The 12 Best Dumbbell Workout Routines to Build Strength and Muscle

The 12 Best Dumbbell Workout Routines to Build Strength and Muscle

YOU DON’T NEED a ton of equipment to get a well-rounded workout. While your gym may be stacked wall-to-wall with every piece of gear imaginable, don’t let the fancy machines and tools distract from the useful basics, like the almighty dumbbell.

The dumbbell is probably the first piece of equipment you’d list out if someone were to ask what belongs in a gym. This tool is simple enough for beginners to learn how to use quickly, yet will still challenge even the most experienced fitness pros over the entire span of their training life. A pair of dumbbells can be incredibly versatile—there are dozens of exercises that incorporate the tool that will help you gain strength and build muscle. You can curl, press, and hold your way to the most challenging upper, lower, and full-body workouts.

You can hit the gym and pull from a rack full of dumbbells, or train at home with an adjustable pair that gives you access to just as many options.

Benefits of Dumbbell Workouts

Versatility for Function

There are few fitness tools more useful than dumbbells. The handheld weights are easier to wrangle than the long, rigid, heavy barbells that populate bench press stations and squat racks in gyms, but they’re also sturdy enough to lifted, swung, carried, and more. You’ll also have an easier time homing in on single muscle groups with dumbbells than if you used fitness’ other favorite unilateral training-friendly implement, the kettlebell, while still being able to perform big, powerful multi-joint movements like cleans and snatches.

Heavy Loaded Movements

If you need to, you can even push heavy weight with dumbbells—you’ll be much more likely to find a gym with dumbbells that go up to and even beyond 90 pounds than you would be to find a massively heavy kettlebell (not to mention more accessible adjustable sets of weights for home workouts).

Multiple Options for Loading

All that is to say that if you’re designing a workout or even a training program using just one piece of equipment, dumbbells might be the most versatile, effective option you could pick. The weights are well-suited for upper body work with presses, pulls, curls, and more, while you can load for lower body exercises too, using the goblet, suitcase, and front rack positions. Since you’re working with a unilateral implement, unlike the wider, two-handed barbell, movements like military presses are easier on your shoulders since you can work within a wider range of motion. Dumbbells are also much simpler to use right off the bat—pick up a weight, and you won’t need a whole seminar to learn how to curl it safely (but you should take a tip or two, of course). And unlike barbells, you typically don’t have to go through the trouble of adding or subtracting plates when it’s time to level up or cool down.

Suitable for Multiple Training Approaches

Dumbbells allow you to take a wide range of approaches to training, too. From low-volume strength and power work to high-volume muscle endurance routines, the implements will serve you well. Isolate single muscles with moves like dumbbell biceps curls or bring multiple muscle groups into the equation with compound exercises like deadlifts and squats—the options are nearly endless.

Dumbbell Workout Routines

If you’re dead-set on training with nothing but a set of dumbbells, check out these workouts as a jumping off point. You’ll need other equipment, like benches, for some of them, while others can be completed with just one or two weights and your determination to sweat.

If you’re stuck at home in a small space, check out these routines, which are specifically designed to be more minimal. Need some dumbbells for yourself? Check out these options.

Chest Dumbbell Workouts

Dumbbell Chest Hell

Chest Dumbbell Workouts

Why Do It: Grab a timer and a pair of light dumbbells for this volume-based chest crusher from Bobby Maximus (via Westside Barbell). You’ll still get a ton of work in the 5-minute period—the real question will be whether or not you’ll be able to keep up with all those reps.

How to Do It:

  • Lie back on a bench or the floor holding the dumbbells.
  • Press one arm up, holding the other weight at your side without resting it on your chest.
  • Continue pressing and holding for two-and-a-half minutes. If you need a rest, hold the dumbbell up in the press position.
  • Switch sides and repeat for another two-and-a-half minutes.

Dumbbell Incline Press Hellset

Dumbbell Incline Press Hellset

Why Do It: You’ll need an incline bench for this routine, which challenges you with some unilateral work and constant tension presses. Just make sure that you don’t go too heavy—Samuel recommends starting with a weight 10 to 15 pounds lighter than you would for a standard mixed-style incline press.

