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16 Best Dumbbell Workouts for Full-Body Strength

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

There is nothing like a good dumbbell workout to help you reach your fitness goals. Dumbbell exercises are accessible since most people own at least one pair of hand weights, and they’re versatile with the many different moves you can do with this simple piece of equipment.

Whether you own a set of heavy dumbbells or light, you can work your entire body with a few quality weight exercises. Let’s explore 16 of our favorite dumbbell workouts below!

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Best Dumbbell Chest Workout

You can use exercise with dumbbells to work your whole body. We’ll start with the best back and chest exercises. The right exercises can build chest muscle fibres that support all your muscle-building efforts, especially your arm muscles

1. Dumbbell Bench Press

This move is a classic dumbbell exercise. Place the weights next to you on the floor. Lie flat on the bench with your knees up and feet shoulder-width apart. Maintain a tight core as you grasp your dumbbells and hold them slightly above your chest. Press the weights straight up over your chest and slowly lower back down, keeping the dumbbells inline with your elbows. Repeat as many reps and sets as recommended. Usually 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

To make the move more challenging, try an incline dumbbell bench press using an incline bench. While you’re at it, switch the bench to a downward position and try a decline dumbbell bench press. They work different muscles but all support chest and back growth.

2. Dumbbell Fly

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The dumbbell fly, also known as the dumbbell chest fly, is a great move to work the major muscle of the chest, the pectoralis major. Dumbbell flys are pretty straightforward, and you’ll use a position similar to the floor press. You can use the floor or the bench for this move.

Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and lie flat on the floor or a bench. Lift the weights over your chest and rotate them so your palms are facing each other. You’re ready to fly!

Slowly lower the weights to either side of your chest with your arms straight out and a very slight bend in your elbows. When your arms are parallel to the floor or midline of your chest, lift to the starting position and repeat.

You can try different variations of fly exercises, but it’s a fundamental exercise for improving chest strength and your workout routine in general. 

Dumbbell Back Workout 

Make sure you balance out your upper body workouts with some good back exercises too. Here are two excellent dumbbell back workouts to add to your routine. 

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3. Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Bent-over rows are a highly functional exercise that will give you definition in your latissimus dorsi and posterior chain. It will also hit your rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius.  

Assume the starting position by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a soft bend in your knees. Bend forward at a 45 to 60-degree angle and let the dumbbells hang in front of you while engaging your core and keeping your shoulders strong. Lift the dumbbell as you drive your elbow slightly past your back and squeeze those lats and triceps.

For an added tricep bonus workout move, push the dumbbell back behind you until your elbow locks. Return to the starting position and repeat.

If you want to work one arm at a time, you can use a flat bench to support your arm on your front quad while you perform the single-arm row. You’ll then assume a split stance lunge position. Your back should be flat from head to tailbone and bent over the bench. Once you’re set, perform the row. 

4. Seated Dumbbell Reverse Fly

You’ll need a bench or a chair for this move. The reverse fly puts more emphasis on the rear delts and the lats as opposed to the chest workout we get with the regular fly.

Once you’re in your seated position grab your weights and check your posture. Your back should be straight with a tight core while your chest is open and your shoulders back.

The dumbbells should be at your sides behind your calves to begin. Lift the weights out to the side of you until your arms are about parallel to your shoulders. Slowly lower back down and repeat. 

Best Dumbbell Arm and Shoulder Workout

Next up, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite arm and shoulder exercises for you. These moves should get you the definition you’re looking for!

5. Standing Overhead Tricep Extensions

Nothing looks better than a well-defined tricep. It’s a large arm muscle located on the back of your upper arm, and the tricep extension is a great way to tone it up.

Start by grabbing your weights and plant your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the dumbbell with both hands and bring it straight above your head with your elbows just above your head and your forearms pointed forward. 

Lower the dumbbell behind your head, hinging at the elbows. At full extension, thrust the dumbbell back up to the starting position. During the entire move, your triceps and elbows should remain stationary beside your head, allowing your triceps to do all the work. 

You can also use two dumbbells in the same exercise to increase the weight. The moves are the same otherwise. 

6. Lateral Raise

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise for your shoulders. More specifically, it works the lateral deltoids. 

Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, grip the weights at your sides and keep your chest open and your shoulders pinched together behind you. Maintain a slight bend in the knees as you lift the weights straight out to your sides and up. With the dumbbells at shoulder height, you are ready to slowly lower back down.

7. Bicep Curls

If you are looking to bulk up those biceps then the bicep curl is for you. This is a classic isolation move that targets the biceps and builds muscle there fast. You can expect to see results in just a few weeks with this simple move.

Get into a standard starting position maintaining a neutral alignment of the spine, and grip the weights in front of you at about shoulder width apart. Keep your arms stationary with palms turned outward. Pin your elbows and upper arms in place as you lift the weights to the top of your shoulders. Slowly lower back down and repeat. 

8. Shoulder Press

Sometimes also called the military press, a shoulder press is a great way to build your upper body while emphasizing the shoulders.

Get into a standing position with weights in your hands. Check your alignment and raise the dumbbells in front of you with bent elbows up to your shoulders in an overhand grip. Rotate the weights as you press them over your head until your elbows lock and your arms are straight above you in the air. Slowly lower back down and repeat.

Best Dumbbell Leg Workout

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Who doesn’t love the look of toned legs? Let’s explore some options to get you the results you want when it comes to your lower body.

9. Romanian Deadlifts

RDLs or Romanian deadlifts are a fantastic way to work your booty. The compound movement of the RDL emphasizes your glutes that’s basic enough for anyone to do.

For this move, your feet can either be in a split stance or shoulder width apart. Grip both weights in your hands and maintain a flat back as you hinge forward with the hips. It should feel like you are pushing your butt back just as you would do to close a car door. Your weights should slowly lower down in front of you no matter what stance you choose. Lift back up and repeat.

To intensify the workout, try lifting one leg behind you as you lower the dumbbells in front of you. Start by lifting your left foot off the ground and raising it backward until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to left toe. Then, lower your left foot back down and raise your right foot behind you. 

10. Thrusters

Thrusters, sometimes called squat and press, are a great compound movement that works your major muscles and gets your heart pumping. Expect to see an increase in your cardiovascular health with this one!

Grab your dumbbells and get into position. Chest should be open, shoulders back, and abdominal muscles engaged. With your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, squat down into a seated position with the weights still at your sides, palms facing inward. Lift your booty back up and press those weights straight over your head just as you did in the shoulder press.

Slowly lower back down and repeat.

11. Goblet Squat

You’re guaranteed to feel the burn in your quads and glutes with the goblet squat. Grab the heaviest weight you can handle safely without dropping it and grip it like you’re holding a goblet with two hands. A dumbbell goblet, if you will. Keep your chest muscles open, core tight and the weight on your feet evenly distributed as you squat. Go down as far as you can and slowly rise back up.

Try putting your feet hip-width apart to make it a little more challenging. You could also prop your heels on something like the handles of the dumbbells you aren’t currently using to make greater gains in your calf muscles.

12. Weighted Walking Lunges

Growing your legs with lunges is one of the simplest and most effective forms of exercise. Adding some weight to your walking lunges will get your heart going and you can expect an increase in your cardio performance. All while building more muscle mass.

Grip a pair of dumbbells at your sides and keep your shoulders down and back. Maintain an upright position as you lunge forward, dipping down as far as you can and then returning to a standing position. Repeat.

Best Dumbbell Core Workout

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Using your body weight in your ab exercises is great and all, but there’s nothing like adding some resistance with some dumbbells to your core workout to improve your entire routine. Let’s check out four of our favorites below.

13. Dumbbell Russian Twists

There are a few ways to increase or decrease the challenge with the Russian twist. These are guaranteed to work your transverse abdominal muscles and really tone up the obliques.

Get into a seated position on a mat or floor and bring your knees up with your feet flat on the floor for now. Grip a light weight between both of your hands and lean back as far as you can without hurting your back. Twist from side to side dipping the weight on each side as you go.

We recommend starting with light dumbbells but don’t be afraid to pick up heavier weights as you gain strength. Just make sure you can keep your spine neutral and your chest level so it doesn’t cave in and cause back injury. 

