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ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout At Home: Bigger Arms in 12 Weeks

Almost every single male lifter started out with dumbbell bicep curls. Those cheap spinlock dumbbells that people had access to was the birth of an exercise regime that for many, lasted a lifetime. They were usually found lying around in your garage – a throwback to when your Dad did some ‘lifting’ back in the day…

Whilst we can look back and laugh at those early attempts at dumbbell arm workouts, one fact remains… When it comes to training your arms, dumbbells are an excellent tool to use. 

Arguably, they’re the best around. In fact, despite access to a whole gym’s worth of equipment, I usually default to dumbbells when it comes to the majority of direct arm work for myself and my personal training clients. 

In this article I’m going to share with you a dumbbell arm workout guaranteed to build your arms into something you can be proud of! Give me 12 weeks and I’ll give you new arms. That’s a promise. 

You’ll build more muscular, thicker arms using this tried and tested approach.

Dumbbell arm workout general infographic

ARMageddon: How to Make Your Arms Bigger in a few Weeks

Let’s take a look at the benefits of doing the dumbbell arm workout, because it’s not just about size. Big arms are one thing, but big arms that look good? That’s a whole other ball game! Here are three quick benefits to the workout…

ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout Benefits

Benefit 1: The look great in a t-shirt

I’ve put this in at number one for a single reason – because it’s important to a lot of guys! I want to qualify the statement though.

This workout won’t just build you ‘big’ arms (there are plenty of guys with big arms that don’t look good). It’ll build you big arms that are well proportioned and shaped.

Arms that look like they belong to someone who trains. Arms that are balanced between the shoulder, the tricep and the bicep. Forearms that look like they’ve lifted. The whole deal.

Benefit 2: Stronger arms – better at sports

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – name me a sport where being weaker is an advantage. There isn’t one. 

When you build stronger arms you’ll benefit yourself in so many sports. Upper body strength is absolutely integral to most ball sports, to all combat sports, all lifting sports, climbing sports, throwing sports etc.

This workout will give you the tools to make yourself better at a wide range of athletic endeavors.

Benefit 3: Helps with other lifts

When performing compound lifts, we’re sometimes let down by a lack of strength or function in the arms rather than the target muscle. This kind of workout can help to correct that.

Take the bench press for example. The target muscles are the chest, but if your triceps let you down before your chest does, it’s a problem. Pull ups are often failed because of the biceps, not the back. The grip on deadlifts etc. You get the point.

By building stronger, bigger arms we can rectify these issues and make us better, more rounded lifters.

Steve doing a dumbbell forearm workout

5 Steps to Use the ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout to get bigger arms

The how-to guide section of the article. Follow these steps to maximize the output potential of the program. Ignore these steps and you’ll limit your arm growth potential from the workout…

Step 1: Volume and intensity over absolute weight

This is a high volume, high intensity arm workout, designed to force the arms into strength and growth by reps and rest manipulation, not by adding more and more weight. The reason for this is three-fold…

Anecdotally I’d noticed that when I programmed higher rep, higher intensity work for the arms the results were better than the heavier weight work.

This could be down to a few different reasons such as better range of movement, more precise arm positioning and the unilateral nature of dumbbell training. 

I take care of higher weight work with compound lifts largely using a barbell, so I’m already ticking that box. The dumbbell arm workout is the more refined exercise.The cherry on the cake kind of thing.

The final reason for it was when I came across a 2015 research study by Mangine et al named ‘The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men’.

It compared various training protocols and assessed the outcomes. The study concluded that…

‘It appears that high-intensity resistance training stimulates greater improvements in some measures of strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men.’

What I’d observed anecdotally was being proven by the research, so that proved to me my thinking was correct all along! I now had credible evidence to prove it.

Step 2: Full range of motion. Every rep.

I can’t stress this one enough, because it’s a real bugbear of mine when it comes to arm training especially. 

Train through the full range of motion, every single rep. Despite being a hinge joint, there’s actually a lot of movement at the elbow, allowing you to maximize the amount of time under tension for the bicep and tricep muscles.

By engaging throughout the entire range you’ll control the weight, execute the movement efficiently and build the most muscle.

This control will give you a disproportionate benefit from a given weight, so you won’t need to lift especially heavy if you’re lifting properly.

Step 3: Make this program your whole workout for the day

This dumbbell arm workout is designed to make your arms work hard, but there’s going to be benefits for other body parts as well.

We’ve discussed the nature of muscle contraction in other articles on the site, part of which dictates you can’t always isolate and contract a muscle on its own.  

Neighboring muscles contract during exercises, so for example an exercise targeting the biceps will engage the anterior deltoid and the forearms as well.

This is a theme that will repeat across the workout – although you may be targeting your arms, your chest, shoulders, abs and back will be involved at times.

