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Sculpted Summer Arms Dumbbell Workout

One of the number one most requested posts over the years has been for arm workouts! (This is the week of delivering on some of the posts y’all have requested, by the way!)

Just in time for summer, I’ve programmed a tough arm workout that I’ve tested on several female clients who can confirm that it burned and left their arms feeling like jello!

The Sculpted Summer Arms Workout. All you need is a set of dumbbells!

The beautiful thing about this workout is that all you need is a set of dumbbells. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-12 pounds should do. Trust me when I say that your arms will be shaking and crying for mercy after three sets of this workout! Don’t worry about going super fast through this. Take time with your form and get full range of motion in the movements. Take breaks when you need. It should take you 15-20 minutes to get through.

Since you all responded so well to the photo demonstrations in my dumbbell superset workout, I have them for you again today! So grab a set of dumbbells and get ready to create some definition in those arms!


The first movement is bicep curls. You’ll do 10 full range curls, make sure you full extend the elbows at the bottom of the movement, followed by 10 bottom half curls. In the bottom half you’ll only lift from starting position to the navel. Bottom half curls are super tough because they keep tension in the muscle for the entire set of reps!


The second movement is tricep kickbacks. You’ll find a kneeling position on the floor and start with a 90 degree bend in the elbow. Squeeze through the tricep to straighten the arm behind you.


Once you knock out your kickbacks, you’ll stay in the triceps for kneeling overhead extensions. Kneeling takes it to a whole new level by forcing you to recruit the core and really use the triceps instead of body momentum to perform the movement. From your kneeling position, lift the dumbbell overhead. Relax shoulders away from ears and hug the elbows in close. Bend at the elbows to lower the dumbbell behind you and then squeeze through the triceps to lift it back overhead. You’ll also perform 10 bottom half repetitions here. Go to the bottom range of the extension and then lift halfway up 10 times.


You’ll stay on the knees for your overhead shoulder presses and you may cry a little tear because you really want to put the dumbbells down. You’re good! Start with a 90 degree bend in each elbow and press the dumbbells directly overhead and then back down again.


You’ll get a little relief with these rear delt raises. Begin in a kneeling position with dumbbells facing one another under the leg. Hinge over the front thigh and draw the elbows straight up towards the ceiling.


Rotator raises are the grand finale. Start with the dumbbells lined up in front of the belly, lift through the elbows to bring them to shoulder height and then use the shoulders to rotate them up towards the ceiling. Please be sure to keep this movement super controlled and intentional. No flinging the arms around. Lift with strength or drop to a lighter dumbbell. This movement is super tough!

Enjoy and as always, report back if you try it!

{ 94 comments… add one }
  • Samantha @ The Faithful Runner June 3, 2014, 11:28 pm

    What an awesome workout! I tried parts of it! Thanks for the awesome visuals. My arms are something I’m always looking to improve and tone so I can be proud to show them in my summer clothes. Thanks!

    • Jen June 4, 2014, 8:30 am

      you are so welcome! enjoy!

  • J June 4, 2014, 12:07 am

    Jen, I really do appreciate and enjoy your training-focused posts, but I have to say that I’m always a bit surprised to hear you use the term “toning” when it is well established that “tone” is an inaccurate term for really describing muscle + leanness. I just find myself really disillusioned with this language coming from certified fitness professionals! But other than that, the circuit looks fun!

    • Jen June 4, 2014, 8:29 am

      hi, thanks for reading and for the comment. the word “tone” doesn’t appear anywhere in this post so i’m not sure what you’re referring to.

      • Lisa June 4, 2014, 10:34 am

        Thanks, Jen. I saved it to mix up my routine. I wasn’t sure how to do one of them so I am glad you provided images.

        I did want to add that J isn’t losing her mind, though — it’s in the Pinterest image or whatever they are called; it says the word “toning”.

      • J June 4, 2014, 2:15 pm

        I could be out to lunch, but I think that the subheading in the graphic reads “Perform this dumbbell arm toning circuit…”

        • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:49 am

          hey j – sorry…i was losing my mind and didn’t even look at the graphic. that’s what i get for working on blogging and graphics late at night!

          i really feel like “toning” is common catch phrase that’s used on a widespread basis. i don’t necessarily think it’s bad. if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know i’m all about building muscle and encouraging women to strength train. it’s something I’ve addressed and written about many, many times in the past and i can’t tell you how many women have reached out to tell me they have started lifting because of it.

