The 7 Best Compound Dumbbell Exercises For A Complete Workout

Compound exercises involve using multiple muscle groups to perform an exercise, which is what makes compound exercises efficient and effective.

The benefits of compound exercises include helping build muscle, burning more calories, and improving coordination and functional strength.

But, what are the best compound dumbbell exercises? What is the best dumbbells compound exercises workout?

In this workout guide, we will discuss what compound exercises are and give you step-by-step instructions for the following best compound dumbbells exercises for a well-rounded, efficient, full-body workout.

Let’s dive in! 

A row.

What Are Compound Exercises?

There are two primary classifications for strength training exercises: compound exercises and isolation exercises.

Compound exercises are movements that require two or more muscle groups that must work together to perform the movement.

Compound exercises are usually multi-joint exercises as well, whereas isolation exercises essentially train just one specific muscle group at a time and move one joint. Examples of some of the best compound exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts.

Compound exercises translate better to functional movement requirements for everyday living, and they better prepare you for other athletic activities like running, jumping, and playing sports.

For example, the squat movement pattern is a compound exercise that mimics part of the sequence of actions in a jump.

Beginners and experienced athletes can safely and effectively incorporate compound exercises into strength training programs.

Studies have found that compound exercises tend to be more effective at building muscle than isolation exercises.

Therefore, workouts that rely primarily on compound exercises may help you reach your strength and physique goals better than workouts involving mostly isolation exercises.

A single leg deadlift.

What Are Compound Exercises With Dumbbells?

Given the dynamic, multi-joint nature of compound exercises, beginners often ask: “Can you do compound exercises with dumbbells?”

While many of the primary powerlifting exercises such as back squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and bench presses are performed with barbells, there are also many dumbbell compound exercises or compound exercises you can perform with dumbbells.

Compound dumbbell exercises are practical and easy to learn, and the dumbbells force you to work each side of the body independently, whether you perform the exercise bilaterally or unilaterally.

This ends up helping you recruit more stabilizing muscle fibers and can help you activate your core muscles, identify muscle imbalances, and rectify strength imbalances.

Therefore, compound exercises with dumbbells can potentially help prevent muscle imbalances and decrease the risk of injuries

The 7 Best Compound Dumbbell Exercises For A Complete Strengthening Workout

Here are some of the best compound dumbbell exercises for a full-body workout:

#1: Dumbbell Thrusters

The thruster is one of the best compound dumbbell exercises because it combines a squat with a push press, so it works your entire lower body, core, shoulders, upper back, and arms.

  1. To perform a thruster, hold dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
  2. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and then stand up, simultaneously pressing the dumbbells straight up overhead.
  3. Return the dumbbells to your shoulders as you squat back down for the next rep.

#2: Forward Lunges with Lateral Raises

Another great dumbbell compound exercise is the dumbbell forward lunge with lateral raises.

This exercise not only strengthens your quads, glutes, and deltoids but also the smaller stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips along with your core. 

To further work your core with this compound dumbbell exercise, do the opposite lateral raise at a side (right arm with left leg lunging forward) because your core muscles will have to work to stabilize your trunk with a unilateral load.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, chest up, shoulders down, and a dumbbell in each hand down at your sides. 
  2. Take a giant step forward with one leg, bending both knees to drop down into a forward lunge.
  3. Hold the bottom position of the lunge where your front thigh is parallel to the ground. From there, straighten your arms straight out to the sides like a letter T.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back down to your sides as you press through your feet and engage your glutes to stand back up to the starting position.
  5. Perform all your reps on one leg and then switch sides.

#3: Dumbbell Chest Presses

This compound exercise with dumbbells strengthens the pressing muscles, including the pecs, shoulders, and triceps.

Here are the steps:

  1. Lie on your back on a weight bench with your knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grip the dumbbells so that your palms are facing away from your body and the dumbbells are positioned around your armpits.
  3. Press the dumbbells straight up over your chest.
  4. Bend your elbows to slowly lower the weights back down to your chest without fully touching down before beginning the next rep.

#4: Lateral Lunge with a Biceps Curl

This compound dumbbell exercise involves performing a side lunge with a simultaneous biceps curl. 

Hold the dumbbell in the opposite hand to the leg that you are stepping to the side for the lunge.

Complete all of your desired reps and then switch sides.

#5: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts are one of the best compound dumbbell exercises for strengthening your posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back extensors.

Since this is a unilateral exercise, it will also improve core stability, hip and ankle strength, and your balance. 

Here are the steps to perform this compound exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, chest up, arms at your side, and a dumbbell in your right hand.
  2. Engage your core and glutes and bring your left arm out to your side for balance.
  3. Bend your left knee (the one on your standing/support leg) about 20 degrees to activate your hamstrings and glutes while you lift your right leg off the floor.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and hinge from your hips to bring your torso towards the floor. Keep your back straight and your gaze on the floor to prevent hyperextending your neck. Your right leg should extend behind you as a counterbalance. You do not want to be rounding your back or bending from your back, the hinging should all come from your hips.
  5. Reach the dumbbell in your right hand down towards your left foot.
  6. Engage your core and glutes to press through your heel to come back up, extending your hips until they are fully locked out. If you need to regain your balance, you can touch your right foot back down to the floor; otherwise, try to keep it lifted and move into your next rep.
  7. Complete all your reps on the right side and then switch sides.

#6: Renegade Rows With Push-Ups

Renegade rows involve performing rows in the push-up position with hex dumbbells.

After each rep, perform a full push-up and then row one arm when you are back up. Switch sides with each rep.

#7: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

The bent-over row exercise is a great compound exercise with dumbbells for the lats.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stagger your stance and brace your body by placing the non-working arm on the end of a weight bench. 
  2. Hinge at your hips, keeping your core and glutes engaged to maintain a flat and neutral spine.
  3. Reach down and grab the dumbbell with one hand with your palm facing inward.
  4. Bend your elbows and retract your shoulder blades to pull the weight up to the side of your ribs, maintaining the hinge at your hips throughout the exercise.
  5. Pause at the top position for 2-3 seconds.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbell back down until your elbow is fully extended.
  7. Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.
Dumbbell chest press.

If you are new to strength training, begin with just two sets of each exercise. Build up to 3 sets.

For strength gains, perform 3-5 reps per set with at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.

If your goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth), use loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.

If you want to do dumbbell compound exercises workouts at home, we recommend the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells, which are now supported with motion tracking via the JRNY app.

This means that you can check your form to ensure proper technique and execution.

For more dumbbell workout ideas, check out our guide to dumbbell chest workouts here.

A dumbbell push up.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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