15 Best Dumbbell Arm Exercises (With Sample Workout)

best dumbbell arm exercises

Building more muscular arms is a common goal for all gym goers, with dumbbells being the ultimate tool to do so; however, many lifters either choose the wrong movements or are not performing them correctly to maximize results.

When training arms with dumbbells, you need to select exercises that allow you to bend and extend your elbows without getting the shoulders involved. Exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions (and their many variations) are key. You can also include forearm exercises for more balanced arm growth.

The 15 best dumbbell arm exercises are:

In this article, I will share 15 of the all-time best arm-building dumbbell exercises you can do to develop the biceps, triceps, and forearms and how to perform them correctly. I’ll also provide a sample workout template that you can use to start getting the results you want in as little as 6 weeks.

If you want to build stronger, leaner, and more muscular arms, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.

Anatomy Of Arm Muscles

Before we dive into the exercises, you should be familiar with the different arm muscle groups and their primary functions because this will help you understand which exercises target which muscle groups.

Biceps Brachii

biceps brachii

The bicep muscles run along the front of the arm from the elbow to the shoulder. The bicep muscles work to bend the elbows (elbow flexion), which is why bicep curls are the go-to exercise to target them. 

The bicep muscle has two distinct “heads,” which simply means that you need to include movements that target each head to maximize arm growth. The long head runs along the entire arm and covers most of the area. The short head, while also running the entire arm, is located more on the inside of the arm (inner biceps).

To train the long head, choose exercises with a narrower grip that have the elbows moved back (like an incline curl). To train the short head, use a wider grip and place the elbows more in front of the shoulders (like a preacher curl).

Triceps Brachii

triceps brachii

The tricep muscle runs along the back of the arm from the back of the shoulder to the elbow. The function of the triceps is to extend the elbows (elbow extension. Similar to the biceps, the triceps have different heads of the muscle that split and provide shape and function for the back of the arm. 

The triceps is split into three heads: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.

The long head is the largest of the three and runs along the entire back of the arm. Most tricep exercises train this head. 

The lateral head runs outside the triceps and is often trained with movements where your grip is narrower than the shoulders, such as close grip bench presses, rope pushdowns, and diamond push-ups.

The medial head (inner) is located on the inside edge of the triceps (closest to the body). It is targeted by most movements that have you using an underhand grip (like underhand grip pushdowns and reverse grip floor press). This is often one of the most neglected heads of the triceps.

Forearm Muscles

forearm muscles

The forearms comprise many smaller muscles, each responsible for different joint actions of the wrist and lower arm such as flexing, extending, and twisting the wrist, as well as gripping objects.

Most exercises like rows, curls, and deadlifts will train the forearms adequately. However, you can also include wrist curls and wrist extensions to add more size and shape if desired.

Related Article: 27 of the All-Time Best Arm Exercises for All Levels

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3 Benefits Of Dumbbell Arm Exercises

Below are three benefits you can expect when training the arms with dumbbells that are specific to dumbbell training.

Other general benefits of arms training are increased arm strength, arm size, muscle definition, and increased pressing and pulling capacity (however, these benefits are not unique to dumbbells). 

Wider Variety Of Movement Options

Dumbbells allow you to train the biceps, triceps, and forearms with a variety of exercises, helping to keep workouts fresh and challenging. 

While it is important to find movements that work best for you, you also want to make sure you are not constantly doing different movements so that you can progress. 

I recommend training each movement for at least 6 weeks, and then from there you can change the exercise for more variety if desired.

Ability To Tailor The Movement To Your Body

Unlike a barbell or machine, you can move your joints and change the ranges of motion more easily when using dumbbells, which could help minimize any joint discomfort you may have while training your arms. 

For example, some lifters find that straight barbell curls hurt their wrists, but with dumbbells, they can change their wrist position to find the angle that feels most comfortable and alleviates wrist pain.

You can also play with how much you rotate your palms during your arm training to add more range of motion and get better muscle contractions and growth on some arm movements (curls, kickbacks).

