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10 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Men & Women to Get in Shape

By Laura Williams

dumbbellsDumbbells are a quintessential piece of fitness equipment. You can do just about any exercise with them, and they’re reasonably affordable.

Furthermore, used properly, they get results – and this is the reason why dumbbells have been an essential staple in the fitness industry for years. You can target muscles unilaterally or in tandem, and you can increase your strength without spending lots of cash on the latest fitness contraptions. So instead of buying into the late night infomercials, dust off that old set of dumbbells and put them to work with this full-body exercise routine.

Exercises with Dumbbells

When working out with dumbbells, it’s important to use correct form. Start with a light weight, between 5 and 15 pounds, then increase weight based on the difficulty of each exercise. You want the last one or two reps of each set to be difficult to complete.

1. Step-ups

step ups

Warm up and challenge your lower body strength with a simple step-up exercise. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand facing a bench, step, or other raised, sturdy surface. Step up and down off the bench or step, leading with the right foot, for one minute before switching to the left foot. Continue for six total minutes.

2. Goblet Squat

goblet squat

Strengthen your entire lower body while perfecting squat form by performing a goblet squat.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your toes angled slightly outward. Hold a dumbbell vertically between your hands, cupping the upper bell between your hands at your chest, as though you were about to take a drink from a goblet.
  2. Tip your hips backward and sit back as though you were going to sit down in a chair, bending your knees and lowering your butt toward the floor. Keep the dumbbell fixed in place in front of your chest. Keep your head forward-facing, your chest up, and your heels planted on the ground.
  3. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, try to fit your elbows just inside your knees. This helps train you to keep your knees aligned with your toes, instead of allowing them to buckle inward.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to standing. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds, then perform two more sets.

3. Side Lunge

side lunge

Work your lower body, with a particular focus on your glutes, quads, and adductors by performing a side lunge.

  1. Stand with your feet together, a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Step out laterally with your left leg, your toes angled slightly outward, and tip your hips back as you bend your left knee, keeping your right leg straight. Make sure your knee stays aligned with your toes as you bend your left leg, lowering your hips toward the floor. Allow your arms to hang down naturally as you perform the exercise.
  3. When your knee is in line with the front of your toes, reverse the movement and press yourself back up to standing.
  4. Perform 12 repetitions on one side before switching to the opposite side. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat.

4. Single Leg Deadlift

single leg deadlift

Work on your balance and coordination as you strengthen your hamstrings and glutes unilaterally.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, a dumbbell in each hand, your arms hanging down directly in front of your thighs, and your palms facing your body. Carefully lift one foot off the ground, shifting your weight so you’re balanced on the other foot.
  2. Keeping your torso straight, tip forward from the hips, lowering your torso toward the floor as you simultaneously lift your raised leg behind you, as though your body were a pendulum. Allow the dumbbells to run down the front of your legs as your arms naturally reach toward the floor during the movement.
  3. When your torso is parallel to the ground, tighten your hamstrings, glutes, and core. Using your legs to help you reverse the movement, “pull” your torso back up to standing. Your torso should remain straight throughout the movement.
  4. Repeat 8 to 10 times on one side before switching to the opposite side. Rest 30 seconds and perform a second set.

5. Alternating Chest Press

alternating chest press

Strengthen your chest and triceps unilaterally by performing an alternating chest press.

  1. Lie back on a bench or mat and hold a dumbbell in each hand directly above your shoulders, your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, your palms facing away from your face, and your feet planted firmly on the floor.
  2. Press one arm directly up above your chest until your arm is straight, stopping just before your elbow locks out. Reverse the movement and return your arm to the starting position.
  3. Repeat on the opposite side, and continue alternating from one side to the other until you’ve performed 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.
  4. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat two more sets.

6. Dumbbell Row

dumbbell row

Strengthen your back by performing a dumbbell row. You can perform this exercise on the floor, but if you have access to a bench, step, or sturdy chair, you can increase the range of motion of the movement.

