Sculpt Your Arms and Shoulders With This 20-Minute Drop-Set Dumbbell Workout

This drop-set dumbbell workout will strengthen and tone your biceps, triceps and shoulders.
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Sure, figuring out your one-rep max is a great way to push your strength to the limit and see how much you can actually lift, but when all is said and done, the real test of your muscle endurance and power comes from how many reps you can complete with a heavy set of weights. That's where drop-set workouts come in.

A drop-set workout involves doing an exercise with a certain amount of weight for as many reps as you can with good form, and then recovering for as long as it takes for you to do the same exercise with a lighter set of weights for as many reps as possible. Think of it as the AMRAP of strength training.

This upper-body dumbbell workout is the perfect introduction to drop-set training. Built by Carolina Araujo, a certified personal trainer, this workout targets the arms and shoulders and boosts muscle tone in just 20 minutes — all you need is one heavy and one light set of dumbbells. Make sure to choose a weight that you can complete the following exercises with good form for the prescribed number of reps.

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

Move 1: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

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Sets 4
Reps 12
Type Strength
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Begin standing or seated with a flat back, your feet rooted on the ground, and holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Lift the weights above your shoulders with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  3. On an exhale, brace your core and press both dumbbells overhead, finishing with your biceps by your ears.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.
  5. Aim to perform 12 reps with a heavy or moderate weight.
  6. Swap your dumbbells for a pair that's half that weight and perform 20 reps, or as many reps as you can with good form for the next round.

Move 2: Single-Arm Dumbbell Lateral Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 20
Type Strength
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with a dumbbell in your right hand by your side and place your left hand on your hip.
  2. Keeping your core braced, raise the weight out to your side until it reaches shoulder height.
  3. Lower the weight slowly to the starting position.
  4. Perform 10 reps on each side before you drop set with the following exercise.

Move 3: Dumbbell Lateral Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 20
Type Strength
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with a light dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keeping your core braced, raise the weights out to your sides until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Lower the weights slowly to the starting position.
  4. Complete 20 reps.
  5. Pick up a lighter set of dumbbells for the next round.

Tip

Avoid using your body to increase your momentum as you perform your lateral raises, Araujo recommends. If you find yourself bouncing up and down to get the weights up, either opt for a lighter set of dumbbells or try doing this move kneeling.

Move 4: Dumbbell Curl to Press

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Sets 4
Reps 12
Type Strength
Body Part [ "Arms", "Shoulders" ]
  1. Stand with a moderate pair of dumbbells in each hand and your feet at hip-width distance.
  2. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl the weights up to shoulder height.
  3. Rotate your palms to face out, and then press the weights straight up over your shoulders.
  4. Reverse the motion and bring the weights back to shoulder height.
  5. Flip your palms to face inward and lower the weights with control.
  6. After you finish 12 reps, swap for a lighter set of weights and repeat this move for 20 reps, or as many reps as you can with good form for the next round.

Tip

As you press the weights overhead, keep your core braced and glutes tight to avoid overarching your lower back.

Move 5: Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension

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Sets 4
Reps 10
Type Strength
Body Part Arms
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor a few inches away from your butt. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms straight up with the elbows over your shoulders and palms facing each other.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells to either side of your head, envisioning your arms hooking over an invisible bar attached to your elbows.
  3. Straighten your elbows to press the weights back up to the starting position.
  4. Perform 10 reps with moderate weights.
  5. Swap for a lighter set of dumbbells and repeat this exercise for 20 reps, or as many reps as you can with good form for the next round.

Move 6: Triceps Push-Up

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Sets 4
Reps 8
Type Strength
Body Part [ "Arms", "Abs", "Chest" ]
  1. Begin in a high plank with your core and glutes engaged. Your palms should be planted just inside your shoulders, and your hips should be in line with your head and heels.
  2. Bend your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your body toward the ground.
  3. On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. When your chest hovers just above the ground (or however far down you can go), press into the ground and push your shoulder blades apart to return to the starting position.
  5. Perform 8 reps with good form.
  6. Drop your knees down and perform as many reps as possible from this modified position for the next round.