How to Do It:

  • Sit on the bench holding the dumbbells in each hand. Press both arms up to get into the starting position.
  • Perform 2 explosive press reps with one arm, holding the press position with the other. Squeeze your core to keep your torso in position on the bench. After the reps, switch and repeat the process for 2 reps with the other arm. Repeat twice without stopping for 6 reps on each arm.
  • Once you’re finished with the explosive alternating reps in the press position, lower both weights slowly through the eccentric portion of the press, taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom position.
  • Press just as slowly up, taking 3 seconds to reach the top, then squeeze your triceps and chest to finish the rep. Repeat for 4 to 6 reps.

7-Minute Biceps Mayhem

7-Minute Biceps Mayhem

Why Do It: Take under 10 to blow up your arms’ showiest muscles. You’re not just pumping through reps mindlessly until the clock hits zero, however—you’ll make the most of your work using smart concepts like drop sets and iso holds. Use perfect form so that you’re not wasting your time.

How to Do It:

Perform the full series for 3 rounds for the best muscle-building effect, with a minute between rounds.

Alternating Biceps Curls

  • Curl the dumbbell up to your chest keeping your elbow locked in tight to your torso, alternating the right and left arms.
  • Squeeze your abs and glutes to create tension and avoid utilizing momentum to curl the dumbbell up.
  • Repeat for 8 to 10 reps

Double Hammer Curls

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Squeeze your biceps to curl dumbbells simultaneously, moving only at the elbows.
  • Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.

Parallel Pause Hold

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Curl both dumbbells up to a 90 degree bend through the elbows.
  • Hold this position for 8 to 10 seconds, emphasizing the biceps squeeze.

Biceps to Triceps Superset Circuit

Why Do It: Use this superset series as a standalone workout to challenge your arm muscles on days you’re short on time, or as a vicious finisher to close off your upper body sessions. Just grab a pair of light- to medium-weight dumbbells and get ready to work.

How to Do It:

This superset is timed, so work to get as many good-quality reps as possible within the period. Repeat for 3 to 4 rounds.

Pause-Twist Supinated Hammer Curls

  • Curl dumbbells to the chest with palms facing each other.
  • Lower down to where the elbow is at 90 degrees. Pause here and twist the forearm so the palms face the ceiling.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells down one at a time.
  • Repeat reps for 40 seconds.

Skull Crusher-JM Press Comboj

  • To do the skullcrusher, lift dumbbells over the chest and shift them back towards your head slightly.
  • Lower them down, moving only at the elbows, to where they’re right along the sides of your head.
  • Extend your arms back to start.
  • To do the JM Press, track the elbows down close to the rib cage to tap the top edge of the dumbbell to the chest.
  • Extend your arms back to the starting position
  • Repeat two reps of each movement for 40 seconds. For the last rep, hold the skull crusher position for 10 seconds.

Biceps, Triceps, and Core Circuit

Biceps, Triceps, and Core Circuit

Why Do It: When most people think of dumbbells, the first move they imagine is probably the biceps curl. There are few better ways to work your guns—but you can use smart programming to hit your other arm muscles, too. This circuit from Andy Speer uses some dumbbells, your body weight, and a ticking clock to give your arms and core a good once over.

How to Do It:

Perform each move for 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds to complete 1 round. Do 3 rounds to finish the workout.

Kneeling Reverse Curl

  • Hold the dumbbells with the palms facing down towards the ground as you curl up.

Hammer Curl

  • Keep the palms facing each other and elbows tucked into your sides as you curl up.

Kneeling Standard Curl

  • Palms face up towards the ceiling as you curl the dumbbells up to the chest.

Alternating Push Plank

  • Start in a low plank position, plant one hand directly under the chest and press up to a high plank before returning to a low plank.
  • Alternate which hand you press up with.

Hollow Body Diamond Plank

  • Create a diamond with your fingers underneath your chest.
  • Arch the spine to create a hollow rock hold. Keep the toes right next to each other.

