16 Best Dumbbell Workouts and Exercises For a Full-Body Workout
Dumbbells are a mainstay in gyms across the country. Yet just like any other piece of equipment, the more you know about dumbbells, the more you can benefit from dumbbell workouts.
How can you improve your dumbbell workouts? By learning some basic principles about body movement as well as some different dumbbell exercises you can incorporate into your workout. An instant way to make sure you get the most out of dumbbell training is to follow an expertly created workout plan. This will ensure you are following the right protocol for a specific goal like muscle building and you do not overtrain or perhaps worse for you, under train a muscle group.
Do Dumbbells Really Work?
These dumbbell movements below are designed to give you simple knowledge to add to your repertoire for your next workout session. Depending on your goal, you will want to vary the weight, time or reps you are working with the dumbbells for that specific goal. More on that in a bit.
A good pair of dumbbells are relatively inexpensive which makes these a great piece of equipment to have even if you have a gym membership as a nice insurance policy for days you cannot make it to the gym. Use the dumbbell workouts and exercises below to make your next workout more effective.
Can I Build Muscle with Just Dumbbells?
Let’s back up just one minute. What are dumbbells? Dumbbells are handheld weights consisting of a bar with weights on each end. The bar in the middle is designed to be gripped by one hand at a time. Dumbbells come in a number of shapes, sizes and materials, but in all of them, that is how they are made.
Yes, you can build muscle with just dumbbells. How do you do that? Generally speaking, you want to perform mid-range repetition sets of different movements–think 8 to 20 repetitions per set. To build muscle with dumbbells you want to be working with a weight that for any given movement you can rep 8 times or more. As you go higher in weight and lower in reps, you get more into strength and power building. Strength building is typically where you will create more muscle, but in this sense we are talking about how to make your muscles bigger. To build muscle with just dumbbells you will want to rep until failure (or one to three reps before failure). That is the basic principle of how to actually make your muscles bigger.
Dumbbells are traditionally used to focus on one muscle group at a time or a combination of muscle groups that are in a single movement like press or row or squat or lunge. This is one of the key differences from tools like kettlebells and battle ropes, which typically only work groups of muscles at a time through compound movements. You can however group different dumbbell exercises together for a full body dumbbell workout. Again, we suggest following an expertly created plan so you do not overwork or underwork a muscle group for your specific goal.
Best Dumbbell Workouts and Exercises
If you are just at the beginning of your fitness journey, welcome! You have come to the right place. We are glad to help and provide you some key pointers. If you are an experienced lifter and are looking for some ideas in your next dumbbell workout, we will show you some ideas you might not have thought of. Whether you are a beginner or advanced lifter, it is best to start with lighter weights until you completely master a dumbbell movement.
You should follow a proper warm up routine before any workout. This will help you get loose and ready to get the most out of the workout. A proper warm up usually lasts five to ten minutes and will take you through a variety of movements. Below is an idea for one of those.
Upper Body Dumbbell Workouts
Dumbbell Floor Press or Dumbbell Bench Press
This dumbbell exercise will help build your pectoral muscles as well as your tricep arm muscles. The same principles apply in that it is ideal to keep your core tight while doing the dumbbell chest press.
- Start by sitting down on the floor or on a bench with the dumbbells at your side. Pick the dumbbells up and you can rest them on your legs. Then lean back onto the floor or bench and as you do that, move the dumbbells up so they are next to your chest with your arms bent at the elbow.
- Move your elbows out away from your body so your upper arm is at a 45 degree angle away from your body as opposed to next to your side or straight out from your torso.
- You should be holding the weight in place with your pectoral muscles, shoulders and triceps. Push the dumbbells up with your muscles until your arms are fully extended and straight over your chest.
- Lower the dumbbells back down to the start position at your sides. If you are on a bench you can actually go slightly below your shoulders for a wider range of motion (be careful not to go too far…you should always be in full control of your movements).
Dumbbell Bicep Curls
What dumbbell workout would be complete without the sacred bicep curl? Any time you see someone at the gym with large biceps, you can bet bicep curls played a part in this. If dumbbells are known for one thing, it is probably the dumbbell curl.
- Start with one dumbbell in each hand hanging at your sides
- Keep your core right. It is especially important to be cognizant of that in this movement since this dumbbell exercise will often pull you forward as you fatigue.
- With either both arms at the same time or one arm at a time, contract your bicep to pull the weight toward your shoulder. Make sure it is your bicep muscle doing the work, not simply bending at the elbow. Your bicep is the muscle on the inside of your arm when your arms hang at our side with your palms facing in.
