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27 Best Dumbbell Exercises For All Levels, From A Personal Trainer

mbg Health & Fitness Director
By Kristine Thomason
mbg Health & Fitness Director
Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen.
Image by Andreas von Scheele
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.
February 2, 2022
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If you regularly read our mindbodygreen movement content, you're well aware that we share a lot of bodyweight or equipment-optional exercises. While we're all for accessible at-home workouts, we also know there's a time and place for adding an extra challenge into the mix—depending on your goals and fitness level.

Case in point: dumbbells. This classic piece of fitness gear is a great addition to any strength training routine. In fact, we just launched an entire strength training at home guide by NASM-certified trainer BB Arrington, with dumbbells as the star.

Why strength train with dumbbells?

As a little refresher: "Strength training is the practice of using resistance to train your skeletal muscles to get stronger by enhancing their endurance, strength, or size (or all three)," says Arrington in her guide. "There are many ways to strength train and various types of strength goals." Dumbbells, for example, can be a tool to support a type of strength training called hypertrophy (aka muscle building).

Below, you'll find a selection of great dumbbell exercises, both recommended and demonstrated by Arrington.

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Form notes & tips.

Before you give these moves a try, BB has some advice to keep in mind:

  • Don't stick with a weight that doesn't serve you. Generally, most people's legs can handle more weight than their upper body. If you're squatting with the same weight as you're bicep curling, chances are you won't be challenging your lower body. Try varying weights to find the right fit.
  • Progress wisely. If an exercise starts to feel less challenging over time, that means you're getting stronger, and it's time to level up. Beyond adding more reps or using heavier dumbbells, you can also make the exercise more difficult with a pause at the top, a quarter repetition, more range of motion when appropriate, or a shorter rest interval.
  • Maintain proper form. Bracing or engaging your core will help maintain stability through your trunk, and support your form. Otherwise, be mindful of the cues for each individual exercise.
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Make it a workout!

  • What you'll need: Set of lighter dumbbells, set of heavier dumbbells, yoga mat
  • Instructions: Choose five exercises below. You can go for a mix of upper and lower body for a full-body workout, or select five targeted moves. Complete three sets of 8 to 12 reps of each exercise. Move from one exercise to the next with some rest in between.

Upper Body

1.

Chest Fly

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  1. Lie on your back, feet grounded into the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your arms toward the sky, and soften your elbows. 
  2. Take three counts to lower your arms down to the side. Use one count to bring your arms back to start. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
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2.

Lateral Raise

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  1. Grab your set of lighter weights. Come to a standing position, with your feet underneath your shoulders. Soften your knees. Roll your shoulders down. 
  2. Lift your arms up to form a letter "V" in front of you. Lower down for three counts. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12.
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3.

Seated Single-Arm Overhead Press

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  1. Start in a seated position in your chair, plant your feet, lift your chest, and bring your right arm into a goal-post position with the weight in your hand. 
  2. Engage your shoulders, and extend your right arm to lift the weight directly overhead, until your arm is straight. 
  3. Keep your core activated as you slowly bring your weight down.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
4.

Single-Arm Lat Row

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  1. Hold the weight in your right hand, put your left hand on the chair, and bring the right leg back. To add a little extra challenge, add a quarter repetition on the deepest part of the pull.
  2. Pull the weight toward your body using your lats, thinking about your elbow going behind you. At the top of the rep, complete a small pulse, or quarter rep. Then lower back down with control. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12, then switch sides. Repeat on the opposite side.
5.

Single-Arm Chest Press

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  1. Lie on the floor, with your knees bent and feet planted on the mat. Keep your ribs down on the ground to give yourself extra stability. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand. 
  2. Push the weight up toward the sky. Slowly lower back down with control. Use your abs to help you stay grounded.
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps. Switch sides, then repeat on the opposite side.
6.

Pullover

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  1. Lie on your mat. Grab your weight in both hands, and reach your arms up to the sky. Internally rotate your elbows. 
  2. Keeping your arms nice and long, reach the weight back, then slowly bring it back over your chest.
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12.
7.

