If you own a set of dumbbells, you already know how great they are. Dumbbells are one of the most functional pieces of workout equipment you can buy. When all you need is a pair of dumbbells for an solid workout, the pressure of pricier equipment goes away.
Dumbbell exercises are so great because they allow you to work out your entire body. Let's jump straight into our picks for the best dumbbell exercises for a whole body workout!
Dumbbell Chest Exercises
The dumbbell bench press is one of the best chest exercises you can do. It's like a barbell bench, but because it forces you to use each arm on their own. This means your pectoral muscles have to work harder. This also means that depending on your starting position grip, you can target different parts of your chest and upper body on the fly!
1) Narrow Chest Press
For this exercise, you'll need an adjustable or flat bench. An adjustable one will allow you to choose a flat, incline or decline position. This is important for when you want to target specific chest sections. No matter what you choose though, you're going to press up and down with both arms in a straight line.
Keep your core tight and avoid arching your back too much. Doing so can lead to injury and back pain. Your starting position should feature bent elbows. Have the dumbbells sitting at shoulder width apart and at chest level. The dumbbell heads should be facing parallel to each other so you can press them narrowly without any clashing. Then, aim for a full range of motion by extending the weights upward until your arms are straight.
Keep your focus on tensing the muscle fibres on the inner part of the chest. Try not to lock your elbows though, keep them slightly bent!
2) Wide Chest Press
The only difference with this exercise is that it will target the outer part of the chest. This is great if you want to tone up and give your chest that 'fuller' look. Follow the same instructions for this exercise as you would with the narrow chest press. The only difference is to position the two dumbbells just outside of shoulder width. You'll also want to turn them lengthways so that there is an even weight distribution.
3) Dumbbell Pec Fly's
A slight variation of the bench press, this exercise is a killer! For this one, you'll probably want to drop the weights slightly. This is great for a super-set or toning exercise. It's very similar to a classic cable pec fly, but the fact you're using dumbbells makes it even more difficult. With cable fly's, your body relies more on the machine and you don't have to use your core as much. Overall, its fantastic for firming and toning the upper body.
To do these fly's, start by sitting or lying on a bench. Hold the dumbbells with your arms straight in front of your face while squeezing your chest muscles together. This is the starting position.
Then, push the weights outward until they are at full extension at your sides and you feel the outer part of your chest engage. With these fly's, make sure you contract at the top before you bring them back down. You should also feel a stretch in your chest as you push the weights up, so keep your elbows slightly bent at all times
Dumbbell Back Exercises
This is an excellent exercise for strengthening your back muscles. It's also great for toning and firming up the back of your arms! You can maximise your workout by alternating between dumbbell rows and bicep curls.
4) Alternating Bent Over Rows - Bench
When you do this exercise, make sure you keep your core tight. It's also important that your body weight is resting on something like a bench. Keep your back straight throughout this movement to prevent any strain. This is especially important when you're pulling up to lift the weights.
This is important because if you keep your back in line with your hips , you're going to get the most out of this exercise. Your back muscles will be working harder because they have to stabilise your spine and prevent it from arching.
Start by holding one dumbbell in one hand, with the weight dropping towards the floor. Then, bring the weights up toward your chest while maintaining a straight line. You'll want to squeeze your shoulder blades together at this point. After a few reps, you can switch sides. Doing this exercise in a controlled way by alternating sides is very effective.
Too many people think you should just lift the weight as fast as possible. This is actually counterproductive! You can injure yourself and waste time doing this because you're using your momentum rather than your muscles. Just something to keep in mind!
5) Bent Over Rows - No Bench
This exercise is similar to the bench version, but you're relying more on your core muscles for stability. This can give you more of a full body dumbbell workout because it's a compound exercise, meaning you'll be utilising multiple muscle groups. It also means that your abs will help stabilise your spine which is great for toning and firming up the area.
Be careful though! If you've never done this exercise before, start off with low weights. You may and something like a bench for stability. If you don't, you could injure yourself. Stand with each foot a shoulder width apart.
Make sure your back is straight throughout this exercise, with your hips right above your knees. Don't let the weights drop too low, or else you won't be working out any of those 'troublesome' areas!