- Lower the weight back to the starting position at your side. You can use your bicep to control the force of gravity in the dumbbell returning to the starting position. Try a count to three as you lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, which will help fatigue the muscle and bring blood to the muscle, improving its ability to get stronger and build.
The key to building big biceps is working these muscles until failure or right before failure each time. Perform enough dumbbell curls in each set so that you cannot do another by the end of the set or until you can only do one or two more reps. Rest for 30 seconds to a minute and then repeat. You can try to make this more challenging by intentionally taking longer to let the dumbbell return to your side while curling the dumbbells.
Dumbbell Lying Pullover
Either lying on the floor or on a bench, you want to get to the same starting position as the dumbbell chest press. You will keep your elbows closer to your sides on this movement as opposed to away from your sides on the dumbbell chest press.
- Imagine pressing the dumbbells at a forty five degree angle up towards and over your head.
- The natural effect of the weight in your hands will start to pull the weight back behind your head. You will use your core, lat, shoulders and triceps to control the weight until your arms are straight back either just touch the floor or in line with your head. Your arms can be fully extended at the bottom of this movement, or bent if you need more control.
- Pull the dumbbells (thus the name) back up over your head towards the starting position. This pulling motion should be generated by your core, lats and some triceps.
- Return the dumbbells to the starting position in which they are next to you with your elbows bent.
Dumbbell Overhead Press
This dumbbell workout is designed to isolate your upper body. Especially building bigger shoulders. You will want to keep this movement very controlled throughout and move in a controlled manner.
- Start with one dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
- Raise the dumbbells up on each side so the dumbbell rests at shoulder height with elbows bent and the forearms vertical. The heads up the dumbbells should be facing right to left.
- Make sure to keep your core tight. Push the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are completely straight over your head. Your core should still be tight. The pushing of the dumbbells should be generated by your shoulders and triceps.
Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. As soon as you start lowering the dumbbells, your elbows should start bending. Your stopping point on the way down should be about when your elbows are at a 90 degree angle or even more flexed. Pause here, then push back up over your head. the dumbbells before driving them up again more forcefully.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
- Stand with one dumbbell in each hand at your side and performa slight hip hinge. You should hinge enough so that your dumbbells are about level with your knees. Remember, think of the hinge as a hip dominant movement as if someone is pulling your tailbone back away from you.
- Throughout the entirety of this movement you will really need to focus on keeping your core tight and your shoulders pulled back. Since you have the weight hanging from your body in the hinge position, the temptation to round your back is very strong. (think, stick your chest out and your butt out at the same time)
- The row is a movement performed by pulling the weight back with your lat and scap muscles. You want to pull the weight until your elbows are behind your back. You can choose to pause at that position to intensify the workout.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the starting hanging position. You can alternate sides or do both at the same time.
As mentioned you can do the dumbbell row with one dumbbell at a time or both. You can also rest a hand on a bench and focus on a one arm row. This is a great movement when performing with 8 to 20 repetitions for building a big, muscular back.
Lower Body Dumbbell Exercises
Dumbbell Front Squats
This dumbbell exercise is designed to build your legs primarily, but will also work your core and back if you perform it correctly. You can also keep the dumbbells hanging at arms length next to your body right next to your thighs for the squat movement as well.
- With your feet about shoulder width apart, pick up a dumbbell in each hand.
- To add in work for your core and back, curl the dumbbells toward you and hold them at the top of the curl with one end of the dumbbell facing you and one facing away from you.
- Make sure to keep your core tight, think of flexing your core as well as your lat muscles to stabilize the dumbbells.
- Then squat down while holding the dumbbells in this position. To get maximum benefit out of this movement you will want to squat to 90 degrees at your knee or even lower, which means your butt will be lower than your knees before you drive yourself back up through your heels.
The amount of repetitions you do will depend on your goal. If your goal is to increase the size of your muscles you will want to do 8 to 20 repetitions. If your goal is to build strength, you want to do 5 to 12 repetitions with heavier weights.
Cheat code: If you only have one or two sets of dumbbells, you can speed up your movement, drastically slow down your movements, or increase tension of your muscles in order to make the same weight more challenging. Let’s say you can easily do this movement with two twenty five pound dumbbells at normal pace. Try speeding up or drastically slowing down to make it more difficult. This goes for any movement.
This movement is designed to build your glute and hamstring muscles. These are essential muscles in your daily life for you to carry yourself and jump. Make sure to keep your core tight during this movement and focus on pulling the dumbbells up from the movement with your butt and hamstrings, as opposed to your back.
