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Get a full body workout in with just one piece of equipment
When the pandemic hit, people were scrambling to purchase a set of dumbbells. Why? Because they are a versatile piece of equipment that can be used at home to build total body strength.
For most of us, dumbbells call to mind the bicep curl, which is, of course, the king of upper body isolation exercises. But they can be used for oh, so much more! Using the best dumbbells, you can hit each muscle group (and incorporate them easily into cardio workouts, too).
We collaborated with Amanda Capritto, a certified personal trainer and staff writer for Garage Gym Reviews, to offer up the best dumbbell exercises for you to incorporate into your routine.
Best Dumbbell Workouts for Every Muscle Group
Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises
Upward Chest Fly
Best Dumbbell Back Exercises
Dumbbell Bent Over Rows
Seated Dumbbell Reverse Flys
This resistance exercise works your posterior shoulders (back of the shoulders) and upper back.
Benefits of Seated Dumbbell Reverse Flys
In addition to sculpting your back muscles, seated reverse flys reinforce healthy scapular movement (movement of the shoulder blades) through repeated contracting and releasing. Doing the movement seated eliminates pressure on the lower back and hamstrings.
How to Do Seated Dumbbell Reverse Flys:
Dumbbell Renegade Rows
Best Dumbbell Bicep Exercises
Dumbbell Bicep Curls
Best Dumbbell Tricep Exercises
Standing Tricep Extensions
Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises
Seated Shoulder Press
Seated Arnold Press
Lateral Delt Raises
Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
Dumbbell Front Squats
Every fitness routine should have some variation of a squat. Dumbbell front squats are a good option for weighted squats when you don’t have access to a barbell and weight plates.
Benefits of Dumbbell Front Squats
The benefits of any type of squat are many, ranging from hip and ankle mobility to lower body strength and core stability. Front squats in particular require more engagement from the core and upper back.
How to Do Dumbbell Front Squat:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width or hip-width apart, feet slightly turned out. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting one head of the dumbbell on your shoulder. Point your elbows out in front of you. (Another variation is the goblet squat, where you hold just one dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest.)
- Sink your hips back into a squat as if you are going to sit in a chair. Make sure to keep your back straight during the entire descent.
- Keeping your weight in your heels return to standing, squeezing the muscles of the glutes as you stand.
Dumbbell Walking Lunges
No lower-body workout routine is complete without a single-leg exercise—or a few. This move is actually one of Amanda’s favorites, and most of our team thinks she’s crazy (because ouch), but we can’t deny a penchant for the burn.
Benefits of Dumbbell Walking Lunges
Life happens one leg at a time. Walking lunges train your lower body in patterns it’s likely to see in real life. Plus, the applications are endless. You can use heavy dumbbells to build strength, or you can toss high-volume sets of walking lunges into HIIT workouts for conditioning.
How to Do Dumbbell Walking Lunges:
- In standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand by your side.
- Taking a big step forward bring yourself down into a lunge, lowering the back knee towards the floor.
- Shift your weight into your front foot and step forward with the other leg to continue lunging across the room.
Best Dumbbell Core Exercises
Ditch the sit-ups and grab a dumbbell or two to improve your core strength.
Dumbbell Russian Twists
This single-dumbbell exercise trains your obliques, the abdominal muscles that run along the sides of your torso (the ones responsible for the chiseled “V” shape you see on magazine covers).
Benefits of Russian Twists
This exercise targets your oblique muscles, which most core exercises don’t do. However, it still recruits your other abdominal muscles as well as your hip flexors to promote overall strength and stability in your core.
How to Do Russian Twists:
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Hold one dumbbell in both hands in front of your body and lean back until you feet your core working to keep you from falling backwards.
- Twist your body to one side, bringing the dumbbell towards the floor.
- Return to center and repeat on the other side.
Like bicep curls, lots of people think crunches aren’t a functional exercise. We beg to differ: Is there anything more functional than sitting up in bed when you wake up?
