Dumbbells are a staple piece of exercise equipment, which means you’ll not only find them at most gyms, but you’ll also be able to get in a KILLER full-body workout using just a pair of dumbbells.
But adding even just light weights to movements, you can make exercises more challenging and get in a great full body workout. Try these 10 dumbbell exercises and build full-body strength as you get your blood pumping!
Mountain Climber Row Push Up
This is a killer core move as it works everything down your frontside and your backside from your shoulders to your knees. If you’re short on time and want a move that will burn more calories and work more muscles at once, then you need to do the Mountain Climber Row Push Up!
To do the Mountain Climber Row Push Up, set up in a high plank position with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet will be wider apart to help stabilize and your hands should be under your shoulders. Then from this high plank position, draw one knee in and across toward your opposite shoulder.
Perform a cross body mountain climber, moving slowly. Straighten the leg back out and then row the weight in the hand on the same side as the leg you tucked in up to your side. Perform the row without rotating or letting your butt go up in the air.
After rowing the weight up to your side, feeling your back work to row it up, lower it back down so you’re back in the high plank. Then perform a push-up (you can do this from your knees too). Come back to a plank then perform a mountain climber cross body on the other side and a row before another push up. Keep alternating sides.
If you want to improve your pull ups, work your core and even your glutes, you’ll want to do dumbbell Pull Overs. By doing this move from a bridged position, you’ll work your core even more as you work your lats and serratus anterior.
To do the Dumbbell Pull Over, place your upper back on a bench or box. Grab a dumbbell in both hands and bridge your hips up. You’ll want to cup one end of the dumbbell in both hands. Very slightly soften your elbow.
Keeping your arms with only a slight bend to the elbow, reach back over your head toward the ground behind you. Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes as you extend the weight overhead and back toward the ground. Then bring the dumbbell back forward over your chest. Keep your hips up the entire time.
Really feel your lats and abs stretch and work to control the reach overhead. Then feel your lats and abs, and even the muscles around your ribs, really work to pull the dumbbell back over your chest. Do not turn this into a tricep exercise by bending and extending at your elbow.
You may feel your triceps a bit, but you don’t want to turn this into a Skull Crusher or tricep extension. If you can’t reach very far back overhead, you may want to use a lighter weight. Concentrate on feeling your lats work to pull the weight back over.
Dumbbell Squat to Press
The more large muscles you can work at once, the more calories you can burn in less time. That is why hybrid moves like the Squat to Press are so great. You are getting your lower body AND your upper body working at the same time. And because of the front loading and combined movement, you are also really challenging your core for a full-body workout!
To do the Dumbbell Squat to Press, grab a dumbbell in each hand and bring the weights up to your shoulders. You can hold the weights with your palms facing toward you or with your palms facing in toward each other. Holding the weights at your shoulders, squat down sinking as low as you can.
Keep your chest up and sit your butt down and back. Do not let your heels come up.
Then drive back up to standing and press the weights straight up overhead as you stand up. Make sure you don’t go forward as you squat down. Also make sure to press the weights straight up. Do not let your arms go out wide or all over the place. The more you use your legs to press, the easier it should be on your upper body to press the weights. If you want to do a stricter press, squat then stand up and press once you are fully standing.
Alternating Arms Dumbbell Rows
If you have a desk job, or sit for a large portion of the day, including pulling exercises and moves to work your back is key to improving your posture and preventing injury. By doing Alternating Arm Dumbbell Rows, you can work your back and even prevent and correct imbalances by working each side independently.
To do Alternating Arm Dumbbell Rows, hold a dumbbell in each hand and hinge over at your hips so that your chest is about parallel to the ground and your back is flat. Bend your knees slightly in this bent over position and let your arms hang straight down toward the ground. Press your chest out and engage your back. Do not arch your low back or shrug your shoulders.
Row one weight up to your chest, driving your elbow down and back. Row the weight up so that the top of the dumbbell hits at about nipple height. Keep your back flat and draw your shoulder blade down and back as you row. Really think about your back initiating the movement and do not turn this into a bicep curl. Allow the other arm to hang straight down, but don’t let your back round toward the ground.
As you straighten the arm back out, row the other weight up to your chest. Make sure to drive your elbow down and back as you row the other weight up.
Feel your back working as you row and when you straighten your arms back out, don’t allow your back to round. Keep your back flat and the muscles engaged throughout the movement. Brace your abs so that you don’t feel your low back engaging. Keep alternating arms, rowing each dumbbell up to your chest.
Lunge, Curl and Press
Often we don’t have much time to spend in the gym, but we still want to work specific areas like our arms. It can be good to combine lower body movements with upper body exercises so that you can still work your arms AND burn more calories. With this Lunge, Curl and Press, you work your legs, and get your blood pumping as you work your biceps, triceps and shoulders.
To do the Lunge, Curl and Press, start standing tall with a dumbbell in each hand down by your side. You can choose to have your palms facing forward or even in toward each other to perform both the curl and the press. Lunge forward with your arms down by your sides.
Holding the lunge, perform a bicep curl, curling the weights up to your shoulders. Keep your chest up as you curl to maintain good form.
