A 10-Move Workout To Do With Dumbbells

Who needs a gym when you've got this total-body routine?

You don't need much fitness equipment for a serious lift session. With a pair of dumbbells, there's no limit to what you can do.

Whether your goal is to build muscle size or increase lean mass and tone up, dumbbells are a trainer's go-to for a reason—especially for home workouts.

Here's more about dumbbell workouts, including one with 10 moves you can do in the comfort of your home.

Dumbbell Workout Benefits

One benefit of dumbbell workouts? Doing them doesn't take up a lot of room. 

"Dumbbells don't require much space. They can be used for a variety of movements, including strength and conditioning," Renee Peel, an NSCA-certified personal trainer at Fhitting Room, told Health.

What's more, you can use dumbbells for resistance training, like strength training. So, you can also reap the potential health benefits of that type of training. 

Strength training benefits include:

  • Balance
  • Better functional ability and well-being
  • Increased lean muscle mass
  • Flexible joints
  • Stronger bones
  • Weight control

Dumbbells may help with bodyweight workouts, too. 

"Dumbbells are also easy to add to bodyweight workouts for additional load, making the movements more challenging and effective in increasing strength and muscle tone," said Peel.

How Dumbbells Build Muscle

Using dumbbells can lead to muscle growth through mechanic and metabolic overloads. 

Mechanic overload relates to muscle damage from contracting that sparks muscle repair and ends with bigger muscles. 

Metabolic overload increases muscle size due to working muscles until they're fatigued. Then, muscle cells can hold more glycogen, the stored form of glucose (blood sugar).

Considerations for Dumbbell Workouts

There are other things to consider when it comes to doing dumbbell workouts. Take note of the following tips for getting started and who may want to avoid those types of workouts.

Getting Started

If you’re a beginner, choose a moderate weight and pay special attention to your form during your workout, recommended Peel.

“Cut back if your form is failing. If this is not challenging you at all, you will want to consider adding reps, a tempo, or even additional sets,” said Peel. 

Tempo means slowing things down and increasing the time your muscles are under tension. Tempo helps you perfect form and makes the exercise more challenging.

Contraindications

Also, in general, some people should use caution when doing exercises. For example, people with osteoarthritis related to the hip or knee may need to modify how they work out.

Other people who may need to limit exercise or refrain from doing so are those who have the following:

  • Low back pain
  • Certain heart conditions, such as unstable heart disease or end-stage heart failure
  • Malignant irregular heartbeats
  • Severe arthritis
  • Severe neurological or cognitive disorders

So, before starting any new workout regimen, check with a healthcare provider. They can tell you what exercises are appropriate or if you can do any exercises.

The 10-Move Dumbbell Workout

Picking up a set of weights on the regular is good for you. So, here’s a head-to-toe dumbbell workout created by Peel that you can do at home. The exercises include the following:

  • Suitcase reverse lunge
  • Plank rows
  • Front squat
  • Single-arm half-kneeling presses
  • Thrusters
  • Bent-over rows
  • Double dumbbell Romanian deadlift
  • Single-leg dumbbell deadlift
  • Dumbbell snatch
  • Standing hammer curls

For the workout, complete eight to 10 reps of all 10 moves, resting for 30 seconds between each one. Do two to three sets of the entire workout, resting for 30–90 seconds between each set.

Suitcase Reverse Lunge

Muscles worked: core, glutes, quads, and shoulders

This highly functional move will remind you how to properly carry a heavy bag of groceries up a flight of stairs (yes, there’s a way to avoid aches and pains). But here’s the thing: A suitcase carry is more than just grabbing and lifting the weight off the ground.

Engaging your triceps and forearms will enhance your grip and put less pressure on your shoulders, allowing for strong, efficient movement.

A common mistake with reverse lunges is not stepping back far enough and having all your weight on your front foot. To avoid that, focus on lowering your knee right under your hip as you step back, advised Peel.

“When stepping back up out of the lunge, drive into your front foot to stand back to the start position,” said Peel.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Start with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. 
  • Stand tall with your chest proud and your shoulders down and back. Grip the dumbbells tight with your palms facing in so you’re flexing your triceps and the weights are at your side, not touching your thighs.
  • Keeping your chest tall, take a big step back with your left leg and lower into a lunge with your front and back legs, forming 90-degree angles. Your front thigh should be parallel to the ground and your knee stacked over your ankle, while your back knee lightly touches the floor with your toes and heels aligned.
  • Press your right foot firmly on the floor and push off of it to straighten your legs and step your left foot back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat on the other side.

