The 12 Best Dumbbell Workouts for You to Build Strength and Muscle

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From men's health
Strength training is a comprehensive practice that you can apply with a variety of tools depending on your goals, perspectives, and resources. Heavy dumbbells with their weight and their rigid weight are perfect for building whole-body muscles with multi-joint exercises. Kettlebells offer impressive versatility and enable swinging movements and currents as well as presses and curls. Even weight training can be incredibly useful as you learn to use yourself to your own benefit.
But the most useful tools in the gym (or at home if you're working out there) might just be the humble dumbbells. Dumbbells allow more freedom of movement than barbells, which can be important for factors like shoulder safety when pressing. Because of their design, they are easier to grip and maneuver than kettlebells for certain movements. They're also a great option for purely practical problems, so their (relatively) compact size allows you to work in a smaller space. There is a lower barrier to entry than barbells or kettlebells, which can be difficult to manipulate for beginners. In the meantime, you can just grab the handles of a pair of dumbbells and let them rip (within reason, of course). And, unlike barbells, you usually don't have to bother adding or subtracting plates when it's time to step up or cool down.
Photo credit: Men's Health
Dumbbells also allow you to take a variety of training approaches. From low volume strength and strength exercises to high volume muscle endurance routines, the machines will serve you well. Isolate individual muscles with movements like dumbbell curls or bring multiple groups into the equation with snapshots and cleanses - the possibilities are nearly limitless.
If you want to work out with nothing but a set of dumbbells, consider these workouts as a starting point. Some of them require other equipment like benches, while others can be supplemented with just the two weights and your determination to sweat. If you're stuck in a small space at home, check out these routines that are specifically designed to keep a minimum. Do you need dumbbells for yourself? Check these options.
Dumbbell hell
Get a timer and a pair of lightweight dumbbells for this volume-based chest breaker from Bobby Maximus (via Westside Barbell). You will still get a lot of work in the 5 minutes - the real question will be whether or not you can keep up with all of these repetitions.
Sit back on a bench or the floor and hold the dumbbells.
Push one arm up and hold the other weight by your side without resting it on your chest.
Hold down the button for two and a half minutes. When you need a break, hold the dumbbell up in the press position.
Switch sides and repeat for another two and a half minutes.
Incline Press Hellset dumbbell
For this routine, you need an incline bench that challenges you with one-sided work and constant tension presses. Just make sure you don't get too heavy - Samuel recommends starting at 10-15 pounds, which is lighter than a standard mixed-style incline press.
Sit on the bench and hold the dumbbells in each hand. Push both arms up to get to the starting position.
Perform 2 explosive press reps with one arm and hold the press position with the other. Squeeze your core together to keep your torso in place on the bench. After doing the reps, switch over and repeat the process for 2 reps with the other arm. Repeat this process twice without stopping 6 reps on each arm.
When you are done with the explosive alternating reps in the press position, slowly lower both weights through the eccentric part of the press. Take 3 seconds to reach the lower position.
Push up just as slowly, taking 3 seconds to reach the top. Then press your triceps and chest to finish the repetition. Repeat for 4 to 6 reps.
Biceps, triceps, and core circulation
When most people think of dumbbells, the first step they think of is likely the bicep curl. There are few better ways to control your guns - but you can use smart programming to hit your other arm muscles as well. This circuit by Andy Speer uses some dumbbells, your body weight, and a ticking clock to keep your arms and core feeling good. Do each movement for 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds to complete 1 lap. Do 3 laps to finish the workout.
Pronated (overhand grip / reverse) curl - 5 reps
Hammer Curl - 5 reps
Supinated (underhand standard) curl - 5 reps
Alternating thrust plank - 40 seconds
Hollow Body Diamond Plank - 40 seconds
Iso-to-reps biceps mayhem
This routine shows how versatile dumbbells can be, even when they're outside of the classic fitness environment. Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. Uses isometric holds to build up time under tension - a common muscle building technique - then pumps your arms up even more by packing in extra reps with a drop-set scheme.
Start by standing with either dumbbells or water jugs wrapped in your towels by your sides.
Curl up until your forearms are parallel to the floor and focus on rotating your palms so that they are facing the ceiling. Hold down for 8 seconds.
Do 8 bicep curl repetitions while continuing to focus on rotating your palms so that they are facing the ceiling.
Let your palms face each other. Curl up until your forearms are parallel to the floor. Pause and hold and for 8 seconds.
Do 8 hammer curls.
That is 1 sentence. Pause 45 seconds. Do 3 sets.
