Incorporating dumbbells into your workout routine can make every move, breath, and effort more effective.
However, with thousands of potential options to choose from, not all dumbbell exercises are created equal.
We’ve compiled 11 of the very best dumbbell exercises to help you maximize the value of your routine. These movements take advantage of dumbbells' unique design and help you build strength, muscle, balance, power, and flexibility from head to toe. Nearly all of them also offer potent fat-burning effects.
Try incorporating a couple of these moves into your existing routine for better results, or bundle 3-5 of the moves together for a killer full-body dumbbell workout.
When performing all dumbbell exercises, use proper technique and form. The standard tempo is a 3-count lower (or eccentric) followed by a 1-count lift (or concentric). Focus on fluid motion and feeling the exercises in the target muscle groups.
1. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
The Dumbbell Goblet Squat is great for beginner and advanced trainees alike.
If you’re never performed a loaded squat before, this is the perfect place to start. Even if you consider yourself a squatting master, you can still get a ton of benefit out of the Goblet Squat by using a heavy dumbbell.
The biggest focus here is to keep two points of contact between the dumbbell and your torso at all times. Lower yourself until your knees touch your elbows then drive back up while keeping your entire foot flat on the ground.
While Goblet Squats primarily build lower body strength, they also engage and tone muscles in the back, shoulders, and forearms.
2. Dumbbell Z-Press
The upper back, core, and shoulders feature some of your body’s most important muscle groups.
Few exercises are as powerful for toning and strengthening these areas as the Dumbbell Z-Press. This move was invented by four-time World's Strongest Man winner Zydrunas Savickas, hence the name "Z-Press".
Many people let the dumbbells drift forward too far at the top of the movement due to overactive muscles on the front side of their body. You want to sit up nice and tall and brace your core as you press the dumbbells straight overhead. The Z-Press also removes the possibility of cheating by using your lower-body to generate momentum, which is a common problem with any standing overhead press.
If you’re looking to facilitate upper body control, improve overhead mechanics, and increase upper body hypertrophy, get going with the Z-Press!
3. Dumbbell Walking Lunges
Dumbbell Walking Lunges will hammer your lower-body like you won’t believe.
If you’re looking to really work and tone your hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes, this move is ideal. The pattern also strengthens your back, calf muscles, and core.
The gait inherent to Dumbbell Walking Lunges translates well to functional activities and athletic movements.
The big keys are to keep the front knee over the outside or middle part of your foot and to drive through your front heel as you return to a standing position. Both knees should be bent at roughly 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement (the back knee should stop just a couple inches above the ground).
Whether you want to hike higher mountains, run a faster 5k, or just have impressively-toned legs and glutes, Dumbbell Walking Lunges can make it happen.
4. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
Celebrity trainer Ben Bruno recently asked his 222k+ Instagram followers the one exercise they dread doing most.
The most common answer, overwhelmingly, was Bulgarian Split Squats. That's probably not too surprising to anybody who's done the move before. Bulgarian Split Squats deliver a savage burn to several lower-body muscle groups.
Yet all that pain translates to incredible gains.
Bulgarian Split Squats are a stellar way to build strength and muscle in the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. They’re also an excellent way to increase your flexibility and balance. While Bulgarian Split Squats can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells are generally the better choice for the vast majority of lifters. Dumbbells are easier to set up and don't place high amounts of stress on the low back like a barbell does.
Pro tip: to increase the amount of glute activation, try leaning your torso further forward as you come in and out of the split squat.
5. Dumbbell Bench Press
The Bench Press is one of the best upper-body moves you can perform.
The problem with benching on a traditional barbell?
The bar locks your hands into a fixed position and doesn’t allow for a neutral grip, increasing your risk of shoulder/elbow pain and injury.
Dumbbells solve that. The Dumbbell Bench Press works your entire upper body and effectively increases muscle mass and strength in your pectoral muscles, anterior deltoids, shoulders, and triceps.
Prop tip: don’t let the dumbbells touch your chest at the bottom. Rather, stop them just an inch or so above your chest. This will help you build rock-solid stability at the bottom of the movement and achieve greater activation in the targeted muscle groups.
6. Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell Rows
Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell Rows really help you isolate the major muscle groups of your back without placing unnecessary stress on your back.
The result is a better training effect and a stronger, more impressive back.
A few tips to dial up your gains. One, ensure you get the full “hang” between each rep by fully extending your elbows. Two, trace a subtle J-pattern as you row the dumbbells from the bottom up. Three, ensure your thumbs stay higher than your pinkies so the angle of the dumbbell matches the angle of your torso.
7. Dumbbell Farmer's Walk
If you think a cardiovascular workout isn’t possible with dumbbell exercises, you’re dead wrong.
The Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk, also known as the Farmer’s Carry, works out every major muscle group, improves your grip strength, and can get your heart pumping in a hurry.
This exercise is popular with both athletes and strongmen competitors but offers major benefits for practically everyone. Try it at the end of your next workout. Simply grab a heavy pair of dumbbells and take a walk (usually somewhere between ~25-60 yards before resting). Focus on keeping picture-perfect posture.
8. Dumbbell Calf Raises
Dumbbell Calf Raises are one of the best ways to build strength and muscle in your calves. This doesn’t only offer aesthetic and athletic benefit, but can help protect your Achilles tendon from injury by targeting muscles like the soles and gastrocnemius.
While most people typically perform Calf Raises with lighter weight for high reps, recent research has found it may be best to train them with heavier weight for lower reps (at least initially).
Pro tip: try performing calf raises with your feet rotated at different angles to better activate different muscles in your lower leg.
9. Dumbbell Snatches
Dumbbell Snatches work your entire body.
Your core, back, triceps, shoulders, quads, deltoids, traps, glutes, and hamstrings will level up with every powerful repetition of this move. Dumbbell Snatches are a great way to enjoy many of the benefits of olympic weightlifting without having to spend hours mastering complex techniques.
RELATED: The 13 Best Barbell Exercises
One of the biggest benefits of Dumbbell Snatches is that they train your core to effectively transfer energy between your lower body to your upper body — a skill that applies to a huge range of functional and athletic activities.
10. Dumbbell Thrusters
This is another dumbbell exercise that will have your heart pounding!
Dumbbell Thrusters combine a squat with a shoulder press to challenge a huge number of muscle groups. Activating all those different muscle groups torches a ton of calories in a short period of time and enhances your endurance, strength, muscle, balance, and more.
Ensure you utilize a neutral (palms facing one another) grip on your dumbbells and keep your elbows high throughout the movement. The transition from the squat to the shoulder press should be smooth, with the momentum of the squat helping propel the dumbbells up overhead. Each rep should flow right to the next.
11. Dumbbell Hollow Hold Single-Arm Press
There aren’t many exercises that effectively challenge both your chest and your core simultaneously.
Combining a single-arm press with a hollow hold position does exactly that. The Dumbbell Hollow Hold Single-Arm Press is a powerhouse of an exercise that can challenge even the fittest of fitness enthusiasts.
The hollow hold itself is already a major challenge to the core, but adding a unilateral pressing movement to the mix cranks things up even further. The big key here is to ensure the low back remains pressed against the ground and to control the dumbbell throughout the press while using a 3-count-lower, 1-count-raise tempo.
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