Free weights exercises are some of the most dynamic, challenging, and rewarding physical efforts you can put into developing and building your body’s muscle mass. The arms in particular can benefit from the use of a variety of free weight techniques, and even in the age of the kettlebell, the dumbbell remains the classic standard of free weight techniques to develop the arms.
These are great exercises to perform with adjustable dumbbells of a variety of sorts, in many configurations.
1 – The Bicep Curl
As we said, this is a great place to start. The curl is a standard exercise, involving raising the dumbbell from waist level to shoulder level, and returning to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions to meet your training threshold, and you will see results. This exercise can be performed standing or seated, giving it an excellent versatility. Even if your legs are screaming from leg day, and we never skip leg day, you can still curl whilst seated and recovering. The curl targets your biceps specifically, and is the prime culprit in developing larger, more toned biceps.
2 – Alternate Bicep Curls
The classic curl image is of a trainer pumping both dumbbells at the same time, much like lifting a weight bar. However, there are alternate ways to employ the bicep curl, both for variety’s sake and to target different muscles.
The most common is to alternate lifting one dumbbell whilst leaving the other at the waist. You can raise one arm as you return the other, or reset to the beginning each time before initiating the next curl. Find the method you can stick with, and employ it.
Another variation is to face your palms in to the sides of your legs, for the Hammer Curl. Our personal favorite is the concentrated curl; rest your upper arm and elbow on a stable surface at a 45 degree decline, and lift to the shoulder without moving the upper arm in the slightest. The pure intensity of this workout is incredible, and must be tried to be believed.
3 – Triceps Kickback
One cannot neglect the triceps in developing tone in the arms. This is the muscle responsible for straightening the arm after a successful curl, after all, so it must be tended to.
The kickback requires that one foot be planted on the ground, the knee of this leg slightly bent. The other knee and lower leg is to rest on an elevated surface, the most common being a bench press board. Resting the free hand on the board for stability, begin with the target arm bent and holding the dumbbell, and extend back with only the lower arm, keeping the upper arm still at your side.
This exercise builds a wonderful “you know it’s working” burn in little time, and is the gold standard for triceps workouts.
4 – Lateral Raise
The shoulders are an integral part of the human arm, and do much work supporting the efforts of other muscles. In developing our shoulders, we come first to the Lateral Raise.
In this evolution, begin with the dumbbells in each hand at your sides, palms facing inward to the legs; this can be performed either seated or standing. Raise your arms out to your sides as would a young child pretending to be an airplane, keeping the arms straight throughout until parallel with the ground, then return. This in particular targets the outer deltoid muscles.
For an added kick, bend very slightly forward at the waist to engage the rear deltoids.
5 – Upright Row
We begin standing, with the dumbbells in our arms at our waist and forward of our body, palms facing toward the legs. Raise both arms upward, as if pulling upward on a bicycle pump, bending the elbows out as you go, and then return.
This is a great exercise at engaging the upper back portion of the shoulder muscles, in particular the trapezius. This might not seem the ideal target for toning the arms, but it will provide healthy support and create an excellent, proportional visual effect. The entire body is connected, after all.
6 – Kneeling One Arm Row
This one is simple. Assume a similar position as in the Triceps Kickback, but keep the arm extended toward the floor, Dumbbell in hand. Raise the Dumbbell Up to your chest as if performing a pull upward motion.
This is specifically designed to target the back muscles, but also engages the deltoid in the lifting action, providing upper arm and shoulder definition. It will also engage the forearm as you hold the dumbbell steady.
7 – Shoulder Press
This is one of the simplest exercises for the dumbbell, and does wonders for the shoulder muscles. Stand or sit with the dumbbells held at shoulder level, as if holding a single weight bar. Raise the bells above your head, pushing until the arms are extended directly above you, and return.
8 – Two Arms Triceps Extension
Another exercise that can be performed standing or sitting, this one targets the triceps while engaging the core muscles for stability.
Hold the dumbbell behind your head in both hands, arms bent. Simply extend the arms forward to raise the bell over your head, then return. We personally find this an excellent exercise for personal focus, as you really want to be sure you’re doing it right so you don’t drop the bell on your head!
9 – One Arm Triceps Extension
This exercise is of course identical to the previous exercise, with the added twist that you only have one hand on the dumbbell, with the other at your side. This targets a single arm for added intensity and benefit; the harder a muscle works, the more benefit it receives.
10 – Triceps Bench Press
Lie down on a bench press board, arms bent, upper arms parallel to the floor, palms facing inward toward each other. Press upward and extend your arms, then return to rest.
This exercise engages the chest and shoulder muscles to a degree as well, making it a very useful multifunction workout.
Each of these exercises can be performed with very basic equipment; a pair of adjustable dumbbells and a bench press board can get you through an amazing variety of workouts, and help you get to those toned arms you always wanted to show off at the gym.