The 25 Best Dumbbell Exercises & Workouts You Don’t Need A Gym For
— Updated on 22 September 2023

The 25 Best Dumbbell Exercises & Workouts You Don’t Need A Gym For

— Updated on 22 September 2023
Medically Reviewed by: Jono Castano  | 
Nick Kenyon
WORDS BY
Nick Kenyon

If you don’t have access to a gym every day, or you’re wondering how to get the most out of your dumbbell exercises, you’ve come to the right place. Not only are dumbbell workouts great for staying in shape, but they are also a very useful tool in any fitness program to build the kind of physique you want.

While there are a ton of dumbbell workouts you can use for building muscle groups in your arms, chest, and back — dumbbells are also a great way to grow your leg muscles with healthy and functional movements. A full-body dumbbell workout can target key muscles you want to build and shape your physical appearance, but it can do so much more than that.

In addition to the confidence you’re likely to gain from working out, a regular full-body dumbbell workout will also lower your risk of cardiovascular and other lifestyle diseases (1). It’s a no-brainer really, so let’s get into it.

best dumbbell exercises

RELATED: The 12 Best Shoulder Workouts & Exercises For Men



The 25 Best Dumbbell Exercises & Workouts

But which are the best dumbbell exercises for men to achieve fast gains, build body strength, and add value to one’s fitness? Read on as we highlight the 25 best dumbbell exercises and workouts for men.

Editor’s Note: The fitness content on Boss Hunting is informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical or professional fitness advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, consulting with a trusted medical professional or trainer is always a good idea.


1. Dumbbell Bicep Curls

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Biceps, forearms
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells 
  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Benefits: Everyone knows about the dumbbell bicep curl and there’s a reason it’s one of the best dumbbell exercises there is. As the name suggests, this exercise is ideal for building your bicep muscles and is also beneficial to your forearms. The best way to do this exercise is by doing the following steps:

  1. For your starting position, hold two dumbbells in your hands with arms straight, while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift the dumbbells while keeping your back straight, and hold the dumbbells momentarily when they get to your shoulders.
  3. Rotate your arms as you lift such that your wrists come face to face with your shoulders, and rotate them back as you lower the weights.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Push Press

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Delts, pecs, glutes, quads
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Considered one of the most important shoulder workouts, the dumbbell push press helps exercise one’s deltoids, trapezius, glutes, quads, and core. It’s a simple move to learn, which is why we definitely recommend it if you’re new to weight training. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do this exercise:

  1. As the starting position, hold each dumbbell in your hands at shoulder level and ensure the weights are resting on your shoulders.
  2. Lower your torso and keep your knees in a slightly bent position. The movement should mimic that of a mini-squat.
  3. Raise the dumbbells above your head with your arms straight.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

3. Bench Press

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Pecs, triceps, deltoids
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, a flat bench 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

A classic exercise for your upper arms and chest, the dumbbell bench press is a great one if you want to have a solid upper body. The bench press is one of the best chest exercises because it helps stretch the muscles a bit more when lifting. Here’s how to do this exercise effectively:

  1. Rest your back flatly on the bench and lift your dumbbells to shoulder level with arms straight as a starting position.
  2. Lower the weights such that they come close to your chest, then push them up to the original position and repeat.

4. Arnold Press

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Shoulders, biceps, triceps, and forearm
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, a bench  
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The Arnold press is a variation of the classic shoulder press and a great dumbbell exercise that targets key upper body muscles, like the shoulders and the upper back. You can do this dumbbell workout while standing up or sitting on a bench if you don’t have access to one. Follow the steps below:

  1. Sit on the end of a bench or simply stand with knees slightly bent and the two dumbbells facing you at your face level.
  2. Raise the dumbbells over your head as you rotate your hands so your palms face away from you.
  3. Hold the weights in place for a few seconds before reversing the motion to the starting position.

5. Cross-Body Hammer Curl

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Forearm, biceps, and brachialis 
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Targeting the muscles in your upper arms and forearms, the cross-body hammer curl is an easy exercise, no matter if you’re doing your dumbbell workouts at the gym or at home. The cross-body hammer curl is usually executed following these steps:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Curl the dumbbell upwards, raising it towards the opposite shoulder and across your body.
  3. Return to the starting position with your arm straight and repeat for the second arm.

6. Bent-Over Row

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Trapezius muscles, spinal erectors, and biceps brachii 
  • Equipment needed: One dumbbell and a bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

One of the more popular dumbbell exercises, the bent-over row, helps work your back, shoulders and triceps. While you don’t necessarily need a bench, you can do the exercise properly if you have something between knee and hip height to brace yourself against. Here’s how to go about doing this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet apart, knees with a slight bend and brace one knee and hand on the bench.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your hand and brace yourself against the bench with the other.
  3. Pull the dumbbell towards your torso by retracting your shoulder blades and ensure to keep your hand close to your body as you pull.
  4. Return the dumbbells to the original position but try to maintain tension in your shoulder blades.

