5 Best Upper Body Exercises for Women (10-Minutes, Dumbbells)

Build upper body strength and toned arms with this 10-Minute Upper Body Workout for Women! This workout consists of 5 upper body exercises, targeting the back, biceps, shoulders, triceps, and chest.


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Jump to Upper Body Exercises For Women Instructions

I tend to favor lower body workouts over upper body workouts. That’s why it’s essential for me to have a workout plan going into each week. Otherwise I’ll over-train my lower body.

Splitting up muscle groups by body region, or split training, is important when strength training.

The goal is to exhaust and breakdown muscle tissue to build strength and lean muscle mass.

For example, weight training arms on Monday and legs on Tuesday. This allows you to build muscle and then let the muscles rest and recover before training them again.

That’s why all of my workout plans and calendars alternate lower body, upper body and full body workout routines.

5 Best Upper Body Exercises for Women

I like to mix it up, but a sample weekly workout routine looks like this:

  • Monday: Full Body Strength + HIIT Workout
  • Tuesday: Upper Body Strength Workout and Low Impact Cardio or Run
  • Wednesday: Lower Body Strength Workout
  • Thursday: Rest Day or Short Power Yoga Routine
  • Friday: Cardio Barre Workout
  • Saturday: Full Body HIIT Workout
  • Sunday: Rest Day and Mobility Stretching

So I would pair this 10-minute upper body workout for women with this 15-minute HIIT cardio workout.

Or I would add these 5 upper body exercises onto one of these upper body workouts as a ‘arm burnout’.

For example, take this 30-minute upper body HIIT workout and add-on these 5 best upper body exercises to really finish off the arms; making it a 40-45-minute upper body workout.

10-Minute Upper Body Workout For Women

The goal is to build upper body strength and toned arms using a set of dumbbells to complete these five upper body exercises.

Each upper body exercise is designed to target a specific muscle group — back, biceps, chest, shoulders and triceps.

10-Minute Upper Body Workout For Women


Medium-to-heavy set of dumbbells.

The goal is to complete this rep-drop workout using the same set of dumbbells the entire time. That said, you can always start with a heavier set of dumbbells and drop down to a lighter set of dumbbells as your upper body fatigues. 

I’m using a set of 10 lb dumbbells in this workout video. But if I were doing this upper body workout at home I would push for 12-15 lb dumbbells. 


Let me be your certified personal trainer for the day. Follow along with the guided, full-length video at the top of this post. 

Or you can work off the five upper body exercises below at your own pace.

This upper body workout is done in a rep-drop, or repetition drop, format. Meaning you’ll decrease the number of reps you perform for each upper body exercise as you move through the workout.

For example, for the first set you’ll perform 12 reps per exercise. Then on the second set, you’ll perform 10 reps per exercise, then 8 reps, and so on until you reach 4 reps per upper body exercise.

You’ll complete 5 sets of the upper body workout total; dropping reps with each set.

5 Best Upper Body Exercises for Women

Performed in a rep-drop format: 12-10-8-6-4

  1. Bicep Curls
  2. Arnold Press
  3. Lying Skull Crushers
  4. Push Ups 
  5. Reverse Grip Bent Over Rows

See the workout video above for a demonstration of each upper body exercise.

1. Bicep Curls

What muscles are used in bicep curls: The front of the upper arm and lower arm, the bicep muscles. To build toned arms. You also use these bicep muscles anytime you pick something up.

Bicep Curl with dumbbells

How to do you properly do a bicep curl:

  1. Keep your elbows off and slightly in front of your body to maximize bicep muscle engagement (versus using your back muscles).
  2. Do not swing the weights; controlling the dumbbells on the way up and down. But especially going slow and controlled on the way down, the eccentric part of the bicep curl. Muscle building happens on the way down in the bicep curl.

Bicep Curl Modifications: If you feel yourself using momentum rather than your arm muscles to lift and lower the weights (using your body to swing the weights), use lighter weights or alternate arms rather than curling both arms at once.

2. Arnold Press

What muscles does the Arnold press work: All three heads of the deltoids, also known as your shoulder muscles. To build defined shoulders and improve posture.

