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Presses, flys, and so much more: Here are the best dumbbell exercises for strengthening your entire body

All you need for a full-body workout

Man grabbing dumbbells
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Dumbbells are one of the more versatile pieces of exercise equipment. Sure, you’re typically limited in the maximum weight you can lift with dumbbells relative to barbells with weight plates, but the sheer number and variety of strength training exercises that can be performed with dumbbells is reason enough to familiarize yourself with this popular training tool, and you may even want to consider investing in a good set of adjustable dumbbells for your home.

You probably don’t have to be a regular gym-goer to have a general sense of some of the most common dumbbell exercises. However, putting together the best dumbbell workouts involves a fair amount of expertise. Many of the best dumbbell workouts incorporate strength training exercises that target all the major muscles in the body to provide a total-body workout. You can also focus your dumbbell workout on a more specific region of the body, such as the upper body, core, or lower body. Below, we share some of the best dumbbell exercises to incorporate into your dumbbell workouts to help you achieve your fitness goals.

Dumbbells on a track
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Benefits of dumbbell exercises

Dumbbells offer a variety of benefits. Unlike barbells, you have to control each dumbbell unilaterally, which helps isolate your muscles on each side of the body rather than let the stronger side carry the bulk of the weight. Similarly, you can perform an exercise on just one side, which challenges your core and mimics functional movement patterns more accurately. If you have access to adjustable dumbbells or a full set of weights, you can progress the load you use in gradual increments to match your improvements in strength. Most dumbbells are ergonomic and have non-slip grips.

Man holding a dumbbell
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Best dumbbell exercises

There are dozens of dumbbell strengthening exercises. Below, we share some of the most effective dumbbell exercises for various regions of the body.

Dumbbell chest exercises

  • Chest fly
  • Chest press
  • Single-arm chest press
  • Single-arm chest fly
  • Incline press
  • Decline press
  • Straight-arm pullover
  • Depth pushups gripping hex dumbbells

Dumbbell shoulder exercises

  • Overhead press
  • Forward raise
  • Lateral raise
  • Bent-over deltoid raise
  • Push press
  • Punches
  • Internal and external rotation (rotator cuff)
  • Shrugs

Dumbbell back exercises

  • Reverse fly
  • Rows
  • Deadlift
  • Superman
  • Bird dog

Dumbbell arm exercises

  • Biceps curls
  • Preacher curls
  • Hammer curls
  • Dumbbell arm pumps (running arms)
  • Triceps kickbacks
  • Triceps extensions
  • Skull crushers
  • Wrist curls
  • Wrist extensions

Dumbbell leg exercises

  • Weighted calf raise
  • Farmer’s carries
  • Deadlifts
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift
  • Squats
  • Sumo squats
  • Forward lunge
  • Reverse lunge
  • Lateral lunge
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Rear-elevated split squat

Dumbbell core exercises

  • Weighted situps
  • V-ups
  • Plank with weighted side rotation
  • Plank with weighted forward raise
  • T-spine twists
  • Side plank with dumbbell rotation
  • Standing side bends
  • Dumbbell chops
  • Weighted dead bug
  • Russian twist
Man doing dumbbell chest press
Alesia Kozik / Pexels

Tips for dumbbell workouts

When putting together a dumbbell workout, it’s important to consider the goals of the workout, especially if you’re just beginning a weightlifting program.

Are you primarily looking to build muscle, increase strength, or develop muscular endurance? When looking to build muscle or add “size,” use the heaviest dumbbells you can handle for 3-4 sets of 1-6 reps per exercise. If you’re looking to increase strength, aim for 2-3 sets of a weight you can handle for 8-12 reps per exercise. Lastly, to focus on muscular endurance, complete three sets of 12-20 reps per exercise completed in a circuit fashion with minimal rest.

Do you want to do a total body workout or to focus on a specific region (arms, chest, core, back, legs)? If you want to complete a total body workout, pick a couple of exercises for every major muscle group.

Guy in a gym performs a dumbbell lateral raise
user19708154 / Freepik

When should I increase my dumbbell weight?

Determining the right time to increase your dumbbell weight depends on several factors, but generally, you should bump up the weight when you can comfortably perform the intended number of reps and sets with good form. Here are some key indicators to watch for:

If you can effortlessly complete your target reps and sets (e.g., 3 sets of 10 reps) with the current weight, it’s likely time to move up. The last few reps may still feel challenging, but shouldn’t be impossible. Conversely, if you struggle to finish your sets and reps, or your form deteriorates significantly toward the end, stick with the current weight for a while and focus on refining your technique.

Pay attention to the “time under tension” during each rep. Aim for a controlled tempo, taking 1 to 2 seconds to lift the weight and 2 to 3 seconds to lower it. If you’re breezing through the movement, you’re not adequately challenging your muscles.

If you’ve been using the same weight for several weeks and haven’t noticed any progress in terms of strength or muscle definition, it’s a sign you need a new challenge.

Ultimately, pay attention to how you feel during and after your workouts. If you feel like you could handle more weight without compromising form or safety, go for it. But if you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort, it’s best to err on the side of caution and stick with the current weight.

Person standing on asphalt holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Anete Lusina / Pexels

Final thoughts

Remember that variety is important. Change up the number of reps, grip, weight, exercises, and pacing from workout to workout to give your body a constantly changing training stimulus. This will maximize your progress and minimize the risk of overtraining injuries.

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Amber Sayer
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor, and was previously a Fitness Editor at Byrdie. She…
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