How to get a great workout with just a pair of dumbbells

When you hear the word ‘dumbbells’, do you instantly think of some thick-necked guy at the gym groaning through a set of bicep curls? Or is that just us? 

While dumbbells are synonymous with bulging biceps, the truth is that they can do so much more. We’re talking about a complete full-body workout. 

With just one solid set of dumbbells or adjustable weights, you can improve your cardio, lose weight, increase your mobility, and gain strength. 

Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. In this post, we'll show you the best exercises you can do with just a pair of dumbbells to help you gain strength and improve your fitness.

The benefits of working out with dumbbells 

Worried that you can’t get a complete workout with just a pair of dumbbells? Well, think again. 

Not only can you create a full-body workout for strength training, but you can also exercise with dumbbells for weight loss, mobility training, cardio training, and more. 

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should consider working out with dumbbells:

1. Dumbbells are a great way to start your workout journey. If you're new to exercising and working out, using dumbbells is a simple way to ease into more strenuous exercises and build up the foundational strength needed to lift heavier.

2. Dumbbells are versatile. Like we’ve mentioned above, you can use them for a variety of exercises and a wide range of exercise types. And you can target every muscle group in your body, not just your biceps. 

3. Dumbbells are affordable. A set of dumbbells is a fraction of the cost of other weightlifting equipment, such as a barbell or squat rack. 

4. Dumbbells are easy to store. They don't take up much space, so you can easily fit them in your home gym or luggage when you travel. And if you get an adjustable pair of dumbbells, you can basically store an entire gym under your bed. 

5. Dumbbells are great for toning and strengthening your muscles. If you want to get lean and toned, adding dumbbell exercises to your routine is the ideal way to achieve your goals. That includes weight loss and rehabilitation work, too.   

The top 9 exercises to do with dumbbells 

We’ve been talking a lot about a full-body workout with one set of dumbbells. And here it is. Nine exercises you can easily do in the comfort of your own home (or at your favorite gym) — a full-body workout designed for beginners.

Aim for 3 sets of each exercise. One set includes 10-12 reps of each exercise. Choose a weight that you can safely lift with proper form. 

When should you move up to heavier weights?

Go for a heavier set of dumbbells when you can complete every rep and every set of an exercise with proper form. 

1. Dumbbell deadlift

The deadlift is the number one way to build powerful lower body strength and a rock-solid back and core. And it can be done with 1 or 2 dumbbells. 

dumbbell deadlift

Target: Lower back, core, butt, and hamstrings 

How to perform: 

  1. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Bend slightly at the knees and let the weights touch the floor. 
  3. With your arms extended, stand up by pushing your hips forward and squeezing your glutes (butt). 
  4. Keep your chest forward and look in front of you. This helps keep your spine in a neutral position. 
  5. Lower and repeat. 
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.  

2. Dumbbell squat

Squats are a fantastic exercise for your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. They also work your abs and lower back. You can perform this exercise with 1 or 2 dumbbells. 

Dumbbell squat

Target: Legs, butt, arms, and core 

How to perform: 

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand near your shoulders. 
  3. Bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat — think of sitting in a chair. 
  4. Keep the dumbbells steady and your back straight. Looking directly in front of you will help keep your back straight.
  5. Return to a standing position and repeat. 
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

3. Dumbbell lunge

Lunges are a great exercise for your glutes and quads. They also work your hamstrings and calves. Try walking lunges, if you have enough space. 

dumbbell lunge

Target: Legs, butt, and core 

How to perform: 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Lunge forward with one leg, make sure that your knee almost touches the floor. 
  3. Straighten the legs, but stay in the lunge position. Remember to keep your knees and toes in line. 
  4. Bend and lower again. Change legs after each set of 10-12 reps. 
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg. 

4. Dumbbell bent-over row 

Raise your hand if you want to improve your posture? If your hand is up, the bent-over row is for you. This one exercise targets the muscles of the upper and lower back and helps reduce back pain and improves posture. 

Dumbbell row

Target: Upper back, lats, shoulders, butt, and chest

How to perform: 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Take one dumbbell in each hand and bend forward slightly. Only bend as far as you can keep your back straight. 
  3. Bend the arms and bring the weights to your body — between your chest and hips. 
  4. Extend the arms and repeat. Go for slower movements as you lower the dumbbell. 
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps. 

5. Seated dumbbell tricep extension

This is an isolation exercise that targets the triceps. You can perform it sitting down or standing. If you have trouble keeping your back straight while sitting, standing up will help. 

Dumbbell tricep extension

Target: Triceps and shoulders

 How to perform: 

  1. In a seated position, hold a dumbbell in both hands. Let them create a base under the top of the dumbbell head. 
  2. Lower the dumbbell behind your head and bend your elbows, allowing it to drop slightly behind your head. 
  3. Return to the starting position by extending your arms above your head. 
  4. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

6. Dumbbell skull crusher

Don’t let the name of this dumbbell exercise fool you… you don’t actually crush any skulls. It’s called that because of the way the weight is held above your head. It’s a great tricep isolation exercise and can be done to replace the tricep extension exercise. 

Skull crusher

Target: Triceps 

How to perform: 

  1. Lie down on a weight bench, sofa, or the floor. 
  2. Hold one dumbbell (or one in each hand) in both hands. 
  3. Bend the elbows to bring the weight behind your head toward the floor. 
  4. Extend your arms and bring the dumbbell above your head. 
  5. Bend and repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps. 

7. Dumbbell bicep curl

Here’s the exercise you’ve all been waiting for. The bicep curl. Curls are a major exercise for your biceps, and they also work your shoulders and abs.

