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Whether you’re short on time or your upper-body development has come to a screeching halt, this multi-exercise workout is your go-to solution. 

By Myatt Murphy, CSCS, author of The Ultimate Dumbbell Guide

DOING THE HARD work necessary is only half the battle when it comes to building an impressive physique. The other half of the equation that prevents a lot of people from reaching their goals is knowing how to adapt when life isn’t on their side. 

Whether it’s a busy schedule, a crowded gym or lack of equipment, pulling off a routine that trains your entire upper body intensely enough to stimulate serious muscle growth doesn’t have to take more time – or exercise tools – than you might have at your disposal. All it takes is one weight bench, a pair of dumbbells and the right combination of exercises organised into a single giant set that’s guaranteed to yield big results in less time.


Using nothing more than a flat bench and a pair of dumbbells, this five-move routine targets every muscle group in your upper body. Before you begin, you’ll want to warm up your muscles first by doing some sort of light, low-intensity cardio activity for five minutes to raise your core temperature and bring blood to all your muscles. Jogging in place or riding a stationary cycle on a low gear is sufficient. 

Once you’re ready to start, you’ll run through each of the five exercises in the exact order given, starting with multi-joint compound moves that work your larger muscle groups first (chest and back) and finishing with single-joint exercises that isolate your smaller muscles (shoulders, biceps and triceps). With multi-joint moves, the goal of the rep range is to put on solid muscle; with smaller muscle groups, the range shoots for muscle growth and endurance. 

Do one set of each move, resting only as long as it takes to move to – and set up – the next exercise. After you’ve finished performing all five exercises in a row, rest for approximately 90 to 120 seconds. The rest period is crucial for allowing levels of ATP (the contraction chemical) to synthesise enough so that you can hit the next giant set effectively.

After your rest, immediately start the giant set again. Aim to complete the five-move routine three times (for a total of three sets per exercise). If you’re a more advanced lifter, you can raise the intensity by performing the giant set four times instead. Either way, you’ll still be able to complete the entire workout much sooner than if you had attacked each body part with a more traditional approach of set, rest, set, rest and so on. 

Because of the intensity of the workout, try using the routine only twice a week to start (training your legs on separate days) to avoid overtraining. Make sure to devote at least one day a week to active rest. Stick with the workout no longer than four weeks, increasing the weight accordingly in each exercise as you become stronger to make sure that you’re exhausting your muscles within the required number of repetitions. 

You can also use this routine as a one-shot substitute for your own workout if you simply need a fast muscle-building program on days where you may not have a lot of time to train your upper body. If you have a bit more time on your hands or don’t feel comfortable launching into an upper-body giant set just yet, check out “Splitting Up the Giant Set” on page 68.

The Exercises


TARGET MUSCLES Chest, shoulders and triceps 

SET-UP Lie face-up on an exercise bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Grab a weight in each hand and position them along the sides of your chest, palms facing forward. (Your elbows should be pointing toward the floor.) 

ACTION Keeping your head and back flat on the bench, press the weights upward until your arms are fully ex tended above your chest, elbows unlocked. Pause for one or two seconds, slowly lower the weights back along the sides of your chest and repeat.




TARGET MUSCLES Middle and lower back 

SET-UP Stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the waist until your torso reaches 45 degrees (or, for the more advanced lifter, until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor). Your legs should be straight (but unlocked), with your arms hanging straight down below you, palms facing each other. 

ACTION Keeping your arms close to your torso, drive your elbows toward the rear until the dumbbells touch the sides of your torso (along the line of your navel). Retract your scapulae briefly (one or two seconds) and slowly lower the weights back down until your arms are straight once more; repeat.

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