Upper-Body Hand Weight Workout (Emphasis on Shoulders)

Upper-Body Hand Weight Workout (emphasis on shoulders)Yesterday I asked my Facebook page what exercises they’d want to see in the next P&I workout. I’m at my parent’s place on the Vineyard and am limited when it comes to equipment and fitness studios, so it’s the perfect time to make up some workouts that can be done in a living room or other small space. I got an overwhelming request for upper-body exercises, so here ya go!

All I could find in my parents’ house was some super-light hand weights (1lb, 3lbs & 5lbs), so I structured the workout accordingly: continuous reps, no breaks, lots of smaller movements that blend right into the next exercise. Chuck your ego at the door for this one—you may think you can handle heavier weights but those 3-pounders are going to feel like 300-pounders halfway through this workout.

Upper-Body Hand Weight Workout

Equipment I Used:

Grab a set of light hand weights (I used a 3-lb set). If you’re using an interval timer, set it for 12 rounds of 20 seconds of work and 0 seconds of rest. This way it will beep every 20 seconds, cueing you to move right into the next exercise. Do not rest between exercises. Once you’ve gone through all 12 (4 minutes total), take a 1 minute rest and then repeat. You’ll do a total of 3 rounds.

There are two ways to make this workout harder or easier to fit your current fitness level.

  1. Adjust the length of the intervals (if you’re a beginner, start by just doing 10 seconds of each exercise; if you’re advanced, try doing each for 30 seconds).
  2. Adjust the weight. If you’re a beginner, start with 1-lb weights. If you’re advanced, shoot for 5+ lb weights.

Upper-Body Hand Weight Workout (emphasis on shoulders)All these exercises are simple movements. Keep a steady pace, moving right from one to the next.

  • Straight-Arm Taps: Extend hands straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Continuously tap ends of weights together in the middle, not letting your arms drop below starting height. Make the taps hard and deliberate—really hit them together.
  • Rows: Extend arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height and then row elbows back, really squeezing your shoulder blades together, keeping hands at starting height.
  • Reverse Hug: Palms facing each other, open your arms out wide with bent elbow (as if you were approaching someone to give ‘em a big hug). Pull your elbows back behind you as if you were trying to touch them together. Squeeze those shoulder blades together!
  • Drawbridge: Start with your arms in a goal post position—elbows bent at 90 degrees out to your sides, hands up, palms facing forward. Think of a drawbridge lifting and lowering (or a lid opening and closing): rotate at the shoulders, keeping everything else locked in that position, so that hands come to shoulder height, facing the floor.
  • Shoulder Press: Start in that goal post position and then press your hands up overhead, bringing weights together above your head. Lower back down, but only so far as brings your elbows back to shoulder height. Don’t let them dip down lower than that.
  • Shoulder Shaper: Start in that goal post position and then bring your forearms in front of you, touching your hands and elbows together in the center. Like opening and closing a book. Keep elbows at shoulder height the whole time.
  • Together Ups: Start with elbows bent at 90 degrees at shoulder height, forearms parallel to eachother and in front of your face. Palms are facing you, weights touching, and elbows as close to touching as you can get them. From here, press your arms up and down, keeping forearms close to each other and parallel (your elbows will want to fan out to the sides—don’t let them!). Don’t shrug your shoulders up towards your ears while you do this.
  • Biceps Curl: Extend arms out in front of you at shoulder height, palms facing up. Curl the weights in towards your shoulders and extend back out, keeping elbows lifted the whole time.
  • Serve the Platter Reaches: This is a small movement. Start with arms extended in front of you, palms up, elbows slightly bent. Reach hands up and out (at an upward angle).
  • Lateral Arm Circles: Hold weights out to the sides with arms straight at shoulder height. Trace small circles with your hands (no more than 6” in diameter), not letting your arms lower.
  • Triceps Kickbacks: Bend your knees and lean forward slightly with a straight back. Arms come down by your sides, elbows bent. Keeping your forearms glued to your sides and just hinding at the elbow, send the weights behind you, extending your arms and squeezing your triceps.
  • Triceps Extension Lifts: In the same position as the previous exercise, hold your arms straight back behind you and, hinging at the shoulders, lift them up as high as you can and then lower just a couple inches. Think of this as a little pulse with your arms straight behind you and as high as you can get them.

Upper-Body Hand Weight Workout (emphasis on shoulders)WEARING | shorts: Athleta (old, shop current selection) // tank & sports bra: Forever 21 (old)

If anyone can get through three full rounds without cheating using 30-second intervals, let me know; you will be my new hero. I first tried these doing 30 seconds of each exercise and made it halfway through the first round before I was like there’s no effing way I can do three rounds of this. 20-second intervals were perfect—my arms burned like crazy, but with some psyching up I was able to get through the workout.


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  1. Long time reader, first time commenter! Loved this workout and it’s definitely going in the rotation. My weights never felt so heavy by the end and I had a serious case of the shakes (bet I looked pretty attractive too

  2. Love workout guides such as these! I’m always looking for ways to change up my free weight routine. Thank you!

  3. I LOVED this! After my run at the gym I decided to give it a go – made it through the 3 rounds @ 30 seconds with 2.5 weights in each hand. My muscles were BURNING. The people want more like these! 🙂

  4. Great article! Thank you for sharing these fantastic workout tips!


  5. Love these! I try to do a set of each every hour at work.

  6. Holy F! haha…this workout hurt way more than any I’ve done with 20 pounders! I started off thinking I could no problem do 30secs with 5 pounders…those were quickly switched out for the 3 pound weights!

  7. Does any know if a poster can be bought of this? I would love to hang in my room to remember to do them and how!

    • Printable versions of the workout tutorials is on my to-do list of blog improvements–someday soon!

      • Yes please! Still trying to figure out how to bring these workouts to the gym without worrying or being on my phone the whole time 🙂 Love the workouts and everything else on the site!

  8. hello. can i do this exercise without getting bulky? i want to lose fat arms or have slimmer arms without muscles. thanks! 🙂

  9. I love having standing exercises with free weights that I can do at work. Can you upload more standing exercise ideas for arms, legs, and abs?
    Thanks! Glad I found your page

  10. I found this workout, looking for shoulder exercises to help rehab a shoulder separation. They look like just the thing for me. I copied the photos to a PowerPoint file (one exercise per PPt slide), then set the transitions to change every 20 sec. So I can set the PPt going, then change exercises when the slide changes. It’s easy enough to set the transition time to either shorter or longer intervals, of course. Glad I found your website…good stuff

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