Plank Rows

Muscles worked: biceps, core, glutes, quads, and upper back

By working your back and core, as well as your legs and glutes, plank rows are a great test in anti-rotation, unilateral strength (working one side of the body at a time), and spinal stability.

Remember to keep your hips square throughout the entire movement and avoid lifting one hip higher than the other. When performing rows, focus on initiating the movement from your back, not your arms. 

“Think about pushing one hand into the dumbbell as you pull the other dumbbell up towards your hip without rotation,” said Peel.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start in a high-plank position with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and feet just outside your hips. 
  • Tuck your pelvis in to brace your core and tighten your glutes.
  • Press your right hand into the dumbbell on the floor and pull the left dumbbell toward your left rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blade toward the middle of your spine and keeping your elbow close to your side.
  • Place the dumbbell on the floor, then repeat on the right side.

Front Squat

Muscles worked: biceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quads

Looking to take your bodyweight squats to the next level? Front squats are an excellent example of compound exercises because they access multiple joints and muscle groups at once.

You're racking the dumbbells at your shoulders, allowing your front deltoid muscles to bear the load. Keeping the dumbbells in this front rack position keeps your back more vertical and prevents your chest from caving forward as you squat, forcing you to recruit your core.

It's crucial to utilize your breath in this move: "Take a breath into your belly at the top, holding it as you lower into your squat and exhale as you press to stand," said Peel. "Focus on pulling your hips back and down into the squat and driving your elbows up to keep your chest tall as you lower."

Depending on your mobility, the goal is to get your hips below your knees, but only if you're able to maintain proper form and avoid rounding your back, added Peel.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, rest one end on top of your shoulders, stacking the weight over your wrists, with your elbows facing forward. 
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and tighten your core.
  • Keeping your chest tall, push your butt back and down, and sit into your heels until your thighs are parallel to the floor or your hips are below your knees. Avoid allowing your knees to flare out to the sides or cave toward your midline. Instead, focus on keeping your knees stacked over your ankles.
  • Press your feet firmly on the floor to straighten your legs and stand back up.

Single Arm Half-Kneeling Presses

Muscles worked: core, shoulders, and triceps

Taking your standing shoulder presses to a half-kneeling position is ideal for people new to the exercise. Also, the move serves as a helpful refresher to those looking to increase their load.

In a standing position, it’s easy to lean away from the weight as you press it overhead. However, a half-kneeling position ensures that your shoulders remain stacked over your hips and that you’re shifting weight evenly on both sides.

The position also forces you to engage your core and avoid generating power from your legs to press the weight overhead. 

“Keep your body tight and exhale as you press the dumbbell directly up, finishing with your biceps by your ear,” said Peel.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Hold a dumbbell with your right hand and rest one end on your shoulder, stacking the weight over your wrist and elbow, facing forward. 
  • Take a step back with your right leg as you would in a reverse lunge and rest your knee on the floor with your toes tucked in. Your front thigh should be parallel to the ground, and your knee should be stacked over your ankle. Keep your hips square.
  • Bracing your core and engaging your glutes, press the dumbbell directly overhead, finishing with your biceps by your ears. You can make a fist with your left hand and extend your arm in front of you to help keep your shoulders square. Avoid shrugging your working shoulder by packing it down as you press the weight overhead.
  • Lower the dumbbell back to your shoulder with control, then repeat on the other side.

Thrusters

Muscles worked: core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and triceps

This heart-pumping move combines a front squat and shoulder press into one continuous flow. 

“Use the power of your legs when you stand from the squat to finish with your biceps by your ears,” said Peel.

Like with the front squat, you want to employ your breath. Take a breath into your belly at the top, holding it as you lower your squat and exhale as you stand up to press.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, rest one end on your shoulders, stacking the weight over your wrists and elbows facing forward. 
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your core tight.
  • Keeping your chest tall, push your butt back and down and sit into your heels until your thighs are parallel to the floor or your hips are below your knees. Avoid allowing your knees to flare out to the sides or cave toward your midline.
  • Press your feet firmly on the floor and drive powerfully through your legs to stand and press the weight overhead, finishing with your biceps by your ears.