7. Lying Dumbbell Fly

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Shoulders, chest, and biceps
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, a bench  
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The lying dumbbell fly exercise is quite similar to the bench press in terms of action. However, the main difference is that the lying dumbbell fly uses a different motion pattern that targets the muscles in your shoulder joint. This is a step-by-step guide for doing this high-muscle growth exercise:

  1. Lie on a flat bench and hold up two dumbbells above your chest in line with your shoulder. Your palms should be facing each other.
  2. Move the dumbbell in each hand away from your chest and slowly lower them to your side as far as possible, keeping your arms straighter than if you were bench pressing.
  3. Return the weights to the starting position while keeping your back straight.

8. Goblet Squat

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Glutes, abs, and quads
  • Equipment needed: One dumbbell 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 12-15
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The Goblet squat is one of the best dumbbell workout options if you are looking for an ab workout that also targets your legs. The exercise can also help work out various muscle groups in the lower body region, such as calves, quadriceps and glutes. You can perform the goblet squat by following these steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in both hands near your chest and squat with it, maintaining a strong and stable core.
  3. Once you hit around 90 degrees with your knees bent, return to your standing position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

9. Weighted Dumbbell Lunges

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Glutes, calves, hamstrings, and quads
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 12-15
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Similar to the goblet squat, lunges using dumbbells mainly target muscles in the lower region of your body. Thus, it may serve as an exercise you can include in a leg workout program. Lunges can help improve core strength and increase your level of stability and hip flexibility. Here’s how to do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Take a step with any foot and bend it at the knee such that the ground becomes parallel to your thigh.
  3. Your back foot should also bend but ensure that your torso stays upright and stable.
  4. Step back to the starting position and repeat, alternating between legs straight and bent.

10. Lateral Raises

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Shoulders and trapezius muscles
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The lateral raise is one of the best dumbbell workouts to build the shoulder muscles, specifically the deltoids. It also works out your upper back muscles around your shoulder blades and upper arm muscles, but start with light weights to avoid injury. Executing the dumbbell lateral raise involves the following steps:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand and palms facing inwards, raise the weights until your hands are level with your shoulders and parallel to the ground.
  3. Take a small pause when the weights have reached your shoulders, before lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.

11. Dumbbell Front Raise

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Anterior deltoids
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Just like the lateral raise, the dumbbell front raise works on your deltoids but focuses on your anterior deltoids more than your lateral deltoids. It’s a great dumbbell workout to do with adjustable dumbbells if you have them, allowing you to change the load on your shoulders easily. If you don’t have adjustable dumbbells, start with light dumbbells and slowly increase the weight over time. Here’s how to do this exercise:

  1. Stand upright with your feet flat and shoulder-width apart, with knees at a slight bend.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand near your hip and slowly raise one arm up in front of you till it’s the height of your shoulder.
  3. Pause briefly at the shoulder height, before you slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position at your hip.
  4. Repeat the same action with your other arm to complete one repetition.

12. Russian Twists

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Abs, core, and the obliques
  • Equipment needed: Abs, core, and the obliques
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 15-20
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The Russian twist is one of the best dumbbell workouts to build a bulletproof core and strong muscle fibres. The Russian twist is a very simple resistance exercise to perform, specifically engaging your abdominal muscles to complete any good full-body workout. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Sit down on a mat and slightly bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell near your chest and begin leaning back to get your core engaged.
  3. Twist to the left and bring the weight in that same direction, before returning to the starting position and repeat to your right.

13. Concentration Curls

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Biceps and forearms
  • Equipment needed: One dumbbell and a bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Concentration curls are an ideal exercise if you want to give your biceps and forearms a rock-solid dumbbell workout. Prepare to rip some muscle fibres and grow a set of beach-ready arms because this is a good one. Doing concentration curls using dumbbells involves:

  1. Sit on a bench and widen the gap between your feet to allow your elbow to rest on one of your knees. 
  2. Holding a dumbbell in your hand with your wrist facing forward, lift the dumbbell to your chest slowly.
  3. Hold it in position for about 2 seconds before returning it to the original position and repeat.

14. Skull Crushers

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Triceps, front deltoids and upper pectorals
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells 
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Also known as the dumbbell lying triceps extension exercise, this is one of the best tricep workouts there is. In addition to being a good exercise for your triceps, it also works on your upper chest and front shoulder muscles. However, because of the position of the weight, it’s important that you don’t lift too heavy to avoid injury. Here’s how you do the dumbbells skull crusher:

  1. Lie on a bench and hold the pair of dumbbells with your palms facing in an extended position over your chest.
  2. Keep the upper part of your arms stationary, and lower the dumbbells towards your head by bending your elbow joints.
  3. Pause when the dumbbells have come close to your head, then straighten your elbow to lift the weights back to the original position.

