It’s too easy for any one of us to think we can’t get to the gym for a good workout, and so we just won’t workout (guilty!!), but the truth of the matter is we can all get in a thorough, full body workout with nearby lightweight objects any time we have a few spare minutes.
Also, we often think dumbbells are just for working out the upper body, but as you’ll soon see, you can get almost all your major muscle groups worked while holding dumbbells.
These small, often lightweight, and portable training aids bring all the power of a full gym and places it right in the palms of our hands.
And since you can pick up a couple of dumbbells for very little money (used or new) in a local big-box store or from someone nearby no longer using them, we thought we should share a list of exercises to get you thinking about the possibilities.
Do these exercises at home, during a work break, or in a park, and develop specific muscle sets, as well as give your entire body a workout it’ll be happy with.
Pick a few favorite exercises to work consistently over time, pick variations within each muscle group to build varied workouts to cycle through over time, or randomize the selection for a different workout every set.
Variety is the spice of life, they say, and for most of us, is also the key to keeping us firmly travelling along the Lifetime Fitness Path. So let’s grab some dumbbells and get to work.
Here's a simple legend to help you understand the exercise difficulty & number of dumbbells required.
1DB: 1 dumbbell 2DB: 2 dumbbells
B: beginner I: intermediate A: advanced
So if you see (2DB)(B) you'll know it is a 2 dumbbell exercise for beginners.
Thank you to our models Donte Collins and Jess Lloyd.
Squat Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: quadriceps and glutes primarily, but with hamstrings, calves and core supporting the movement.
General Squat Form:
Set feet a couple of inches out from your natural stance --“Spread the ground with your feet”
Keep tension on the outsides of the quads and glutes--“Grab the ground with your feet”
Set hips back
Keep head in line with spine, "neutral" position.
Quads should ideally be parallel to the ground at the bottom of the squat, but only go as low as you are comfortable.
High Knees (2DB)(B) Drive knees up to 90 degrees & Pump arms
Goblet Squat (1DB)(B) Hold weight at chest level with both hands
Squat with Both Weights at Shoulders (2DB)(B) Keep elbows up & rest weights at shoulders.
Single-Arm Weighted Squat (1DB)(I) Keep one dumbbell at the shoulder & other hand on abdomen as a reminder to keep your core tight throughout movement. Alternate weight on each set. This exercise forces you to stabilize the core more than bi-lateral squats.
Sumo Goblet Squat (1DB)(B) Set feet a couple inches out even farther than you did for your natural squat stance . Drive knees over toes and be mindful not to let your knees collapse inward as you squat.
Weighted Jump Squat (1DB)(A) Keep feet flat on the ground during squat. Keeping weight at chest (both palm heels under one end of the weight) , explode into the jump, coming up from a squat position. Make sure both feet land (flat) at the same time (a common mistake is to stay on the toes between jumps) and you make a controlled descent back in to a squat.
Weighted Jump Squat with Dumbbell punch at the top(1DB)(A) This variation of the above exercise should be done with a lighter dumbbell and the dumbbell should be held horizontally on both, not vertically. At the top of the jump, use both arms to "punch" the weight forward with both arms.
Lunge Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: quadriceps and glutes primarily, but also hamstrings, core, inner and outer thighs
General Forward Lunge Form: Take one big step forward and lower body until thigh is parallel to ground.
General Reverse Lunge Form: Take one big step behind you, lowering back knee towards the ground until both legs reach 90 degrees. Keep your torso upright the entire time. Make sure the knees do not fold in or out during the lowering phase. Weight is balanced evenly between both legs. From the lowered position, push off the back foot to rise.
General Lateral Lunge Form: Take one big step to the side, lunging in the direction you stepped. Knee drives over the toe, while pushing hips rearward, keeping your other leg and toes straight, chest up. Control the weight shift with your core, comfortably shifting the center of gravity as you move.
Weighted Walking Lunges (2DB)(B) weights hang at sides, alternating forward lunges with weight.
Single-Arm Walking Lunges (1DB)(I) One weight hanging at the side. Alternate regularly.
