Best Dumbbell Workout To Build Muscle at Home

At Home Dumbbell Workout

You don’t need to have access to a gym to build muscle, get strong, and burn fat. So long as you have a couple of dumbbells and an adjustable bench, you can build the body of your dreams in the comfort of your home.

Remember, your muscles cannot really tell the difference between using a high-tech chest press machine and doing sets of old-school dumbbell bench presses. So long as you work hard, your muscles will get bigger and stronger.

There is nothing dumb about dumbbell training!

Despite their name, dumbbells are actually a brilliant training tool and, in some ways, are actually superior to barbells, resistance machines, and even bodyweight exercises. Their advantages include:

Safety– getting stuck under a heavy barbell during bench presses can cause serious injury. If you are able to complete your rep, you could end up with the barbell crushing your chest or neck. This is much less likely with dumbbells. If you are unable to complete a rep, simply lower your weights down to the floor. You can’t do that with a barbell, and a failed rep of barbell bench presses can cause serious injury. Dumbbell squats are also potentially safer than barbell back squats.

Increased range of motion– with no bar to hit your chest or shoulders during rows and presses, you can move your joints through a larger than normal range of motion. This is good for joint mobility, flexibility, and muscle growth.

Fix left-to-right strength imbalances– most people have one arm or leg that is stronger than the other. This is very normal. But, if that imbalance becomes too great, it can lead to postural abnormalities, lop-sided muscle development, and athletic performance issues. Training with dumbbells can highlight any imbalances and also provides you with the means to fix them.

Improve your balance and coordination– lifting two weights instead of one will challenge your nervous system more than using a barbell or resistance machine. This will develop your balance and coordination. These fitness attributes are crucial in sports and can also help make everyday activities easier.

Dumbbells

Variety– there are hundreds of different dumbbell exercises, and most of them can be performed using two hands, one hand, or even using an alternating arm action. Some exercises are only possible with dumbbells – there is no barbell equivalent. Using dumbbells, even if they are your only form of training, should never be boring!

So, if dumbbells (also spelled dumb-bells) are so good, why do they have the word dumb in their name?

Dumbbells are so-called because they were originally developed so that 18th century English church bell ringers could practice their skills in silence and avoid disturbing the people nearby. They were literally ‘dumb’ ‘bells,’ dumb being an old-fashion word for silent (1).

Dumbbells do have a couple of disadvantages too. For pressing exercises, it can be difficult to get heavy dumbbells into the correct starting position. Also, for exercises like squats and deadlifts, barbells are usually easier to use.

That said, if you only have access to dumbbells, don’t worry too much about what you can’t do, and focus more on what you can. Ultimately, any exercise is better than no exercise, and you can still work all your major muscles using dumbbells.

Here are three workouts that use nothing more than dumbbells and an adjustable bench. Do each workout once or twice per week to work all of your major muscles equally, i.e.:

Or

Please note that the six-days per week training plan is only suitable for experienced/advanced exercisers who also have excellent recovery abilities. Intermediate and beginner exercisers should use the first option.

Before you begin…

 A good workout starts with a proper warm-up, and dumbbell training is no different. Prepare your body and your mind for training by doing a few minutes of light cardio, such as jumping rope.

Jumping Rope

Then, when you feel warm and slightly out of breath, do some dynamic stretches and joint mobility exercises for the body parts you’re about to train. Finally, do 1-2 sets of each exercise in your workout using a lightweight. You should now feel ready to work!

Workout #1: Dumbbell leg workout

No leg press machine? No squat rack? No problem! Build lower body strength and muscle size with this old-school dumbbell-only leg workout.

No. Exercise Sets Reps
1 Goblet squats 4 8
2 Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts 4 10
3 Bulgarian split squats 3 12
4 Dumbbell leg curls 3 12
5 Single-leg calf raises 3 15

Exercise descriptions

1.1 Goblet squats

Goblet squats work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. You only need one dumbbell to do this exercise. 

Goblet Squat

How to do it:

  • Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest so that it’s vertical, and your palms are against the inside of the top weight plates. Step out and into a shoulder-width stance, toes turned slightly outward. Brace your abs and look straight ahead.
  • Push your hips back, bend your knees, and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back or bounce out of this lowermost position.
  • Stand back up and repeat.

1.2 Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts

This exercise works your posterior chain, i.e., your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and a dumbbell in each hand, held in front of your thighs.
  • Push your hips back and hinge forward without rounding your lower back. Lower the weights down your legs to just below knee-height.
  • Push your hips forward and stand up, but do not lean back as doing so puts too much stress on your lumbar spine.

