Unique Upper Body Dumbbell Workout – Garage Strength

Unique Upper Body Dumbbell Workout

Go to a commercial gym and all the benches are taken and all the machines are in use. There is nothing that can be done using a barbell. However, the dumbbells are readily available. Only having 40 minutes to get yoked, I love to go to commercial gyms when I am traveling and just utilize pre-fatigue concepts to get a pump, to try and get that muscular adaptation rolling.

1. Dumbbell Flies

My first pairing will almost always be some type of fly with a big bench press movement. Now when we are talking about pre-fatigue, we want to pre-fatigue our prime movers so that is why we are doing an easier movement like the fly to fatigue the pecs, rest ten to twenty seconds, and then get some big work done with the dumbbells.

I’ll hit five to seven reps of the dumbbell flies. I like to think of hugging a big tree. Hugging an oak tree, thinking about splitting the firewood to heat my house. I’ll drop the weights, take about twenty seconds to gather heavier dumbbells to perform the next movement.

2. Dumbbell Neutral Grip Pause, Out & Press

Being this is still a warm-up, I’ll grab the 80 lb dumbbells. Lay back down on the bench, pause in the bottom, go out slightly, and press.

Now if I am short on time, I’m only resting one minute before the next set of the first two minutes. I will not go any heavier with the flies. I will go heavier with the dumbbell presses. Don’t be surprised with how easy the flies feel after the press. Make sure to get good action from the pecs and squeeze at the top. I also like a bit of an elbow bend.

For the second set, I’ll jump up to the 110 lb dumbbells. I’ll hit this set for about six to seven reps. The pause is key. Using heavier dumbbells is appropriate as well.

Go through this pairing for three or four sets. It’ll trigger really good growth out of the pecs.

3. Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise

This next group is all shoulder-based. I do these with a bent elbow. I perform the movement for ten to fifteen reps, targeting more of the medial and anterior delt and getting a little bit of fatigue. Remember, the pre-fatigue movement load does not need to be increased. The focus needs to be more on the mind-muscle connection.

Immediately after completing the pre-fatigue movement, I head over and grab heavier dumbbells for the next movement.

4. Dumbbell Military Press

I start this movement using the 70 lb dumbbells. I want to feel the fatigue and drive through it. Again, I love the pause at the bottom to create more time under tension. My shoulders are typically already on fire at this point. The big key is a minute rest between starting the next set of the pairing.

A big thing I see with guys in commercial gyms is the constant jawing. I want to get right into the movements to keep that time in the gym minimized. The fatigue in this pairing will get so serious that the lateral raises will even be felt up into the traps.

In my second set of military presses, I’ll go heavier and use the 85 lb dumbbells.

Go through this pairing four times and train those swole shoulders before finishing off with the last pairing.

5. Rear Delt Swing

This last pre-fatigue exercise can be done with either the palms up or the palms back. If we think about what we just did, doing a lot of anterior sequence work, focusing on the front part of the deltoids. The rear dealt swing will now pre-fatigue the rear-delt, rhomboids, and a little bit of the upper trap.

Bust out ten to fifteen reps. Then rest for that twenty seconds before heading to the second movement in the pairing.

6. Drag Curls

This is my favorite movement when I’m chasing that dummy pump when short on time and I want to get swole as hell. I start with the 50 lb dumbbells. Drag curls or trap raises.

I think hands to the armpits, elbows high. The movement hits the traps, rear delts, and gives a little bit of bicep work. I like to hit this movement for higher reps, like seventeen plus reps. I also like to focus with good action at the top.

For the second set, I lift heavier and grab the 60 lb dumbbells. I’m dead by this point.


Realize that when the commercial gym is packed a great workout can still be done. Use the concepts of pre-fatigue to chase a massive, dummy pump using only dumbbells. With minimal equipment and limited time, if done right and with purpose, it is a cinch getting yoked, filling out the shirt, and adding that lean muscle mass. Give it a twirl and let us know how it goes.


Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.

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