Dumbbell exercises are a fantastic way to train your whole body without needing a gym full of equipment. The freedom of movement you get with dumbbells allows you to train on a 3D plane of motion. Discover exercises that focus on the upper body, arms, chest, and back, but that also work your lower body and cardiovascular system. Plus, you don’t need a lot of room and can easily do these dumbbell workouts at home.
One of the best things about dumbbells is their flexibility. You can easily perform a full-body workout using just dumbbells for resistance. Starting at the top, work your chest, shoulders, and arms with moves like a curl and press, pullover, an incline bench press, and rows. Meanwhile, for the lower body, get the big muscle groups in your legs pumping with a goblet squat or farmer’s walk. Finally, moves like thrusters and dumbbell swings work both your upper and lower body at the same time. Plus, you don’t have to be already jacked to get a benefit from these moves. You can start with lighter-weight dumbbells and gradually increase the resistance as you become stronger and fitter.
1. Curl and Press
The first exercise is the curl and press. This compound exercise gives you both bicep and shoulder movement, resulting in both push and pull action. Consequently, as you progress through the move, you’re getting both a full contraction and extension of the bicep and engagement in the shoulders. This exercise needs two dumbells, with a weight that you can both curl and press above your head. However, remember that to build mass, you need to go heavy.
- Stand/Seat with your feet just wider than hip-width apart, back straight and core engaged.
- Hold one dumbell in each hand, arms down by your sides.
- Lift both weights in a bicep curl.
- Once you’ve reached the top of the curl, continue to press the weight up over your head.
- To come back down, lower the weight back to your shoulders, with control. Then back down from the curl to your sides.
2. Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are the next dumbbell exercise. To make sure you’re training like an athlete, and getting the most out of each activity, you’ll use a crush grip to elevate the exercise. Ordinarily, the upper body is passive in a goblet squat. However, a crush-grip engages your upper body, activating the chest, delts, traps, and core. Add this to the fact that goblet squats are already excellent for the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and you’ve got full body activation. Finally, the goblet squats allow you to drop into your natural center of gravity, which is useful for anyone struggling with form.
- Start with your feet just wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Additionally, keep your core engaged, head up, and elbows tucked in.
- Unlike a regular goblet squat, you’ll hold the dumbbell in the middle. Interlace your fingers around the handle, and squeeze your hands together. This will force that upper body engagement. Keep your grip tight throughout the set.
- Bring yourself down into a squat until your knees are at 90-degrees.
- To check your form, make sure you bend at the hips, pushing your butt backward, but keeping the chest up. This, balanced with the weight, will allow you to find your natural center of gravity.
- Driving up through the floor, return to a standing position.
- Focus on bringing the weight back up in a straight line. Engage your core, moving your hips and chest as one unit. This will make sure you’re not accidentally swinging forward or backward.
3. Dumbbell Pullover
Also known as an upper-body squat, dumbbell pullovers are a fantastic way to work your upper body. It’s a flexible exercise that allows you to work either your back or your upper chest. The difference is minimal, with a slight change in elbow position and grip focus, making the variation between the two. As such, you could work both the chest and back, by changing the emphasis each set. For this exercise, you’ll only need one dumbbell.
- You’ll want to set yourself up with a box or bench that won’t move.
- Position your upper body across the bench, so you’re perpendicular. Your body weight should rest across your shoulders. Have your feet flat on the ground supporting the rest of your weight, with your knees bent at 90-degrees, and core flat and engaged. You should look like a tabletop.
- Regardless of wanting to work your chest or back, the mechanics of the movement are very similar.
- Hold the dumbbell above your body, with your arms straight out from your chest.
- Lower the weight back to behind your head, keeping your arms straight, but not locking your elbows.
- Bring the dumbbell back up, with control, to the starting position.
- To engage the back, as you raise the weight, focus on squeezing your hands together, and working them against each other as you lift. Keep your elbows tucked in.
