10 Best Dumbbell Exercises

Lena Weib

You’ve vowed to start working out. So, you invest in a pair of dumbbells and … now what? There is no shortage of weighted exercises, which makes it a great way to keep variety in your routine, but it can also make it a bit daunting to get started.

As a personal trainer my favorite thing about dumbbells is how approachable they make a strength-training routine. Whether you’re a beginner, have lofty strength goals, or are in a time crunch, dumbbells can be the answer to an effective workout. Regardless of your fitness level or location, you can easily pick up a pair of dumbbells and get to work! 

The following 10 exercises are great staples that strung together, create a well-rounded, full-body workout. The moves will target your entire arm (including your biceps, triceps and shoulders), your core and your legs. I recommend starting with light weights (think: 2 or 3 pounds), and working to increase your repetitions to 15 before increasing the weight.

Squat with punches

Hold a dumbbell in each hand, one in front of each shoulder. Bend down into a squat, squeezing your glutes and abs. As you return to a standing position, extend your right arm straight out in front of you in a punching motion. Bring your right arm back in and squat back down. This time as you return to standing, extend your left arm straight out in front of you in a punching motion. Repeat 10 times per arm. 

Standing overhead reach with side taps

Standing overhead reach with side taps

 Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold one dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows and lift the dumbbells into a goal-post position so that they are aligned with your shoulders. Breathe in and push the left arm up overhead as you tap the left foot out to the left, then come back to center. Repeat to the right. Alternate sides for 10 reaches per side.

Russian twist

Russian twist

The Russian twist is a great addition to any core workout. The twisting motion works your obliques, so you’re activating multiple core muscles at once, and adding a dumbbell takes it one step further. Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet either hovering above the floor or resting on the ground. Tilt your upper body backward to a 45-degree angle (this will feel like you are at the top position of a situp). Hold one dumbbell with both hands, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your shoulders away from your ears. By lifting your feet off the ground, you’ll give your abs an extra challenge. (For a modification, keep the feet on the ground.) Keeping the dumbbell in front of your chest, twist your torso to the right reaching the dumbbell toward the floor. Then move back through center and twist to the left, tapping the dumbbell on the floor. Perform 10 times on each side.

Overhead press

Overhead press

To start, hold the dumbbells in a goal-post position with the weights in alignment with the ears. The upper arms are parallel to the ground and the forearms are perpendicular to the ground. Press the weights up overhead, in front of your forehead slightly so that you can see them with your eyes without tilting your head up. Then bring them back to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times.

Tricep extension

Tricep kickback

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent. Hold one weight in each hand, and let your arms hang down at your sides. Hinge forward at the waist so that your chest is tilted at a 45-degree angle toward the ground. Perform a row by pulling your elbows up toward the sky, hugging them into your sides. Then, holding the elbows static, bring the weights up and back toward the back of the room into a tricep kickback, working the upper back and back of the arms. Come back to the row position and then repeat 10 times.

Marching in place with bicep curls

Marching in place with bicep curls

This move combines a simple march in place with the well-known bicep curl. This adds an added balance challenge, plus a cardio element. Begin marching in place, making sure to bring your knee up so that your thigh is parallel with the ground. Once you establish a pace, begin to incorporate the bicep curl. When your right knee is in the air, perform a bicep curl with your left arm. Continue to alternate, keeping a comfortable pace. Perform 10 bicep curls with each arm.

Bent over row

Bent over row

Stand with both feet on the floor, knees slightly bent and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms and fingers facing in. Hinge at the hips tilting the chest toward the ground at a 45-degree angle. Keep your chest open, looking forward, and roll your shoulders back. Pull both arms back as if you’re lifting a box from the floor. You’ve completed your first rep! Be sure to keep your elbows hugged in to your sides and your back straight. Repeat 10 times.

Backward lunge

Backward lunge

Plant your feet on the ground and stand tall, keeping your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides; they should remain here throughout the exercise. Step your right foot back and lower down until there is a 90-degree bend in your right knee. Your right thigh should be parallel to the ground. Step back to standing tall and then repeat with your left leg. Alternate, performing 10 repetitions on each side.

Hammer curl

Hammer curl

Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and your palms and fingers facing in toward your body. Making sure your palms remain facing in toward the body, lift both arms up toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows glued to your sides. Slowly lower both arms back down to your sides. Repeat 10 times.

overhead tricep extension

Overhead tricep extension

Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Grab one dumbbell with each hand and extend both arms straight up overhead. Bring your hands together so that the weights are touching. Keeping your elbows facing forward and your biceps glued to your ears, lower the weight directly behind your head. Bring your arms back up to the extension over your head and repeat 10 times.

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