Iso-to-Reps Biceps Mayhem

Iso-to-Reps Biceps Mayhem

Why Do It: This routine shows how versatile dumbbells can be, even when they’re outside of the classic gym environment. Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. uses isometric holds to build up the time under tension—a go-to technique for building muscle—then pumps up your arms even more by packing in extra reps with a drop set scheme

How to Do It:

  • Start standing, holding either dumbbells or water jugs wrapped in your towels at your sides.
  • Curl up until your forearms are parallel with the ground, focusing on rotating your palms so they face the ceiling. Hold for 8 seconds.
  • Do 8 biceps curl reps, continuing to focus hard on rotating your palms so they face the ceiling.
  • Let your palms face each other. Curl up until your forearms are parallel to the ground. Pause and hold for 8 seconds.
  • Do 8 hammer curl reps.
  • That’s 1 set. Rest 45 seconds. Do 3 sets.

Angle-Change 21s

Angle-Change 21s

Why Do It: The 21s workout is a tried-and-true format and one of the most popular quick-hit pump sessions in the gym universe—so this spin on the convention is a must-try for any serious arm guy. The main change comes with the new curl variations, so hitting good form is paramount to get the most out of the workout.

How to Do It:

Perform 7 reps of each exercise, then take a quick rest and repeat for 2 to 3 total rounds.

Drag Curls

  • Pull the elbows behind the torso as you curl upwards to keep the dumbbells traveling in a straight line.

Classic Curls

  • Pin your elbows to your sides as you curl up for a classic curl.

Final Curls

  • Shift the elbows in front of the torso just a little bit to close out these curls.

Lower Body Dumbbell Workouts

25s Leg Workout

Why Do It: Take on this workout to get a lower body burn with nothing but a pair of 25-pound dumbbells. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels give everyone a good challenge to work their legs.

How to Do It:


3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute per exercise, 1 minute rest between rounds

Alternating Front Loaded Reverse Lunge

  • Hold the dumbbells up to the chest.
  • Step down and back, lower to where both knees create a 90 degree angle. Make sure there’s some space between the feet (think feet on railroad tracks rather than a balance beam), or it will be difficult to balance.
  • Step back into the starting position, then repeat with the opposite leg.

Hip-Level Alternating Lunge

Same cues as above, but lower the dumbbells to hold them by your sides.


3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute per exercise, 1 minute rest between rounds

Overhead Alternating Reverse Lunge

  • Hold the dumbbells up overhead.
  • Squeeze your core in tight to prevent your hips from tilting forward under the weight.
  • Step back with one foot, then lower to where both knees create a 90 degree angle.
  • Step forward back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg

Alternating Front-Loaded Reverse Lunge

  • Hold the dumbbells up to your chest.
  • Step back with one leg, then lower to where both knees create a 90 degree angle.
  • Step forward back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg


3 to 5 rounds, 1 minute per exercise, 1 minute rest between rounds

Overhead Alternating Reverse Lunge

  • Repeat the cues listed above in the Intermediate version.

Alternating Front-Loaded Reverse Lunge

  • Repeat the cues listed above in the Intermediate version.

Hip-Level Alternating Lunge

  • Repeat the cues listed above in the Beginner version.

Goblet Squat Hellset

Goblet Squat Hellset

Why Do It: Have 10 minutes to spare? Then you can obliterate your legs with a dumbbell and a small platform to elevate your heels, like a weight plate. By the time you’re through with these 24 goblet squat reps, you’ll be shaking.

How to Do It:

  • Stand holding a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest, core tight. A weight plate or platform about 2 or 3 inches in height should be behind you.
  • Step your heels back onto that platform, taking a slightly closer stance than your normal squat stance. Keeping your core tight, bend at the knees and sit back, lowering until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Stand back up. Do 8 reps.
  • Step forward off the platform or plate and widen your stance slightly to your normal squat stance. Do 8 squat reps, pausing at the bottom of each rep for 1 second. “Relish the pause,” says Samuel. “Use it as a chance to find your squat form.”
  • Finish with 8 squat reps, this time without the pause. Do 3 sets.

Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts

5 Minutes of Dumbbell Hell Finisher

Why Do It: Finish out your session with this burner from trainer J Malik. All you need is a few sets of medium and heavy dumbbells and five minutes. If you want a longer burn, stack three rounds together, resting for two minutes in between.