- Alternatively, to work the upper back, allow your elbows to flare slightly, and lead with them, as you raise the weight up. Shifting the pull from your hands to your elbows will activate the lats.
4. Farmers Walk
For anyone who is “one trip or die trying” when it comes to getting groceries into the house, then Farmers’ Carries are the best practice. You’ll hold a dumbbell, as heavy as you can carry, in each hand, and simply walk. It sounds too easy but ends up being a full-body workout. Adding the movement in the lower body forces your core to engage and stabilize with each shift in weight. Plus, because you’re loading up on the weight, it ends up being more than just a grip and forearm workout. The larger muscles in your upper and mid-back, as well as upper arms, step in to help carry the load.
- Grab two dumbbells in the heaviest weight you can carry.
- Hold one in each hand, with your arms by your side.
- Then walk. Wherever you have room, just walk. If your space is small, you can do laps. You’ll want to focus on keeping your body straight and core engaged.
- Keep walking until you feel like your grip is about to fail. You’ll want to put the weights back down before complete failure to avoid broken toes, tiles, or floorboards.
Reps: Walk until just before grip failure.
Dumbbell thrusters are a killer workout for the whole body. You can use this punishing dumbbell exercise as a metabolic one, or as a builder set — it will depend on the weight you choose. Go for lighter weight and higher reps for an excellent metabolic and cardio experience. Alternatively, load up the weights for fewer power reps to build mass. The limiting factor on your weight choice will be how much you can press up.
- Choose two dumbbells in an appropriate weight.
- Stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart, back straight and core engaged.
- Start by holding the weights at chest height.
- Bring yourself down into a squat until your knees are at 90-degrees, keeping the dumbbells at chest height.
- To check your form, make sure you bend at the hips, pushing your butt backward, but keeping the chest up.
- Driving up through the floor, return to a standing position. However, you’re going to keep the momentum going and push the dumbbells straight up into a shoulder press, fully extending your arms.
- Bring the weights back down to chest height, and move immediately back into a squat.
Reps: 6-12 (depending on your goal)
6. One-Arm Incline Dumbell Bench
Increase the challenge for your core by turning a regular incline dumbbell press, into a one-armed exercise. Incline dumbbell presses are already a great exercise. However, by only working one arm at a time, you’re teaching your abdominals and obliques how to overcome both gravity and the physical disadvantage of a substantial weight pulling you to one side. You need to engage your core and obliques to prevent you from rolling off, to keep your lower back on the bench, and to initiate the momentum to push the weight back up.
- Lie down on your inclined bench, again ensuring you have good posture. Engage your core and glutes, keep your feet flat on the floor, and drive into the bench.
- Hold the dumbbell in one hand in an overhand grip.
- Push that arm toward the ceiling. Focus on keeping your torso straight, and lower back on the bench — there shouldn’t be any twisting.
- Release your arm down, with control, until it’s back and bent, with your elbow slightly behind your body.
- With your free arm, try keeping tucked in front of your chest, so your upper body remains balanced.
- Do one side, then the other.
Get your heart pumping and legs working with some dumbbell swings. This is an excellent exercise for engaging the posterior chain and working the glutes and hip extension. Swings are a hip-hinging move, so focus on tilting at the hips, and not squatting or bending your back. Regarding weights, you can choose a lighter weight for higher reps, or go heavy for fewer. Keep in mind that the heavier you go, the quicker you will be able to develop strength in the posterior chain. Plus, the heavier you go, the faster you elevate your heart rate and increase the metabolic outcomes.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold one end of the dumbbell, hooking your fingers over the ends, so it’s hanging, but secure in your grip.
- Bend your knees slightly, and tilt at the hips, pushing your butt backward. Keep your chest up and back straight. As you do this, swing the dumbbell back between your legs.
- Then, straighten your body and drive forward with your hips in a thrusting motion. As your knees straighten, use that hip momentum to swing the dumbbell up.
- Repeat in a continuous loop.