Easy to Set Up

Dumbbells are easy to set up and do not require changing weights, large areas, squat racks, etc. You can easily adjust the weights by grabbing a new pair. The ease of use and setup is why dumbbells can be found in all commercial gyms and many home gyms.

Related Article: Try the Killer Arm Exercises for More Muscle Growth (For All Levels)

15 Best Arm Exercises With Dumbbells

Below are 15 of the best exercises you can do with dumbbells to build arm strength and muscle. 

The first 7 exercises are for the biceps, the next 6 are for the triceps, and the last 2 are for the forearm muscles.

Note: Most of these exercises can be found within the Fitbod app. You don’t need to incorporate all 15 into your training program. Pick 2-3 exercises (per muscle) and rotate them through your program over the long term (swap them out every 8-12  weeks). 

1. Dumbbell Curl

The dumbbell curl targets the biceps and is a great movement to train the long head. Unlike the barbell or machine curls, dumbbells allow you to train each arm independently so that you can minimize muscle imbalances (i.e. having one side stronger than the other).

You can also add wrist rotations (by starting with a neutral grip and rotating so that your palms face upward at the top of the curl) to enhance the biceps muscle contraction further.

How To Do It

  • Stand in an upright position with the feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells by your sides with your palms forward.
  • Move the hands slightly in front of your thighs so that the elbows are next to your rib cage and slightly in front of the shoulders.
  • Lift the weights up, making sure to not let the elbows move backward as you do this.
  • Curl the weights up to chest height, and then slowly lower the weights back to the starting point.

Pro Tip

Many people make the mistake of moving their elbows throughout the movement, which takes the emphasis off the biceps. As you curl the weight, keep your elbows locked in place at your sides; as you lower the weights, think about pushing your elbows forward to keep loading on the biceps.

2. Dumbbell Incline Curl

The dumbbell incline curl is a curl variation that targets the long head of the biceps. By doing these curls on an incline bench, you can increase the range of motion the biceps must work through, which increases your growth potential.

This curl variation is helpful for lifters who struggle to maintain their positioning in the standard bicep curl because the use of the bench reduces unwanted motion at the torso.

How To Do It

  • Sit down on an incline bench that is 45 degrees reclined, and lie back so that your upper back is flat on the bench and your arms are extended down towards the floor.
  • With a pair of dumbbells in your hands, rotate your palms forward, roll your shoulders back, and stick your chest up to the sky.
  • Lift the weights up by thinking about rotating your pinkies forwards as you curl.
  • Lift the weights to chest level and then slowly lower the weights back down to the sides, never letting your elbows move behind the shoulders.

Pro Tip

It can be helpful to focus on slowing down the movement at the top, as many lifters will find their shoulders will want to roll forwards. Focus on pressing your head, upper back, and rear delts back into the bench at all times, as this will place a greater stretch on the biceps and keep the shoulders out of the movement best as possible.

3. Dumbbell Drag Curl

The dumbbell drag curl targets the short head of the bicep, and is done by pulling the elbows back behind you as you curl the weights up.

This can be a tricky exercise for some to grasp, as you want to keep your chest up, shoulders back, and pull the elbows back as your curl. It is sometimes best to do this standing in front of a wall (2-3’ in front) as you can think about staying upright and pushing your elbows back into the wall.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a pair of dumbbells in your hands, palms facing forward.
  • With your chest up, shoulders back, and core braced (tighten your abs), curl the weights upwards while making sure to pull the elbows back (rather than letting them forwards). 
  • The elbows should move back behind the shoulders as much as possible.
  • Pause for a few seconds at the top of the movement, and flex the biceps, then lower the weights and think about keeping the elbows pushed back at all times.

Pro Tip

It is best to think about keeping the dumbbells in line with your torso or shoulders as you curl, rather than having them be out in front of you. This will inevitably then mean the elbows are moved back enough behind the shoulders to target the short head.

4. Dumbbell Spider Curl

The dumbbell spider curl is an exercise that targets the long head of the biceps and is a great alternative to preacher curls if you do not have access to the machine.

By using chest support during this movement, you also minimize your ability to swing your torso to “cheat” and use momentum during the reps.