Incline Dumbbell Press

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  1. Seated on the floor, in front of your sofa (or a wall), lean back so that your shoulders rest against it.
  2. With dumbbells in hand, lift your elbows to shoulder height, wrists stacked over elbows.
  3. Brace your core and keep your gaze forward. Press the dumbbells up to the ceiling, and return to start.
  4. Keep the dumbbells in your peripheral vision; if you can't see them overhead when you press, they've floated too far behind you. (You will feel your lats engage at the bottom of the movement.)
  5. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
8.

Skull Crushers

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  1. Lie on your back with feet planted on the floor.
  2. With dumbbells in hand, extend your arms to the ceiling.
  3. Bending from the elbow, lower the weight to your forehead. 
  4. Extend the arm back to the ceiling to complete the rep. (Note: Upper arm should remain perpendicular to the floor the entire time.)
  5. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
9.

Seated Biceps Curl

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  1. Sitting in a chair with dumbbells in both hands, allow your arms to hang down toward the floor.
  2. Without allowing the upper arm to move backward, curl the weight toward your shoulder, stopping 45 degrees short.
  3. Lower the weights back toward the floor.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
10.

Medial Delt Raise With Hinge

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  1. Seated or standing, hinge forward about 45 degrees above a flat-back position. 
  2. With dumbbells in hand, keep your arms straight and raise your arms up to make the shape of a capital letter "Y." 
  3. Lower your arms back down toward the ground to complete the rep (Note: Soften your knees and engage your core to help you feel grounded in the movement.)
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
11.

Bent-Over Row

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  1. Start standing, hinge at the hips, and brace your core. Hold a heavier dumbbell in between both hands (or a set of lighter dumbbells in each hand).
  2. Press your shoulders down toward your hips to initiate the movement. Draw your elbows toward your hips to lift the dumbbell.
  3. Maintain control as you return dumbbells back toward the floor. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
  4. Note: While the chest stays open for the movement, be sure to initiate by pressing your shoulders down toward the hips instead of shoulder blades together (that's more for upper-back-focused moves).
12.

Lateral Fly

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  1. Hinge over at the hips and maintain position throughout the set.
  2. With soft elbows and weights in hand, initiate the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together. 
  3. Float arms up toward the sky to make the shape of a capital letter T. 
  4. Return arms back down toward the floor. 
  5. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.

Lower Body

13.

Glute Bridge

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  1. Grab your heavier weight, and lie on your mat. Bring your weight to your hips, and plant your feet on the floor. Tip your pelvis up, and maintain this the entire time.
  2. Lift up into your glute bridge, squeezing the glutes at the top. Slowly lower down for three counts, focusing on the eccentric part of the movement. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
14.

Reverse Lunge

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  1. Grab your heavier weight, and start in a standing position. Step your left leg a bit behind you. Hold your weight in your left hand. 
  2. Hinge at your hips, reach your back leg behind you, and bend your knees to lower down. Hold for 3 seconds, then come back up to start.
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on the right side. 
15.

Leg Extension

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  1. Sit in a chair, anchoring your seat. Hold a dumbbell between your feet, and squeeze your thighs together. 
  2. Lift the weight by extending and kicking it out so your quadriceps are in a shortened position. Imagine your kneecaps pulling toward your hips. 
  3. Extend and bend.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
16.

Bulgarian Split Squat

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  1. Hold a weight in your left hand, and stand next to a chair. Lift your left leg onto the chair, pivot so you're facing away from it, then rest the top of your left foot on the chair. 
  2. Sit your hips back and down, with a slight hinge, and lower down until your left knee is pointing toward the ground. Drive through your right heel to press back up to start. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
17.

Kickstand Romanian Deadlift

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  1. Grab your weight in your right hand. Place your left foot slightly behind you, lifting up onto your toes. Keep your hips squared.
  2. Hinge your hips back, lowering your weight and torso toward the ground, keeping your back straight. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
18.

