There are many ways you can use dumbbells (or even kettlebells or other free weights) to target all your muscle groups. Dumbbells are the most popular and versatile kinds of weights out there, making them both necessary to any workout and the perfect starting point for any beginner.
As a starting point, a dumbbell is essentially a small bar with two weights on either side, meant for one hand. There are a very different types of dumbbells, such as fixed weight or adjustable. We offer the HEX Dumbbells as a fixed weight, and two types of adjustable dumbbells: the standard and compact versions. There are also chrome versions, which is older fashioned, but still used today.
Please note: if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries that may be affected to these exercises, please consult a medical professional before attempting.
So, what exercises can we do with dumbbells and how can we get a full-body workout? Here’s a quick list:
- Dumbbell Row (back)
- Dumbbell Bicep Curl (biceps)
- Dumbbell Skull Crush (triceps)
- Dumbbell Standing Press (shoulders)
- Dumbbell Lunge (legs)
- Dumbbell Wrist Curl (forearms)
- Dumbbell Chest Press (chest)
- Dumbbell Shrug (traps)
See the YouTube playlist below for a video introduction on all eight exercises!
The Dumbbell Row
Dumbbell rows have a lot of different variations. Whether that is one-handed or two-handed, on the ground or bench, or standing, they are the perfect exercise to start with. The most common type is the One-Handed Dumbbell Row, which uses a bench.
Dumbbells rows are great for working your upper-back muscles, shoulders, and arms. It also builds core stability.
In this article, we will be talking about a one-handed standing dumbbell row. In our case, we will be assuming that you only have a set of dumbbells, but if you do have a bench, feel free to use it, as it is better in maintaining form. There are also barbell versions.
First, assuming the starting position. Step forward with the non-rowing side, leaning over at a 45-degree angle and keep your back leg bent. Ensure that your back is straight and hold the dumbbell in a neutral grip.
Pull the dumbbell up. Don’t lean too much into your arm or shoulder. It should be balanced effort, with your elbow doing behind your body. Bring the dumbbell in so it is close to your chest, and then slowly lower it back down to the initial position. That is one row. This will tense your lats and contract your back muscles.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W_PdLHJGxI for a video on how to do a dumbbell row by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Bicep curls are a classic gym exercise. The perfect pose for a selfie, and the perfect exercise to target your biceps. This also extends to the forearms but will mostly just buff up the upper half of your arm. This exercise can also be done with barbells, but as you will find, dumbbells allow a greater range of motion and force you to keep your form correct.
Bicep curls are a classic gym exercise. They are known for targeting biceps, but this also extends to forearms. This exercise can be done with barbells, but dumbbells have a greater focus on balancing each side, and also allow for more variations including the Hammer Curl, Zottman Curl, Reverse Biceps Curl and Preacher Curl.
Bicep curls are best done standing or sitting. Here, we will discuss the standing version, as it’s more stable. First, standing hip-width apart, hold the dumbbells with thumbs on the same side as your fingers (thumb-less grip). Keep your elbows close to your body and ensure that your spine is neutral.
Keeping your upper arms and elbows stationary, curl the weights up to your shoulders. Exhale as you bring them towards your shoulders. Pause, and then slowly lower them back into the starting position. This is one rep.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/gzpqksVEPH0 for a short video introduction on how to do a dumbbell bicep curl by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Skull Crush
Skull crushers got their name from what could happen if done improperly. Indeed, this exercise involves lowering dumbbells towards your head, which is why it is best to use reduced weight to maintain control and form. This exercise targets your triceps in isolation and can also be called the Lying Triceps Extensions or a French Press.
These are often performed on a bench, as it allows you to stretch your muscle through the full range of motion. They can be done lying on your back, sitting, or standing. The standing version of this exercise is called the Overhead Triceps Extension, which involves lowering the dumbbell or dumbbells behind your head. In this article, we will depict a lying version.
First, lie flat. Extend your arms above your head, hands firmly gripping dumbbells, palms facing inwards. Your arms should be perpendicular to your body. Look straight up and keep your back straight. Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor. If you do not have access to a bench, bend your legs so your feet at flat on the floor.
Lower the dumbbells over your head, using your lower arms, until the bottom of the dumbbells is level with the bench or near touching the floor. Do not lower it towards your face. Keep your elbows in, and don’t arch your back. Stop just short of the full extension to maintain tension. Exhale as you return to the starting position. That is one rep.
Visit https://youtube.com/shorts/b6xKlA5_cpQ for a short video introduction on how to do a skull-crusher with adjustable dumbbells by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Standing Press
There are a few names for the exercise: the Dumbbell Standing Press, the Dumbbell Overhead Press or the Dumbbell Shoulder Press. As the name suggests, this exercise targets your shoulders, but also is useful for building your triceps and lower back.
For this exercise, there is also a barbell version, but we highly recommend starting with dumbbells, as it gives you more control. Dumbbells, specifically, weigh less than barbells, and it is less dangerous to have it over your head.
The press can be done standing or sitting. The sitting version, called a Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press (certainly inventive) usually needs an adjustable bench, which will make the exercise more stable and builds form, but we will demonstrate the standing version here.
First, take the dumbbells in a firm, overhand grip. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Your knuckles should be facing up, with your back straight.
Raise the weights above your head, keeping your elbows straight. Your arms should have a slight bend in your elbows and your palms should face forward. Keep your shoulders tense and back straight throughout the exercise. Pause and then descend the dumbbells until they reach your shoulders. That is one rep.