Once you curl up to your shoulders, press the weights overhead, staying nice and low in the lunge with your abs engaged. Press all the way up, then bring them back down to your shoulders and reverse the curl. Once the weights are back by your sides, push back up to standing in one movement.
Keep in mind, beginners may not lunge out as far or as deep. You can stay on the same side or perform lunges alternating sides.
Side Lunge to Press
The Side Lunge to Press is another great full body movement that will work both your lower body and upper body. This move has the added benefit of getting you to move in multiple planes of motion as it gets your blood pumping.
To do the Side Lunge to Press, start standing with the dumbbells down by your sides. Lunge out to the right with your right foot. As you lunge out, bring the weights down in front inside your right leg. Sit your butt back as you bend your knee to sink into the lunge.
You will perform a hip hinge as you sit your butt back, but do not lean over as keeping your back flat is essential for form and preventing injury.
Then drive off your right foot to come back up to standing in one movement. Once standing, curl the weights up to your shoulders and press them overhead. Lower them back down and reverse the curl. Then lunge out to your left, sitting your butt back with the weights inside your left leg.
Beginners may not lunge out as far so it is recommend they start even with just their own bodyweight.
Chest Flys with Leg Lowers
We all could use a little more core work and with the Chest Flys with Leg Lower. You can really work those abs as you work your quads, chest, shoulders and triceps. It takes crunches to a new level and helps you get more bang for your buck in less time!
To do Chest Flys with Leg Lowers, lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the weights up toward the ceiling as you lift your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Engaging your abs, fly your arms open, keeping the elbow soft as you lower your legs straight down to the ground.
Lower your legs as close to the ground as you can, but do not let your low back take over. You want to feel your abs, but not your lower back. Then bring your hands back up, closing the fly as you raise your legs back up to the ceiling.
Repeat, moving in a slow and controlled fashion. If you struggle to keep your abs engaged, try an alternating single leg lower or even a double knee tuck instead to regress the move so your lower back doesn’t take over.
Sit Thru To Thoracic Bridge Press
If you want a killer rotational core move that will work everything from your shoulders to your knees down your frontside and your backside while also working on your mobility, then you’ll love the Sit Thru to Thoracic Bridge Press. This is a great glute activation exercise that also works on hip extension and shoulder stability.
To do the Sit Thru to Thoracic Bridge Press, start on your hands and knees with a dumbbell under each hand. Then flex your feet and lift up onto your hands and feet with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. From this position, step your right foot under your body as you raise your right hand and dumbbell up toward the ceiling.
As you step through and put your foot flat on the ground, rotate your hips open to the ceiling as you press the weight up overhead. Really squeeze your glutes as you bridge up and press.
Then rotate your right leg back under your body as you bring the weight back down to the ground. Come back into that bulldog front position then step your left leg under to lift your right hand up and press the weight overhead as you bridge up.
Really bridge up and squeeze your glutes at the top. Keep your abs engaged and do not hyperextend your low back. Keep alternating sides.
Crawl Plank Pull
Crawling is a great cardio-core exercises and when you add in the pull, you make the move more challenging but also work on anti-rotational strength. The pull can also work your lats and build shoulder stability.
To do the Crawl Plank Pull, start in a high plank position with your hands close together and feet wider apart. Having your feet wider creates a more stable base to pull with. Start with the dumbbell to the opposite side you’re going to laterally move toward.
If crawling to the left, start the weight outside your right side at about chest height. Reach your left hand under your body and pull the weight across your body and outside your chest on the left. Place your left hand down and step your right foot into your left as you step your left hand to the left.
Then step your right hand in as you step your left foot out. Move past the weight in this fashion then reach your left hand under again to pull the weight across. Repeat the lateral crawl again with the opposite arm and leg moving together.
Keep your abs engaged and butt down as you crawl laterally in the plank position. Perform a full pulls one way then move back the other way, reaching your right hand under to pull the weight from your left side to your right as you crawl back right.
Single Leg Deadlift with Row
If you want to work your posterior chain, aka your backside, as you improve your balance and your core stability, the Single Leg Deadlift with Row is the perfect move to include. This move will work your butt, hamstring and back as it helps you improve your balance. It will also help you correct imbalances because it is a unilateral lower body move.
To do the Single Leg Deadlift with Row, start standing tall with dumbbells down by your sides. Shift your weight onto one leg as your foot grips the ground. Touch the other toe lightly on the ground and engage your upper back.
Then hinge over at your hip, pushing your butt back while keeping your knee soft. Keep your back flat and do not round toward the ground. Try to also keep your hips square to the ground even if it means bending your raised leg.
Hinge over and hold. From this position, row the weights up to your chest, driving your elbows back toward the ceiling. Feel your back pulling the weights up. Lower back down, and then driveyour foot on the ground to come back up to standing.
Feel your hamstring and glute working to help you come back up. Squeeze your glute at the top and touch your other toe down lightly but do not use that foot to help you come back up to standing. Move slowly.
Beginners may need to do an assisted Single Leg Deadlift with a foot on the slider to help them balance.
Using these 10 Dumbbell Exercises, you can get in a great full body workout to build strength while also getting your blood pumping!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.