Whether you work out in a gym or get sweaty at home, dumbbells are pretty much your best friend. Why? They're easier to master than kettlebells and more challenging than bodyweight exercises alone, which makes them super-versatile tools for building full-body strength.
What's more, they're an answer to most common probs when it comes to exercise tools. Don't have much room for home gym equipment? Dumbbells. Intimidated by barbells? Dumbbells. Don't want to juggle six different props in a single workout? Dumbbells.
When it comes to what size load to select, pick a weight that feels hard to lift (but still doable) by your last two to three reps. Dumbbells in the 10 to 20 pound range are a good place to start depending on your fitness level. But feel free to scale up or down as long as you're hitting that sticky point toward the end of every set.
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Whether you're new to weight training or seasoned in the strength department, you can create a dumbbell workout that'll challenge every muscle as long as you have a solid selection of moves to pull from! Consider these hand-selected dumbbell exercises your go-to's for total-body dumbbell workouts you can do practically anywhere.
Swap new upper- and lower-body moves in and out to keep your sesh fresh—or play with your tempo (think slowing things way down) to keep your fave moves challenging. Either way, you've got a full-body burn comin' in hot!
Equipment needed: dumbbells
Time: 30 minutes
Instructions: Choose three lower-body exercises and three upper-body exercises. Perform 12 reps of each, resting for 30 seconds before continuing on to the next. Once you've finished all six of your movements, rest for one minute, then repeat for three rounds.
1. Chest Press to Squat
Muscles worked: chest, core, glutes, legs
How to: Stand up straight, with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a single dumbbell between both hands. Simultaneously jump feet out wide and press the dumbbell straight out in front of body. Jump back to start. Then, lower body into a squat, and extend arms and dumbbell toward the floor. Jump back to start. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Sit butt down during squat; it's okay if your knees pass your toes!
2. Lateral Squats
Muscles worked: glutes, legs, core
How to: Start in standing position with feet wide, toes pointed slightly out, dumbbells in both hands. Bend right knee and shift hips back as you lean body toward right side, framing right leg with dumbbells. Keep head and chest up, back flat, as you return to standing. Repeat on opposite side. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Sit your butt back and keep knees aligned under your head.
3. Dumbbell Seesaw Press
Muscles worked: shoulders
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells with left arm extended straight overhead, bicep by ear, and right arm bent, elbow narrow, and weight at shoulder height. Switch arm positions so right arm presses straight up overhead and left is bent, then reverse to return to start. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Tuck your tail bone and pull in your belly button to engage your core.
4. Half-Kneeling Woodchopper
Muscles worked: core, shoulders
How to: Start in a half-kneeling position with right leg forward and left leg back, both bent at 90 degrees, holding a dumbbell overhead between hands (instead of a medicine ball like pictured here). Rapidly bring the weight diagonally across body until it is in front of left thigh. Keep torso upright with shoulders and hips facing forward. Slowly raise ball to start position. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep your torso stacked over your hips, tuck your tail bone, and squeeze your glutes.
5. Isometric Lunge
Muscles worked: legs
How to: Start in a split stance with right leg forward and left leg back with arms by sides holding dumbbells. Bend knees and lower body until legs are bent to 90 degrees, while bending arms and bringing weights to touch in front of chest. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep your torso and hips stacked and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your pelvis.
6. Hammer Curl
Muscles worked: biceps
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, back straight, and chest upright, holding a pair of dumbbells at sides. Palms should face inward. Without moving upper arms, bend elbows and curl weights toward shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position with control. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Try not to rush these! Keep 'em slow and controlled, and squeeze your biceps at the top.
7. Dumbbell Deadlift
Muscles worked: back, glutes, legs
How to: Holding dumbbells in hands in front of thighs with palms facing body, start standing with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Keeping knees slightly bent, press hips back and hinge at the waist to lower the dumbbells toward the floor. Squeeze glutes to return to standing. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Hinge at the hips, not your lower back (think of pushing your hips back, not down) and keep the dumbbell as close to your body as you can.
8. Supported Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
Muscles worked: back, glutes, legs, core
How to: Stand on left leg with a dumbbell in right hand, palm facing toward thigh, and left arm by side. Step right leg back behind body, lift heel, and press right toes into the floor for balance. Keep left leg slightly bent. Lean forward and hinge at the hips (keeping back flat) to lower the weight toward the floor. Drive into left heel to return to standing position. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Think of pushing your hips straight back (not down) until torso is about parallel with floor. Hips should never drop below knees.
9. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
Muscles worked: legs, glutes, core
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in front of chest with elbows pointing toward the floor. Push hips back and bend knees to lower into a squat. Return to start. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Sit butt down as if lowering into a chair and keep core tight.
10. Lying Overhead Triceps Extension
Muscles worked: triceps
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground, about a foot from butt. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand (or medium dumbbell between both) and extend arms up over shoulders, palms facing toward each other. This is your start position. Slowly bend at the elbows to bring weights toward floor, close to temples; pause, then, slowly bring the weights back overhead. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep shoulders and upper arms still, and move only forearms.
11. Step Up
Muscles worked: legs, glutes, core
How to: Start standing facing a bench or stair, with a dumbbell in each hand. Step right foot onto bench or stair, press through heel to stand up. Pull left knee up toward chest at the top. Reverse movement to return to start. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep core tight and keep the movement slow and controlled. Keep as much weight out of your non-working leg as possible.
12. Alternating Dumbbell Floor Press
Muscles worked: chest
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend both arms up over shoulders, palms facing each other. This is your starting position. Slowly bend left arm and lower it to the side, until left elbow touches the ground. Upper arm should form a 45 degree angle with body. Reverse the movement and return to start. Repeat on the right side. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep lower back pressed into floor and core engaged.
13. Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
Muscles worked: triceps
How to: Start standing with feet two-fists-width apart with knees bent. Lean forward slightly, with a dumbbell in each hand and elbows at 90-degrees by sides. Press dumbbells back and up to extend straighten arms and squeeze triceps. Return to start. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Keep upper arms still and pinned in close to body.
14. Half Get-Up to Pushup
Muscles worked: shoulders, arms, core
How to: Lie face up with left leg and arm straight on the floor and angled away from body at 45 degrees. Bend right knee and plant foot flat on mat. Hold dumbbell in right hand by rib cage (elbow bent and close to chest). This is your start position. Press weight straight up to extend arm above chest. Keeping eyes on dumbbell, push into left palm and roll through spine to sit up. Now, lift hips off floor and flip body over into high plank position without letting go of weight. Complete one pushup, then reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Think of rolling towards side, not crunching. Keep shoulder blade of weighted arm pinned back and down.
15. Squat Press to Twist
Muscles worked: glutes, legs, core, shoulders
How to: Hold dumbbells at shoulder height with elbows bent and palms facing each other. Sit hips back and lower down into a squat position. Push through feet to rise back up and press the weights overhead and rotate torso to one side. Lower back into a squat, then repeat the press and twist on the opposite side. That's one rep.
Pro tip: Pivot through hips to twist and keep shoulders and core aligned with them to avoid twisting from lower back.
Kehinde Anjorin, CFSC, NCSF
Certified functional strength coach, personal trainer, plant mum, and all-round badass. Kehinde is the founder of PowerInMovement and online streaming fitness service The Power Method.