We suggest starting with lower weights, as it can get dangerous if you load too much. Start and increment slowly. Each press should be tense and slow to maximise the stretch.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/unEWt1nNnZ0 for a short video introduction on how to do a standing dumbbell shoulder press by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Lunge
Lunges tend to go hand-in-hand with squats. They do mostly the same things: they’re best for targeting your glutes and quads and involve balance and coordination. The difference, and reason why lunges are on this list, is that lunges focus on moving forward. As you age, the muscles involved in climbing, walking, and running will slowly deteriorate, so lunges are a great way of ensuring that you remain mobile and prevent injury in the future.
Lunges can be performed without dumbbells, which is a great way to perfect your form. However, using dumbbells will help increase your muscle mass faster and more effectively. Using weighted lunges also require good balance, and as such, will ensure that your fitness level will develop faster.
In performing a dumbbell lunge, you should start will less weight. You will also need enough space to take a big step forward – I myself, use a yoga mat so my feet don’t freeze. To prepare for this exercise, stand up straight, holding the dumbbells in a neutral grip with your palms facing inwards. Maintain a neutral spine.
Take a big step forward, enough that your back knee is parallel to, or touches the floor. Hold the dumbbells firmly so that they do not swing or touch the floor. At the bottom of the movement, lean into your forward leg, standing upright again through your heel. Repeat with the other foot. The two movements equal one rep.
In performing this exercise, focus on remaining stable. Ensure that your front foot does not wobble or lift. When increasing your load, this will make you less stable, so increment slowly. The deeper the lunge, the greater the stretch.
Other variations of this exercise include the Walking Lunge, the Reverse Lunge, Split Squat, and more.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/C6r1feijQ1U for a short video introduction on how to do a dumbbell lunge by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Wrist Curl
Forearms are surprisingly easy to stretch. Anything from gripping equipment tightly or moving your wrist through a full range of motion will stretch your forearm. Wrist curls are a specific isolation exercise that will train the muscles in your forearm. This will make pull-ups and carrying heavy objects easier on the wrist as you age.
As an exercise, they are actually quite similar to bicep curls: both are isolation exercises, both require the rest of the arm to remain steady, and both involve curling a weight inwards towards your body. They also both have a barbell version, but we would recommend using dumbbells in order to maintain even weight distribution.
To prepare for this exercise, you should grab weights that aren’t too heavy. If you’re a beginner, even one kilo or two will be enough. Since we are focusing on the wrist, you can use a bench or table (or even your knees) as a stabiliser. This demonstration will show the seated version.
First gripping the dumbbells firmly, take a seat. Face your palms inwards and place your elbows on your knees. Ensure that they are stable and do not move. From there, relax your wrist to the bottom-most position and slowly curl them towards your chest. Then, lower then back down into the starting position. This is one rep.
Naturally, your wrists can do more than tilt inwards. You can also try the Reverse Wrist Curl, Unilateral Wrist Curl (one wrist at a time), or if you have one, a Cable Wrist Curl.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/HmTZcA_HZEE for a short video introduction on how to do a dumbbell wrist curl by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Chest Press
Chest presses, also known as bench presses, are a staple at the gym. You might be thinking of heavy weights on bars, with the barbell only just touching your chest before lurching it back onto the stand. Of course, while barbells allow you to press heavier weights and are a good exercise that do mostly the same things, dumbbells simply do it more effectively.
Indeed, when you press with dumbbells, you have greater control and range of motion, which is more useful in everyday life. Of course, flexing your power-lifting skills shouldn’t not be a priority, but for the purposes of injury prevention and functional fitness, we recommend using dumbbells as the best place to start.
In getting started, you should try using a lighter weight. This exercise should be performed on a bench to access the full range of motion at the bottom of the movement – on the floor, you are sacrificing that. Grab the dumbbells, holding them firmly. Lie back slowly on the bench, with your feet planted on the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to engage more muscles and maintain this form.
Push the dumbbells upwards, driving the movement from your upper back. At the top of the movement, the dumbbells can come closer together, but they should avoid touching. Slowly bring the dumbbells back down, past your shoulders. Keep your elbows tucked and avoid arching your back. Bring them as low as your pecs are comfortable with. The lower, the more stretch you can achieve. This is one rep.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/k6vZEmh81PA for a short video introduction on how to do a dumbbell chest press by Aaron Curtis.
The Dumbbell Shrug
Dumbbell shrugs target your traps and is quite a simple exercise, making it safe and easy to learn. These require the use of weights to be effective but can be done with little equipment. While there is also a barbell version for this, there are pros and cons between using dumbbells or barbells. Naturally, you can load more weight onto the barbell, making your gains more obvious and faster using it. However, when gripping dumbbells, you have a greater range of motion and control.
As this article is geared more towards beginners, we recommend using dumbbells, mostly to teach technique and skill over potential injury with too much weight.
First, grab a pair of dumbbells. Start small, but you can increment quickly once comfortable with the exercise. Hold the dumbbells by your sides in a neutral grip, palms facing inwards. Ensure that your spine remains neutral. Keep your arms stationary throughout the exercise. You only want to engage your traps and shoulders.
Squeeze your shoulders, bringing them up and then in. Maintain tension as you slowly lower your shoulders back to a neutral position. This is one rep.
It’s not a particularly difficult exercise and goes well with other upper body and chest-building workouts.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/shorts/PnpHIIyGmtI for a short video introduction on how to do a dumbbell chest press by Aaron Curtis.
And that’s our list! If you have other recommendations on how to make the most of your Compact Adjustable Dumbbells to get a full-body workout, leave a comment or send us an email at email@example.com.