  • Terri June 4, 2014, 1:53 am

    It looks like a great workout and I’m going to try it but you didn’t show what a bottom half overhead extension was and I’m not sure it is what I’m thinking of so if you could put that on your website, I would appreciate it:)!

    • Jen June 4, 2014, 8:27 am

      i added more description. should help!

      • Terri June 5, 2014, 9:04 pm

        Thanks Jen, I tried the workout and really like it. I like that I don’t have to think about a routine. Except for kneeling I sat on a ball, it hurts to kneel, but I figure with a ball you are still using your core and i try it with my legs crossed to make it harder.

        • Jen June 5, 2014, 9:17 pm

          sounds like a perfect modification!

  • Petria June 4, 2014, 2:56 am

    Hi Jen, Thanks for posting this! I just have one question – do you recommend any breaks between the various exercises or rounds? Thanks!

    • Jen June 4, 2014, 8:27 am

      just move at your own pace and take breaks when you need! you can definitely take a minute or two between rounds and stop between exercises to stretch when necessary.

  • Brynn June 4, 2014, 6:28 am

    Yay, thanks for the circuit! I love to work on my arms because we all know how much exposure they get in the summer months. A fun new routine is just what I needed!

  • Runner Girl Eats June 4, 2014, 6:30 am

    I do a workout very similar to this regularly and it is my favorite. It hits every arm muscle and can be done anywhere.

  • Callie June 4, 2014, 8:38 am

    Yay thank you so SO much for sharing!! I love all your workouts. I’ve always noticed the muscle definition in your arms and wondered if there was a specific routine I could follow. Can’t wait to try this! Nothing like toned arms for tank tops and bathing suits in the summer 🙂

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:49 am

      thanks for the kind words. i love putting them together and sharing them with you! 🙂

  • Jamie June 4, 2014, 8:38 am

    Thanks for this, I love these training posts! The pictures with demonstrations are awesome!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:49 am

      you’re welcome! happy to do it for y’all!

  • Parita @ myinnershakti June 4, 2014, 8:57 am

    YES! Thank you for this. I am currently in the middle of T25 (have 3.5 weeks to go) and will definitely be adding this workout to my weekly routine when I’m done!

  • Chicago Jogger June 4, 2014, 9:29 am

    This arm workout looks perfect! I appreciate that you included photos too, that helps so much. Bookmarking and pinning to try it this week!

  • Christin June 4, 2014, 9:38 am

    You are so awesome, Jen. This is great! Definitely going to try.

    I do find that when I focus on upper body lifting, I almost always get a bad tension headache the next day (even with stretching). It’s the worst, but I know I need to keep lifting! I’ve tried stretching really well after my workout, but it doesn’t seem to help. 🙁 Does anyone else experience this? Advice appreciated. 🙂

    • jessica June 5, 2014, 10:12 am

      I previously had this issue too and a group exercise teacher told me it’s because I was straining my shoulders up to my ears when I curled weight, etc- and once I started consciously relaxing my shoulders (my yoga teacher says “let the paws of gravity push your shoulders to relax them down”), the headaches stopped! When you strain (pull) your shoulders up to your ears (think about when you shrug your shoulders, that movement) it causes neck/shoulder tension which causes headaches. Hope that helps you!

      • Mary Beth June 5, 2014, 10:23 am

        Cristin, my dentist reminded me not to clinch my teeth while lifting/strength training- I have to be mindful about it but it does seem to help with avoiding tension in my head!

        • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:51 am

          Christin – I agree with the others. It’s super, super important that you relax the shoulders away from the ears and not clench the neck and jaw while lifting. It’s very common to do it but just get really aware that you do and RELAX! If you find that you can’t, try lowering your weight until you can.

  • Kathleen June 4, 2014, 9:44 am

    Love the workout! What is the weight of the dumbbells you are using? They look like 10’s. Thanks so much! You are a treasure!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:52 am

      10 for the photo demonstration but i encourage everyone to use the weight that works for them and allows proper form and full range of motion! you may have to mix the weights up a bit for the different exercises.

  • MJ June 4, 2014, 10:02 am

    Thanks for this workout! You rock! I’ve actually been consistently doing some of your strength circuits and I have gained a lot of upper-body strength. I can do even push-ups now! Quick question, how often should I do strength training? I usually go for 2 or 3 times a week, but I’m not sure if I should do more?


    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:53 am

      this comment makes me so happy! congrats on those push ups!!!!!!

