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In a perfect world, we’d have all the time we need to give each muscle group its due. We’d get to the gym, work our way through a thorough warm-up, get in our cardio, strength training, anything and everything else on the agenda, and wrap it all up with a much-needed post-exercise stretching regimen.

Heck, maybe we’d even sit in the sauna for a bit and finish with a relaxing shower.

Snap back to reality; most of us are way too busy to spend hours on our fitness each day. We often have to fight tooth and nail to get in our workouts so we can get back to our busy lives.

Is there a workout out there that will give us a full-body workout in a fraction of the time?

We present to you the Garage Gym Reviews’ Full-Body Dumbbell Workout. 

With the best dumbbells, you’ll hit every major muscle group in the body in record time, so you can get back to those pesky real-life responsibilities that simply won’t wait.

Man holding dumbbells

Why Full-Body Workouts? 

Full-body workouts primarily use compound movements to get more work done in less time.

According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Physiology1, programs that predominantly use compound movements, also called “multi-joint exercises,” are generally “more efficient for improving muscle strength and maximal oxygen consumption than programs involving [single-joint] exercises.”

Another study, published in Biology of Sport2 in 2016, specifically compared the effects of full-body and split-body training protocols during a four-week period. The study found that both approaches were effective in regards to improving strength and body composition, but the full-body workout routine burned nearly three times as much fat mass.

So, if you’re short on time but still need an effective way to improve strength, build muscle, burn fat, and increase your VO2 max, a full-body workout might be just the thing.

Exercises for a Full-Body Dumbbell Workout

These are some of the best dumbbell exercises that target just about every major muscle group, making them perfect to combine into the total-body workout routine you’ve been looking for.

Here are the exercises, as well as tips on how to perform them with good form.

Dumbbell Squat

Why it’s great: Whether using a barbell, pair of dumbbells, or even just your own bodyweight, squats always rank among the most effective and fundamental movements. They build lower body muscle mass, hit your core, and improve stability, mobility, and flexibility.

How to do it: 

  1. Select your dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. You may hold the dumbbells at your sides like two suitcases, next to your ears using a neutral grip, or you may choose to use one heavy dumbbell and clutch it to your chest like a goblet squat.
  2. Push your hips back, keeping your core tight and back straight, and lower your body as though you’re about to sit in a chair.
  3. When your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor, pause, then drive through your heels to return to a standing position. Squeeze your glutes at the peak position.
  4. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: What Muscles Do Squats Work?

front squats

Dumbbell Deadlift

Why it’s great: Dumbbell deadlifts give you the same great muscle activation you’ll enjoy when performing the barbell equivalent, but with the added perk of an increased range of motion.

How to do it: 

  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart and the dumbbells on the floor just outside your feet.
  2. Bring your chest forward and your hips back as you bend your knees and grip the dumbbells. Keep your back straight, chest tall, core braced, eyes fixed forward, and weight on your heels.
  3. Driving from the heels, stand up, keeping the dumbbells close to your body as you rise.
  4. Pause in the peak position and squeeze your glutes.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position by reversing the movement.
  6. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: How To Deadlift With Dumbbells

dumbbell deadlift demo

Dumbbell Overhead Press

Why it’s great: This shoulder press provides tons of upper-body activation, hitting the deltoids, triceps, trapezius, and rhomboids. You’ll also hit the erector spinae in the lower back, your glutes, and your abdominals.

How to do it: 

  1. Hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing out or facing each other.
  2. Brace your core, pinch your shoulder blades together, and push the weights overhead.
  3. Pause, then slowly bring them back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: The Best Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells

standing dumbbell press

Dumbbell Chest Press

Why it’s great: The bench press is the strength workout staple, providing activation in your pecs, triceps, serratus anterior, and anterior delts. Using dumbbells increases the exercise’s muscle-building potential, since it increases the range of motion.

How to do it: 

  1. Grab your dumbbells and sit down at the end of a bench. Place the dumbbell in your right hand on the thigh of your right leg and the dumbbell in your left hand on your left leg, just above the knee. You will be using your legs to get them into position.
  2. Start lying back, using your leg strength to launch the dumbbells into the air as you descend. By the time you’re lying flat, the dumbbells should be stacked directly over your chest, held with your arms outstretched.
  3. Bring the weights down to your chest until your elbows are in line with your torso.
  4. Push the weights back up until your elbows are locked out.
  5. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: The Dumbbell Bench Press

dumbbell bench press

Dumbbell Russian Twist

Why it’s great: Russian twists using only your bodyweight already makes a great core workout, but adding a dumbbell provides just a little more oomph. You’ll hit all the major ab muscles, especially the obliques, as well as your hip flexors.

How to do it: 

  1. Have a seat on the floor. Place your feet down flat and bend your knees.
  2. Hold one dumbbell with both hands in front of your body and lean back.
  3. Twist your body to one side, bringing the dumbbell towards the floor, then return to center and twist to the other side.
  4. Repeat as needed. 
dumbbell russian twist

Beginner Full-Body Dumbbell Workout 

Beginner full-body dumbbell workout

Knowing what exercises to do is only half the battle. That’s why we’re laying out an actual specific blueprint that’ll turn your next session, whether it’s a home workout or done in the gym, into an awesome total body blaster.

Our beginner workout utilizes the above exercises to provide muscle activation everywhere without significantly taxing your muscles or lungs. The idea here is to get moving and stay moving until the work is done.

