Simple Arm and Shoulder Exercises with Dumbbells

Copyright 2006 by Leonore H. Dvorkin


To go to the Exercise Instruction main page, click here.



Note: This article was originally published in the February 2006 issue of the Denver publication Community News.


Happy New Year, everyone! If your 2006 goals include getting more exercise, I'm here to help.

In the January issue of Community News, I introduced you to weight training, telling you how it can benefit people of all ages, how easy it is to get started, and where to buy low-cost equipment. If you missed that article, Lifting Weights for Life, please click here.

In this and upcoming articles, I'll give instructions for doing exercises for specific body parts, with recommended starting weights for both men and women. These guidelines are based on 30 years of teaching my home-based exercise program, Conditioning with Weights´┐Ż. Please note that there are many more exercises than these in my program. This is just a small sample to get you started.

Don't worry about bulking up too much! For both men and women, the usual result of arm and shoulder training is simply a pleasing combination of increased strength, attractive firming, and greater flexibility.

For these exercises, you'll probably need 3 pairs of dumbbells. Women can start with 2, 4, and 6 lbs. per dumbbell, or perhaps 3, 5, and 8 lbs. Men can start with 5, 8, and 10 lbs. per dumbbell, or perhaps 8, 10, and 12 lbs. Before you buy, try a few repetitions in the store to get an idea of your strength, or come to my classes to learn how to do these exercises safely and correctly.

Good posture for the standing exercises: Stand upright, face straight ahead, feet a few inches apart, abdomen pulled in a bit, legs straight but knees relaxed (not locked).

Goal: at the end of every set of 15-20 repetitions, you should feel a good muscular effort, but not a strain, especially in the joints. Experiment to determine your correct weights. All motions should be smooth and controlled. Increase or decrease weights as needed.

Abbreviations and terms used here: W = weights for women. M = weights for men. DBs = dumbbells. Reps = repetitions. One rep = one lift plus lowering of the weights. Set = specified number of reps done without stopping, usually 12-20 reps in a row.

1) Dumbbell Standard Curls
W: 5-8 lbs. per DB / M: 12-15 lbs. per DB
Hold DBs by the center rods. Stand straight, arms down, palms facing outward. Breathe in, lifting weights so palms face shoulders. Breathe out, lowering weights to starting position. Raise and lower weights smoothly for 15-20 repetitions. Put weights down, shake arms, and r epeat lifts if desired. Feel the effort in the biceps muscles (fronts of upper arms).

2) Dumbbell Reverse Curls
W: 5-8 lbs. / M: 8-12 lbs.
Hold DBs by center rods. Arms start down, palms facing backward. Breathe in, lifting weights so they end up by the shoulders, palms facing outward, elbows down. Breathe out, lowering weights. Do at least one set of 15-20 reps. Feel the effort in the forearms.

3) Dumbbell Kickbacks
W: 3-5 lbs. / M: 5-8 lbs.
Use 1 DB at a time. With DB in right hand, bend over, placing left hand flat on weight bench or chair seat. Have back flat, knees relaxed, left foot ahead of right foot. With palm turned in, bend arm to raise DB to front, then swing it backward to straighten arm. Hold back and up briefly, then come forward again. Repeat for 10-15 lifts. Reverse everything and repeat with left arm for 10-15 lifts. Feel effort in triceps (backs of upper arms) and backs of shoulders.

4) Dumbbell Alternating Overhead Presses
W: 3-5 lbs. / M: 5-10 lbs.
Sit upright on weight bench or firm chair, feet apart, back straight. Hold DBs with palms facing, elbows down. Raise right arm overhead. Straighten arm smoothly, stretching side of body at top of lift. Upper arm ends even with ear. Lower right arm, lifting left arm at the same time. Keep alternating arms smoothly. Breathe deeply, in for one lift, out for the next. Repeat for 20-30 lifts total. If desired, rest and repeat. Feel effort in arms and shoulders.

5) Dumbbell Lateral Raises
W: 2-4 lbs. / M: 4-8 lbs.
Stand straight, facing straight ahead. Keep shoulders back, abdominals tucked in. Hold DBs down by sides, palms toward outer thighs. Breathe in, smoothly lifting arms to sides, no higher than shoulder height. Don't lock elbows. Breathe out, smoothly lowering DBs. Repeat for at least 1 set of 12-15 reps. Feel effort in shoulders.

6) Dumbbell Pullover (for stretch)
W: 2-3 lbs. / M: 3-5 lbs.
Keep the weights light. Lie flat on back on carpet or exercise mat, legs and arms straight, palms toward thighs. Breathe in, extending straight arms overhead, bringing arms flat to floor if possible. Stretch through the midsection. Breathe out, bringing arms over in an arc to touch DBs to upper thighs. Repeat 10-15 times, concentrating on deep breathing and stretching the arms and midsection. Relax with this one.