13 of the Best Dumbbell Exercises to Lose Weight and Build Muscle
Sometimes we just can’t get to the gym as often as we’d like. It’s important our home work-outs are just as challenging so we can stay on the right track of our fitness goals. Dumbbells and dumbbell exercises are a vital part of a fitness routine for a bigger physique or increased power. As you get stronger, you’ll want a greater challenge - but a full rack of dumbbells takes up so much space!
Thankfully, adjustable dumbbell sets exist and they’ll make your life easier. From the ease of switching weights mid-work-out to tucking them away when not in use, adjustable dumbbells are an efficient, problem-solving at-home workout solution. Moreover, a flat bench is not always necessary.
Powerful legs, a strong back, a proud chest, and muscular arms are achievable from the comfort of your home, and the equipment required can be stored neatly out of sight. Combine your adjustable dumbbells with a well-rounded nutrition plan, adequate rest, and a consistent, strategic exercise plan and you’ll be on your way sooner than you think.
These are 13 of the best dumbbell exercises to lose weight and build muscle
The goblet squat develops your lower body strength, size and power in a similar way to other squat variations like the barbell back or front squat. It is one of the best dumbbell exercises but it can also be performed with a kettlebell.
The goblet squat forces you to learn proper squat form. You can easily tell you're squatting in decent form, properly knees bent if the weight is kept in contact with your sternum and stomach and if your elbows touch your knees. Improper form in the goblet squat is more intuitive to fix, and fixing these issues makes you less prone to injury if and when you decide to squat with a barbell.
You don’t need to sacrifice the physical benefits of the squat if a barbell back squat hurts your back. Goblet squats allow for a more upright torso, meaning it's easier on your spine than the back squat. These can be also be considered a weighted core exercise because all of your core muscles have to engage to perform the exercise properly.
To perform the Goblet Squat:
- Hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest, and then properly squat with your knees bent.
- Make sure the weight is kept in contact with your sternum and stomach and allow your elbows to touch your knees.
The dumbbell clean is a great compound lift that works your arms, back, shoulders and legs. It will take a little bit of practice to get the motion right because of the overhand grip, but once you get the hang of it it'll be a great full body movement for your training schedule.
To perform the Dumbbell Clean:
- Squat down and hold your dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip in front of your feet.
- Flip your wrists so they face forwards and bring the weights to your shoulders, slightly jumping to give momentum.
- Slowly straighten your legs to stand, then lower your weights to your thighs before moving back into a squat position.
The farmer’s walk is a staple move with a ton of benefits all wrapped into one efficient exercise. Adding this to your routine will help you increase strength, muscle mass, core strength, willpower and focus.
To perform the Farmer’s Walk:
- Stand holding dumbbells, legs straight with weights held by your sides.
- Keep your shoulders tight and your back straight.
- Take short, quick steps across your set distance, starting with the left foot or the right - whether at home, at the gym or outside.
- This exercise is meant to be done with heavier weights. Adjust your dumbbells as you get stronger.
- You can increase intensity by walking a longer distance or increasing number of walks.
Bent Over Dumbbell Row
The Bent-Over Dumbbell Row is one of the best dumbbell exercises to build muscles in your back and shoulder and increase overall strength.
To perform the Bent Over Dumbbell Row:
- With a dumbbell in each hand, bend over at about a 45 degree angle.
- Reminder to keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Brace your abdominals and breathe in, then lift the weights straight up while exhaling.
Two-Arm Dumbbell Stiff Legged Deadlift
The stiff legged deadlift is a great exercise to increase muscular hypertrophy, and strengthening the entire posterior chain. It is an isolation movement that specifically targets hip flexion and extension.
To perform the Two-Arm Dumbbell Stiff Legged Deadlift:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your side with your knees slightly bent.
- Lower the dumbbells to the top of your feet, as far as you can go making sure to extend through your waist.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
Single Arm Dumbbell Swing
The single arm dumbbell swing is one of the best dumbbell exercises for training your glutes and hamstrings while also working your core, quads and shoulder muscles. It doubles as a cardio workout, helping you burn fat and boost metabolism.
To perform the Single Arm Dumbbell Swing:
- Stand holding dumbbells at arms length between your legs.
- Sink into a squat and swing the dumbbell through your legs before immediately driving yourself forward, bringing the dumbbell up towards your head as you straighten your legs.
- Repeat then swap sides.
Dumbbell Bench Press
If you’re looking to improve your chest, you may just need to swap out the barbell in favour of a set of dumbbells. Using dumbbells allow a greater range of motion meaning you can work on more of your pectoral muscles during the exercise. Training both sides in isolation also means you won’t compensate with your stronger side, allowing even growth. It also allows you to notice when one side is weaker than the other, helping you balance out your body.
To perform the Dumbbell Bench Press:
- Lie back on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing towards your feet in the starting position. If you have shoulder issues, let your palms face one another in a neutral position.
- Press the weights above your chest by extending your elbows until your arms are straight, then bring the weights back down slowly.
