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Ultimate Dumbbell Workouts: 11 Exercises For Strength Gains

Many different strength training tools can be used for strength training workouts, ranging from weight machines and cable machines to kettlebells and resistance bands.  

However, most people who do home workouts only have access to dumbbells. Even if you like to train at the gym, you might prefer to do dumbbell exercises because you are most comfortable with this style of free weight training.

The good news is that there are a lot of exercises with dumbbells to choose from that work all of the major muscle groups, so you can easily put together a complete full body workout with dumbbells. 

But what are the best dumbbell exercises for full body dumbbell workouts?

In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions for some of the best dumbbell exercises to help you put together full body dumbbell workouts, no matter where you like to train:

Let’s dive in! 

A tricep dumbbell exercise.

How to Structure a Full Body Workout With Dumbbells

When putting together a full body dumbbell workout, you should aim to include dumbbell exercises that target all of the major muscles in the body. 

Unless you have a lot of time to train, this is generally accomplished most efficiently by relying primarily on compound dumbbell exercises that work multiple joints and muscles at one time.

When you are doing a full body workout with dumbbells, try to include at least one exercise that strengthens each of the following muscles:

  • Biceps and triceps in the arms
  • Deltoids and rotator cuff in the shoulders
  • Traps and rhomboids in the upper back
  • Lats
  • Pecs in the chest
  • Core muscles, both in the abs and lower back
  • Glutes and muscles in the hips
  • Quads
  • Hamstring
  • Adductors
  • Calves
A reverse fly.

Because dumbbells are free weights and many dumbbell exercises involve unilateral movements, by default, most of the best dumbbell workouts will also indirectly work all of your smaller stabilizer muscles.

How you should structure your arm dumbbell workout in terms of reps, sets, and dumbbell weights depends primarily on your fitness level and primary training goals.

For strength gains, work up to performing 2-6 sets, 3-5 reps per set, and 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), strive to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.

If you want to do home dumbbell workouts, 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.

Exercises For The Ultimate Total-Body Dumbbell Workouts

Here are some of the best exercises with dumbbells to include in your total-body dumbbell workouts:

#1: Front Squat

There are many squat variations, but the front squat helps directly load the quads and is easier to perform with dumbbells than the back squat.

Use the heaviest dumbbells you can manage with proper form.

Here are the steps to perform this exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged.
  2. Hold dumbbells around the level of your clavicles with your palms facing forward.
  3. Squat down by bending your knees and sitting your hips back.
  4. Hold the bottom position when your thighs are parallel to the floor for 2-3 seconds.
  5. Press explosively through your heels to stand back up.

#2: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

The bent-over row exercise is a great dumbbell exercise 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.

#3: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts are one of the best 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 improve your balance. 

You do not want to round your back or bend from your back; the hinge should all come from your hips.

Here are the steps to perform this posterior chain exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, chest up, arms at your sides, 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.
  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.

#4: Side Lunge With Overhead Press

This is a fantastic exercise for a total-body dumbbell workout.

You’ll work your hips, quads, glutes, and adductors in this exercise. The dumbbell overhead press will work your shoulders. 

Plus, the side lunge strengthens your legs in the frontal plane, helping develop more well-rounded hip and glute strength.

  1. Stand upright, holding a dumbbell at your right shoulder with your palm facing forward.
  2. Step your right leg out to the side, shifting your weight towards that side as you bend the right knee. Keep your left knee straight. Simultaneously, press the dumbbell straight up overhead from your shoulder.
  3. Engage your glutes to press back up into a standing position and bring the weight back down.
  4. Complete all your reps and then switch sides.

#5: Forward Lunge With Dumbbell Rotation

This dumbbell leg exercise strengthens your quads, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and core. 

Here are the steps for this dumbbell workout total-body exercise:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a single dumbbell in between your two hands.
  2. Straighten your arms out in front of your body so the dumbbell is out in front of your chest. Keep your elbows straight the entire set.  
  3. Step your right foot forward and drop down into a lunge, bending each knee 90° while simultaneously rotating your trunk and arms to the right. 
  4. Engage your glutes, hamstrings, and quats to step back into an upright position while using your obliques to rotate the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  5. Alternate legs.

#6: Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press strengthens the pushing 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.

#7: Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Dumbbell workouts should include an exercise for the biceps and forearms, and the neutral grip position of hammer curls fits the bill.

Here is how to do this arm exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand upright with good posture holding dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing in 
  2. Contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, maintaining this neutral wrist position.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back down with control.

#8: Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

This dumbbell triceps exercise is a great way to build overhead lockout strength, which can translate to better overhead shoulder presses.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, chest up, shoulders down, and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Carefully bring a single dumbbell behind your neck, holding it between both hands with your palms up, cupping the inner surface of the endcap of the dumbbell and your elbows up in front of your body, pointing away from your face.
  3. Squeeze your triceps to straighten your elbows, bringing the dumbbell straight up overhead. You may need to tuck your chin forward slightly to keep the back of your head out of the way.
  4. Hold the top position for 3 seconds. 
  5. Slowly lower the dumbbell back down by bending your elbows all the way.

#9: Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is one of the best dumbbell back exercises for the posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and middle traps.

Here are the steps for how to perform this back exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand upright with good posture and your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body.
  2. Sit your hips back so that you can hinge your entire torso forward so that it is nearly parallel to the floor. Think about keeping your chest up even though you are leaning forward. 
  3. Lift your arms out to the sides of your body and squeeze your shoulder blades to pull your arms back towards your back as if flapping your wings like a bird.
  4. Hold the squeeze at the top position for 2 to 3 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower the weights back down until they meet together under your body, with your arms hanging straight down below your chest.

#10: Dumbbell V Ups 

This is a great dumbbell core exercise to target your lower abs. The dumbbell also helps build shoulder endurance.

You will likely need to start with light weight.

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

  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended over your head, holding a single dumbbell between your two hands (one cupping either end).
  2. Use your core to simultaneously lift your legs and upper body off the floor, folding your body at your hips into a V.
  3. Pause and then slowly lower your body back towards the floor without fully touching it. 
  4. Then, squeeze your abs to lift back up.

#11: Russian Twists

The Russian twist is a good dumbbell ab exercise for your deep core muscles and obliques.

Make sure to keep your core tight the entire time so that your back stays straight. You do not want to round your lower back.

Here are the steps:

  1. Sit on the floor and lean your torso back as you lift your feet off the ground, keeping your knees bent in a tuck position. Hold a dumbbell in between both hands with one hand cupping each end cap.
  2. Keeping your core tight, twist your upper body towards one side, bringing the weight to hover above the floor on that side of your hips.
  3. Engage your obliques to rotate the other way.
  4. Keep slowly rotating back and forth for 30-60 seconds.

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

Reverse fly.
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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