1.3 Bulgarian split squats

This total-leg exercise is also good for hip mobility and overall balance.

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

How to do it:

  • Stand with your back to a knee-high bench or chair. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend one leg and place your foot on the bench behind you. Hop forward and into a split-stance.
  • Bend your legs and lower your rearmost knee down toward the floor as far as your mobility allows. Lean forward slightly, but do not round your lower back.
  • Stand back up and repeat. On completion, rest a moment and then do the same number of reps on the other leg.

1.4 Dumbbell leg curls  

This dumbbell exercise is the old-school equivalent of the hamstring curl machine. It’s a little tricky but, once mastered, will provide your hammies with a very effective workout.

Dumbbell Leg Curls

How to do it:

  • Lie on your front on a flat exercise bench. You can also do this exercise on the floor. Place and hold a dumbbell between your feet. Squeeze your legs together to keep it in place.
  • Starting with your legs straight, bend your knees and curl your legs up until your shins are perpendicular to the floor.
  • Extend your legs and repeat.

1.5 Single-leg calf raises

This low-tech exercise will turn your calves into cows! It works both calf muscles; the soleus (the smaller, lower calf muscle) and the gastrocnemius (the larger, upper calf muscle.) 

Single Leg Calf Raises

How to do it:

  • Stand on one leg on a low, stable step, so the ball of your foot is on the edge, and your heel is free to move up and down. Hold a dumbbell in one hand. Use your free hand for balance.
  • Lower your heel down toward the floor as far as your flexibility allows.
  • Push up and onto your tiptoes. Raise up as high as you can.

Workout #2: Dumbbell chest and back workout

Most gym-based workouts for the chest and back involve barbell bench presses and lat pulldowns. You’ll be glad to hear you can still work both of these crucial muscle groups using nothing more than your trusty dumbbells and an adjustable bench.

No. Exercise Sets Reps
1 Alternating incline dumbbell press 4 10
2 Renegade rows 4 10
3 Dumbbell flies 3 12
4 Single-arm dumbbell row 3 12
5 Dumbbell fly, pullover, and press combo 3 8

Exercise descriptions 

2.1 Alternating incline dumbbell press

This dumbbell exercise works your upper chest, anterior (front) deltoids, and triceps. The alternating arm action increases time under tension, making light and moderate weights feel heavy.

Incline Alternating Dumbbell Press

This will be useful if you only have access to light dumbbells.

How to do it:

  • Adjust your bench at a 30 to 45-degree incline. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on it with your head uppermost. Press the weights up to arms’ length.
  • Keeping one arm extended, bend the opposite arm, and lower the weight down to just outside your shoulder. Press it back up and then swap sides.
  • Continue alternating sides for the duration of your set. Remember, one arm should always be straight and stationary.

2.2 Renegade rows

This lat, mid-traps, posterior deltoid, and biceps exercise also works your core. Use light weights initially until you have mastered this tricky but rewarding move.

Renegade Row Exercise

How to do it:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, adopt the push-up position with your arms and legs straight, and your core braced. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your supporting arm straight, row one dumbbell up and into the side of your ribs.
  • Lower the dumbbell back to the floor and then do a second rep on the opposite side.
  • Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.

2.3 Dumbbell flyes

The dumbbell fly provides an excellent way to isolate your chest. With minimal triceps involvement, this exercise is best done using light to moderate weights and using a slow, controlled tempo.  

Dumbbell Flyes Exercise

How to do it:

  • Lie on a flat exercise bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the weights up to arms’ length and turn your hands, so your palms are facing inward. Bend your elbows slightly and then keep them rigid for the rest of the exercise.
  • Open your arms and lower the weights out and down to your sides. Go as far as your flexibility allows without hyperextending your shoulder joints.
  • Squeeze the dumbbells up and together over your chest and repeat.

2.4 One-arm dumbbell row

With your free arm providing support, this bent over row variation is relatively easy on your lower back. If you’ve got the weights available, feel free to go heavy on this exercise.

One Arm Dumbbell Row

How to do it:

  • With a dumbbell in one hand, bend your knees slightly and lean forward to place your supporting hand on a sturdy knee-high bench. Your back should be slightly arched and not rounded, and parallel to the floor. Extend your arm straight down to the floor.
  • Bend your elbows and pull your dumbbell up and into the side of your ribs. Focus on leading with your elbows and keeping your wrist straight.
  • Lower the weight to arms’ length and repeat. Do the same number of reps on each side.
  • Keep your shoulders pulled down and back throughout.