How To Do It

  • Lie chest-down on an incline bench (set at a 45-degree angle), so that your upper chest and shoulders hang off the end. 
  • Grab a pair of dumbells and turn your palms forward, keeping your elbows under your shoulders (and not pointed out).
  • Move your elbows forward so that they are in front of the shoulders (or starting just underneath). Never let them move back behind the shoulders from this point on.
  • Pull your wrists forward out in front of you to initiate the curl and then keep curling the weights up in an arcing motion, pausing at the top for 1-2 seconds and flexing the biceps.
  • Lower the weights slowly by straightening the elbows to return to the starting position.

Pro Tip

The trickiest part about this exercise is to not let your elbows move back as you curl or lower the weights. It can be helpful to have someone use a stick to block the elbows from moving back behind the shoulders initially until you learn how to control the movement properly.

5. Dumbbell Preacher Curl

The dumbbell preacher curl targets the long head of the biceps and is a great movement for all levels because it’s very difficult to “cheat” the movement.

By using the preacher pad, you can lock yourself into the perfect position for every rep. If you do not have access to a preacher curl pad, you can also do these seated, leaning forward, with your upper arms resting on your thighs and elbows on your knees.

How To Do It

  • Adjust the preacher curl machine so that the pad is across your chest, and your arms are over the top of the pad (the edge of the pad should be in your armpits).
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and extend your arms down the pad with your palm facing upward.
  • Push your elbow down into the pad, and lift the palms, thinking about the pinkie lifting at the same rate as the thumb (pinkies up, not thumbs). This will ensure your wrists stay supinated (turned up) the entire time.
  • Curl the weight to face level, and then slowly lower the weight to the starting position and repeat.

Pro Tip

Many lifters are unable to keep the palms up; if this is the case, lighten the weight, as you want to make sure you are getting full supination to target the biceps.

6. Dumbbell Hammer Curl

The dumbbell hammer curl targets the outside of the bicep as well as some of the forearm muscles. The hammer curl is very similar to the standard bicep curl but uses a neutral grip (palms facing each other) rather than a supinated grip.

With hammer curl variations, you want to keep your thumb above your pinky at all times. You can also use this neutral grip on many of the other curl variations (preacher hammer curls, incline hammer curls) for more variety.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (or be seated), with your arms extended to your sides with dumbbells in each hand. Your palms should be turned towards your body.
  • Lift the weights by bending at the elbows, keeping the thumbs turned up (palms facing each other) at all times. 
  • Try not to let the shoulders or chest fall forward or let the elbows move backward as you curl the weights up to chest height.
  • Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

It is easy to let your chest flatten and to let your upper torso lean too far forward. It may be best for some lifters to keep their back against a wall or upright bench to ensure they keep strict form throughout the movement.

7. Dumbbell Zottman Curl

The dumbbell Zottman curl is a bicep and forearm curl exercise that is a great way to train 2/3 of the arm muscle groups at once (biceps and forearms, but not triceps).  

This is more of a high-rep finishing exercise for the biceps and forearms, rather than an exercise performed with aggressive load in low-rep ranges. 

This exercise requires a good amount of body control and coordination, so take your time and keep tension on the arms and forwards rather than letting the shoulders get involved.

How To Do It

  • Stand upright with your feet under you with your arms extended holding dumbbells. 
  • With your palms facing forward (supination) and resting on your thighs, lift the dumbbells up like you would a dumbbell curl, and then rotate them at the top of the movement so that your palms are now facing down (pronation).
  • Lower the weights down towards the floor, keeping your elbows from moving backward.
  • As you get to the bottom of the movement, rotate your palms to face forward (supination) and repeat.

Pro Tip

I like doing these for higher reps and with maximal control. You should feel this in your bicep and forearms. If you struggle to feel it, either do sets of 15-20 reps or slow the tempo of your reps. Most people who struggle to feel these are just moving too quickly and aren’t spending enough time under tension.

8. Dumbbell Skullcrusher

The dumbbell skull crusher is a tricep movement that targets the long head of the triceps. This is a good exercise to improve tricep extension strength in both arms to minimize muscle imbalance.