      2-3 times per week is perfect. you’re good!

  • Stephanie June 4, 2014, 10:05 am

    This is awesome. Just did this while my toddler napped and I can barely type my arms are such jello. In the best way possible of course. I’ve never commented before but love your blog and had to tell you how great this was especially with the picture cues. Thank you thank you!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:54 am

      stephanie – awesome! i’m so happy to hear that you could squeeze it in at home…and that it worked! i really appreciate you taking the time to comment. thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  • Elizabeth June 4, 2014, 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Jen! I’m fairly strong (for someone who doesn’t work out very often) but I don’t have those pretty sculpted arms that I long for during tank top season (read: any season ever). I’ve been wanting to get into lifting but I just really don’t know much about it or where to begin, or how to proceed once I do. I love how you have the pictures with your descriptions, I so need to be able to see what I’m supposed to be doing, and your clear explanations and cueing are so helpful. Furthermore, you look fantastic and you sure are inspiring. I hope your day is marvelous!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:55 am

      thanks elizabeth! i sincerely hope this helps you with your intro to strength training. be sure to check out my dumbbell super set workout and my simple strength circuit as well!

  • Liz F. June 4, 2014, 10:48 am

    I love this! I just started working with a trainer and LOVE Fridays because we focus on arms. For some reason, I lack the ability to come up with moves like this! Thanks so much for this!!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:55 am

      you’re welcome! and let me know if your trainer ever throws any crazy good exercises at you! 🙂

  • Julie June 4, 2014, 10:55 am

    Just finished this circuit. Think I will have some sore arms tomorrow.

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:56 am

      yay! thanks so much for trying it out!

  • Kristen June 4, 2014, 12:40 pm

    Just finished the circuit- loved it! Super challenging with the right weights. Looking forward to a similar leg workout post soon (hint hint)! 🙂

  • Kristen June 4, 2014, 3:54 pm

    Great post. Love the pics and the details. Will pass along to our members to take with them when they are on vacation over the summer and find themselves wondering what to do with those free weights.

    Regarding vernacular…
    I teach BODYPUMP and other formats and am a certified personal trainer and although I generally object to the “toning” language as well, this post wasn’t offensive to me. It’s merely an adjective to describe the circuit. It’s catchy language in a subtitle; a headline.

    It’s clearly a serious workout. Jen never says “if you want to avoid bulking up, do this toning workout instead” which is I think is the message we are all trying to avoid sending. Her intent obviously is for the reader to use challenging weights so that pretty much says it all.

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:59 am

      hey kristen,

      thanks so much for the comment and for offering to share the workout. my dumbbell superset workout is another great one to do with dumbbells while traveling.

      and yes, i am SERIOUS about strength training and have written multiple times on this blog about how strongly i feel that women should lift. all of my female training clients lift and know that the focus is on building muscle. to me the toning language is just a widely used industry term that i didn’t even think twice about using. you will never see me encouraging girls to use 2 pound weights and perform tiny pulses so they don’t bulk up.

  • Kita June 4, 2014, 7:52 pm

    I have been looking for a good arm workout and this one is perfect!!! The pictures were a huge help! Thanks Jen!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 10:59 am

      you’re so welcome!

  • Austin June 4, 2014, 10:12 pm

    I did this arm workout tonight with 10# and it was great and tough! Thanks! P.S. are you double jointed? Just curious, it looks like it in the tricep kickback pic. I am wondering if you are double jointed, does that impact how you train in anyway (i.e. do you have to be careful with certain weight movements)?

    • Jen June 4, 2014, 10:15 pm

      yes! my elbows are CRAZY double jointed. but no, it doesn’t impact my training.

      thanks for trying the workout!

  • Bridget June 4, 2014, 11:09 pm

    Did this today!! I had never done the tricep exercises from kneeling or the shoulder rotator thingy – good stuff! Thanks for another great workout Jen!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 11:03 am

      thanks for trying it! glad you enjoyed!

  • Natalie June 5, 2014, 10:49 am

    You create the best workouts and I LOVE them! Just wanted to say a big thank you!

    • Jen June 5, 2014, 11:03 am

      aw, thanks so much natalie! i really appreciate the kind words!

  • Jennie June 5, 2014, 2:10 pm

    I am so doing this tonight! I’ll report back tomorrow…I’m sure I’ll love/hate you. 🙂

  • Maryz June 5, 2014, 2:37 pm

    I pinned this work out and then did it yesterday…AWESOME! My arms were on fire! Thanks for an awesome workout!