14. Dumbbell Woodchoppers

A dumbbell woodchopper Is a fun move that requires a little bit of coordination. There are two ways to do this move. You could start in a split stance with one foot kicked behind you while your front leg bears most of the weight during the move. The other option is to use a squat position with your feet hip-width apart.

Once you’ve chosen your stance, you’ll grip your weight in front of you with your hands staggered and facing each other on the handle of the weight. Check for proper form before beginning the move. 

Let’s start with your left side. From here twist the left dumbbell up to the side of your head and lower back down to the side of your right leg just as you would chop a piece of wood. Repeat your desired number of reps and switch sides, doing the same thing with your right dumbbell

15. Dumbbell Side Bend

The dumbbell side bend is a pretty simple move that can tone up those obliques pretty effectively.

Grab a pair of heavy-weight dumbbells to increase the challenge. Check your form and maintain an upright position with your core muscles engaged. With the weights at your sides and palms turned inward towards your midline you are ready to slowly dip one arm down as far as it can go. Try to get as close to the side of your knee as you can and lift back up.

Alternate sides to prevent any muscle imbalances and repeat.

16. Weighted Sit-Up

Sit-ups are pretty challenging on their own but if you’re finding you’re ready to increase the challenge, try adding some weight to it. Grab a single dumbbell and get into a sit-up position.

With the weight gripped in front of you, begin your sit-up and lift the weight as you go. To increase the challenge, hold the weight stationary in front of your chest. Lower back down and repeat as desired.

You can also perform what’s known as a dumbbell crunch by simply adding a dumbbell to your regular abdominal crunches.

The Many Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Full-Body Strength

Dumbbell exercises are a great way to get in a full-body workout. Because of their compact size, they’re easy to store and use almost anywhere. Most people already have some lying around, making it much easier to jump-start your workout routine when you don’t have to buy a lot of exercise equipment.

They help build muscle strength and muscular endurance. Your bones will thank you as they gain more density with resistance training. The range of motion you get when using dumbbells allows for a lot of flexibility and personalization tailored to your fitness level.

Along with building strength in your upper body, you can use dumbbells for leg growth too. With a dumbbell front squat, single-leg deadlift, dumbbell side lunge, and other leg and booty-building moves, you can work your lower body including your posterior chain muscles.

Add grip strength and core training into the mix, and you can easily enjoy full-body strength workouts without expensive equipment.

FAQs About Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts

You probably have a few questions we missed in this article. Hopefully, we’ve addressed them below with the most common questions we’ve seen. Please let us know if we’ve missed anything you’d like to know more about. We are always looking to improve!

What Are the Recommended Sets and Reps for Dumbbell Workouts? 

For most exercises with dumbbells, your sets and reps will be 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps. However, if you’re powerlifting some ultra heavy weights, you might aim for 1-2 sets of 6 repetitions. When considering the number of dumbbell repetitions, remember that the purpose of these is to max out safely. Always start light when beginning a new workout routine until you know what your body can handle. 

Can You Really Get a Full-Body Workout with Just Dumbbells?

Absolutely! Dumbbells alone are a great way to get a full-body workout. There are so many options and exercise variations you can do with dumbbells to work every single part of your body. 

How Long Should an Effective Dumbbell Workout Be?

You should expect to work out at least 3 days a week for 30-45 minutes to see the best results and get you closer to your goals. However, if you are just starting and time is an issue do what you can as long as you keep moving! That might mean shorter workouts more frequently.

Is Dumbbell Weight Equivalent to Barbell Weight?

Dumbbell weights can be the same as a barbell weight. There are adjustable dumbbells for the express purpose of giving all the weight of the barbell without losing any of the range of motion you get with dumbbells. 
Keep in mind that the bar is included in the total weight and it can range from 10-50 pounds, so consider that weight plus the added plates when comparing dumbbell weight. 

Should I Do Heavier Weights or More Reps with Dumbbells?

This will depend greatly upon your goals. Working with heavier weights will develop muscular strength and volume. On the other hand, doing sets with lighter weights builds endurance. 
This can affect your outward appearance as well. Doing more reps with lighter dumbbells tends to build lean muscle tissue giving a sleek toned look. While heavier weights with fewer reps can help you bulk up with sleeve-filling muscle tissue. 

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