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 from the ATHLEAN-X program 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.
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.
Best Dumbell Exercises
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.
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