  1. Kneel on the ground or on a bench, your knees directly under your hips and your palms planted on the ground under your shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing inward, and extend your right foot behind you, placing the ball of your foot on the floor and keeping your knee straight to provide additional stability. If you’re using a bench to perform the exercise, allow your right arm to hang down from your shoulder, just to the outside of the bench. If you’re performing the exercise on the floor, simply rest the dumbbell on the ground.
  2. From this position, squeeze your right shoulder blade and bend your elbow to pull it directly up to your body, keeping your arm close to your side.
  3. When you’ve drawn the dumbbell as close to your body as you can, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10 to 12 times on one side before switching to the other side. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat two more sets.

7. Reverse Fly

reverse fly

Strengthen your back and shoulders by performing a reverse dumbbell fly.

  1. Stand with your feet together, a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Tip your hips backward, your knees slightly bent, and lower your chest toward the floor. When your torso is parallel to the ground, allow your arms to hang straight down from your shoulders, your palms facing in. This is the starting position.
  3. In a single movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together, drawing your arms up and out to the sides, allowing your elbows to bend naturally in a “bowed” position as you lift your arms.
  4. When the dumbbells are at roughly chest-height, reverse the movement and return to start. Repeat 10 to 12 times, rest 30 seconds, and then perform a second set.

8. Triceps Kickback

triceps kickback

Strengthen your triceps by performing a triceps kickback. You can perform this exercise on the floor or on a bench.

  1. Kneel on the floor with your knees under your hips and your palms planted on the ground directly beneath your shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing inward. Reach your right leg behind you, straightening your knee and planting the ball of your foot on the ground for extra stability.
  2. Squeeze your right shoulder blade and draw your arm directly up and to your side, bending your elbow to a 90-degree angle. Your upper arm should be in line with your right side, and your forearm should be hanging down perpendicularly to your body so that the dumbbell is parallel to your torso. This is the starting position.
  3. Keeping your upper arm fixed in place, extend your elbow, pressing the dumbbell backward toward your hip. When your elbow is straight, reverse the movement and return to start.
  4. Repeat 10 to 12 times on one side before switching sides. Rest 30 seconds, then repeat a second set.

9. Lateral Raises

lateral raises

Strengthen your shoulders with a version of the lateral raise.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent, and a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. With your upper arms fixed to your sides, bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle so that you’re holding the dumbbells directly in front of your torso at waist-height with your palms facing in. This is the starting position.
  3. While maintaining the 90-degree angle at your elbows, use your shoulders to draw your arms up and out to the sides. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the ground and reverse the movement, returning to start.
  4. Repeat 10 to 12 times, rest 30 seconds, then perform a second set.

10. Hammer Curls

hammer curl

Strengthen your biceps and forearms with the simple hammer curl exercise.

  1. Stand with your feet together, your knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, your palms facing in.
  2. Keeping your upper arms fixed to your sides, use your biceps to pull the dumbbells up toward your shoulders.
  3. When your hands reach shoulder-height, reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to your sides.
  4. Repeat 10 to 12 times, rest 30 seconds, then perform a second set.

Final Word

To see strength gains, perform an 8 to 10 exercise routine at least two days a week on nonconsecutive days. As you get stronger, increase the weight of the dumbbells so that the last one to two repetitions of each set is very difficult to perform. Keep in mind that certain muscle groups are stronger than others, so it’s a good idea to have several sets of dumbbells of varying weights available. You can purchase dumbbells for about $1 to $4 per pound of weight, or you can look for an adjustable dumbbell set that allows you to change the weight of a single pair of dumbbells for about $200 to $300, depending on the total weight of the set (e.g. Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells).

Do you workout with dumbbells? What’s your favorite exercise?

Laura Williams
Laura Williams holds a master's degree in exercise and sport science and enjoys breaking up her day by running her dogs, hitting the gym, and watching TV. Having been in charge of her own finances since the early age of 12, she knows how to save and when to spend, and she loves sharing these tips with others. Laura ditched her career as a fitness center manager for the relative freedom of home-based writing and editing work. She stays busy by working on her own website, GirlsGoneSporty, a website designed to help the sporty woman live the sporty life.

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  • Michael Lewis

    Good exercises, Laura. I have used some of them for almost 50 years in regular workouts increasing weights when necessary to get a good burn. I also like the fact you show exercises which can be done in the home. I see so many people at the gym spending their time socializing, rather than working out, and then they wonder why they don’t see improvement!

  • http://moneystepper.com/ moneystepper

    Thanks Laura – time to get started on that routine to get rid of some of the Christmas insulation!! :)

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