- To take advantage of the range of movement offered by using dumbbells rather than a barbell, take the weights down past your shoulders and bring them closer together at the top of the movement.
Cross Body Hammer Curl
The cross body hammer curl is a great hypertrophy exercise for your biceps, helping you build thicker arms.
To perform the Cross Body Hammer Curl:
- Stand holding two dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing towards each other.
- Curl each weight up towards your opposing shoulder one at a time.
- Maintaining control of movement, return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Step-ups hit all the major muscle groups in your lower body, particularly the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Adding this move to your routine will help improve your body’s functional fitness - improving your strength and resilience for sports like running and cycling.
This is one of the easiest and best dumbbell exercises. All you need is a bench, platform, or a chair if you’re at home - as long as it is about just under knee height.
To perform the Dumbbell Step-Up:
- Stand tall facing your platform holding dumbbells by your sides.
- Step up with your whole right foot on the bench, driving up through your right leg and standing on the platform with both feet.
- Lead with your left leg back down to starting position.
- You can either alternate legs if you’re doing reps for time or do all reps for one at a time.
This dumbbell exercise engages your entire shoulder muscles, most effectively targeting the anterior and lateral deltoids. This exercise helps improve your posture by strengthening all the muscles involved in maintaining proper posture.
Strengthening your shoulders, core and back allows you to establish a strong, upright posture. This proper form and movement also strengthen your shoulders preparing them for more intense lifting motions and preventing injury.
To perform the Dumbbell Scaption:
- Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing inwards.
- With a tight core and back, contract your deltoids to raise the dumbbells to shoulder height at a 30-45 degree angle. You should form a “y” formation with your arms.
- Pause for two-three seconds at the top of the rep and slowly bring your arms back to the starting position.
- Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!
The lunge is basically a giant step forward. The addition of weight will make your leg muscles work harder and improve your balance over time. The lunge’s main targets are your quads and gluteus maximus. Incorporating lunges in your routine will help you improve your balance and mobility.
Out of dumbbell exercises, lunges are something that can be done without dumbbells. But if you are looking for a body transformation workout, this must be carried out with dumbbells.
To perform the Dumbbell Lunge:
- Find or clear an area where you can take one big step.
- Choose dumbbells of a weight that will enable you to complete the exercise sets you have chosen.
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Hang your arms at your sides with your palms facing your thighs in a hammer grip. Let your feet be a little less than shoulder-width apart.
- Take a big step forward with either leg, bending at the knee until the front thigh approaches parallel to the ground, inhaling as you go down.
- The back leg is bent at the knee, and your feet must be balanced.
- Don't let your lunging knee go past the tip of your toes.
- Step back to your standing starting position while exhaling.
- Repeat the motion with the other leg and continue until your set is complete.
Single Dumbbell Shoulder Raise
The single dumbbell raise is a simple weightlifting exercise that effectively targets the fronts and sides of the shoulders, upper chest muscles, upper arm, and biceps. Incorporate this shoulder flexion exercise to create wide shoulders, build strength, improve shoulder mobility, and tone your upper body.
To perform the Single Dumbbell Shoulder Raise - Upper Body workout:
- Choose the appropriate weight to ensure that your movements are smooth and controlled steadily throughout your whole set.
- Hold the end of a dumbbell with both hands and let it hang between your legs, positioned shoulder width apart.
- Lift the dumbbell directly above you, keeping your arms extended, then lower it back down and repeat.
Dumbbell Calf Raise
This dumbbell exercise helps activate the muscles that run down the back of the lower legs, integral in ankle flexion and extension which propel running and jumping. When weak, your calf muscles are more prone to straining or tearing making running and walking difficult. But once strengthened, the fast-twitch muscle fibers allow more rapid, explosive movement which will increase your endurance and power.
To perform the Dumbbell Calf Raise:
- Hold dumbbells at your sides with your arms slack.
- Spread your feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly raise your heels, keeping your knees extended but not locked.
- Pause for one second.
- Slowly lower your heels back to the starting position.
Can you get a good workout with just dumbbells?
As you can see, you don’t need a barbell to build muscle. They are often preferred for compound exercises like heavy back squats, bench presses and deadlifts, but without a gym, it’s hard to access one regularly! They also pose safety risks if you are a beginner or are working out without a spotter. Barbells are nice to use when you can, but they’re not a necessity.
With a strategic workout schedule and the application of progressive overload, you will lose fat and build muscle with dumbbells and dumbbell exercises. They also offer benefits barbells cannot.
- Using dumbbells offer a more natural range of motion, which are easier on your joints and helps reduce the risk of injury.
- It’s very common to have a more dominant side, and with a barbell you’re far more likely to overcompensate on an exercise. This creates unsightly muscle imbalances that are difficult to correct, and can even cause injury over time. Dumbbell exercises and dumbbells force you to even the distribution of weight, creating more balanced muscle growth, better flexibility, increased mind-muscle connection and helping you avoid injury.
The best workout is the workout that you do. And you’re most prepared to take consistent action if everything you need is within reach. Adjustable dumbbell sets are the answer to a consistent at-home workout solution.