Reps: 6-12 (depending on your goal)
8. Tripod Dumbbell Rows
The final dumbbell exercise for building strength is a tripod dumbbell row. This differs from a regular dumbbell row for a few reasons. Firstly, you’re standing, so it’s more athletic and requires full body activation. Secondly, you’ve got a much broader support base, though your center of gravity is still in the middle. Thirdly, the dumbbell is held further away from your body than in a traditional row, which then increases the challenge on your core to keep your body straight and still.
- Stand facing the back of an incline bench so that you can hold on with one hand. Have your feet set wide with your toes pointing forward, bend your knees slightly and tilt at the hips, so your butt is sticking out.
- Hold the dumbbell in one hand, and brace yourself on the upright of the incline bench with the other.
- Pull the weight up towards your chest, allowing your elbow to extend behind your body.
- Release the weight back down with control.
- Focus on keeping your torso straight — there shouldn’t be any twisting.
- Do one side, then the other.
Get in a full-body workout at home with just a pair of dumbbells. This routine is excellent for beginners (except for the bonus move) and can be done with limited space, so it’s great for even small apartments. You’ll be working everywhere from your head to your toes, including chest, back, biceps, triceps, abs and core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. There are eight different moves (plus a bonus), and you’ll do a set of each for three rounds. All up, it should take around half an hour, and you’ll be sure to be cracking a sweat by the end of it!
- Hold onto your dumbbells while they’re set on the ground, and do a push-up.
- At the top of the move, row with one arm, bringing your elbow just above your torso.
- As you repeat the pushups, alternative the rowing arm.
- Repeat 20 times (10 times each arm).
- Hold one end of the barbell with both hands under your chin, and place your feet wider than hip-width for a sumo squat.
- Drop into a squat as low as you can, driving back up through the heels.
- Repeat 15 times.
- Use one dumbbell holding it at each end.
- Sit on the ground with your legs out straight, lifting them up slightly and tilting your upper body back around 45 degrees.
- Twist through the torso, moving the dumbbell from side to side.
- Repeat 40 times.
Clean & Press
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, and sink into a squat.
- As you push out of the squat, bring the dumbbells up to chest height, with your elbows bent, catching the weight with a shallow squat.
- Drive-up again through the floor, pressing the dumbbells up above your head, so your arms are straight.
- Repeat 12 times.
- Start with your feet together and a weight in each hand.
- Take one step forward, dropping into a lunge, then rise and come back to the center, moving the back leg forward.
- Take a step forward with the other leg, repeating on the other side.
- Repeat with 14 steps in total.
Rear Delt Flys
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and torso tilted forward at the hips, so your back is parallel with the ground.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging towards the floor.
- Pull each arm up and back (at the same time), opening through the chest, and focusing on contracting the muscles between your shoulder blades.
- Repeat 12 times.
- Hold a weight in each hand and stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- With your palms facing out, bend at the elbow bringing the weight to your chest, then lower it back to the starting point.
- Try to avoid swinging the weight to get it up or dropping it on the downward move; instead, focus on controlling the movement.
- Repeat 12 times.
- Take a side lunge stance, with your torso facing the bent knee.
- Place your elbow on the same side on the bent knee and that hand on the opposite side of your chest, bracing your shoulder.
- Hold the weight in your free hand, bend your elbow to 90-degrees, and bring your upper arm in line with your trunk.
- Kick the weight back, extending your arm so it’s straight.
- Repeat 10 times, then swap sides for a total of 20 reps.
Bonus Move – Handstand Push up
- Using your dumbbells as handles, move into a handstand.
- Then, keeping your body straight, lower yourself until your elbows are bent at 90, and push back up.
- Repeat 8 times.
- Only do this move if you can already do a handstand and are confident in your abilities.
Best Interchangeable Dumbbells
Interchangeable and adjustable dumbbells are ideal for home workouts. They give you the flexibility of various weights for different exercises and the ability to increase the resistance as you get stronger. However, they don’t take up all the room of free weights like the sets you’ll find in commercial gyms. As such, you don’t need a whole lot of dedicated space, and they’re easy to store out of the way. Choose sets that range from as light as five pounds to as heavy as 70 pounds to help customize the perfect sweat session for you.