6) Rear Delt Rows
This one is also similar to the bent over rows, except the two dumbbells are turned slightly to target the rear deltoids. This is great for firming up your back, as well as toning - especially if you alternate between the bent over rows and the rear delt rows. Just make sure to keep your movements slow and controlled - you'll be working hard with this exercise!
Dumbbell Arm Exercises
7) Bicep Curls
Okay, you probably know about this one. But in case you don't, here's what you need to know!
This is one of the best exercises for toning your biceps - especially if it's combined with some other arm workouts. This exercise will also give you great 'arms' definition, so make sure to try it out! You can either be seated or standing depending on how much you want to rely on core strength for stability.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and with a dumbbell in each hand. Have a slight bend in your knees, and with your shoulders arched back. Our recommendation is to keep things consistent and curl both arms together. Keep your core engaged, and squeeze those arm muscles.
If you're looking to add a little intensity and force your core to jump in on the action, stand with one leg in front of you, and arch your shoulders back slightly. This will add instability to your starting position and force your ab muscles to compensate!
8) Hammer Curls
This one is similar to the bicep curl, but for the triceps! With a similar starting position to bicep curls, turn the two dumbbells so they're parallel with your upper arm. Then, curl them up and down, alternating one dumbbell after the other. The goal here is to focus all of your energy on the tricep muscles. Remember to keep your knees bent slightly, as with proper form, you'll engage your shoulders too!
9) Overhead Tricep Extension
This one isn't technically a curl, but it involves a similar movement. The only difference is that you'll be holding a dumbbell with a goblet style grip, and extend it up over and behind your head in a backwards curl. We wouldn't recommend this exercise if you're lifting heavy weights and just starting out. If you want to give it a go, start with a lighter weight to ensure you nail the form first.
Dumbbell Leg Exercises
10) Goblet Squats
This exercise will target more than just your lower body. It'll activate and tone your arms and shoulders as well! To get started, hold the dumbbell using a goblet grip - this means that your palms will be facing upwards. Lower yourself into a standing squat, then squeeze your glutes for an extra toning boost!
You can also press the weights overhead once you're at the standing position, which will give you an even better total body workout. These are great for toning your back muscles as well.
11) Sumo Squats
Similar to the Goblet Squats, only you'll be taking a wider stance (about shoulder width). On the way up from squat position, squeeze your glutes and gluteus. Trust me, you'll feel the burn on this one!
12) Suitcase Squats
This kind of squat is similar to walking lunges as you're not really engaging your upper body or arm muscles. The focus is on the lower body and leg muscles. Start with your legs straight, and lean back into a squat with the weights hanging toward the ground. Remember to keep your back straight and core engaged!
13) Walking Lunges
This one is effective because it's low impact and works your entire leg (including gluteus, hamstrings and quads). To get started, let the dumbbells hang towards the floor with straight arms, and begin lunging in a forward motion. It can be really easy with this one to lose your balance, so it's important to have proper form. Ensure that your keep your body straight, and your core engaged!
It's relatively safe to use heavy dumbbells for this exercise, as you are not relying on your upper body to be strong enough for this. The goal is to focus on the endurance of your legs, and engaging your core to help with balance.
14) Weighted Calf Raises
This one is used for toning and lifting sagging calf muscles. It's also good for the core as it'll be working to stabilize you throughout this whole one! You can do them on or off a step, depending on your strength. Simply hold the dumbbell in either hand (letting it hang down toward the floor is easiest) and do a calf raise.
Here's the hard part - try to ensure that the majority of your weight is on your highest foot, so you can really target that calf muscle! If it's too much stress on one leg, you can always take out some of the weight.
Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises
15) Overhead Shoulder Press
This exercise is a bit of an all rounder because it works on your shoulders, triceps and core muscles! Stand with the dumbbells at ear height out in front of you. With straight arms press the weights over your head until they meet or slightly pass your ears. Then lower down to starting position for another rep!
We recommend only using heavy weights if you have good form. This way, your upper body strength will help bear the weight of the dumbbells during the shoulder press - not just your arms!
This movement is a good one for your shoulders and traps. If you're not sure of the form, we would recommend using some lighter weights while you learn it.
With straight arms and keeping your core engaged, shrug the weights up towards your ears. Then, slowly lower them back down (this can be done in a fluid motion or with several pauses to really feel the burn).
17) Lateral Raises
This is a fantastic one for your shoulders but it's also a good back workout! With straight arms, keep them close to your body while raising the weights from waist high to ear height on either side of you.