Bicep curl

Target: Biceps, shoulders, and core 

How to perform: 

  1. While sitting, hold a dumbbell with your arm fully extended and your palm facing your body. 
  2. Bend your arm at the elbow, bringing the dumbbell just below your chin. 
  3. Lower slowly and repeat. Remember to change arms. No one wants just one big arm.
  4. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps per arm. 

8.  One-arm dumbbell floor press

Here’s a dumbbell exercise that targets your upper body and core. We suggest only using one arm at a time because it forces your core to stabilize the weight. That’s the right way to build strength — from the core outward. 

One arm floor press

Target: Chest, shoulders, arms, and core 

How to perform: 

  1. Lie down with your back on the floor with knees bent. You can use an exercise mat if you’re on a hard floor.  
  2. Hold a dumbbell in one arm and bend at the elbow while keeping it tucked into your side. 
  3. Extend your arm with the dumbbell head in line with your chest. 
  4. Return to the starting position. Be careful not to rest the elbow on the floor. 
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps per arm.

9. Dumbbell squat and press 

This dumbbell exercise is a full-body workout in itself. It’s perfect for getting your heart rate up, burning calories, and building muscle. 

Dumbbell squat

Target: Full-body focus, mainly shoulders, core, butt, and legs 

How to perform: 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells next to your shoulders — one in each hand. 
  3. Squat as low as you can comfortably go. Remember to not lose control in your back (do not round the spine). 
  4. Push your body up from the squat as you press the dumbbells directly above your shoulders. Your biceps should be by your ears. 
  5. Lower into a squat and repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps. 

How to cool down after a dumbbell workout

Now that you've finished your workout, it's time to cool down. This is an important part of your routine, as it helps to reduce the risk of injury and helps your body to recover properly. 

Follow these steps to cool down effectively:

  1. Take a few deep breaths and relax your muscles.
  2. Stretch out any tight muscles. If you want a deep massage, go for a foam roller or a massage gun. These tools help target muscle knots and can help prevent DOMS (the terrible soreness that comes 24-48 hours after a workout).
  3. Drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins and replace lost fluids.
  4. Eat a healthy post-workout snack to refuel your muscles.
  5. Finally, take a few minutes to relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done! That might be silly to write, but it’s true. You did the work, and you should be proud of yourself. 

How to stay motivated when working out with dumbbells 

So you've decided to start working out with dumbbells. That's fantastic! But it's important to remember that it takes time and patience to see results. 

To make the most of your workouts, you'll need to be motivated and stay on track. 

Here are a few tips to help you stay motivated when starting to exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Set realistic goals. Don't try to do too much too soon. Start by lifting a weight that you can manage and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to Instagram. It’s easy to look at what someone on TikTok or Instagram is doing and want to give it a try yourself. While there is a lot of content and exercise ideas out there… there’s also a lot of stuff you may not be ready for yet. Enjoy the videos, but be careful which exercise you try to copy. If you’re ever in doubt, ask a personal trainer for help. 
  3. Find a workout buddy. Having someone to work out with will keep you accountable and motivated.
  4. Make a workout plan and stick to it. This will help you stay organized and on track.
  5. Stay positive. Don't get discouraged if you don't see results immediately. Be patient and focus on your overall progress, not just individual workouts.

The best time of day to work out with dumbbells 

When it comes to working out with dumbbells, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. It all depends on what time of day is best for you and your schedule. Some people prefer to work out in the morning, while others prefer to save it for later in the day.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best time of day to work out with dumbbells. For starters, avoid working out right before bedtime, as this can interfere with your sleep. And if you're trying to gain strength, it's best to work out when your muscles are fully rested.

Research is a bit mixed on the topic. Some peer-reviewed journals suggest that training in the evening leads to greater gains in muscle mass, while others report that the increase in strength for both morning and evening is the same. 

Do a quick search on Google and you’ll see that the best time to work out is between 2 pm and 6 pm. To us, the best time of day to work out is when you have the time. 

If you have 30 minutes in the morning, go for it! If you only have time after work in the evening, do it! The most important part is that you do the work. 

Grab your dumbbells and get moving. That’s what makes the difference… not what time it is. 

Ready to start working out with dumbbells?

A pair of dumbbells is all you need to get a great workout in the comfort of your own home. With just a few simple exercises, you’ll tone and strengthen your entire body.

Follow these tips to get the most out of your dumbbell workout:

  • Start with lighter weights and increase as you get stronger
  • Mix up your exercises to target all major muscle groups
  • Do at least 3 sets of each exercise
  • Take short breaks in between sets

By following these guidelines and performing the exercises we’ve listed here, you'll be well on your way to nailing your fitness goals.                                                 


Blog posts

View all
The Best Kettlebell Exercises

The Best Kettlebell Exercises

collection__kettlebell Allen Wildes
If you’re looking for an efficient, full-body workout, look no further than the kettlebell. This unique piece of equipment can help you burn fat, b...
The Best Triceps Exercises - Everything You Need To Know

The Best Triceps Exercises - Everything You Need To Know

Arnold Pelna
The tricep is a large, thick muscle that takes up 2/3rds of the upper arm and islocated in the rear of it. The muscle can take the shape of a horse...
The Best Yoga Mat for Hot Yoga - Make the right choice for the heat!

The Best Yoga Mat for Hot Yoga - Make the right choice for the heat!

Arnold Pelna
Do you practice yoga or have you considered starting? Practicing yoga does not require much equipment, but one of the most essential items is the y...