The 10-Move Dumbbell Workout You Can Do Right at Home
The coronavirus pandemic might be keeping you from the gym, but it doesn’t mean that your entire workout routine should be canceled too. In fact, doing some resistance training—or any type of exercise, for that matter—will help you keep your sanity (hello, quarantine fatigue) and safeguard your health.
And luckily, you don't need a whole lot of fitness equipment to get in 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 go-to for a reason.
“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, tells Health. "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."
Because picking up a set of weights on the reg is so good for you, here’s a head-to-toe dumbbell workout, created by Peel, that you can do at home. If you’re a beginner, Peel recommends choosing a moderate weight, and paying special attention to that form throughout your workout.
“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,” she says. (FYI: By tempo, Peel means slowing things down, increasing the time your muscles are under tension, to help you perfect form and make the exercise more challenging).
For the workout, complete 8-10 reps of all 1o moves below, resting for 30 seconds between each move. Do 2-3 sets of the entire workout, resting for 30-90 seconds between each set.
Suitcase Reverse Lunge
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 the 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 stronger, more efficient movement.
A common mistake with reverse lunges is not stepping back far enough and having all of your weight on your front foot. To avoid this, Peel says to focus on lowering your knee right under your hip as you step back. “When stepping back up out of the lunge, drive into your front foot to stand back to the start position,” Peel says.
- Start with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell each hand, arms at your sides. Stand tall with your chest proud and 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 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.
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 you back and not your arms. “Think about pushing one hand into the dumbbell as you pull the other dumbbell up towards your hip without rotation,” Peel says.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start in a high-plank position with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and feet just outside of 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 back on the floor and repeat on the right side.
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. Here, you’re racking the dumbbells at your shoulders, allowing your front delts to assist in bearing the load. Keeping the dumbbells in this front rack position also 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,” Peel says. “Focus on pulling your hips back and down into the squat and driving your elbows up to keep your chest tall as you lower,” she adds. 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, Peel says.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, rest one end of the dumbbell on top of your shoulders, stacking the weight over your wrists, with 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. You should focus on keeping 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
Taking your standing shoulder presses to a half-kneeling position is not only ideal for people new to the exercise, but it also 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, but a half-kneeling position ensures that your shoulders remain stacked over your hips and that you’re shifting weight evenly on both sides. It 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,” Peel says.
- Hold a dumbbell with your right hand and rest one end of the dumbbell on top of 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 knee 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 down to your shoulder with control and repeat on the other side.
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,” Peel says. Just like with the front squat, you want to employ your breath, and boy, will you need it. Take a breath into your belly at the top, holding it as you lower into your squat and exhale as you stand up to press.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, rest one end of the dumbbell on top of your shoulders, stacking the weight over your wrists and elbows facing forward. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and 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.
After all that pressing, now it’s time to balance it out with some pulling. In a bent-over position, it’s important to 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.
- 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 out in front of you, with your palms facing in.
- Keeping your back flat, and shoulders and hips square, pull the dumbbells toward your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades toward the middle of your spine and keeping your elbows close to your sides.
- Lower the dumbbells with control to return to the starting position.
Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift offers many of the same benefits as a conventional one, but the stiff-legged position places special emphasis on 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,” Peel says.
- 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
This variation of the deadlift is as much a challenge in balance as it is strength. The key is to kick your lifted leg back with your big toe and knee pointed down as you lower the dumbbell on the inside of your standing leg. Be careful not to move the weight in front of you as you lower. Rather, it should be close to your standing leg and aligned with your ankle to ensure you are moving the load with the hips and legs.
- Stand in a staggered stance by stepping your right foot back and 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.
Another great move for building power in the legs, the dumbbell snatch is a combination of a deadlift, high pull, and a press—but 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.
- 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. Repeat on the left side.
Standing Hammer Curls
Hammer curls might look simple, but bad posture in this move can lead to misusing other muscles and not engaging your biceps as you intended. Aim to keep your upper back still as you bring the weight toward your shoulder and move the weight with control on the way down.
- Stand with your hips under your shoulders and 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 by 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.
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