Bent-Over Rows

Muscles worked: shoulders and upper back

After all that pressing, it’s time to balance it with some pulling. In a bent-over position, maintain a flat back and keep your hips and shoulders pointed down. 

Shift most of your weight to your front leg and avoid rotation by making a fist with your non-working hand and tensing up your core.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart, slightly hinging forward, torso parallel to the ground, with a small bend in your knees. Hold the dumbbells in front of you, with your palms facing in.
  • Pull the dumbbells toward your rib cage, keeping your back flat and shoulders and hips square. Squeeze your shoulder blades toward the middle of your spine and keep your elbows close to your sides.
  • Lower the dumbbells with control to return to the starting position.

Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Muscles worked: back, forearms, glutes, and hamstrings

The Romanian deadlift offers many of the same benefits as a conventional deadlift. The stiff-legged position emphasizes the hamstrings and increases the range of motion of your hips and spine.

“Push hips back and imagine you are painting the front of your legs on the way down. When you come up to stand, push into the floor to a standing plank position,” explained Peel.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart, stacking your shoulders above your hips. Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs but keep your chest open by maintaining good posture.
  • Keeping your back flat and spine long, hinge by pushing your hips back and softening your knees. 
  • Push your hips back as far as you can—you'll feel the load in your hamstrings—until your torso is just above parallel to your hips and the dumbbells are around mid-shin. Pack your shoulders back and down, and keep your core tight.
  • Engaging your glutes and hamstrings, drive through your feet to stand back up, gripping the dumbbells tight. 
  • Lock out your hips and return to standing.

Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

Muscles worked: core, hamstrings, glutes, and quads

This variation of the deadlift is as much a challenge in balance as it is in strength. The key is to kick your lifted leg back with your big toe and knee pointed down as you lower the dumbbell inside your standing leg.

Be careful not to move the weight in front of you as you lower. Rather, the weight should be close to your standing leg, aligned with your ankle. That position ensures that you move the load with the hips and legs.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Stand staggered by stepping your right foot back to the right side, holding a dumbbell in your right hand by your right hip.
  • Keeping a flat back and your hips and shoulders square, kick your right leg behind you slowly. 
  • Push your hips back as you lower the dumbbell towards the inside of your left ankle, slightly bending your front knee. Flex your back foot and keep your toes pointed down. You should be able to draw a straight line from your heel to the top of your head.
  • Press your left foot firmly on the floor to stand and pull your back leg forward to the starting position. 
  • Repeat on the right leg.

Dumbbell Snatch

Muscles worked: back, forearms, glutes, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and triceps

Another great move for building power in the legs, the dumbbell snatch combines a deadlift, high pull, and press. 

However, the work should come from the lower body. Like a zipper on a coat, you want to keep the dumbbell close to your body, moving it from the floor to overhead in one fluid motion.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell between the arches of your feet. 
  • Reach down, gripping the dumbbell with your right hand, keeping your shoulders above your hips and hips above your knees.
  • Bracing your core and packing your shoulders down, drive up powerfully through the legs to stand and pull the dumbbell up and close to your body, above the shoulders.
  • Quickly punch the dumbbell overhead, finishing with your biceps by your ear. 
  • Lower the dumbbell back down the same way it came up, then repeat on the left side.

Standing Hammer Curls

Muscles worked: biceps and forearms

Hammer curls might look simple. However, bad posture can lead to misusing other muscles and not engaging your biceps as you intend. Aim to keep your upper back still as you bring the weight toward your shoulder. Then, move the weight with control on the way down.

Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
  • Stand with your hips under your shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in by your sides and a soft bend in the knees. Anchor your shoulders down and pin your elbows to your ribs.
  • Bending at the elbows, curl the weights toward your shoulders using your biceps. Be careful not to use your wrists.
  • Pause at the top before lowering the weights with control to your sides. Think about casting the dumbbells away from you to keep your elbows from moving away from your ribs.

A Quick Review

Dumbbell workouts are the way to go if you want some exercise time at home or anywhere, really. 

Dumbells can help you get more workout when you're doing bodyweight exercises. Also, doing dumbbell workouts can offer some benefits of strength training, such as strong bones and improved flexibility. 

However, those workouts may not be appropriate for everyone, so check with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen, with or without dumbbells.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Cancer Society. 5 benefits of strength training.

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