Despite their simple design and small appearance, dumbbells pack a real punch when it comes to their versatility, and their ability to deliver outstanding results when properly utilised. Whether you’re looking to maximise your cardio workout, want to achieve greater muscle gains or build strength, dumbbells are some of the best tools at your disposal for accelerating your fitness in pretty much any area. As such, there are almost an endless number of exercises that can be performed with a simple pair of dumbbells, depending on what your fitness goals are, and your level/experience. We’ve selected the top exercises that will target a range of muscle groups and areas of fitness that can be done with any type of dumbbell you have available. Depending on the exercise, it’s important to choose a weight that’s appropriate to your level. The weight you choose should be enough to feel like a challenge while also being achievable. Other than that, make sure you have a flat surface and a good amount of space around you, and we’re good to go!
Dumbbell Bench Press
While this exercise is traditionally performed with a barbell, opting for a dumbbell has added benefits, including a greater range of motion and the ability to train each side in isolation. Barbells often run into the problem of a stronger side taking more of the weight, leading to an uneven workout. Dumbbells allow you to notice differences in the strength of your arm, and train accordingly. Choosing dumbbells also has the benefit of providing additional work for the triceps. For a dumbbell bench press, it’s recommended to choose a weight somewhere just under your top range. 5kg dumbbells or 10kg dumbbells are a good option for beginners. You will also need a bench, a selection of which you can find here.
How to do a Dumbbell Bench Press:
- Lie back on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand
- Keep palms facing forwards and arms bent beside your shoulders.
- Extend elbows upwards until arms are straight, making sure not to touch the dumbbells together.
- In a controlled motion, bring the weights back down just past shoulder level, and repeat.
Backward Dumbbell Lunges
Although simple, lunges offer a powerful lower-body functional workout, targeting the glutes and quads, improving stability and maintaining muscle. You also have the option of choosing a forward or side-lunge variation, however backward lunges have the benefit of being more closely aligned with the movement of running. Once again, control is key to getting the most out of this exercise. Taking things slow will actually force your core muscles to work harder and provide a full body workout. Your leg muscles are naturally stronger than your upper arms, so you can choose a heavier weight here. Somewhere in the realm of 10kg or 15kg dumbbells and up should be fine.
How to do a Backward Dumbbell Lunge:
- Stand up straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing inwards.
- Brace your core muscles and take a large step backwards, lowering until both legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Push back up and return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side.
This workout targets the often-neglected triceps at the back of the upper arm. Kickbacks offer a highly targeted workout that is deceptively simple, but delivers excellent results. Technique is important for this one, and it’s important to isolate the movement to just your lower arm. If you are new to this workout, start with lighter weights and work your way up as you feel comfortable. As this is an isolation exercise, it’s best to go with a lighter weight. 5kg dumbbells are a good choice, and only progress once you feel you’re not getting the same resistance.
How to a Tricep Kickback:
- Stand upright with knees bent slightly, holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inwards.
- Bracing your core, hinge at the waist until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Make sure to keep your spine straight throughout.
- Keep your arms close to your body and your chin slightly tucked in.
- Your arms will start at a 90-degree angle, then exhale as you straighten your elbows backwards.
- Isolate the movement to your forearms, keeping the upper arms still.
- Hold and squeeze at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position.
This essential core exercise provides a full midsection workout, building and maintaining your obliques, hip flexors, abdominals and lat muscles. While this move can be done without a dumbbell, the introduction of a weight makes your muscles work harder for stabilisation, as well as providing extra work for your arms. You also have the option of keeping the feet off the floor to increase intensity. Choose a weight that’s around the middle of your range, a 5kg dumbbell or 10kg dumbbell is a solid option.
How to do a Russian Twist:
- In a seated position, keep feet flat on the floor in front of you and knees bent.
- Hold a dumbbell in front of you with both hands. You can either hold it close to your chest or with arms outstretched for an extra workout.
- Keeping your spine straight, lean back slightly until you feel your core engaged.
- Begin twisting your torso to one side, bringing the dumbbell with you.
- Return to the centre, again keeping the dumbbell moving in line with your torso.
- Repeat for the other side.
Squat with Punches
This is another great hybrid workout, improving cardiovascular fitness while maintaining muscle. Integrating squats with dumbbell punches combines to create a full body workout, engaging major muscle groups in the legs, core, arms and shoulders. Use a lighter weight for these exercises such as a 5kg dumbbell or lower.
How to do a Dumbbell Squat with Punches:
- Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bring your arms up in front of your shoulder, palms facing inwards.
- Bend down into a squat, bracing your glutes and quads and keeping your spine straight.
- As you come back up to a standing position, extend one arm forward in a punching motion, rotating the shoulder so that your palm faces downwards at the top of the movement.
- Bring your arm back in as you squat back down, then repeat for the other arm.
Dumbbells are a great addition to any workout routine, and can be adapted to just about any level and fitness goal. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but aims to give you something for each muscle group and area of concern. These exercises together provide a proper full-body training regime, and are just an example of the diversity and utility of a simple pair of dumbbells.
Shop the range of Lifespan Fitness Dumbbells here.