Single-Leg RDL

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  1. Stand on one leg with your weight in the opposite hand.
  2. Keeping your standing leg soft and core braced, allow your back leg to rise up into the air. Keep upper body tight for increased stability.
  3. With your hips square, drive your hips backward. Return to standing to complete the repetition.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on the other side.
19.

Good Morning

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  1. With dumbbells on your shoulders, step feet out about hip-width.
  2. Soften your knees, brace your core, and hinge your hips backward feeling a stretch on your hamstrings and glutes.
  3. Return to standing.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
20.

Hamstring Curl

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  • Lying on your stomach, place a dumbbell between your feet.
  • Hinging at the knees, lower your feet toward the floor and back up to the ceiling. 
  • Note: For more intensity, find an extended pause when feet almost touch the floor before lifting back up to the ceiling.
  • That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
21.

Squat Pivot Split Squat

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  1. Holding your weights, with feet just outside shoulder width, squat down.
  2. Staying low, pivot your body 90 degrees to a staggered stance, split-squat position.
  3. Pivot back to the squat position and pivot 90 degrees over the other shoulder to the other side's staggered stance.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
22.

Constant Tension Hip Thrust

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  1. Seated in front of your chair, place the dumbbell on your hips. Hook your shoulder blades on the edge of your chair, and separate your feet about shoulder-width.
  2. Keeping your core braced, lift your hips up toward the ceiling until your hips are fully extended at the top. Your shins should be perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Lower your hips only one-third of the way down. Then rise back to the top.
  4. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 12 reps.
  5. Note: You're aiming to feel this where your buttocks end and your hamstrings meet. If you feel it mostly in your hamstrings, position your feet closer to your buttocks. If you feel it mostly in your quads, position your feet a little farther away from your buttocks.

Core

23.

Seated Oblique Twist

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  1. Sit on your mat. Plant your heels on the floor, sit up tall, and tip back slightly. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Inhale. As you exhale, twist your body toward your left hip. Rotate to the other side. (Imagine your torso is a wet towel you're wringing out.)
  3. That's one rep. Continue for 30 seconds.
24.

Hollow Hold Variation

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  1. Sit on your mat. Plant your heels on the floor, sit up tall, and tip back slightly. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand. 
  2. Engage your core, reach the weight up to the sky, tip back a little farther. Bring your weight to the right side, then bring it back to center. Grab the weight in your left hand, and bring it out to the left side. Be sure to keep your torso as stable as possible as you twist from side to side. 
  3. Note: For an extra challenge, try lifting your feet off the ground. 
  4. Continue for 30 seconds.
25.

Weighted Side Plank

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  1. Find a side plank on your elbow keeping the body tight from your feet to your shoulders. 
  2. For the arm on the floor, press your elbow down toward your hips to create stability.
  3. With a dumbbell in your free hand, lower weight to tap the floor and back up to the sky.
  4. Resist the temptation to allow the hips to rotate toward the sky or the hips to push backward.
  5. Continue for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
  6. Note: This exercise can be modified by side planking with your knees on the floor.
26.

Windmill

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  1. Stand with feet just outside of shoulder width.
  2. Turn one leg out about 30 degrees.
  3. Hold the dumbbell in the hand with the turned-out leg.
  4. Reach your other arm up to the sky.
  5. Like you are tracing your turned-out leg, lower the weight down toward your foot, bending over without twisting your chest to the floor.
  6. Using your obliques, lift back up to the start position.
  7. Continue for 30 seconds.
27.

Standing Bird Dog

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  1. Hold a lighter weight in one hand, and stand on the opposite leg.
  2. Hinge over and extend your free leg behind you like a tail, and bring your hand with the weight out in front of you.
  3. Bring your elbow and knee together in the center, then extend back into that long body position.
  4. Keep your hips square throughout the exercise. That's one rep. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps, then switch sides.
  5. Note: You will feel the greatest challenge in your back when the body is fully extended.
Kristine Thomason
Kristine Thomason
mbg Health & Fitness Director

Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.