You can do this lying on a flat or incline bench. Using an incline bench will help increase the range of motion the tricep needs to move through, increasing the difficulty.

How To Do It

  • Set a bench to either the flat or incline (45 degrees) position. Lie on your back and grab dumbbells, one in each hand.
  • Position the dumbbells over your eyes as your arms are extended above your head, and rotate your palms inwards.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the tops of the shoulders or forehead by bending the elbows.
  • Once you get to the bottom of the movement, reverse the direction and extend the elbows, then repeat.

Pro Tip

Focus on going even slower (2-3 seconds lowering) than you usually would with most exercises, as this will help you load the triceps up and reduce the stress on the elbows. This is especially important if your elbows tend to be stiff or creaky during triceps isolation movements.

9. Dumbbell Kickback

The dumbbell kickback is an exercise that targets the medial head of the triceps. 

The kickback can add more definition and muscle to the inner part of the triceps, as long as you keep the shoulders back so that they don’t take the focus off of the triceps.

How To Do It

  • Stand with dumbbells in each hand, feet shoulder apart, and bend over at the hips.
  • With your back parallel to the ground, pull the elbows up to your sides so they are in line with the torso.
  • Extend the elbows, making sure to keep the chest up and elbows in line with the torso.
  • Once the elbows are straight, flex the back of your arms and hold for 2 seconds, then lower the weights and repeat.

Pro Tip

As you lift the weights, think about rotating the palms upwards towards the sky. This will help you target more of the medial head of the triceps.

10. Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is an exercise that targets the long head of the triceps. This can be done with one or two dumbbells.

When training heavy, I like using one dumbbell alone as it is easier to keep the movement controlled and coordinated under heavier loads. 

You can also do these with two dumbbells (one in each hand) if you do not have access to heavy loads or want to address any muscle imbalances between your triceps.

How To Do It

  • Sit down on a flat bench and lift a dumbbell overhead. Your hands should hold the top end of the dumbbell(s) as it is held vertically above you.
  • With your elbows by your ears, bend at the elbows to lower the dumbbell(s) slowly behind your head.
  • Feel the stretch on your triceps, and go as low as you can as you let the elbows reach backward.
  • Once at the bottom of the movement, pause for 1-2 seconds in the stretched position, and then straighten your elbows and repeat.

Pro Tip

I find it helpful to think about reaching my elbows up and back as I lower the weight behind my head to create a bigger stretch in the triceps during the lowering phase (eccentric) and a better contraction in the lifting phase (concentric).

Additionally, lowering the weight slowly helps keep pressure on the elbow joint and helps you keep tension on the muscle at all times.

11. Dumbbell Tate Press

The Tate press is a triceps exercise hybrid between a triceps extension and a close grip press. 

This exercise allows you to train the triceps with heavier weights (thanks to the assistance from your chest and shoulders) which means you can overload the triceps and encourage more strength and growth.

How To Do It

  • Lie on your back on a flat bench with your arms extended over your shoulders, holding dumbbells in each hand, palms facing forward.
  • Bend at the elbows and lower the weights towards your chest as you allow the hands to rotate forward and the elbows to flare laterally (out to the sides).
  • Once the dumbbells reach the chest, ensure your elbows are slightly flared out and your palms are facing forward.
  • Straighten the elbows and rotate the wrists back to the initial starting position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

If this aggravates your elbows, try aiming for the upper chest or head rather than the chest (turn this more into a skull crusher). If you still have some shoulder discomfort, adjust the weight or try altering the rotation at your wrists as you lower.

12. Dumbbell JM Press

The JM press is a good alternative to the skullcrusher or Tate press for those who find that these variations aggravate the elbows. 