This movement targets very specific muscles that are small and need to be targeted with lighter weights. If you want to give it a go, start with a lighter weight to ensure you nail the form first. You'll quickly find that picking dumbbells that are too heavy, will be extremely difficult!
Dumbbell Core Exercises
One of the most effective ways to get a flat stomach is by working your ab muscles. But you'd be surprised how much faster you can tone your core by holding a dumbbell! If you're not sure what proper sit-up form looks like, here's a great starting point.
18) Sit-ups / Crunches
Remember that when you are doing this exercise, your lower back should be on the floor with hands gripping a single dumbbell. Engage your core and push the dumbbell just above your knees.
This core workout targets the top of your abdominals, so it's less isolated than some of our other floor workouts. But great for an all-rounder!
19) Russian Twists
Want to burn your obliques and burn those love handles? Grip the dumbbell with two hands, and sit with an upright posture and straight legs. Twist your torso to either side and tap the weight on the floor (try not to let it crash down though!)
20) Side Bends
This one is one of the best dumbbell exercises for toning the obliques. Simply stand with your arms straight and slowly lower them down to your hips. While doing this, curl your torso over towards your right hip - just be careful not to twist! Tense your oblique muscles on the way down, and feel the burn!
Important things to remember!
The importance of form:
Dumbbell exercises force your whole body to rely on core and native strength for stability. Without the right form, you risk injury, you make it harder to do the dumbbell exercise and therefore, complete less repetitions. And of course, if you're doing it right, the exercise actually works!
Depending on the dumbbell exercise, there are a couple of 'best practices' that cover most workouts.
Ensure that in your start position, you keep your knees slightly bent. You never want to lock your kneecaps. The same goes for your elbows when you need to have your arms straight during the end of a rep.
Try not to lean forward or backward when gripping heavier dumbbells without proper footing. When doing an exercise like the upright row or lateral raise, you always want to have your knees bent with your feet shoulder width apart. Or, have your left foot stepped forward for stability.
The importance of quality equipment:
It's very important to make sure you are using quality dumbbells. Cheap, poorly designed products can break easily. Choosing a dumbbell set that will allow for a large range of exercises is important. Our top pick are Rubber Hex Dumbbells! Here are some other things to consider:
An adjustable bench will give you more flexibility to train at flat, incline or decline. However, unless you invest in a high quality adjustable bench, it might not be very stable when at an incline. In the cases where budget is an issue, you might want to buy a flat bench instead. These are much more stable, but less functional.
The importance of variety:
Everyone knows the key to maintaining a solid routine is staying inspired. If you find yourself doing the same dumbbell workout week after week, you'll probably find yourself getting bored.
That's why we recommend rotating dumbbell exercises regularly! When you work a muscle in a slightly different way, you can hit those stubborn problem areas easily. This can help in achieving your goals and staying motivated with the variety!
Our Top Pick: Rubber Hex Dumbbells
You might be wondering what the hype is all about for rubber hex dumbbells. There are a few reasons why we love these weights:
Muscle Motion Rubber Hex Dumbbells are made from high quality durable rubber, and are built to last!
Dumbbells rolling away from you are by far one of the most annoying parts of any workout session. However, the hexagonal heads on these dumbbells allow for easy storage. They also prevent rolling on the floor thanks to their multiple flat surfaces.
They feature knurled, contoured grips. This means they prevent slipping and will always remain firmly in your hands during the workout.
They are super affordable - and the best price can be found at Gym Direct! You can get a pair of 10kg Rubber Hex for as little as $84.
What are you waiting for? Get your hands on a pair below!
With a quality set of dumbbells and knowledge of the huge variety of free-weight exercises out there, you'll always stay on top of your game. You can perform these exercises anywhere, and they only require a pair of dumbbells to work! We hope this article has inspired you to try out the exercises we've discussed here.
If you have any questions, or want some help picking out equipment, feel free to reach out to our customer service and sales team. They are available between Monday-Friday from 9-5, and would love to help out!
About the author:
We write all of our blog posts as a group - consulting members of our sales, marketing and customer service teams to give you the content that you deserve. At Gym Direct, we know how important it is to stay informed when it comes to the equipment you invest in - so we've made it a top priority to write content periodically to assist you in doing so. Happy training!