2.5 Dumbbell fly, pullover, and press combo

Your final exercise is a three-in-one move that works your chest and back from several different angles. Use light to moderate dumbbells and focus on getting a great pump.

How to do it:

  • Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the weights up to arms’ length and turn your hands in so your palms are facing inward. This is your starting position.
  • Keeping your arms slightly bent but rigid, open your arms and lower the weights down and out to your sides. Squeeze the weights up and back together. Repeat seven more times.
  • Next, turn your hands, so your palms are facing down your body. Bend your arms and lower the weights to the outside of your shoulders. Press them back up and repeat seven more times.
  • Finally, turn your palms inward again and, with your elbows slightly bent but rigid, lower the weights down behind your head, so your biceps brush your ears. Pull the weights back up and over your chest and then repeat.

Workout #3: Dumbbell shoulders and arms workout  

While your shoulders and arms get an indirect workout during most chest and back exercises, if you are serious about building a body to be proud of, these muscle groups deserve a more direct workout too.

No. Exercise Sets Reps
1 Dumbbell push-press 4 8
2 Side raises 3 12
3 Reverse flies 3 10
4 Top-down biceps curls 3 10
5 Dumbbell skull crushers 3 10
6 Dumbbell curl and press 3 15

Exercise descriptions

3.1 Dumbbell push-press

This is an excellent exercise for shoulder mass and explosive power. Once you have warmed up, feel free to go hard and heavy on this one.

How to do it:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, curl your weights up to shoulder height. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and brace your abs.
  • Bend your knees and descend into a quarter squat. Extend your legs and use this momentum to help you push the weights overhead to arms’ length.
  • Under control, lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders and then repeat.

3.2 Side raises

Targeting your medial or side deltoids, this exercise helps give your upper body extra width.

Dumbbell Side Raise

How to do it:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability. Hold the weights against your outer thighs.
  • With your arms slightly bent but rigid, raise your arms up and out to the side until they are parallel to the floor. Your palms should be facing down toward the floor.
  • Lower your dumbbells back to your sides and repeat.

3.3 Dumbbell Reverse flies

Reverse flies work your posterior or rear deltoids as well as your mid traps and rhomboids. In addition to being important for better posture, well-developed post delts, middle traps, and rhomboids are important for shoulder health and can add a lot to your overall physique.

Reverse Flies

How to do it:

  • Sit on the end of your exercise bench and hold a light dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lean forward and rest your chest on your legs. Try to avoid rounding your spine too much. Let your arms hang down the outside your legs, palms facing inward.
  • Raise your arms up and out to the side. Use the target muscles; do not jerk the weights up using your back.
  • Lower the weights back down and repeat.

3.4 Top-down biceps curls

This unique dumbbell exercise keeps your biceps under tension for longer than regular biceps curls, producing an excellent pump and plenty of stimulus for muscle growth. They also make lighter weights feel more challenging.

How to do it:

  • Seated or standing, curl your dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  • Keeping one arm stationary, lower the opposite dumbbell down to your side and then curl it back up to your shoulder.
  • Next, lower the other weight and curl it back up.
  • Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.

3.5 Dumbbell skull crushers

Skull crushers are usually done using a barbell or EZ bar. But, using dumbbells, you can use a larger range of motion and are also less likely to hit yourself in the head. They’re called skull crushers for a reason!

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

How to do it:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie flat on an exercise bench with your arms straight and the weights above your shoulders. Turn your hands, so your palms are facing inward.
  • Keeping your upper arms vertical, bend your elbows and lower the weights down to either side of your head.
  • Extend your arms and repeat.

3.6 Dumbbell hammer curl and press

This exercise works you your forearms, biceps, triceps, and deltoids all at once. Do a couple of high rep sets to finish off these muscle groups and get a great pump.

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or sit on a flat exercise bench as preferred. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides, palms turned inward.
  • Bend your elbows and curl the weights up to your shoulders. Next, press the dumbbells up and overhead.
  • Lower them back to your shoulders and then down to your sides. That’s one rep – keep going.

FAQs

Do you have any dumbbell training questions? We’ve got answers! If you can’t find the information you are looking for below, drop us a line in the comments section, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

The wrap-up

Don’t see only having dumbbells and a bench to train with as a disadvantage. These low-tech training tools allow you to work, every major muscle group in the comfort and safety of your own home. They also mean you can work out anytime you like – your home gym is never shut! Providing you train hard, eat right, and get plenty of rest and sleep, these dumbbell workouts will help you get stronger and more muscular.

References:

1 – Lexico.com: Dumb-bell definition and origin https://www.lexico.com/definition/dumb-bell

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