- Start with the dumbbells on the ground in front of you. The dumbbells should be set in such a way so the heads of the dumbbells face left and right.
- Slightly bend your knees and push your hips back to lower your arms to the dumbbell handles. Think of a string pulling your tailbone back away from you and you showing off the front of your shirt to someone standing in front of you..
- When your hands have gripped the dumbbells, start to stand back up by hinging at the hips. Imagine someone is pushing your tailbone forward while you squeeze your glutes.
- Lower the dumbbells back down to a level that you feel some tension in your hamstrings and then repeat.
This is typically a movement used to build the posterior chain (your entire back and hip muscle groups).
Dumbbell Alternating Lunges
This dumbbell exercise will really tax your quads and glutes. You can also build your core and back with this movement. Make sure to keep your core tight and your lats tight as well.
- Start with your feet about shoulder width apart. Pick one dumbbell up in each hand so they rest at your sides while you are standing. Use this opportunity to make sure your core and back are flexed and tight.
- Take a large step forward with one leg. As your front foot makes contact with the ground, keep your weight moving forward to go into a full lunge with your forward leg right about until your back knee touches the ground
- Use your forward leg to drive yourself back up through the heel of your foot. You should focus on using your quad (the big muscle on the front of your leg above your knee) as well as your glute (your butt) to create all the force that drives you back to the standing position with both feet next to each other
- Take a step forward with the opposite leg this time and repeat the same movement.
This is another dumbbell exercise which you can use to build strength, power or muscle. If you want to build larger leg muscles you will want to do 8 to 20 repetitions in each set almost right up until you feel like you cannot do another one. You can speed up, slow down and increase tension in this dumbbell exercise to make the same weights more or less challenging.
Dumbbell Lateral Lunge
This dumbbell workout will really challenge you and you might feel it the next day if you are trying this for the first time (most of these exercises will do that to you). You will set up similar to the forward stepping dumbbell lunges.
- Start with your feet about shoulder width apart. Pick one dumbbell up in each hand so they rest at your sides while you are standing. Are you noticing a theme? Make sure your core and back are flexed and tight.
- Start by taking a large step directly to the side with one leg. As that foot contacts the ground you should be bending your knee to go into a lunge just like the previous movement, but to the side.
- You will hinge at the waist while making this movement and move the dumbbells towards the foot of the leg you are lunging on until they are six to eight inches off the ground near your lunging leg.
- Use your legs and glutes to drive yourself back up toward the starting position and then repeat on the other side.
Dumbbell Farmers Carry with Calf Raise
Your leg workouts just will not be complete without some calf work. If you want to build nice muscular legs, you cannot leave out your calf muscles. The focus of this movement is your calf muscles, but again you can make sure to work your core by keeping it tight the entire time.
- Start one with one dumbbell in each hand hanging at your sides.
- Use your calf muscles to propel your body up onto the tip of your toes. At the top you should be on the edge of your feet.
- Lower yourself make down in a controlled manner to really work your calf muscles as opposed to just releasing yourself back down to the ground
To build your calf muscles with dumbbells, you will want to perform a high rep range.
Full Body Dumbbell Exercises & Workouts
Dumbbell Squat Press
This is a combination dumbbell exercise coming from two of the movements we have covered. This is a fantastic full body dumbbell exercise.
- Start with the same position as the dumbbell squat with the dumbbells in front of you and your elbows bent at your sides.
- Squat down below parallel. This means your glutes should be slightly lower than your knees, or at least try to hit 90 degrees at your knees.
- Drive back up through your heels
- As you stand back up straight, press the dumbbells overhead. Lower them back down to the starting position of the dumbbell squat and then squat again.
Dumbbell Renegade Row
This is a truly challenging dumbbell exercise which builds your back, core and chest. You should make sure you have the requisite full body strength and have mastered basic movements before attempting this.
- Place your dumbbells on the ground. Place your hands on the dumbbells in a position like you are at the top of the push up.
- Your body should be fully stretched out with your feet on the ground. Your core should be tight positioning you over the dumbbells.
- Pull one dumbbell towards you. Think of this movement as similar to the rows, but you are using your other arm to brace you. Keep your core tight and pull the dumbbell with your back muscles until your elbow is behind your back. Return the dumbbell to ground
- Repeat with the other side.
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge with Tricep Extension
This is another combination of dumbbell movement. This combines leg, core, back and arms. You can perform this movement while holding one dumbbell with two hands or a dumbbell in each hand.
