You must then match this number exactly on the other arm.
Stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand and let them hang at your sides, arms fully extended and palms facing your body. Keep your shoulders back, elbows in and upper arms still. Engage the biceps and start curling the weight in one arm up, gradually rotating your palm to the ceiling as you go.
At the top of the rep, the dumbbell will be at your shoulder and your palm will be facing you. Pause for a second and squeeze your biceps as hard as you can, then slowly lower the weight back down, turning your wrist back towards your body as you go, until your arm is almost totally straight again.
Now, while keeping a small amount of tension and bend in this arm, immediately repeat the process with the other. Continue this pattern, alternating arms each time, until you have completed your target number of reps. Dumbbell bicep curls can also be completed with both arms simultaneously.
Simultaneous bicep curls have the benefit of keeping both arms under maximum tension throughout the set but has the drawback of not allowing you to focus as hard on either arm.
Begin in an identical position to bicep curls, either standing or sitting with a straight back, shoulders back, dumbbells in both hands, with arms fully extended by your sides and palms facing your body.
Contract your biceps and use them to curl the weights up to your shoulders, ensuring your upper arms stay still and your palms face you throughout, with only your forearms moving. When you hit the top, tilt the weights towards you slightly, so your thumbs lower and your little fingers raise.
Squeeze the biceps as hard as you can and hold the tension for a second or two, then slowly lower them back down to the stating position and immediately repeat until you hit your target number of reps. Hammer curls can also be performed one arm at a time as well.
Incline Curls/Prone Curls
Incline and prone dumbbell curls will see you do an almost identical motion to a normal dumbbell curl. They can again be done either simultaneously or with one arm at a time. However, this time both palms must face forwards at all times, and you have to use a bench.
To do an incline curl, sit on a bench with the back rest set to an incline between 30 and 45 degrees. To do a prone curl, you will lay flat on a horizontal bench. In both cases, your arms will be stretched behind you, and your starting position will have your forearms pointed straight at the floor.
Doing your curls from these starting positions will help you to get a deeper stretch in the muscle. An incline curl will need less weight than a dumbbell curl, and a prone curl will use even less weight still.
Each progression will allow fuller development of the muscle though, training a greater percentage of your muscle fibres and range of motion.
Preacher Curls/Spider Curls
To perform a preacher curl you need either a preacher bench or a weight bench with the back set to about 45 degrees. You will then either sit or stand behind it, with your arm or arms resting out in front of you, depending on whether you are working both arms at once or one arm at a time.
If you are doing the single arm variety, you should put your free hand on the top of the bench to give you plenty of support. With the weight or weights held with fully extended arms, engage the biceps and use only them to curl the dumbbell or dumbbells as high as possible.
Make sure to keep your triceps in contact with the bench at all times. When you can curl them no further, pause for a second and really squeeze, then slowly lower the weight back down and repeat for the target number of reps.
A spider curl is very similar to a preacher curl, only your arms will point directly at the floor, instead of at 45 degrees. Position yourself on a bench set to an incline you feel comfortable on, so that your chest is on the pad and your arms hang over the end.
Now curl the weight or weights up just as you would with a preacher curl until you have done the target number of reps. If you are doing a single arm version of either, remember you need to do an identical number of reps with both arms.
Best Dumbbell Triceps Exercises
The triceps sit at the rear side of the upper arm and account for roughly 60% of the muscle mass in the area. They consist of three heads known as the triceps brachii. The lateral head is on the outside of your arm, the long head is on the inside of your arm, and medial head sits beneath the long head.
They play a large role in the stability of your upper arm, and stronger triceps will greatly improve your performance in activities like throwing and pushing. They also play a vital role in many of the movements performed using the chest or shoulders.
Lying Tricep Extensions
To do lying tricep extensions, or dumbbell skull crushers, as they are also known, lay flat on your back on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and hold them straight up over your chest. Keep your elbows straight and slightly tilt your arms back towards your head, at roughly a 45 degree angle.
Keep your upper arms still, bend your elbows, and slowly lower both the weights down towards your head. Bring them down as low as your range of motion will allow, but make sure they at least go as far as the point where they are either side of your head and there is a deep stretch in both triceps.
While keeping your upper arms perfectly still, engage your triceps and use them to straighten your elbows and drive the weights back up. When your arms are just short of full extension and still at a slight angle pause for a sec and squeeze the triceps as hard as possible to achieve maximum tension.
Continue repeating the process until you complete your target number of reps.
Crossbody Tricep Extensions
Lay flat on your back on a bench, hold a dumbbell in one hand with an overhand grip, and lift your arm straight up towards the ceiling. Keep your upper arm and wrist as still as you can and slowly bend your elbow to lower the weight towards the opposite shoulder.
When the weight is just about to touch your shoulder, contract your tricep to extend your arm again, taking the weight back up. Keep going till you are just shy of full extension and squeeze the tricep as hard as you can for a few seconds, then repeat until you have completed the target number of reps.
Now immediately switch hands and perform the same number again with the other arm.