The JM press is a great tricep variation for those who don’t have access to heavier weights, or for those who find heavier weights more aggravating for their shoulder and/or elbow joints.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on your back with arms above your shoulders, holding dumbbells in each hand.
  • With the palms facing forward, bend at the elbows and reach your elbows back slightly, bringing the weights down to your chin or upper chest.
  • Push the weights back upwards above you, like you would a press, making sure to keep the elbows in as you straighten the elbows 

Pro Tip

This can be tricky to coordinate with two dumbbells, so I like doing these by pressing the dumbbell ends together. By pressing them together and equally squeezing them as I push them upwards, I can get a better muscle contraction at the top of every rep.

13. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a bench press variation that limits the range of motion of the press to the last half of the movement. In doing so, you place more emphasis on the triceps to extend the elbows (and you minimize involvement from the chest).

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the floor holding dumbbells above your shoulders, with your arms extended. 
  • With your upper back, hips, and feet on the ground, lower the weights by bending at the elbows and shoulders. The elbows should be slightly flared out from the body (70 degrees or so).
  • Lower the elbows until they touch the floor, press the weights back up and flex the triceps at the top, then repeat.

Pro Tip

Try switching up your grip throughout the movement to see which variation you feel the most in your triceps (rather than your chest). You can try these with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), or you could have your palms facing you throughout the movement to keep more emphasis on the medial head of the triceps.

14. Dumbbell Wrist Curls

Dumbbell wrist curls train the wrist flexor muscles (underside of the forearms). These muscles are key for carrying and gripping movements, so it can be helpful to train these if you have grip issues or wrist pain.

You can also do these to add more size to your forearms, which can help increase overall arm size.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells in each hand (to your sides). Your elbows should be straight, and your palms should be facing your body.
  • With the dumbbells in your fingertips, roll the weights up into the palm of your hand by curling the wrists inwards as you keep your elbows straight.
  • Squeeze the hands and create a fist as the top of the curl, then slowly uncurl the weight and open the hand to allow the dumbbell to roll into the fingertips again.

Pro Tip

 I often train these at the end of the workout for a moderate to higher rep range (15-30 reps) rather than very heavy weights.

If you’re struggling to keep your elbows straight, then try doing these in a seated position with your elbows supported on your knees and your wrists hanging out over your knees.

15. Dumbbell Wrist Extensions

Dumbbell wrist extensions train the top of the forearms, which are the muscles involved in carrying and pulling objects. 

Training the wrist extensors (they help to bend the wrist back and open the fingers) can also improve the joint health of the elbows (to balance out the wrist flexor muscles).

How To Do It

  • Kneel in front of a flat bench (perpendicular to the bench) with your forearms reaching across the bench. Your wrists should be hanging off the side of the bench, but your forearms should be resting on the bench.
  • With dumbbells in each hand and palms facing the floor, lift the wrists towards your face, using the tops of the forearms to lift the weight.
  • Bend the wrists towards your face as much as you can (while keeping the forearm on the bench) and then slowly lower the weights and repeat.

Pro Tip

At the bottom of the movement, try to reach the weights to the floor to get a bigger stretch and load on the top of the forearm. This can also help you keep tension on the muscle and protect the elbows and smaller tendons from taking on too much stress.

Sample Arm Workout With Dumbbells

sample arm workout with dumbbells

Below is a sample arm workout that attacks the biceps and triceps with 3 different exercises, to target all muscle heads. Then, it ends with forearm exercises to improve grip strength and help give the lower part of the arm better shape and definition.

This sample workout is not found in the Fitbod app; however, many exercises are. You can use this sample workout template to build your workouts in the app. Once you build the workouts, the app can help you progress every week to get the most out of your training.

Dumbbell Only Arm Workout 

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Tone My Arms With Just Dumbbells?

Yes, you can tone your arms with only dumbbells, as long as you train hard and progress your intensity (add more weight, do more reps, or do another set) every week. When looking to get toned, you should also focus on losing some body fat (if you are not lean), as this will also help uncover those toned arms!

How Do You Get Rid Of Arm Flab With Dumbbells?

Arm flab is caused by having too much fat over the muscle, not having enough muscle to firm up the arm, or both. The best way to get rid of arm flab is to train the arms 2-3 times a week to build muscle. Then, if you do have excess body fat on your frame, consider taking 8-12 weeks to lose fat (while weight training).

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.