15. Farmer’s Walk

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Quads, forearms, core, hamstrings, and glutes  
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The Farmer’s Walk is one of the few workouts that can exercise muscles in the upper and lower parts of the body, and is great for your overall strength. The exercise can also improve grip strength and make rotator cuffs stronger, which is why it’s a favourite of many athletes looking to get stronger. Doing the Farmer’s walk is quite simple, just follow the steps below:

  1. Take two dumbbells and carry one in each hand.
  2. Walk across the space you’re working out in, making sure you’re keeping a strong upright posture with your chest pushed outwards, core muscles tight, and your shoulders back.
  3. Walk for at least 15-20 seconds before returning the weights to the dumbbell rack and resting.

16. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Triceps
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells and a bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Neglecting triceps is a common mistake most of us make, but that only means you need to train them harder when you do your best dumbbell workout. This exercise specifically targets the triceps, and you should start with dumbbells of a lighter weight. Executing this workout involves the following steps:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in your hand and place your knee on a bench.
  2. Raise the dumbbell to your chest, then straighten your arm while keeping your upper arm stationary and close to your torso.
  3. Return the dumbbell to its starting position and repeat.

17. Renegade Rows

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Forearms, biceps, delts, and rhomboids 
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Renegade rows can help improve your back strength and exercise your abdominal muscles. Another benefit is you can complete them using either dumbbells or kettlebells, so there’s never an excuse to miss them. Here’s how to execute a renegade row:

  1. Start in a push-up plank position and place your hands on the dumbbells.
  2. While still holding onto the left dumbbell, pull the right one up and close to your torso, with your elbow extending behind your back.
  3. Perform a push-up, then do the same with the left dumbbell.
  4. Keep your back tensed during the exercise as though in a plank.

18. Dumbbell Calf Raise

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Calves
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 15-20
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Much like a regular calf raise, the dumbbell calf raise is essentially the same thing with the additional weight, so you really feel the burn in those smaller muscles in your lower legs. Dumbbell calf raises can help improve your stability and agility, making them a great exercise for anyone who plays sports. You need to do the following to complete a set of calf raises:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing with your feet apart on the edge of a step.
  2. Lift the heels of your feet so you’re standing on the balls of your feet.
  3. Lower your body so your heels are below the level of the step and return to the position on the balls of your feet.

19. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Posterior delts and rhomboids 
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells and a bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The dumbbell reverse fly is mainly developed to target muscles in the upper body areas, such as the trapezius and rhomboid, building the smaller muscle group in your back. The dumbbell reverse fly is not that easy to execute, but here are some steps to help break it down:

  1. Sit on the edge of the bench with your feet and knees together.
  2. Bend over slightly from your hips, with the dumbbells resting near your feet.
  3. Lift your arms out to the sides with your palms facing the floor, contracting your shoulder blades till your weights are at the same level as your shoulders.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat.

20. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Hamstrings, glutes, core, and lower back 
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is another great exercise to work out all of the major muscle group areas in your body, especially in your upper legs and core. With the weight travelling through your entire body, it also improves grip strength and coordination. Here is a simple process for doing the Romanian deadlift:

  1. Stand with your knees bent and two dumbbells in your hands on the floor with your palms facing you.
  2. Slowly stand upright, remaining strong in your core and upper legs as you bring the weights up to your hip level.
  3. Pause with the weights upward, before reversing the movement and lowering the weights to the floor again.

21. Overhead Triceps Extensions

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Triceps
  • Equipment needed: One dumbbell
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Finish off your workout by trying out some overhead tricep extensions, which are similar to the skull crusher but in a standing position. You can use either one or two dumbbells, depending on your preference. Follow the steps below to execute this exercise:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise the dumbbell above your head and ensure your palms are facing up.
  3. Lower the dumbbell behind your head by bending your elbow, before returning it to the position above your head.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

22. Dumbbell Scaption

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Deltoids, back muscles
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The dumbbell scaption is a great way to exercise your front and middle deltoids, with a similar movement to the lateral raises, except your palms are facing forward instead of inward. Always make sure you start with a lighter weight for this exercise, as you don’t want to risk injury. Here’s how to execute the dumbbell scaption exercise:

  1. Slightly bend your elbows and ensure your legs are shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep a dumbbell in each hand and arc the weights to your sides, ensuring to keep a 45-degree angle.
  3. Keep your arms straight throughout the motion until you feel your shoulders stretch.

23. Dumbbell Step-Ups

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Target muscles: Quads, glutes, core
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, and a raised step or bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 20-30
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Work on your glutes and cardio by doing some dumbbell step-ups. This exercise should help you build your core strength and improve the strength of your hip muscles. As a leg exercise, this step-up exercise can be done the following way:

  1. Take two dumbbells and hold them in your hands.
  2. Put your right leg on the raised platform and lift yourself up.
  3. Step down with your left leg and repeat the motion using the different leg.