Arnold Press with dumbbells

How to do an Arnold press:

  1. Sculpt all heads of the shoulder muscle by starting with the weights in front of your face.
  2. Keep a slight bend in your knees, and be sure to engage your core and squeeze your glutes (to protect your low back) as you ‘goalpost’ your arms.
  3. Then perform an overhead press, pushing the weights directly overhead, locking out your elbows.

Arnold Press Modifications: If you feel yourself arching your back to press the weights overhead, use lighter weights or alternate arms rather than doing both arms at once.

3. Lying Skull Crushers

What muscles do skull crushers work: the triceps, formerly known as the triceps brachii muscle, or back of your arm. Skull crushers tighten and tone the back of the arm, a common ‘trouble area’ for women as they age.

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

How to do skull crushers:

  1. Lie flat on the ground or on a bench or stability ball.
  2. With one dumbbell in each hand fully extend your arms so the dumbbells are directly overhead.
  3. Bending at the elbows slowly lower the dumbbells towards your head (just bending at the elbows).
  4. Then push the dumbbells back overhead to return to the starting position.

Skull Crusher Modifications: If you only have heavy dumbbells, you can drop from two dumbbells down to one dumbbell to perform this exercise.

4. Push Ups

Which muscle do push ups work: Primarily the chest muscles or pectoral muscles. But push ups also engage the shoulders, triceps and core. Push ups are hands-down one of the most effective ways to strengthen your entire upper body using just your body weight.

Push Up upper body exercises for women

How to do push ups:

  1. Start in high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, weight evenly distributed amongst all 10 fingers. Pull your kneecaps up towards your belly.
  2. Hold this position maintaining a straight line with your body, flat back, tight core, and neck in-line with spine, gaze slightly in front of you.
  3. Slowly lower your chest down towards the ground, keeping your elbows pinned to your sides. Maintain a straight line with your body — head, chest and legs in one straight line.
  4. Once at the bottom of your push up, exhale as you push back up into high plank position. Repeat.

Push Up Modifications: I have a whole post on 7 Ways to Modify the Push Up. The most common way to modify a push up is by dropping to one or both knees.

5. Reverse Grip Bent Over Row

What do reverse grip bent over rows work: This compound exercise builds strength in both the lower back and upper back. Targeting specifically the lats, rhomboids, and lower back.

Reverse Grip Bent Over Row

How to do reverse grip bent over row:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent.
  2. Grip a set of dumbbells, palms facing out away from the body.
  3. Hinge forward at the hips till your body is in a straight line, neck in line with your spine, flat back, and belly button pulled back towards your spine.
  4. Pull the weights back towards your hips. Feel your shoulder blades squeeze together.
  5. Control the dumbbells back down to the starting position. Think up on 1 count, down slow and controlled on a 2 count.

Reverse Grip Bent Over Row Modifications: Perform this bilateral exercise as a unilateral exercise, by focusing the row on one side of the body. Use one dumbbell to perform a single arm row. You can see an example of a single arm row in this post in the 8 best back exercises for women.

What is a rep-drop workout?

A rep-drop workout, or repetition drop workout, means that you’ll decrease the number of reps per exercise each set.

The goal of this rep-drop format is to maintain (or sometimes increase) the weight you are using as you decrease the reps performed.

Therefore you are decreasing the ‘work time’ as your muscles fatigue throughout the workout.

This format strives to work each upper body muscle to the point of failure. Meaning you should be STRUGGLING to complete the last few reps of each exercise with good form.

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Rep Drop Upper Body Workout Women

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  1. Fantastic workout! I love your enthusiasm, you push us to the max 🙂 I managed to do it all with my 12 lbs. dumbbells, next time I’ll try 15 lbs. Thanks so much, Lindsey!

  2. You are amazing!! Your workouts are awesome and you are so eager to share! I’m grateful to have stumbled across your Instagram profile, I will be sweating and growing muscle with the aid of your videos, so thank you so much!!

  3. Hi, love this…can you make a 5 best lower body with same format as well as 5 best core. This is so simplistic and easy to follow. Question; do you perform exercise 1 for 12,10,8,6,4 count back to back then move to exercise 2 or is this done more in circuit style 12 of each then 10 of each, etc

  4. Just did this workout at home and it was great!
    Need to get my arms toned for summer 2019.
    Amy R.