Sculpt Your Upper Body in Just 20 Minutes With This Single-Arm Dumbbell Workout

This single-arm dumbbell workout targets your biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest and back.
Image Credit: LightFieldStudios/iStock/GettyImages

With quarantine orders in full effect through the winter, chances are body-weight workouts are the bread and butter of your routine. But if you want to get stronger over time, you'll need to tackle new challenges so your body doesn't adapt, and that means adding some real load — starting with only one dumbbell.

This 20-minute, single-arm dumbbell workout allows you to build upper-body strength with unilateral movements. Unilateral exercises focus on one side at a time to promote equal strength across your body. It also helps you isolate and correct muscle imbalances, which is more likely to happen with your upper body because you might use your dominant hand or arm to do more tasks than the other.

For a highly effective upper-body workout, make this single-arm dumbbell routine your new go-to. It's perfect for all fitness levels and can be easily modified to accommodate mobility issues.

Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

Move 1: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Back
  1. Hold one dumbbell with your left hand, and stand in a lunge position, taking a step back with your left leg slightly bent and keeping your right leg bent with the knee in line with the ankle.
  2. Lean your torso forward with your back flat, and rest your right hand on your right thigh. Make sure your neck and head are aligned with your back.
  3. With your left arm extended toward the ground, slowly row the dumbbell toward your hip, keeping your elbow close to your side and squeezing your shoulder blade toward the midline of your back.
  4. Hold for one count before lowering the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  5. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Tip

This exercise can also be done by resting your opposite knee on a chair and placing your hand on the chair for balance. Avoid rounding or arching your back, or flaring your elbow away from your body while performing this exercise.

Move 2: Single-Arm Arnold Press

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet at a comfortable distance apart with a slight bend in the knees. Hold the dumbbell in your left hand at shoulder height with your palm facing you at a 90-degree angle. Rest your right hand on your thigh or by your side, wherever feels comfortable.
  2. Press the dumbbell overhead while rotating your hand until your palm is facing forward.
  3. Finish at the top with your elbow slightly bent. Your arm should be in a bent arc angle. The slight bend in the elbow takes the pressure off the joints and ligaments.
  4. Hold for one count before bringing the weight back down to the starting position.
  5. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Tip

This exercise can also be done seated to help isolate the upper body and force you to engage your core.

Move 3: Biceps Curl

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Arms
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the dumbbell with your left hand, palm facing in.
  2. Slowly curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder while keeping your elbow firmly tucked into your side throughout the movement.
  3. Finish at the top of the movement with your palm facing you.
  4. Hold for one count before slowly lowering the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  5. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Tip

This exercise can also be done seated.

Move 4: Triceps Kickback

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Arms
  1. Hold one dumbbell with your left hand, and stand in a lunge position, taking a step back with your left leg slightly bent and keeping your right leg bent with the knee in line with the ankle.
  2. With a flat back, lean your torso forward and bend your left arm to 90 degrees by your side so your upper arm is parallel to the ground. Keep your left elbow pinned to your body and your right hand on your right thigh. Make sure your neck and head are aligned with your back.
  3. Slowly extend your arm back to your hip until your arm is parallel to the ground, squeezing your triceps at the top.
  4. Hold for one count before bringing the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  5. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Tip

This exercise can also be done by resting your opposite knee on a chair and placing your hand on the chair for balance. Avoid rounding or arching your back, or flaring your elbow away from your body while performing this exercise.

Move 5: Chest Press

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Chest
  1. Lie face-up with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart, and toes pointing forward.
  2. Holding the dumbbell with your left hand, keep your left arm bent at a 90-degree angle by your chest with your palm facing forward.
  3. Slowly extend your arm straight up, finishing with a slight bend in the elbow.
  4. Hold for one count before bringing the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  5. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Move 6: Dumbbell Snatch

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Region Full Body
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place the dumbbell between the arches of your feet.
  2. Bend your knees and hinge your hips back, keeping your back flat and your shoulders above your hips. Hold the dumbbell with your left hand and extend the right arm out to the side to keep your shoulders square.
  3. Packing your shoulders back and down, drive through your legs and core to zip the dumbbell up toward your shoulders to perform a high pull.
  4. Then, quickly flip your elbow underneath your shoulders and punch through to press the dumbbell overhead.
  5. Reverse this motion and bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  6. Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.

Tip

This is an advanced movement that requires core strength and stability. It should flow like one smooth movement rather than multiple movements. The best way to practice good form with this exercise is to try it without a dumbbell. Perform this exercise slowly and with control before you speed up the tempo.