The focus, time, and physical demands this workout will make on you will also mean that you should use this workout as your entire session. You should allow up to an hour for this workout from start to finish.

Step 4: Warm up properly

This workout is a very localized one, placing all of the emphasis on one area of the body.

With this in mind, we don’t need to overdo the cardio element of the warm up – we only really need to stimulate blood flow in the arms. A five minute blast will be sufficient.

With that in mind here are the initial options I’d be thinking of…

  • Shadow boxing
  • Jump rope
  • Cross trainer
  • Air bike
  • Rowing machine

Each of these have a decent amount of upper body movement involved, so get the warm up off to a good start. From there, we then have to start getting the movement patterns in place. We do this via…

Keep the resistance light here – you don’t want to pre-fatigue too much. The aim here is a warm up, nothing more. The fact that these are 20 rep sets is an indication as to how light and low intensity I want these reps to be.

Step 5: Give it a day or two of recovery between workouts

In the ARMageddon dumbbell workout we’re focussing all of our attention on one body part. This means we’ll really hit it hard and cause a lot of fatigue. There’ll also be a need for a proper recovery afterwards.

With this in mind, here’s how your training week could look…

Monday: Lower Body Workout

Tuesday: ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout

Friday: All Body Workout

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout

This approach will give you a chance to train your arms three times in the week and still afford you enough rest. As I said earlier, the ARMageddon workout is sufficient enough to be your whole upper body workout.

We want to train the upper body at least twice per week, which is in line with these recommendations from Schoenfeld et al from their 2016 review ‘Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’…

They concluded…

‘…the current body of evidence indicates that frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week’.

Using this as our guideline, we’re hitting the workout three times per week for 12 weeks. This will be sufficient to stimulate serious muscle growth across the time period.

Note: if you want to focus on your entire upper body rather than just the arms, be sure to check out our upper body dumbbell workout as well.

Training notes for the dumbbell arm workout

This section is the insight into the thinking behind the workout. It’s the method behind the madness so to speak. 

I’ll explain the thinking behind the design of the workout and some of the evidence in support of the program design. This section helps you to understand not just what to do in the workout, but why to do it. 

Dumbbell exercises are unilateral

Unilateral means that each side works individually, which helps to balance the body. If you only use barbells, you’ll exaggerate the existence of a bilateral strength deficit (sports science speak for ‘one side stronger than the other’).

This means the strength will be different across both sides. Dumbbells help to correct this by making each side work alone. Without assistance from the stronger side, the weaker side will catch up in time.

Full range of motion is available with dumbbells

I love barbells, but like any other training tool, they have their limitations. In the case of weight training, their limitations are the restricted range of motion from some exercises.

With dumbbells we can train through a large range of motion (increasing time under tension) and across multiple planes of movement.

These are advantages that are relatively unique to dumbbells and we must take advantage of them.

Medium weight, higher reps

I mentioned earlier in the article that I like my direct arm exercises to focus on the medium weight, higher rep ranges. I also pointed to the science as to why I like this.

That’s not to say I don’t think there’s a place for heavy weight work – there is, I just prefer it to be done with barbells. 

All of the exercises here are medium weight and higher reps. In the rest of your training week I suggest you hit the upper body with heavier barbell work to ensure all of the muscle fiber types are trained.

You won’t be neglecting the fast twitch fibers that respond well to heavy work that way.

Rest periods are strictly a maximum of 60 seconds

You can create the intensity needed in the workout by reducing the available rest time. This has a couple of major benefits…

  1. It reduces the amount of time the workout takes. You don’t get paid overtime in the gym – the idea is to do what you need to do, then get out. Training should be part of your life – it shouldn’t dominate it. 
  2. Medium weights and short rest periods can help you to improve muscle growth. Research by Freitas De Salles et al in 2009 concluded that:

When the training goal is muscular hypertrophy, the combination of moderate-intensity sets with short rest intervals of 30-60 seconds might be most effective due to greater acute levels of growth hormone during such workouts.’

With these points in mind, we want to use the rest periods to our advantage. By keeping a tight eye on them, we remove the temptation to drift away on our phones, losing the intensity and the ability of the workout to produce the desired results.

Make rest part of the workout, and you’ll maximize your workout output. 

Why shoulders and chest too?

In this dumbbell arm workout you’ll be performing exercises that you think of as ‘chest’ or ‘shoulder’ exercises, because they’ve been traditionally labeled as such.

The truth is that they’re upper body pressing movements, and that movement pattern activates the triceps AS WELL AS the chest.

Steve working out with a heavy pair of dumbbells

Your body doesn’t think in terms of chest movements, shoulder movements etc… it merely recruits the muscles required to do a job. You’ll also be hitting your forearms in this workout, but we’re not just targeting them – it’s an additional bonus. 

