Get big arms with the best dumbbell exercises you probably haven't tried (yet)

Switch up your dumbbell workout game and get big arms with these lesser-know dumbbell exercises

best dumbbell exercises
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you are anything like me, getting fit for 2021 means getting big arms as fast as possible. And since the world is still in lockdown, we have to grow big arms at home using the best dumbells. But as opposed to doing biceps curls only to have arms as big as Chris Hemsworth or Henry Cavill, try incorporating the below dumbbell exercises into your workout instead. These lesser-known dumbbell moves will build arm definition and strength way more efficiently than curls.

These relatively unknown dumbbell exercises will work the whole upper body: some will concentrate on the pecs (chest muscles), others will give you a good biceps or forearm pump. After all, having strong forearms can help you live longer, according to science.

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What equipment will you need

As you might have guessed from the title, you will need at least one dumbbell to perform the below exercises. If you haven't got one just yet, we recommend getting an adjustable variety, such as the Bowflex Selecttech Series, as these type of home weights take up less space and better for progression too.

One of the below exercises requires you to use a weights bench: unfortunately, since the exercise in question is performed while the bench is set to a steep incline, we can't substitute with any other piece of furniture. Best places to shop around for weight benches are Mirafit and Wolverson Fitness in the UK and Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods in the US.

Alternatively, some (but not all) of these exercises can also be performed using a barbell, either an EZ curl bar (the one with a curved handle) or a straight bar. Admittedly, you would not only need the barbells but also bumper plates and those are not cheap and are on very limited supply at the moment.

As a last resort, you can also use kettlebells to perform these exercises.

Alex Crockford

(Image credit: Alex Crockford)

How to properly fuel muscle growth

Muscle growth is not possible without supplying the body with the right type of fuel that helps muscle repair and growth. The most important macronutrient the body needs to grow muscle is protein. Protein should be supplied from a variety of sources, including lean meat, eggs, nuts, leafy green vegetables, tofu, etc.

A quick and convenient way to add extra protein to your diet is to have some protein powder (well, protein shake made from powder), protein bar or jerky in between meals and after workouts. For 'hard gainers', mass gainer supplements can also come in handy as these contain a lot of calories, carbs and protein in a liquid form, making it easier to consume.

Dumbbell pullover

This exercise works the pecs from a different angle than bench press and better still, you won't even need a weights bench either. Keep the core engaged by tilting your pelvis so the lower back touches the ground. Pull your heels up, the knees should be in a 45-degree angle. Hold the dumbbell securely with both hands and lock the elbows so the arms are straight all the way through the movement. Rotate the shoulder and focus on pulling the weight up with your pecs. The movement should be slow and controlled.

Dumbbell spider curl

An unusual spin on the classic bicep curl, the spider curl is an ideal concentration exercise for the biceps when there are no preacher pads available. Have the backrest on the weight bench in a 45 or 60-degree angle and dig your feet in the ground. Wearing workout shoes can provide extra grip. You can lift one dumbbell at a time or both at the same time, depending on your skill level. Upper arm is stationary, only the lower arm moves to maximise biceps activation.

Plank bicep curl

It's a meathead thing to turn every exercise into biceps curls but in the case of plank going into bicep curls, the combination actually works. The idea is similar to renegade rows but as opposed to working the lats, this exercise activates the biceps instead. And the core, of course. Try not to rotate the hips too much as you curl: having a wider leg stance could help stabilising the body. When curling the dumbbells, rotate the hands to an underhand position for even more biceps activation.

Palms-down dumbbell wrist curl

Bodybuilders are just as obsessed with forearm girth as they are with calf circumference. There are loads of exercises focusing on these areas and despite what you might think, having a strong forearm has its benefits. For example, strong forearms could mean better grip strength and that can help you in a variety of ways (e.g. opening jars, the ultimate power move).

Alternating dumbbell floor press

The floor press is said to activate the pecs and triceps more as you can't rely on other muscles to push the weights up apart from those two. The floor press certainly activates those muscles more and because of this, similar results can be achieved using smaller weights than doing bench press.similar to dumbbell pullovers, activate the core by tilting the pelvis so the lower back touches the floor, legs are pulled up. The slower floor presses are done, the better muscles are activated (=quicker gains).

Get Fit for 2021!

This is part of T3's Fit for 2021 programme, which will be running throughout January. We aim to bring you tips on diet, lifestyle and exercise that will help you shape up for what is certain to be a difficult year. One thing we can guarantee: it WILL be better than last year. And hopefully we'll help you get the most out of it. 

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is T3's very own fitness and nutrition writer. In his free time, he swims, runs, cycles and tries various resistance training workouts so he can ramble about them to people who aren't really interested in fitness.