1. ProForm 50 lb. Select-a-Weight Dumbbell Pair
Train like a pro with the ProForm 50 lb. Select-a-Weight Dumbbell Pair. This set of dumbbells replaces 10 different units with just two. Select weights from ten pounds to 50 pounds in ten-pound increments, thereby maximizing your workout space at home. The durable construction uses steel and hardened plastic, with a tab adjustor to move between weights. They come in custom-molded storage trays that make safekeeping easy but are also ideal for changing the weights. Plus, if you download the iFit app (additional cost), you can follow along with thousands of trainer-led programs, which are great if you’re a beginner or need some extra motivation.
2. Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbell
Take your workout up a notch with the Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells. This versatile set adjusts easily from as light as five pounds through to a hefty 52 pounds for hard-core muscle building. It replaces a set of 30 dumbbells with just two compact units. To switch it up, all you need to do is turn the dial on each end, with increments of two-and-a-half pounds. Connect to the free Bowflex SelectTech App to build custom workouts, journal your results, or follow along with trainer-led exercises if you want some guidance or inspiration. Finally, the construction is metal plates with durable molding for a smoother lift-off and less noise while working out.
3. Ativafit Adjustable Dumbbell 27.5 Pounds (Single)
Ativafit’s adjustable 27.5-pound dumbbell is ideal for all kinds of different exercises, with options between five and a half pounds to 27.5 pounds. The high-quality steel plates are designed for durability and stability, while the chrome-plated knurled handle is comfortable with an excellent grip. To change the weights, set the dumbbell in the tray, and with the flick of a switch, choose a different combination. It easily replaces four dumbbells so you can make the most of the room you have and store them out of the way. Lastly, it comes as a single unit, so add two to your cart if you want the full functionality of a dumbbell pair.
4. FLYBIRD Adjustable Dumbbell (Single)
All it takes to adjust this Flybird dumbbell is one hand and one second, thanks to the rotating handle that moves smoothly between the weight options. Choose from five, ten, 15, 20, or 25 pounds, easily selected on the concise and clear dial. The customized locking structure ensures no movement while you’re exercising, keeping you safe while training. They’re also made with frosted powder-coated plates and a knurled anti-slip handle for superior grip. Plus, they have a space-saving storage tray that makes putting them away quick and simple.
5. Nordictrack 55 lb Select-a-Weight Dumbbell Pair
Why have 30 dumbbells when you can just have two? This 55-pound adjustable dumbbell pair gives you the freedom of a variable workout without the huge space commitment of a free weight set. The fitted trays are not only great for storage but make it easier to adjust between the different weight combinations. You can choose two and a half or five-pound increments, depending on your needs. If you feel like you want extra guidance or motivation, you can also sign up for a free 30-day trial of the iFit app, giving you access to a vast library of on-demand works, with the ability to cancel any time (fees apply after the 30 days). Learn how to train your entire body, improving your strength, fitness, and muscle mass.
6. Ativafit Adjustable Dumbbell 71.5 Pounds (Single)
Build some impressive mass in your arms, shoulders, and back with these 71.5-pound adjustable dumbbells from Ativafit. Start light with 11 pounds, moving up in five and half-pound increments to 71.5. A clearly marked end dial makes switching between them straightforward and quick; just make sure the unit is sitting in the storage case when you want to change. The weights themselves are well-cast to prevent rusting and boast a non-slip grip for extra safety. You’ll be able to punch out a full-body workout, with the same flexibility of free weights, without the maxed-out storage space.
7. LEADNOVO Weights Dumbbell Barbell Set
While adjustable dumbbells are quite common, adjustable barbells are less so. As such, this set from LEADNOVO that does both is quite innovative. The set includes two adjustable dumbbells with a range of different weight plates, plus a connector rod so that you can join them together into a barbell for exercises like deadlifts and bench presses. The max weight for this set is 44 pounds. Adjusting the plates is slightly more manual than other designs, but the non-rolling, octagonal design helps keep things in place while you’re making your changes. The handles and connector rod have an ergonomic grip, while the plates use PU-covered iron sand, so they’re safe, durable, and won’t scratch the floor.