Double Arm Overhead Tricep Extensions
Stand or sit with a straight back and lift a dumbbell onto your shoulder. Put the palms of both your hands on the underside of the top weight of the dumbbell and make a diamond around the bar with your thumbs and forefingers, then extend your elbows to drive the weight up.
When your arms are fully extended, the dumbbell will be above and just behind your head. Squeeze your elbows towards each other and keep your upper arms parallel. With the upper arms still, bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell down behind your back, till you feel a deep stretch in the triceps.
When you can go no lower, engage the triceps and use just them to straighten your elbows and drive the weight back up to the starting position. When your arms are just shy of fully extended, pause and really squeeze the triceps, then repeat the process until you hit your target number of reps.
Single Arm Overhead Tricep Extensions
Single arm overhead tricep extensions are a mix of crossbody tricep extensions and double overhead tricep extensions. Begin by sitting or standing with a straight back and take a dumbbell in one hand.
You now want to press it straight up above your head, so your arm is fully extended, and your palm is facing forwards. Keeping your upper arm still, slowly lower the weight down behind your head, towards your other shoulder, until you feel a deep stretch in your tricep and can go no further.
Engage your tricep and use it to straighten your arm and drive the weight back up to just short of the starting position. Pause for a sec and squeeze as hard as you can, then lower the weight back down and do the desired number of reps. Now, switch hands and match the number with your other arm.
To perform a tricep kickback, start either by simply bending over or kneel with one knee on a bench and place the hand on the same side of your body as it on the end for support. You want to get your torso parallel to the floor and then take a weight in your free hand and row it into your body.
You want to keep you elbow higher than your back and your upper arm stationary at all times. Your starting position should see your forearm vertical and pointed at the floor. Engage your tricep and use it to straighten your elbow and raise the weight, continuing until your arm is fully extended.
Hold the tension at the top and really squeeze the tricep for a sec, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat till you hit your target reps, then match that number exactly with the other arm.
When doing the standing version of the exercise, you can also work both arms at the same time, which can help you to save time but is also slightly less effective as your focus is spread out.
Best Forearm Exercises
The forearms are a small and often overlooked muscle group but are one which will help to improve the strength in your hands and wrist, making other exercises easier and completing your physique.
Covering your entire lower arms, the forearms consist of the flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus, pronator teres, and brachioradialis. Stronger forearms make it easier to carry heavy objects, lift heavier weights, open jars, and play a big role in sports like basketball, golf, and tennis.
Wrist Curls (Forearm Pronations & Supinations)
To perform regular wrist curls, sit on the end of a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Rest the back of each forearm on your thighs and let the backs of your hands hang over your knees. Engage your forearms and use them to flex your wrists and curl the weights up as high as you can.
When you hit the top of your range of motion, squeeze your forearms as hard as possible for a sec, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat until you complete the target number of reps. This is known as forearm supination and will work the inside of your forearms.
To target the backs of your forearms, you will perform forearm pronations or reverse wrist curls. These are done in almost an identical fashion to a regular wrist curl, only you will now rest the front of your forearms on your thighs, and your palms will hang over your knees.
Reverse Grip Dumbbell Curls
Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your weights held in an overhand grip, your arms fully extended by your waist, and dumbbells resting on your thighs. Keep your upper arms still and use your elbows to curl your forearms, lift the weights, and bring them as close to your chest as you can.
When you hit your full range of motion, flex the wrists to bring your knuckles towards your biceps, to work the forearms even harder. Pause and really squeeze for a few seconds before returning back to the starting position and repeating until you have completed the desired number of reps.
Best Chest And Tricep Exercises
Adding in some chest exercises while you work out your arms is important as it will not only help to give you better balance in the muscles throughout your upper body, but it will also help you to directly develop the arms in new ways as well.
The best chest exercises to use while training your arms are presses that incorporate a large amount of tricep activation. This can include flat, incline, and decline dumbbell presses, as well as things like push presses and closes grip presses.
All these are great to help you to develop your chest, arms, and connective tissues at the same time.
Best Shoulder And Tricep Exercises
Much like with the chest, shoulder exercises that rely heavily on pressing movements can help you to develop the triceps while training other parts of your upper body.
Things like military press, dumbbell shoulder press, and Arnold press are all great dumbbell exercises to work your shoulders and arms as the same time.
Best Back, Bicep & Forearm Exercises
In contrast to the chest and shoulders, back exercises are a great way to build up the biceps and forearms, and it is the exercises that use lots of pulling that are the most beneficial.
Things like reverse grip dumbbell rows are perhaps the best option, while any form of row and even deadlifts, chin ups, and pull ups can be very beneficial as well.
Dumbbells are one of the best ways to develop your arms, as they let you train with weights and a level of freedom that is hard to get with other bits of fitness kit, aside from perhaps kettlebells.
The range of exercises you have to choose from is extensive, but the ones we have covered here are the very best dumbbell exercises to build incredible arms. All you need to do is use this list to build a dream dumbbell arm workout, so you can attain the complete beach body physique of your dreams.
Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.