This exercise efficiency in action.

There’s also a balance element at play too. You can’t just train the biceps and triceps, otherwise you’ll neglect the strength, function and size of the shoulders. That’s why there are shoulder exercises in here too.

Whilst we may think of the shoulders as anatomically different from the arms, they’re aesthetically part of the same physiological structure.

This program also helps you to target the different muscles in the biceps and triceps as you can see in the images below…

How to build bigger biceps infographic
Best Tricep Exercises

ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout: The Exercises

Here’s the main event – the workout itself. This is a stand alone workout, where you’ll focus on these exercises alone for the 12 weeks. At that point, take a week off and re-assess.

Take a look at your results, see what you’re happy with, what areas you need more training on and then adjust.

Follow this workout three times per week. Simple and effective training, with attention to detail and great execution of the basics is the order of the day here.

Dumbbell Alternating Power Snatch520 (10 per side)
Dumbbell Incline Bench Curl512
Dumbbell Shoulder Press412
Dumbbell Close Grip Push Ups512
Hammer Curls415 per side
Dumbbell Lu Raises415
Dumbbell Curl to Press512

Warm Up

ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout Warm Up Infographic

5 minutes of gentle cardio with an upper body focus such as…

  • Shadow boxing
  • Jump rope
  • Cross trainer
  • Air bike
  • Rowing machine

Followed by the following…

Then it’s onto the following exercises. Remember, hit your rep count and keep your rest periods tight. Maximum 60 seconds between sets, but if all you need is 30 seconds, go for that. High intensity, limited rest is the aim of the game here…

ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout Infographic 1

1. Alternating dumbbell power snatches

A dumbbell power snatch is a great start to this workout – it’s a complete upper body exercise that combines strength, power and stability. As well as being unilateral, it’s functional dynamic and will also help to build overhead range of movement if you need it to.

It’s a great addition to any dumbbell workout and a nice opening exercise ahead of the rest of the bodybuilding style work ahead.

Equipment needed for alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  • Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  • Set a dumbbell between your feet
  • Take an overhand grip, squat slightly and drive up with the legs, putting upward momentum into the dumbbell
  • Use the momentum to carry the dumbbell up, then lift it the rest of the way overhead
  • Once the dumbbell is overhead, drop it to the floor under control
  • Switch sides and repeat
  • Continue for as many reps as required

2. Incline dumbbell curls

This is the best bicep exercise to target the long head of your biceps. It’s a tough exercise with a huge range of movement, so be prepared to keep your ego in check and lift lighter than you expect.

It’s the one exercise that will add the most volume to your biceps and make them look bigger, quicker than any other exercise here. But there are many mistakes people make with this one so be sure to follow the steps below carefully.

Equipment needed for incline dumbbell curls:

  • Dumbbells
  • Weight bench

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do incline dumbbell curls

  • Raise the bench to 45-60 degree angle
  • Push your back, shoulders and head against the bench the whole time
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arm fall vertically to the floor
  • Lift the dumbbells keeping your elbows fixed
  • Squeeze your biceps at the top for a second or two
  • Lower all the way to the bottom
  • Repeat for 15 reps

3. Dumbbell shoulder press

The dumbbell shoulder press is the same as the bench press in many ways – you automatically think of them as a shoulder exercise but forget they’re actually a great way of training the triceps.

I like the dumbbell shoulder press for triceps because it’s an overhead pressing movement, making it a different action compared to the more common tricep exercises. 

Overhead pressing in all forms, but especially dumbbells has huge crossover benefits in sports too.

It helps to develop strength, power, hypertrophy and upper spinal stability, so there’s much more to the movement than pure aesthetics – it’s a functional movement too. A must when training triceps with dumbbells. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

How to do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: the dumbbell shoulder press addresses the forearm as well. Check out our dumbbell forearm workout if you want to focus more on forearm strength.

ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout Infographic 2

4. Dumbbell close push ups

This is a great exercise for both the chest and triceps. I like to position the dumbbells closer together to really emphasize the work done by the triceps – the closer they are the more the triceps are worked.

The wider they are, the more the chest is engaged. This simple positioning of the dumbbells can change the target muscles dramatically.

The push up is one of the exercises with a huge return on investment, so should feature highly in any program like this one. It’s a great exercise and will challenge you more than you think!

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep push ups:

How to do dumbbell tricep push ups:

  • Position the dumbbells relatively close together – no wider than shoulder width
  • With an overhand or neutral grip, start with your arms at full extension
  • Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, slowly lower your torso towards the floor, bending at the elbows
  • Keep lowering your torso until you drop below the height of the dumbbells
  • Push back up to the start position

Note: Check out our push exercises article for more ideas on how to target your triceps.