8. PowerBlock Sport 55 Dumbbell Set
The PowerBlock Sport 55 Dumbbell Set is unique in its design but just as effective for an epic full-body workout at home. These adjustable dumbbells have weight stacks made from welded steel construction with a powder-coated finish. The selector pin lets you quickly and easily adjust between the weights, with color-coding corresponding to the display panel to simplify selection. While this unit has a range from five to 55 pounds, if you want to lift even heavier, you can purchase an expansion pack to increase to either 70 or 90 pounds in each hand.
What are Dumbbells?
Dumbbells are a type of free-weight equipment you can use for weight training exercises. They consist of a central bar that you hold in your hands, with equal weights at both ends. The styles and weights can vary, with options a light as 1 pound to as heavy as a hundred pounds. The most common types of dumbbells are fixed weight or adjustable. Fixed weight is the style you’ll often find in gyms, and they are usually made from cast iron or concrete and often covered with a rubber finish. Adjustable weights let you load the one grip with different weights and can either be a plate-loaded style or selectorized using a switch or lever while sitting in a stand. Dumbbells are a versatile piece of equipment that allows you to perform a variety of moves and exercises to increase strength, boost cardio fitness and improve coordination.
Barbells vs. Dumbbells vs. Cables
Dumbbells aren’t the only piece of equipment you can use for weight training — barbells and cables are also great options. Which do you choose? Each comes with its own pros and cons, which can vary between exercises, and your choice depends on your goals. Firstly, a barbell can allow you to lift heavier weights because the fixed bar acts as a stabilizer. As such, your shoulder muscles don’t have to work as much to keep the action steady. However, the wider grip can mean more motion in the frontal plane. Meanwhile, barbells have a 360-degree plane of movement for better flexibility. You can keep the resistance more centered, and it will help highlight muscles imbalances between your two sides. Finally, cables add an additional challenge to your core as they tug your torso backward through the line of resistance.
Dumbbell Excercises FAQs
What are the best dumbbell exercises?
Dumbbells are incredibly useful and versatile pieces of equipment in the gym. They can be used in dozens of different exercises and allow plenty of flexibility and movement on a 3D plane. Some of the best dumbbell exercises include a curl and press, goblet squats, dumbbell pullovers, farmer's walk, thrusters, one-arm incline dumbbell bench presses, swings, and tripod dumbbell rows.
How can I build muscle with dumbbells?
You can build muscle with dumbbells the same way you’d increase it with other equipment. Regular, consistent exercises that gradually increase the weight as you become stronger and increase muscle hypertrophy.
What should you not do with dumbbells?
Things to avoid when using dumbbells often apply to other exercise equipment as well. Mistakes can include poor posture and form, as this won’t give you results and can cause injury. Going too heavy too quickly can also affect your form and execution. You don’t want to rush your exercises either – if you’re short on time, cut the number of moves, not the quality. Other errors include holding the dumbbell with bent wrists, pulling with momentum rather than muscle force, and not using your full range of motion. Lastly, don’t drop your dumbbells on your toes!
What is the best material for dumbbells?
Dumbbells made from or covered in rubber or urethane are generally considered a bit safer than steel, iron, or concrete options. They both have better shock absorption. Urethane is more durable; while, rubber can have an odor and degrade with sweat and sunlight. Hexagon shaped dumbbells are also good for preventing rolling. However, you’ll also need to consider the environment you’re working out in and the weights you need before buying a set.
Alexandra Linde is an experienced writer holding a bachelor's degree in Journalism. She is the owner of Alexandra McKiterick Creative and has expertise in travel, fashion, fitness and lifestyle. Alex has previously written for Flightcenter, Travello, and Backpacker Deals.
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