How to Do It:

Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. If you want a longer workout, rest for two minutes and then repeat.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift to Row

  • Hinge through the hips with a slight bend through the knees, maintaining a flat back by squeezing the lats and abs.
  • Before standing back up, row the dumbbells to your chest.
  • After performing the row, stand back up, squeezing your glutes.

Tall-Kneeling Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

  • Get into a tall-kneeling position on the ground, holding one of the medium dumbbells.
  • Start with the weight above your head, and bend only at the elbows to lower it behind your head.

Dumbbell Pull-Through to Pushup

  • Get into a high plank position, with one of the dumbbells placed just outside of one of your hands.
  • Reach with the opposite arm to grab the weight, then pull it across your body to the other side.
  • Keep your hips level by squeezing your abs and glutes. Leave the weight outside where that hand is placed, put your hand back on the ground, then perform a pushup.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Dumbbell Skull-Crusher

  • Lie on your back, holding the lighter dumbbells in each hand in a neutral grip.
  • Press the weight up above your head, then shift your upper arms back into a 91 or 92 degree angle.
  • Lower the weight down toward your head, moving only at your elbows.
  • Straighten out your arms to finish the rep.

Dumbbell March

  • Hold the pair of heavier dumbbells at chest height.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes to create full-body tension and keep a neutral spine (looking straight ahead).
  • March in place, maintaining your posture and keeping the weights level.

7-7-7 DB Complex

7-7-7 DB Complex

Why Do It: This complex hits just about every muscle group to make it a true full body dumbbell workout. Make sure you use weights that you can handle for a wide range of exercises for an extended period of time—this one gets tough.

How to Do It:

Perform 7 reps of each exercise consecutively, then rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat up to 7 times, depending on how much dumbbell punishment you can handle.

Overhead Triceps Extension

  • Hold the dumbbells overhead.
  • Bend the elbows to lower the weight, then squeeze the triceps to extend your arms to raise them back to the top.

Hammer Curl

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells, keeping your palms facing each other.
  • Squeeze your biceps to curl the dumbbells up, moving only at the elbows.
  • Lower back down to start.

Overhead Press

  • Start the dumbbells at the shoulders.
  • Press up overhead.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down with the elbows slightly pointed forwards. Think of a 45 degree angle from the chest through the upper arm.

Bent-Over Row

  • Hinge through the hips, squeezing the core and lats to maintain a flat back.
  • From here, row the dumbbells up by pulling the elbows up towards the ceiling. Track them close to the body.
  • Pause for a beat, then lower back down.

Drop and Stick Split Squat (L+R)

  • Hop out to a lunge position, with 90 degrees in both knees. Keep the spine straight.
  • Hop back to a standing position.
  • Repeat on both sides.

Sumo Burpee

  • Hinge through the hips to bring the dumbbells down to the floor.
  • Hop the feet back into a high plank position, and drop in for one push up—maintaining a flat line from your heels all the way to your shoulders.
  • Hop the feet back to a little wider than hip-width apart.
  • Drop the hips, flatten the back, and push through the glutes to return to standing.

Dumbbell Strength Interval Workout

Why Do It: You’ll move quickly—but with intention—to crush this hard-hitting series that targets the back, shoulders and core, which is over in just 12 minutes.

How to Do It:

You’ll perform each exercise for 30 seconds of work, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat for 4 total rounds.

Single-Leg Reach and Row (L)

  • Hinge through the hip and push your right foot backwards towards the ceiling.
  • Reach the dumbbell across the body to the planted foot.
  • Squeeze up through the hamstring and glute to drive the back knee forward and pull the dumbbell up to the torso.

Dumbbell Skier Swings

  • Similar to a kettlebell swing, keep the dumbbells by your sides with your arms straight.
  • Hinge through the hips and utilize the power from the glutes to swing the dumbbells upward.
  • Reverse the movement, then string several reps together, emphasizing the hip drive.

Single-Leg Reach and Row (R)

  • Same as above, but switch out which leg is planted.

Dumbbell Alternating Push Press

  • Hold the dumbbells up to shoulder level, with your palms facing inward.
  • Use a quarter squat to help drive one dumbbells up, rotating so your palm faces forward.
  • Lower the weight back down to the original position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.