Building muscle doesn’t have to be complicated, or require a lot of fancy equipment. With a simple dumbbell workout, you can simultaneously increase your strength and build lean muscle. The great thing with dumbbell workouts is that you can do them anywhere. Just grab a set of dumbbells and try this challenging workout.
Benefits of Dumbbell Training
1. Identify Strength Imbalances
Not only are dumbbell workouts great because you can do them anywhere, an additional advantage of dumbbell training is that it exposes muscular imbalances [link to article] that might go unnoticed during barbell work.
When using a barbell, or performing exercises that move both legs (as in a normal squat), or both arms (like during a bench press) at the same time, your muscular imbalances are less noticeable. What can happen is that your stronger side compensates by doing more of the workload, thereby hiding your weaknesses.
By training single-leg or single-arm exercises with dumbbells, you can expose any strength imbalances between your left and right sides. This is helpful because you can then address those weaknesses with other corrective exercises or accessory work.
2. Safe To Train Without A Spotter
I also like dumbbells because they are often safer to perform without a spotter. Performing heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses with a barbell is certainly a great way to get strong and build tons of muscle, but there are some added risks when you start lifting heavier weights – your form must be very good, and it’s generally a good idea to have a spotter around to help you out.
Even as you fatigue with dumbbell work, there’s a lower chance of injuring yourself. That being said, you always want to make sure you’re performing every exercise with perfect form.
Dumbbell training is a great alternative to barbell work. If you want an effective muscle-building workout to do at home or in the gym, try this challenging full-body dumbbell workout.
This workout includes two circuits, A and B.
Complete all of the exercises in circuit A back-to-back without resting between exercises. Take 2 minutes of rest between each circuit, and complete for a total of 3 sets.
Move on to circuit B, resting for 2 minutes between full circuits and completing a total of 3 sets.
Ideally, you’ll use 2 pairs of dumbbells, one heavier set and one lighter set. (See below for suggested weight)
For each circuit, you’ll use the heavier dumbbells for the first 2 exercises and the lighter pair for the last 2 exercises. For example, in circuit A you will use heavy dumbbells for “DB Chest Press” and “DB Deadlift.” Then you will use the lighter pair for “Renegade Rows” and “DB Split Squat.” The same applies to circuit B.
|DB Chest Press||3||10|
|DB Renegade Row||3||10|
|DB Split Squat
(rear foot elevated)
|DB Goblet Squat||3||10|
|DB One Arm Row||3||10|
|DB Shoulder Press||3||10|
|DB One-Arm Power Clean||3||10|
DB Chest Press
Using a flat bench, get in a seated position with the dumbbells on your thighs. Kick the weights up into position as you lay down on the bench. Maintain your head and back on the bench as you firmly place your feet on the ground. Lower the weight towards your chest until your upper arm is parallel to the ground. Press the weights up to almost full extension with your arms.
Single-Leg DB Deadlift
Start standing with a pair of dumbbells in each hand. With your arms down by your sides and palms facing in, balance on your right leg, and then reach your left leg towards the wall behind you. Your right knee should remain slightly bent as you hinge from the hips reaching the dumbbells towards your right foot. Keep the dumbbells as close to your body as possible. Once the dumbbells approach your ankles, drive your foot into the ground and squeeze your glute to stand up tall. Keep a good neutral spine position throughout the movement.
Start in a high push-up position while holding onto a pair of dumbbells. Keep the feet wider than the hips to create a stable position. While bracing the core to resist rotation, row one dumbbell at a time while keeping your elbow close to your body. Try to minimize the movement in the hips. This is a great anti-rotation exercise that will challenge the core while also strengthening your back.
Split Squat (Rear Foot Elevated)
Position yourself in front of a bench with your back facing the bench. Place one foot behind you so that the foot is pressing into top of the bench. Holding dumbbells in both hands, drop down into a lunge position with your torso remaining vertical. When the back knee approaches the ground, stand up tall by pushing through your front heel.
Grab a single dumbbell and hold it in a vertical position directly underneath your chin. Brace your torso and sit back into a squat position so that your elbows touch the inside of your knees. Pause for a split second at the bottom of the squat and then stand up. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your chest up to limit rounding your lower back.
DB One Arm Row
Set up on a flat bench with one knee on the bench and the opposite foot on the ground. The leg that is on the ground is the arm that is pulling. Make sure you maintain a flat back as you pull the dumbbell towards your armpit.
One-Arm DB Power Clean
Holding a dumbbell in one hand, start by squatting down and reaching that dumbbell towards the floor while keeping your chest up. Powerfully drive through your feet to propel the dumbbell up towards your shoulder, bending your elbow and “catching” the bell at chest-height. Squeeze your glutes at the top, and then let the bell swing back down to the start position. Maintain a braced core and flat back, and avoid rotating your hips and shoulders from side to side.
Alternating Shoulder Press
Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your palms facing towards your body. In a standing position with the knees slightly bent and your core engaged, press one dumbbell overhead as you rotate the palm away to face forward. Pull the dumbbell back down to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. Try to keep your ribs down and avoid arching your lower back.
Here are a few final notes to keep in mind before you do this workout. This is an intermediate to advanced level workout, so please only perform it if you have experience using dumbbells.
What Weights Should You Use?
Use this chart below as a guide to select the appropriate dumbbell. The chart refers to the selection of ONE DUMBBELL.
Dumbbell Selection Chart: % of Bodyweight (lbs.) for Individual Dumbbells
|Heavy Pair||Light Pair|
For example, at 190 lbs., I used a set of 60lb. dumbbells for the heavy pair and 35’s for the lighter pair.
How Often Should You Do This Workout?
This workout is designed as an intense full-body workout, so I advise giving yourself at least 24-36 hours of rest between workouts to fully recover. Aim to do this workout 3x per week. If you keep to that workout schedule, and combine it with good nutrition and plenty of sleep, you’ll be stronger and more muscular in a few months time.
If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments below, and be sure to let me know how you did with the workout!