- Raise the dumbbell or dumbbells over your head. Bend your elbows such that the dumbbells are behind your head. Your elbows should be next to your head.
- Take a step backward and lunge down until your knee touches the ground. This is the same knee you take a step back with. Your forward leg should be bent at a 90 degree angle in a lunge position.
- Drive yourself back to the starting position with your forward leg. This starts in the ball of your foot and explodes through your glute and quad.
- When you get back to the starting position, extend the dumbbell(s) over your head so that your arms are straight up over your head. This motion should be done utilizing your tricep to push your arms into a straight position.
- Repeat this motion by stepping back with the opposite leg this time.
Dumbbell Lateral Lunge with Rotation
This dumbbell exercise is one you probably have not seen a lot of. It is a pretty unique combination movement for legs, core and back. It combines a couple of the basic movements we covered. When you try new movements like this it can be helpful to watch in depth explanations or speak with a professional trainer.
- Start with one dumbbell in each hand. You will actually hold the dumbbells right next to each other in the middle of your chest and stomach. Keep tension in your core, back and arms.
- Take a large step to the side like you do in the sideways lunge. As your foot makes contact with the ground you should be lunging toward that foot.
- When your knee is at about a 90 degree angle, pause. Rotate away toward your back, then back to front and then back towards the other side. Return to the starting position.
- Drive yourself back to the starting position standing up with the dumbbells firmly held in your mid chest and stomach. Take a step to the other side and repeat.
Dumbbell Burpee Push Up
This movement is a bit of a combination of a dumbbell deadlift and a push up. You will build your chest, core, hips and back. It is hard to find a more effective movement for a full body exercise.
- Start with a dumbbell in each hand at your side while standing.
- Through a slight combination of a hinge and a squat, lower the dumbbells to the ground. Then kick your legs out behind you so you are in a push up position.
- Perform a push up by lowering your self towards the dumbbells, then pushing yourself back up to the starting position with your pectoral muscles
- Kick your legs back up to just behind you on the ground
- Stand up in the manner of a deadlift by hinging at the hips and a bit of your legs.
Dumbbell Alternating Lunge with Dumbbell Curl
This is the last dumbbell workout exercise we have for you. After reading about this movement keep reading for further assistance in helping select a dumbbell workout program or equipment. This movement combines two fairly basic movements into one combination dumbbell movement.
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand on each side of you. Core tight.
- Take a large step forward with one leg and move into the lunge position as your foot touches the ground.
- Drive yourself back to the starting position utilizing your quads and glutes.
- When you return to the starting position, curl both dumbbells at the same time. Make sue to focus on pulling the dumbbell toward you with your bicep. Count to at least three as you lower the dumbbells back to your waste level.
- Then take a large step forward with the other leg and then repeat.
Following a Dumbbell Workout Plan
Whether you are just getting started in fitness or have been working out for some time. Following an expertly created plan is the best way to reach your goal. Unless you have a vast experience as a trainer, a CSCS designation or another experience, it is very easy to overlook important factors of a well constructed plan. A well constructed plan should include:
- A specific goal like burning fat, building muscle, building strength or something else. There are specific rep ranges to follow.
- Suggestions for progressions and regressions of movements. This is helpful to learn how to make a movement easier or more challenging if you find yourself easily meeting the stated workout criteria.
- A workout library. It is helpful to have detailed explanations from an expert of any movement inside of a workout plan. These should give you key principles about the movement and your body.
- Focus of workouts. A dumbbell workout session should have specific goals for which muscles it is working on. You run the risk of undertraining and not getting the muscle development you want, or overtraining with injury or setting you back from reaching your goals.
Dumbbell Workout Plan
We built this program for someone that is just getting started with training, or someone that has a lot of experience training with dumbbells. When you follow this program you will improve your strength, lose body fat, increase your metabolic rate through improvements in lean body mass. The focus of these exercises are on absolute strength, hypertrophy (muscle-building strength), and strength endurance, along with full body mobility warm-ups and cool downs before and after the workouts.
Best Dumbbells for Home Workout
These are sold as pairs and include free shipping on all orders. These dumbbells are guaranteed within 3% of the stated weight. The ends of the dumbbells are encased in rubber which can help reduce noise, floor damage and make the dumbbells more steady for ground work. These dumbbells are welded together and then covered in rubber on the ends. Each dumbbell has the weight displayed on the end as well as the Living.Fit logo. Each handle is steel and is knurled for a better grip during use.
- Living.Fit branded dumbbells
- Rubber Heads with weight & Living.Fit logo displayed on opposite sides
- Sold as Pairs
- Etched grip