What are the best dumbbell exercises?
Dumbbells are a ubiquitous feature of any gym and offer fitness enthusiasts an impressive range of exercises that target most muscles in the body.
The best dumbbell exercises are easy to perform, so you don’t need to be a hardened bodybuilder to make the most of them.
This guide to the best dumbbell workouts will help you transform this simple piece of equipment into a powerful tool for your workouts.
Find out how you can use these for everything from all-round body exercises to routines that target your biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
The 10 Best Dumbbell Exercises
Our exercise routines are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being.
Here’s our list of the 10 best Dumbbell exercises:
10. Dumbbell Thrusters
While dumbbells are often associated with honing in on triceps or biceps for a targeted workout, they’re also great for more comprehensive exercises.
Dumbbell thrusters are a great example of this since they cover a range of muscles and motions when you perform each rep.
How to do it:
There are a range of steps to go through when performing a dumbbell thruster exercise. These are:
- Adopt a shoulder-width stance
- Rest the dumbbells on your shoulders
- Place your elbows slightly in front of your body
- Lower your hips back and down into a squat
- Make sure your hips go below your knees
- Maintain your lumbar curve
- Keep your knees in line with your toes
- Extend hips and legs, pushing your heels down
- Push dumbbells upwards, fully extending arms
Thrusters are a great way to hone a range of muscles while improving coordination and balance.
Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, back, triceps, and shoulders are all used when performing a dumbbell thruster, aiding upper and lower body strength.
If you’re looking for the best dumbbell exercise for a full-body workout session, you should consider including dumbbell thrusters in your session.
9. Dumbbell Lunges
Lunges can be done with or without dumbbells and is a functional exercise that works the upper leg and buttock muscles.
So if you’re looking for a dumbbell exercise to build your lower body strength, this is one to consider adding to your workouts.
How to do it:
You’ll need some space to move around when performing a dumbbell lunge. Here are the key steps to take:
- Stand straight up with the dumbbells at your side with palms facing your body
- Lunge forwards with your right leg as far as you can
- Bend your trailing knee close to the floor
- Push back to the starting position with your right foot
- Repeat with your left leg
For lower body sessions, these exercises help you to feel the burn in your glutes, hips, hamstrings, and quads.
They will also work out your calf muscles and abs while strengthening your lower back too.
Dumbbell lunges are a nice addition to your leg day workout or as part of a balanced full-body session to hit the lower body muscle groups.
8. Dumbbell Chest Flys
If you’re looking for a dumbbell exercise to really focus on your chest muscles, the dumbbell chest fly is the way to go.
It also works the shoulders a little, as well as your triceps, so you’ll get some additional benefits from this exercise.
How to do it:
You’ll need a bench to perform the dumbbell chest fly, so grab one and lie down, then follow these instructions:
- Lie flat on your back with your feet firmly on the floor on either side of the bench
- Keep your head back firmly pressed onto the bench throughout the exercise
- Take a dumbbell in each hand
- Lift your arms above your head so they’re extended but not fully locked out
- Slowly lower the dumbbells in an arc motion until they’re lined up with your chest
- Don’t drop your arms lower than your shoulders
- Slowly press the dumbbells back up the same arc motion
Dumbbell chest flies can help you improve the range of motion of your shoulder joints as well as hitting those crucial chest muscles.
You can also alter the angle of a chest fly, bringing nuanced targeting across the range of chest muscles.
If you’re doing split workouts, the dumbbell chest flies are perfect for chest days as they allow you to hone in on the pecs and give them a thorough workout.
7. Dumbbell Renegade Rows
When performed correctly, dumbbell renegade rows allow you to develop upper body strength while also improving balance.
As such, they can improve your overall core performance while working on upper body strength.
How to do it:
Make sure you have enough space to get down into a press-up position, holding onto the dumbbells and using them as support on the floor. Then:
- Stiffen your body, so your arms are straight as if in extended in a push-up
- Row the left dumbbell up and to the side of your rib cage
- Make sure your elbow is pointed upwards and back
- Lower the dumbbell, keeping your body stable as you do so
- Repeat the same process with the dumbbell in your other hand
As a full-body exercise, dumbbell renegade rows impact your obliques, back muscles (such as the rhomboids), and of course, your arm muscles, primarily the triceps.
Since this is a comprehensive exercise that hits your core, upper body, and back, consider including it in a full-body workout session.
6. Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Lateral raises help you effectively target your triceps and shoulders and are a lighter-weight exercise that you can try with a low weight even if you’re just starting in the gym.
How to do it:
Dumbbell lateral raises can be performed from a standing or sitting position. Once you’ve chosen which of these you prefer:
- Hold the dumbbells in each hand down at your sides
- Keep your back straight and brace your core
- Lift the weights out to the side, keeping your elbows slightly bent until they’re parallel with the floor
- Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
Dumbbell lateral raises are easy to perform exercises ideal for delivering muscle growth to your triceps and shoulders.
They’re also good for improving stability, as well as hitting the trapezius muscle in your upper back.
You can include lateral dumbbell raises in a weekly strength training routine or even more regularly since these aren’t as intensive as some other exercises.
Make sure you have a rest day between each time you do them to allow for recovery.
5. Dumbbell Bicep Curls
The dumbbell bicep curl is probably the best-known exercise and one which any aspiring bodybuilder is likely to try first.
As the name implies, this exercise is ideal for really focusing on building up the bicep.
How to do it:
Dumbbell bicep curls are among the easiest exercises to perform. Follow these simple instructions for the best bicep curls:
- Stand with your feet apart at the width of your hips with a dumbbell in each hand
- Hang your arms at your side with your palms facing forward
- Stand tall with your knees slightly bent
- Curl both arms upwards until they are in front of your shoulders
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
Aside from hitting the bicep with a great workout, the dumbbell bicep curl also hits other synergist muscles like the brachioradialis and brachialis.