  • Jennie June 6, 2014, 9:20 am

    Did it last night….loved it! Surprisingly my arms aren’t that sore today. Thanks for the great workout.

  • Kate June 6, 2014, 2:26 pm

    Just did this workout and loved it! I had been looking for a good arm/dumbbell workout, and this one is perfect! Thanks!

  • Larissa June 6, 2014, 3:37 pm

    This is great! I would love one for booty/legs/ thighs, too!,

  • Lauren June 6, 2014, 10:52 pm

    Jen, thank you so much for this! The pics and descriptions were perfect. What a great workout. I would absolutely love a quickie “hotel room” workout where you get your heart rate up, do some strength training, but only using body weight and a limited amount of space. Just adore you and your blog!

  • Katie June 8, 2014, 6:55 pm

    Love this! As usual, you and your workouts are an inspiration. Thank you!

  • Chelsey June 20, 2014, 3:17 pm

    Great workout! I started out with 15lbs for the curls, but had to do some of the exercises with 5lbs! I definitely feel that shoulder burn. I’m usually intimidated by arm workouts because there are so many exercises, and it seems to take forever. This one was short and sweet. Loved it!

  • Jennie August 4, 2014, 3:52 pm

    Quick question – how heavy are the weights you’re using in each of the pictures? They look like 10# but I can’t tell. Thanks!

    • Jen August 4, 2014, 4:08 pm

      I think I used 10s and 15s for the workout but it’s easily adaptable to your current level of strength! Should be challenging but not impossible and you should be able to maintain proper form the whole time.

  • Christina October 18, 2014, 9:54 am

    I’ve been doing this workout 3x/week for a month now. Wow! What a difference! Many thanks!!!

  • Maria May 8, 2016, 8:15 pm

    I know, zombie comment here, but just wanted to say thank you for posting a workout that is not only 100% easy to do at home, but with moves are easy to learn! I hate how complicated some of the online workouts can be. You spend 20+ minutes just figuring out how to complete the moves. Ain’t nobody got time for that 🙂

    Going to try and keep this workout up 2-3x a times a week, increasing weights as necessary.

    • Jen DeCurtins May 10, 2016, 4:44 pm

      You are so welcome and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and share that it’s helpful. That is helpful for me as I program future workouts.

  • Lib May 10, 2016, 11:36 pm

    Hi Jen, late reply, I know – sorry, but I just found this post, and your blog. I’m looking forward to reading through it all!

    One question though – With regards to this workout, I’m curious – is this the workout you actually do to achieve the look you have? Too many times I see a workout from a female body builder or figure model, and there is no way that they actually do the workout they post in order to look the way they do. What I’m really looking for (and have been for some time) is a workout program from someone with a figure I’m trying to achieve (such as yours – which is enviable and gorgeous by the way!), that they actually do themselves in order to achieve it. Is this true for the workouts that you post?

    • Jen DeCurtins May 11, 2016, 11:12 am

      Hey Lib,

      Great question. I do a lot of these exercises regularly in my workout routine but this is not exclusively how I train my arms or upper body. Most of the workouts I post publicly on my blog are “mainstream” and are easily accessible to most people. They’re more circuit-style workouts and I use a lot of easy dumbbell movements and bodyweight movements in them. When I am training myself and my clients we use a variety of equipment and usually lift a little heavier than what you’ll see here. I am actually in the process of starting an online training program that will provide monthly workouts that are more in the style of how I train my clients.

      Hope that helps!

      • Lib May 12, 2016, 9:15 pm

        Hi Jen
        Thanks for the reply! That’s great news and I appreciate that a blog post needs to cater more to mainstream, than really focus in on specific goals or specialised programs. I look forward to seeing your online program. Out of interest, I train at home using primarily free weights (Dumbbells, Olympic barbell & weights, kettle bells, bench and bands) and I have a squat rack for safety with a chin-up bar etc. would your program be able to be tailored to suit this, or are machines necessary? Is there any one machine in the gym you wouldn’t do without?

        Thanks again for your help and apologies for the barrage of questions! 😊

        • Jen DeCurtins May 17, 2016, 1:28 pm

          No, I totally think you can make do with what you have at home. It sounds like the perfect set up. I use machines infrequently. When I do it’s usually cable machines or the leg press.

          • Lib July 5, 2016, 8:24 pm

            Hi Jen
            Great! I will keep an eye out for the program. 🙂

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