5. Hammer curls

Hammer curls are probably the bicep exercise I programme the most – they tend to be the most elbow-joint friendly and they train the long head of the bicep, as well as the brachialis and the brachioradialis.

This more general training of the bicep muscle group is an effective change from the other exercises, plus it gives your arms a new challenge.

It’s a simple exercise to learn and offers a nice compliment to the incline dumbbell curls in the sense that it trains the brachialis and the brachioradialis effectively as well. 

Equipment needed for hammer curls:

How to do hammer curls:

  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, hands by your sides, palms facing inwards
  • Perform a standard curl, but keep your arms in a neutral grip (palms facing one another) throughout the entire movement
  • Curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until the your arm reaches full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Note: Check out one of our following articles if you want to get more ideas on how to strengthen your biceps:

6. Dumbbell Lu raises

The ‘Lu’ raise is named after legendary Chinese weightlifter, Lu Xiaojun. It’s essentially a lat raise with a huge range of motion, taking the weight from the sides of the body to directly overhead, and then back down to the sides.

If you’re a purist it’s done with weight plates, but it’s still every bit as effective when using dumbbells. Great for shoulders, upper back and mobility, it deserves its place here.

Equipment needed for dumbbell Lu raises:

How to do dumbbell Lu raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in either hand and start with your hands by your sides
  • Keeping your arms straight, lift the dumbbells out to your sides, and keep going until they are directly over head
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms by your sides and return to the start position – keep your arms straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

7. Dumbbell Curl to Press

This is placed last in the workout on purpose – it’s a finisher here. In this one exercise you’re going to be training the entire arm and shoulder. The purpose here is to fully fatigue the whole area, so you leave the workout on a bit of a physical burn out!

It’s a simple, but very effective exercise that will leave you cooked if you do it correctly. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell curl to press:

How to do dumbbell curl to press:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides, palms facing in front of you
  • Keeping the elbows tucked in by your sides, curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height
  • Once you’ve completed the curl, rotate the palms so they face away from you again, and press the dumbbells overhead
  • At the top of the press, pause and return to shoulder height
  • With the dumbbells at the shoulders, reverse the curl back down to the hips
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

These seven exercises (and the warm up) conclude the entire ARMageddon dumbbell workout.

You’ll be able to see why I think you should make this your entire day’s workout – trying to do other upper body lifts with this much fatigue in your arms would be a disaster.

If you could lift weights having done this amount of work, you simply haven’t worked hard enough!

Workout bonus tips

These are points that will help you get more benefit from the program, but they aren’t important enough to be part of a how-to guide. Think of them as your turbo boosts for the program!

ARMageddon Dumbbell Arm Workout Bonus Tips

Eat to grow

If you want to grow serious muscle, you’ve got to eat like it. Aim for a minimum of 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Meat, fish, eggs, protein powders etc… you know the drill.

Top that up with sufficient carbs to fuel your workout. Don’t use extra calories as an excuse to eat crap – still eat well, just more of it.


Growth occurs during rest and recovery, so get plenty of sleep in. You should be shooting for a minimum of 7 hours per night. Put your phone away, get yourself comfortable and hit the hay.

Your muscles, general well-being, and recovery will thank you for it. 


Making sure you are well hydrated is integral to workout performance. If you’re struggling to train properly, it could be your hydration levels that’s holding you back. Adequate hydration also helps to maintain muscle and connective tissue health. 

Train hard!

This one is a given, but let’s just take the time to remind you. If you’re not training hard, you won’t achieve results. It’s as simple as that.

Your training should demand a lot from you. It should push you. If you leave the gym with a feeling that you could have done more here… you didn’t do enough. Lift heavier, lift harder. 


On this program, you should be increasing the amount of weight you lift. There’s no exact science for this, but around 2-5% per week is the benchmark I’d be aiming for.

Don’t expect this progress to be linear – some weeks you may make no progress at all, and others you may make a big jump. Just be looking to add more when you can. 

Give it 12 weeks minimum

Success doesn’t happen overnight, so make sure you give it 12 weeks of consistent effort as a minimum. Take upper body photographs from the front, back and sides and make sure you measure the thickest part of your upper arm.

Compare these every 4 weeks – you won’t make progress every week, so be patient! 4 weeks should be enough to see some changes. 

ARMageddon dumbbell arm workout: The bottom line

By following this workout for 12 weeks, you’ll help to ensure one of the most common workout goals of them all doesn’t evade you. It’s a simple workout, but it’s a very effective one. 

You have all of the tools required to do this in the article, so get the workout saved and get yourself into the gym.

Be honest, work hard, eat well, recover well and take a series of pictures and measurement sets of the upper arm every 4 weeks to see how you’re growing!

Let us know how you get on!

If you want to also focus on strengthening your legs using dumbbells, check out our dumbbell leg workout as well.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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