Elements of your wrist and shoulders will also benefit from this motion.
Dumbbell bicep curls are near-ubiquitous exercises when training your arms and are often deployed at the end of a workout to target these muscles following on from compound exercises.
4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
One of the best exercises out there for really giving your shoulders a thorough workout is the dumbbell shoulder press.
While this exercise is easy to perform, there’s great scope for adding lots of weight so that you can push heavy and to failure.
How to do it:
Grab a bench and raise the seat so that you can sit upright with your back supported. Then:
- Hold the dumbbells to your sides at shoulder level, with your palms facing forwards
- Raise the dumbbells upwards
- At the midpoint, make sure your wrists are directly over your elbows
- Finish the upwards motion with your arms fully extended with the dumbbells directly over your shoulders
- Return the movement down to the starting position
The dumbbell shoulder press targets a selection of major muscles with each rep, including anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and the upper portion of the pectoralis major.
It’s also better than a standing or seated barbell press since it better activates the front of your shoulders.
Dumbbell shoulder presses are ideal for those workout sessions when you’re focusing on the upper body.
There are also a range of variations you can throw in, making them a versatile exercise you can adapt to target your shoulders in different ways.
3. Dumbbell Farmers Walk
If you’re new to the gym and want to ease into dumbbell exercises, the dumbbell farmer’s walk is a great way to start since it doesn’t require much in the way of lifting or muscle strain.
It’s also surprisingly effective across a range of muscles.
How to do it:
Dumbbell farmer’s walks are very easy to perform. Here’s how:
- Take the dumbbells and hold them at your side while standing using a firm grip
- Keep your shoulders, back, and core nice and tight
- Walk at an even pace, facing your eyes forwards while the dumbbells remain at your side
The dumbbell farmers walk brings into play a selection of muscles, ranging from the upper back and lats through to the forearms, quads, and hamstrings.
None of these muscle groups are exerted too much, so it’s ideal for gym newbies looking to build overall strength without risking injury.
Dumbbell farmer walks fit nicely into a full-body workout session, whether you include it to improve your overall core or just to improve overall conditioning without placing too much strain on your muscles.
2. Dumbbell Goblet Squats
Squats are excellent exercises that really drive muscle growth in your core and legs. Throw in a dumbbell, and you’ll enhance this exercise even more for additional benefits to whole-body growth.
How to do it:
You only need a single dumbbell to perform a goblet squat. Once you’ve grabbed one of these:
- Hold the dumbbell vertically by one end, so it hangs down over your chest while standing
- Make sure your elbows are pointing down
- Keep your feet shoulder to hip-width apart
- Perform a squat, making sure your elbows come inside your knees
- Keep your core tight and your torso upright
- Drive-up from your heels back to the starting position
A great exercise at every fitness level, the dumbbell goblet squat effectively targets the quads and glutes.
Holding the dumbbell also aids with good form, keeping your body aligned and increasing activation of your posterior chain muscles.
You can add goblet squats to your normal routine or work through these sets as part of a stand-alone session.
Try aiming for 10-12 reps grouped in sets of three to five.
1. Dumbbell Bench Press
If you don’t have a partner to spot you for barbell bench presses, the dumbbell bench press is a safe alternative that will still allow you to add on plenty of weight without risking injury.
How to do it:
Dumbbell bench presses are very similar to barbell bench presses. Here’s how to do them:
- Lie back on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand just over your shoulders
- Press the weights above your chest, extending your elbows until your arms are straight
- Bring the weights back down slowly
Increasing upper body strength is greatly enhanced by dumbbell bench presses.
The dumbbells also allow for a greater range of motion than a barbell working more of your pec muscles.
Use the dumbbell bench press to accelerate chest muscle growth during upper-body sessions or workouts where you really want to hit the chest hard.
FAQs About Dumbbell Exercises
Still unsure about how to incorporate the best dumbbell exercises into your workout?
Check out this handy FAQ to help improve your next dumbbell workout.
Q: What are dumbbell exercises good for?
Dumbbell exercises can target a wide range of muscle groups while also boosting metabolic rates and increasing bone strength.
They’re also a great tool for promoting coordination and stability.
Q: Can I build muscle with just dumbbells?
Dumbbell workouts are an effective method for building muscles since they can be used in many ways to affect muscles throughout the body.
Take advantage of this guide to discover how you can use dumbbells to target different areas of the body.
Q: Are dumbbells good for weight loss?
Dumbbell-based workouts not only help to build muscle mass they also burn calories and help with cardiovascular health.
Weight training, in general, is known to burn off belly fat, too, so if your primary objectives include weight loss, you should consider including them in your workout sessions.
Q: Should I do dumbbells every day?
Lifting any kind of weight on a daily basis may help you to reach your strength and weight loss goals, but you should bear in mind that your muscles need time to recover.
If you have a particularly heavy session, you need to consider having a rest day between workouts.
Alternatively, switch up the muscle groups you train each day, so recovery is built-in to your routine.
Q: Are dumbbell workouts effective?
Dumbbell workouts are widely acknowledged as being among the best workouts you can have.
They can improve cardio, flexibility, stability, and overall fitness.
They’re also awesome for targeting specific muscles for growth or as part of an overall full-body workout.
Dumbbells are incredibly versatile and can be used to deliver growth across a range of muscle groups.
Follow this guide, and you’ll be making gains across the board without having to step away from the dumbbell rack.
Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best dumbbell exercises:
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Goblet Squats
- Dumbbell Farmers Walk
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Dumbbell Bicep Curls
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Dumbbell Renegade Rows
- Dumbbell Chest Flys
- Dumbbell Lunges
- Dumbbell Thrusters