Overhead Walking Lunges (2DB) Arms overhead, locked at the elbows. Brace core
Single-Arm Overhead Walking Lunges (1DB)(A)
Reverse Lunges (2DB)(B)
Reverse Lunge to Knee (2DB)(I)
Reverse Lunge to Jump Knee (2DB)(A)
Weighted Jumping Lunges (1DB)(A) Keep weight at the chest
Lateral Lunges (1DB)(I)
Lateral Lunge to Knee (1DB)(A)
Contralateral Lateral Lunge to Knee (1DB)(A)
180 Degree Lunge (1DB)(I) Hold weight to chest, perform a reverse lunge, lateral lunge, and forward lunge. Repeat.
Deadlift (Hinge) Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: hamstrings, biceps, & back primarily, with quads, calves, glutes, shoulder, triceps, and core supporting. General Deadlift (Hinge) Form:
Lock shoulders down and back to keep a straight back
One hand in front of each leg
Push hips back & keep knees slightly bent
Keep weights close to the legs, hanging arms are straight
Keep feet flat on the ground
Head in line with spine
Be sure knees are driving in line with the toes
Romanian Deadlift (2DB)(B)
Single-Arm Romanian Deadlift (1DB)(I)
Sumo Deadlift (2DB)(B) Set feet a couple inches wider than normal stance
Single-Arm Sumo Deadlift (1DB)(I)
Alternating Single-Leg deadlift (2DB)(I)
Single-Leg Deadlift (1DB)(I)
Contralateral Single Leg Deadlift (1DB)
Upper Body Push Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: chest, triceps, shoulder
Overhead Triceps Extension (1DB)(B)
Single-Arm Triceps Extension (1DB)(I)
Single-Arm Triceps Kickback (1DB)(B)
Overhead Press (2DB)(B)
Single-Arm Overhead Press (1DB)(I)
Overhead Push-Press (2DB)(I)
Single-Arm Overhead Push-Press (1DB)(I)
Lateral Raises (2DB)(B)
Single-Arm Lateral Raise (1DB)(I)
Front Raises (2DB)(B)
Single-Arm Front Raise (1DB)(I)
Punching with dumbbells/shadowboxing (2DB)(B)
Upper Body Pull Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: back and biceps
Dumbbell Bicep Curls (2DB)(B) Rotate palm up
Single arm biceps curl (1DB)(I) Rotate palm up
DB hammer curls (2DB)(B) Keep palm facing inwards, towards the body
Single-Arm Hammer Curl (1DB)(I) Keep palm facing inwards, towards the body
Single-Arm hammer curls (1DB)(I) Keep palm facing inwards, towards the body
Single-Arm Bent-Over Row (1DB)(I) Post one hand on a bench, forming a “tripod” stance
Bent-Over Row (without bench) (2DB)(I)
Renegade Row From Knees (2DB)(I)
Renegade Row from Toes (2DB)(A)
Single-Arm Clean (1DB)(A)
Core Exercises with Dumbbells
Muscles Targeted: abdominals & obliques
Plank Pull-Through From Knees (1DB)(I)From the plank position on your knees, use one hand to push a single dumbbell under you, then use the other hand to pull it all the way to the other side of your body. Repeat going in the other direction.
Plank Pull-Through from Toes (1DB)(A)
Plank Reaches from Knees (1DB)(I)The plank reach exercise is simply stretching one arm out at a time and elongating the body during the hold and alternating arms.
Plank Reaches from Toes (1DB)(A)
Jack Knife with Weight (1DB)(A)
Farmers Carry (2DB)(B)Walking with something weighted in your hands is the exercise known as the Farmer's Carry.
Single-Arm Farmers Carry (1DB)(I)The Farmer's Carry exercise can even be done with just one hand holding a weight. Alternate as necessary. You can even use two hands to hold the weight at chest height.
Waiters Carry (2DB)(I)Walk holding two weights at shoulder height for the Waiter's Carry exercise.
Overhead Carry (2DB)(A) A more advanced form of waiters carry is to old two weights in your hands and raise you hands over your head as you walk for the Overhead Carry exercise.
Single-Arm Overhead Carry (1DB)(I)
Combination Exercises with Dumbbells
Contralateral lateral lunge to overhead press (1DB)(A)
Contralateral reverse lunge to overhead press (1DB)(A)
High pull (2DB)(A)
Uni high pull (1DB)(A)
Weighted jump squat and press-press weight out at the top (1DB)(A)
Squat with horizontal press out (1DB)(A)
Clean and press (2DB)(A)
Squat to overhead press, down to burpee, renegade row, repeat (2DB)(A)
Other Exercises with Dumbbells
Muay Thai Knees (2DB)(B)
Glute bridge with weight at hip deadbug with weight (1DB)(B)
Well, folks, that about wraps it up for now. Whew. It's a lot, we know.
But we want to hear from you. Hit us up with your comments, questions, or your dumbbell exercise of choice and we just might add it to our list. Remember, we're all in this together, so let's make this a better and better resource for everyone.