24. Dumbbell One-Arm Swing

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Glutes, abs, quads 
  • Equipment needed: One dumbbell
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The dumbbell one-arm swing is an exercise that requires some thought and coordination but is great for building functional muscles in your legs and core. You can either use a dumbbell or a kettlebell and is fairly straightforward to do. Although simple, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it right:

  1. Take a dumbbell using your right hand and place it behind your legs.
  2. Raise the dumbbell upward as you straighten your legs.
  3. Change sides after a few rounds or alternate each time.

25. Dumbbell Spider Curl

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Target muscles: Triceps, biceps
  • Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, an incline bench
  • Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 60 seconds

The dumbbell spider curl is another exercise that builds your biceps while keeping your core engaged. By allowing your biceps the full range of motion, it’s one of the best dumbbell workouts in the game that focuses on your upper body.  Do the following to effectively complete this exercise:

  1. Lie flat on the incline bench and take a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Ensure the dumbbells are beneath your shoulders.
  3. Curl the dumbbells to your shoulders, before returning them to the original position and repeating the motion.

What Are The Different Muscles Dumbbell Exercises Can Build?

dumbbell exercises
Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica (2)

As a little refresher on our anatomy, dumbbell exercises can help build almost every muscle in our body. However, using the exercises in the following list, you can expect to find workouts that focus on the main muscle groups such as:


best dumbbell exercises

Final Thoughts

Achieving your ideal of the perfect body is far from an easy process, but with these simple dumbbell workouts, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In addition to looking better, you’ll also enjoy better physical and mental health from working out, so if you need any other workout resources to help you in your journey we’re here to assist.


Best Dumbbell Exercises — Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s look at some frequently asked questions to help guide your fitness routine. 

Are dumbbell exercises good weight exercises?

Yes, dumbbell exercises are a great form of weight training for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you don’t need much equipment, so you can train at home if you have a solid set of dumbbells. Secondly, there are dozens of great exercises you can do with them, so you can build strength and muscle in your entire body.

Can you build muscle with dumbbells at home?  

Yes, you can, which is one of the best things about owning your own set of dumbbells.

Is exercising with dumbbells a good way to train?

It’s a great way to train because it doesn’t take up much space, you can do it from anywhere and you will see serious results if you train consistently and increase your training load.

Are adjustable dumbbells worth it?

The more you are likely to use your adjustable dumbbells, the more it’s worth it to buy a set. If you’re never going to use them, or prefer going to the gym, then save your money.

What dumbbell exercise is most effective?

There are many effective dumbbell exercises, but one of the most effective dumbbell exercises is the dumbbell bench press and the goblet squat. How effective a dumbbell exercise is depends on a few factors, including the number of muscles it targets and the range of motion required. 

How to build biceps muscles with dumbbell exercises?

The best way to build biceps muscles with dumbbell exercises is by focusing on the most effective dumbbell exercises for bicep muscles. Such exercises include the dumbbell bench press, bicep curls, hammer curl, and incline bicep curl.

How many times should you do dumbbell exercises?

3-4 dumbbell exercises every time you train are the best for improving strength and building muscle mass. The number of sets you can do should vary based on your strength, and you can increase the number of reps with time. 

How many dumbbell exercises for the full body should you do?

2-3 dumbbell exercises per week are the ideal number of workouts for the full body. To make the exercises count, you need to do several sets each time you engage in dumbbell exercises.


Citations

  1. Role of Riyazat in prevention and control of lifestyle diseases: A review, Journal of Drug Delivery & Therapeutics, February 2020.
  2. Human Muscle System, Encyclopedia Britannica, January 2023.
  3. Abdominal muscles, Better Health Channel, June 2015.

The Boss Hunting Fitness Reviewer — Jono Castano, Certificate IV in Fitness, Precision Nutrition Level 1

Jono Castano is a Sydney-based celebrity personal trainer and certified nutrition coach who specialises in fitness, training, workouts and diet plans. He is the co-founder of the popular Acero fitness brand and fitness app and has become well-known for his extensive work with noted figures like Rebel Wilson, Jessica Mauboy, Lincoln Lewis, Joel Creasy, and The Veronicas.

Jono has built a large social media following with over 800,000 subscribers on Instagram. He has also been profiled by publications such as Men’s Health and has become one of the most recognisable fitness instructors in Australia.

  • Location: Sydney, Australia
  • Credentials: Certificate IV in Fitness, Precision Nutrition Level 1
  • Expertise: Fitness, Training, Personal Training, Workouts, Diet Plan
Nick Kenyon
WORDS by
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at) luxity.com.au

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