7 Beginner Dumbbell Exercises That Will Work Your Entire Body in a Single Workout

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If your fitness routine only consists of bodyweight exercises in your living room, you might be ready to try something new. And while you could certainly mix things up by ordering a Peloton bikesmart treadmill, or a fancy trampoline, you can also choose to up the ante on your workouts with one of the most basic (and affordable) equipment upgrades money can buy: A simple set of dumbbells. With the right beginner dumbbell workout, you'll be making new fitness strides in no time.

Adding weights into your daily workout routine can be a great way to increase overall strength, and improve balance, flexibility, and stability. And you don't even need to go to the gym to do it—you can get in a full-body dumbbell workout at home!

Experts In This Article

"I love supplementing bodyweight exercises with dumbbells...to make the movements more challenging," says Venus Moore, a trainer with Halle Berry's virtual fitness and wellness platform Re.Spin. "Adding progressive weight to your workouts forces the muscles to constantly have to adapt and rebuild themselves stronger." And those adaptations are key to getting next-level results.

But reaching for a set for the first time can be admittedly overwhelming. When you're first getting started with hand weight exercises, Moore suggests keeping it simple and choosing light dumbbells—ideally between five and 10 pounds. "You want to be able to learn the exercise movements correctly and execute proper form, so you don’t want the weight to be too heavy," she explains. "The right weight dumbbells ensure you train effectively without putting the wrong type of strain on your muscles. Train smarter, not harder, to eliminate the risk of potential injury, and remember that heavy weight does not equal results when it's used incorrectly."

The weight you select isn't the only thing to be mindful of, though. According to celebrity trainer Lacey Stone, you'll want to begin by focusing on basic, stationary moves, like squats and rows before moving on to compound moves like the power snatch. "First things first, get that form down with lighter weights," she says. "Once you get the fundamentals down, that’s when you can add in compound movements where you work the upper and lower body together." 

7 exercises to incorporate into a beginner dumbbell workout

To help you work a set of weights into your regular routine, scroll through for some of the best beginner dumbbell exercises you can do at home (or at the gym) to work your entire body in a single workout. Add these all together for a full body dumbell workout that doesn't require a ton of experience. But remember: "Basic" does not necessarily mean "easy," which means you'll be feeling the burn in no time.

1. Bent-over row

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, and bend your knees with your feet hips-width distance apart. Push your hips back and roll your shoulders back to bend your upper body forward (keeping your spine straight).
  2. Pull your arms up with your elbows at 90 degrees until the weights are parallel to your hips.
  3. Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the move, then slowly lower your arms back down to start.

Primary areas worked: latissimus dorsi, middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids

FYI: “In your bent-over row, you’ll work the big muscles along your spine, primarily your lats,” says BowFlex fitness advisor Amy Schemper, CPT. “This is a great exercise to improve posture and combat the muscle imbalances or tightness you might feel from sitting at a desk all day.”

2. Alternating dumbbell curl to press

This move is a two-for-one that targets your arms and shoulders.

  1. Standing up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, bend at your elbows to curl the weights up to your shoulders (be sure to keep your palms facing your body and your elbows glued to your sides as you curl).
  2. Pivot at your wrists so your palms are facing each other, and press the weights up overhead as you twist your arms so that your palms face forward.
  3. Slowly reverse the move to return to start.

Primary areas worked: biceps, triceps, and shoulders

Pro tip: Once you get the hang of this movement, to take it a step further consider making it a dumbbell leg workout with a squat to press. “When working with compound exercises like a squat and press, start with a lighter weight,” Schemper says. “You’ll be working the upper and lower body, your core for stabilization, plus cardio.”

3. Dumbbell lateral raise

Target your deltoids with this exercise. Be sure to engage your core and glutes as you move, and start with light weights until you master the slow, controlled motion.

  1. Raise a set of dumbbells out to the side until they're parallel to your shoulders, creating a "T" shape with your body.
  2. Slowly return to the start.

Primary areas worked: anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and serratus anterior

4. Goblet squat

Weights aren't reserved for working your arms and shoulders—you can use beginner dumbbell exercises to hit your lower body, too.

  1. Instead of a kettlebell, hold a single, medium-to-heavy weight with one end in each hand, and lower down into a squat until your butt is slightly below your knees.
  2. Drive up through your heels to return to stand, squeezing your glutes as you reach the top of the move. Be sure to keep your chest proud and eyes up to maintain proper form.

Primary areas worked: glutes, quads, calves, core, biceps, and hands

5. Weighted reverse lunge

Kick your lunges up a notch by adding some weight into the mix.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and take a big step back with one leg and drop down into your lunge.
  2. Drive up through your front foot to return to stand.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

Primary areas worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips, core, and upper back

Pro tip: “With squats and lunges, you’re working the lower body—quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips—but because you’re utilizing the bigger muscles in your body, you’re also going to get your heart rate up for cardiovascular benefit,” Schemper says. “Start with your dumbbells down by your side, then progress to holding them at shoulder height in a racked position, or experiment with using just one dumbbell for added balance and core training.”

6. Dumbbell wood chop

Yup—you can use dumbbells to work your core. This move involves twisting through your abs and obliques to raise a weight above your head, and mimics the act of chopping wood.

  1. Hold the top of a weight in both hands at one side of your body, then stabilize your core as you pivot to reach it up above your opposite shoulder (as if you were swinging an axe).
  2. Then, swipe it back down to the starting position as you rotate through your feet.

Primary areas worked: obliques, transverse abdominis, and upper glutes

7. Single-leg deadlift

This hip-dominant, unilateral move targets your hips and glutes one side at a time.

  1. Hold a weight in one hand, and stabilize with your foot on the opposite side.
  2. Bend your standing knee and slowly lower the weight down toward the floor (keeping your chest proud, back flat and hips square) while the foot on the same side as your weight lifts back behind you. Activate your "floating" leg throughout the move by flexing your foot, which will help to fire up your glutes.
  3. Drive through your standing leg to return to the starting position, and track the movement with your gaze to maintain proper form.

Primary areas worked: hamstrings and glutes

Prefer to follow along with a trainer? We've got you covered:  


Frequently asked questions

Is it possible to build muscle solely with dumbbells?

According to Schemper, you can absolutely build muscle with dumbbell exercises alone. The key is to progressively overload, she says. This means “gradually increasing your workout intensity and stress on your muscles, over time,” she explains. “You'll see the adaptations—muscle growth—that occurs, as a result.”

What is the ideal dumbbell weight for beginners?

Moore says five to 10 pounds is a great starting point for executing a beginner dumbbell workout plan. That said, everyone has different capabilities, and over time, strength will allow for weight advances. 

“Picking a weight all depends on your current strength level, which can be different for everyone, even if you haven’t been working out,” Schemper says. “I work with a lot of moms, who maybe aren’t doing traditional strength training, but pick up their 20- to 30-pound toddlers all day. Starting at five pounds might seem doable, but in reality, they are stronger and have more muscular endurance than they realize.”

How can you tell if you've picked the right dumbbells? “You want the weight to be something that is comfortable to use for a set of eight to 12 repetitions, with the first few reps feeling easier, and the last few reps feeling pretty difficult,” Schemper says.

Since the weight you use will fluctuate, it's a good idea to invest in a pair of adjustable weights.

When do you know it's time to increase the weight?

Determining your ideal dumbbell weight requires focusing on eight to 12 reps; knowing when to up your weight requires homing in on the effort it requires to lift the first six reps. “If you can only do four to six reps with good form, the weight may be too heavy; if you can keep going for 20 reps, your weights may be too light,” Schemper says. Adjust accordingly.

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