Make sure you’re selecting a dumbbell weight that’s conducive to that goal. If you find yourself getting tired in the middle of your sets, consider going lighter so you can stay moving. 

You also, by all means, do not have to use one set of dumbbells or one specific weight for all exercises. Feel free to scale the weights to cater to your own abilities, such as going lighter on the chest press and heavier on the deadlifts, for example.

Without further ado, here is a great workout if you’re a beginner.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Chest Press2-310
Dumbbell Squats2-310
Dumbbell Overhead Press2-310
Dumbbell Deadlift2-310
Dumbbell Russian Twist3-320

Perform each exercise for all sets before moving to the next. Rest between each set and exercise as needed. 

There is no time limit for this workout.

Intermediate Full-Body Dumbbell Workout 

Intermediate full-body dumbbell workout

So, the beginner workout is a touch too light for your tastes?

Our intermediate version kicks things up a notch by shortening rest times. Instead of taking all the time you need, we’re limiting you to three minutes between sets and exercises. Studies show3 that “resting 3-5 minutes between sets produced greater increases in absolute strength.”

To further support our goal of overall greater strength gains, we’re going to select weights that are closer to our one-rep max. We’re talking about 60% to 75% your max here.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Chest Press2-312
Dumbbell Squats2-312
Dumbbell Overhead Press2-312
Dumbbell Deadlift2-312
Dumbbell Russian Twist2-320

If you are moving smoothly through each set and resting to our specifications, this circuit will take approximately 45 minutes to complete, excluding your warm-up and cooldown.

Advanced Full-Body Dumbbell Workout

Advanced full-body dumbbell workout

We’re pulling out all our stops for the advanced version of the full-body dumbbell workout. 

Instead of resting up for three minutes a time, we’re lowering your rest period to only 60 seconds, turning this into more of an HIIT workout.

According to Sports Medicine3, “short rest intervals of 30-60 seconds might be most effective…when the training goal is muscular hypertrophy.” 

So, you’ll still get the same all-around fitness benefits from this total body buster, but the emphasis is now on muscle growth and cardio, since your heart rate is going to be way up for the majority of the set.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Chest Press3-410
Dumbbell Squats3-410
Dumbbell Overhead Press3-410
Dumbbell Deadlift3-410
Dumbbell Russian Twist3-420

If you’re moving and grooving, you’ll likely finish this in approximately 30 minutes, although that’s much easier said than done if you’ve selected weights that challenge you on each set.

Wanna make it even more brutal?

Turn your dumbbell squats and overhead presses into a superset, seamlessly transitioning from one exercise into the other with no rest. Better yet, swap out squats and overhead presses altogether and just do dumbbell thrusters.

RELATED: Kettlebell Thruster: The Full-Body Blaster You’ll Love To Hate

Following our above workouts will get you well on your way to the best shape of your life, but consider working with a personal trainer or other qualified fitness professional to adjust the program to your personal goals.

Good luck out there, fitness fam!

FAQs: Full-Body Dumbbell Workout

Are full-body workouts better than split workouts? 

A split workout focusing on one or two major muscle groups at a time has its place. 
Focusing your attention, for example, on only your back and biceps allows you to go heavy on compound movements like the deadlift, bent-over row, or lat pulldown, then polish off the sesh with isolation exercises like the bicep curl and hammer curl to really fatigue your muscle fibers.

The problem with this approach is that it is time-consuming.

Full-body workouts target every major muscle group all at once with tried-and-true movements like the ones we’ve listed above, lunges, push-ups, and other compound exercises that get more work done in less time.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal fitness goals and available time commitment. There’s a lot to love about full-body workouts, and you can really improve your fitness by including them in your routine, but that doesn’t mean split workouts are for the birds.

RELATED: Full Body Workouts Vs Split

Can you work your full body with just dumbbells?

You can most definitely get a full-body workout with only two dumbbells. To be perfectly honest, you can even get a full body workout with only one dumbbell by turning our movements into single-arm exercises.

And, all things considered, you can get a full body workout with literally no dumbbells.

Can you get in shape with 20-pound dumbbells?

A set of 20-pound dumbbells sounds either sort of light or kind of heavy, depending on your fitness level. If they’re the only dumbbells you have, you can absolutely get in shape using only those.

According to a 2022 study published in Sports Medicine4, “lower training intensities/loads performed at higher frequencies and with minimal-to-no equipment…can improve strength and functional ability…[and] may provide additional benefits for interrupting sedentary behaviour patterns associated with increased cardiometabolic risk.”

So, even if 20-pound dumbbells feel light to you, using them regularly should have a positive impact on your physical strength and abilities while also lowering your risk of heart disease.

How do you train your whole body with dumbbells?

From lower-body muscles like the quads and hamstrings to the upper-body groups like your shoulders, chest, back, and upper arm muscles, you can 100% get everything using dumbbells exclusively.

Of course, mixing in exercises that use barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even bodyweight exercises have their place as well, but never count out the humble dumbbell!

References

1. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1105. Published 2017 Dec 22. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

2. Crewther BT, Heke T, Keogh J. The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biol Sport. 2016;33(2):111-116. doi:10.5604/20831862.1196511

3. de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-777. doi:10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000
4. Fyfe JJ, Hamilton DL, Daly RM. Minimal-Dose Resistance Training for Improving Muscle Mass, Strength, and Function: A Narrative Review of Current Evidence and Practical Considerations. Sports Med. 2022;52(3):463-479. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01605-8

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