Core / shoulders
Delt-defining planks
This circuit of delt-smashing plank variants shows how versatile a pair of dumbbells can be in the right hands. With a light weight, hit all three exercises for 8 reps with both arms, then rest 1 minute to finish 1 round. Repeat the series twice for a total of 3 rounds.
Extended plank rear delt raise
Raise the extended plank front
Extended Plank Superman Press
Reject dumbbell from deep fryer
To build a really strong core, you need to challenge yourself with extra stress, just like any other muscle group. Do that - and make it even harder - with this brutal addition of anti-rotation powers with the incline bench.
Anchor your feet on a kneeling bench and hold a pair of light dumbbells.
Lower your torso to a position that is parallel to the floor. Hold the dumbbells above your head with a neutral grip.
Slide one of the dumbbells aside and hold it in place. Do six situps with your arms in this position.
After the first six repetitions, move your other arm to the side position. Do another 6 sit-ups.
Bring both dumbbells in a position just above your chest. Finish with 6 situps.
Back / lower body
Dumbbells are for deadlifts
You have to use your hands to hold dumbbells, but that doesn't mean you will just get stuck while working on your upper body. Try some of these deadlift variations on your next day of lower or full body lifts, starting with medium weights for 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Straight leg deadlift
Suitcase deadlift
Tiered deadlift
One-legged deadlift
One arm deadlift
One arm suitcase deadlift
Deadlift with one arm and leg
Sumo deadlift
Front Loaded Deadlift
Kneeling cross loader with front loader
Raised row of planks
You have probably made a lot of curved rows and bench rows in your life. So why not try a new variant that does justice to your core? You will need a bench and maybe a pair of solid, grippy sneakers that won't slip. They will crush your back, but you will also refine the V-shaped torso shape that you are aiming for as well.
Stand in an elevated plank position on top of the bench with your elbows and forearms on the surface for support. Squeeze your core and glutes together throughout the series to keep your spine position strong. Hold the barbell in your other arm with your weight down.
Squeeze your back to row the weight with your elbows extended. Stop up to count.
Row with your elbow close to your body and turn your palm inward so it is facing your head. Stop up to count.
Row your elbow close to your body again and hold your hand in place.
Perform 3 to 4 clusters of this series for 1 set.
lower body
25s leg workout
Do this workout to get a lower body burn with nothing but a pair of 25 pound dumbbells. Beginners, advanced and advanced users give everyone a good challenge to exercise their legs.
3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute rest between rounds
Alternating Front Loaded Reverse Lunge - 60 seconds
Alternating lunge at hip height - 60 seconds
3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute rest between rounds
Overhead Alternating Reverse Lungs - 60 seconds
Alternating Front Loaded Reverse Lunge - 60 seconds
3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute rest between rounds
Overhead Alternating Reverse Lungs - 60 seconds
Alternating Front Loaded Reverse Lunge - 60 seconds
Alternating lunge at hip height - 60 seconds
Mug Squat Hellset
Do you have 10 minutes? Then you can obliterate your legs with a dumbbell and a small platform to raise your heels like a weight plate. By the time you finish these 24 cup squats, you will be shaking.
Hold a heavy core kettlebell or dumbbell against your chest. A weight plate or platform about 2 to 3 inches tall should be behind you.
Step back on this platform with your heels and take a slightly closer position than your normal squat. Holding your core tight, bend at your knees and lean back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Get up again. Do 8 reps.
Step out of the platform or plate and slightly expand your stance to your normal squat position. Do 8 squats, pausing for 1 second at the bottom of each rep. "Enjoy the break," says Samuel. "Use it as a chance to find your squat shape."
Finish with 8 squats, this time without a rest. Do 3 sets.
Full body
7-7-7 DB complex
This complex hits almost every muscle group and makes it a real full-body dumbbell workout. Make sure you use weights that you can handle for a long time for a variety of exercises - this one will be difficult. Do 7 repetitions of each exercise in turn, then rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat this process up to seven times, depending on how much dumbbell punishment you can handle.
Overhead triceps extension
Hammer curl
Overhead press
Bent over row
Drop and pin split squat (L)
Split squat drop and stuck (R)
Sumo burpee
Dumbbell strength interval training
Move quickly - but on purpose - to crush this tough streak that's over in just 12 minutes. You perform each exercise for 30 seconds and then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat for a total of 4 rounds.
One leg reach and row (L)
Dumbbell skier swings
One-legged reach and row (R)
Dumbbell change press
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