Benefits of Dumbbell Crunches
Crunches specifically train your rectus abdominis, which is the group of muscles responsible for the six-pack so many people desire. The movement pattern is the epitome of spinal flexion, an important skill to maintain for everyday activities.
How to Do Dumbbell Crunches:
- Lying on your back, hold a dumbbell in both hands straight over your chest.
- Bring your legs to 90 degrees with your feet flexed, heels towards the ceiling.
- Using your abs (not your neck), lift your shoulders off the floor reaching the dumbbell towards your feet.
- Lower your head back to the floor and repeat.
We absolutely love woodchoppers for their functional value. They’re also fun and make you feel like a badass warrior while doing them!
Benefits of Woodchoppers
Few exercises train rotational movement patterns like woodchoppers. This exercise teaches you how to move your body through an extended range of motion without compromising the stability of your spine. It also strengthens your arms, shoulders, core, and upper back.
How to Do Dumbbell Woodchoppers:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart holding a dumbbell in both hands in front of your body.
- Rotate to one side, bending the knee to bring the dumbbell to the outside of your leg.
- Keeping the core tight, bring the dumbbell across your body above your opposite shoulder, straightening the legs as you do this.
- Repeat on the same side and then switch sides.
Coop’s Take On Dumbbells
If you have the room and the budget, a full set of dumbbells in various weights is a great addition to a home gym. Look for dumbbells made of steel that are encased in rubber, as they are less likely to break or damage something if dropped on the floor. I like the Rogue Rubber Hex Dumbbells the best, as they are durable and available in weights of 2.5 to 125 lbs. For more options, check out my complete list of best dumbbells if the Rogue ones are unavailable or out of your budget.
If you are short on space, you can always go for a pair of adjustable dumbbells. Although adjustable dumbbells can feel somewhat clunky at first, they save a ton of space, as just one dumbbell can be modified to accommodate weights up to 90 pounds. You can always opt for old school loadable dumbbells, too, if you don’t mind the process of loading and unloading them. We love the Powerblock Elite Series and NUOBELLs if you want something fancy, or the Rogue Fitness DB-15 Loadable Dumbbells for a semi-spinlock style.
If you are just starting out, grabbing a set of 15- to 30-pound dumbbells will give you the most versatility when it comes to strengthening different areas of the body. Budget-friendly options like the CAP Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells are a solid choice, and will last you for years.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a good workout at home, dumbbells are an essential part of any home gym. Depending on your goals and budget, they are versatile enough to give you a full body workout without the need for any other equipment. They take up minimal space, can be used for almost any area of the body, and will help you build strength with functional movements.
FAQs About Dumbbell Exercises
What are the most effective dumbbell exercises?
Dumbbell exercises are only as effective as how well you perform them. Using an appropriate weight, proper form, and working until failure will help you build strength, increase range of motion, and prevent injuries.
If you only have light dumbbells, doing upper body and core exercises will be most effective as you are working smaller muscles of the body. If you have heavier dumbbells on hand, lower body and full-body exercises will give you the most bang for your buck as they work multiple different muscle groups at the same time.
Can you build muscle with only dumbbells?
Yes! With the right exercises you can build muscle using dumbbells alone. The key is to do enough repetitions and use dumbbells that are heavy enough to push your body to its limits. Dumbbells can be used for almost all muscle groups, and are a great way to build strength evenly on both sides of the body.
Although fancy gym equipment is great, if you can master the fundamentals with dumbbells you can reap the benefits of strength training at home with only one piece of equipment.
What dumbbells are best for home workouts?
If you don’t have much storage area, adjustable dumbbells give you a wide range of weights to work with, without taking up a ton of space. They are great for beginners and novice athletes alike, and allow you to progress up to heavier weights as you get stronger.
If you have the room and want the ability to drop the dumbbells on the ground, rubber-encased hex dumbbells are a reliable choice and will last you for years. You may need multiple sets of dumbbells to accommodate different muscle groups or continue to challenge your body as you get stronger.
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