I'd like to find a good set of dumbbell exercises for a "complete" upper arm workout - working out the biceps, triceps, and brachialis* muscles fairly evenly. What combination of curls or other exercises will accomplish this the best?

* In my understanding, the brachialis is the smaller muscle that lies on the outside of the arm, a little bit more toward the elbow than the biceps, and flexes with the biceps often but not always. Please correct me if I'm wrong!

  • Actually hammer curls may affect your biceps in a pretty way, too (esp. when done with heavy dumbbells on an inclined bench) -- at least my humble personal experience indicates so.
    – mlvljr
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 20:17

1 Answer 1


You're limiting yourself to the number of exercises by only using dumbbells. But if that's all you have then these are my dumbbell suggestions for the upper arm:

Do hammer curls for the brachialis. It also works forearms at the same time.

hammer curl

Do normal dumbbell curls for the bicep. Use a narrow grip (dumbbells closer together) to put more emphasis on the outer bicep. A wide grip (dumbbells flown away from the body) puts more emphasis on the inner bicep. Use a neutral grip if you want to target the whole bicep.

dumbbell curl

Do preacher dumbbell curls to target the lower biceps. The preacher bench helps you stretch all the way to target that lower bicep.

preacher curl

I've found that incline dumbbell curls help target the upper bicep. You can feel that upper bicep stretch when the weights are at their lowest point.

incline dumbbell curl

One arm tricep extensions helps to train your stabilizer muscles because it's hard to keep balance while doing this exercise.

tricep extention

A two-arm overhead extension allows you to do more total weight than the above exercise because it's much easier to stabilize.

overhead extension

Tricep kickbacks help target the upper tricep. Hold the fully extended position for a second or two to target the upper tricep.

tricep kickback

  • Great answer, this is more than I hoped for with the pictures and everything. Since you mentioned that using only dumbbells limits the exercises, can you add a quick bit summarizing why/how?
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 19:56
  • 4
    I once saw a Youtube video of Kevin Levrone's arm workout. He said the barbell curl was the number one mass builder. The bar is more stable than the dumbbell, so you can lift heavier. Heavier is better for mass. However, don't neglect dumbbells. Without dumbbells, your smaller stabilizer muscles will be weak and you'll be more susceptible to injury.
    – JoJo
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 7:42
  • Dexter Jackson, the 2008 Mr. Olympia, says barbells are best for mass and dumbbells are good for shaping: youtube.com/watch?v=1NZirzqE30A&feature=related
    – JoJo
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 22:12
  • I would add that there is a great arm-building exercise which requires neither barbells nor dumbbells: the chin-up. You can add weight on a belt if you need, but even bodyweight-only will build some pretty decent biceps.
    – HerrKaputt
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 16:10

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