The 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge: Your 4-Move Workout for a Sculpted Back and Shoulders

Don't neglect your back and shoulders if you want a powerful flex. Our 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge targets your entire upper-body.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Arms get a lot of attention when you're flexing and showing off your gains. But if you're only focusing on your biceps and triceps, you're missing a crucial part of your upper-body pump. Your shoulders and back also play a big role in defining your silhouette.

"Most people will have a stronger push rather than a pull, so we have to give our backs extra attention," says Mathew Forzaglia, certified personal trainer and founder of Forzag Fitness on the NEOU App. That also means better posture and less upper-back pain, he says.

It can be difficult (though not impossible) to target these muscles with body-weight exercises, and not all of us have access to a gym. That's why dumbbells are particularly helpful for building your delts (aka deltoids, the muscles of your shoulders), traps (aka trapezius, the muscles of your upper back) and lats (aka latissimus dorsi, the muscles of your mid-back).

Check out the exercise demos below from Forzaglia, our 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge host. You'll do this workout every time our 30-day calendar says "Back and Shoulders." Remember, every six days, the rep scheme changes so that you're doing the following:

  • Round 1: 2 sets of 10 as a circuit, doing one exercise after another
  • Round 2: 2 sets of 12 as a circuit
  • Round 3: 2 sets of 15 as a circuit
  • Round 4: 3 sets of 10, doing all sets of an exercise back-to-back with 30 seconds rest between sets
  • Round 5: 3 sets of 12 back-to-back

Move 1: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Back
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
  2. Hinge your hips back and bend your torso forward 45 to 90 degrees, keeping your back flat. Start with your arms extended toward the ground, palms facing each other.
  3. Draw your elbows up toward your ribs and pull the weights up alongside your lower abdomen.
  4. As you lift the weights, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  5. Lower the weights back down with control.

Move 2: Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Back
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
  2. Hinge your hips back and bend your torso forward 45 to 90 degrees, keeping your back flat. Start with your arms extended toward the ground, palms facing each other.
  3. With your elbows slightly bent, use your upper-back muscles to raise the dumbbells out to your sides to chest height.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top before lowering back down to the start with control.

Move 3: Dumbbell Upright Row

Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing your body.
  2. Bend your elbows out to the sides as you raise the dumbbells up and along the front of your body.
  3. Stop when the dumbbells reach chest height and your elbows reach shoulder height.
  4. Lower the weights back down with control.

Move 4: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Begin seated or standing with a straight back, feet rooted in the ground, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Lift the weights above your shoulders with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Brace your core and press both dumbbells overhead.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.

Bonus: Dumbbell Plank Drag

Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Abs
  1. Start in a forearm plank with your elbows below your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to hips to heels.
  2. Position a dumbbell just behind your right elbow.
  3. Engaging your glutes, low back and abs, reach your left arm across your chest to grab the dumbbell, dragging it by the handle under your body.
  4. Pause when the dumbbell is beneath your left shoulder.
  5. Return your forearm to the ground and repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.