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Dumbbell Exercises

by Steve Theunissen
dumbbell workout plan

When it comes to resistance training, your options essentially boil down to machines, barbells and dumbbell workouts. A combination of machines and free weights has been found to be most beneficial for building muscle, losing fat and getting stronger. But which version of free weights is better – barbell or dumbbell exercises?

In this article, we set the record straight on that question. You are about to find out why dumbbell exercises are a more productive and a safer way to go. Then we’ve got a scorching full body dumbbell workout routine to prove it!

The Benefits of Dumbbell Exercises

When it comes to comparing dumbbell exercises to barbell exercises, there are two key benefits:

  • Range of Motion
  • Safety

Range of Motion

Dumbbell exercises allow for a greater range of motion than you can achieve with barbells. This is best illustrated with the dumbbell bench press exercise. When you perform the bench press with a barbell, you can only bring the bar down until the point where it touches your chest. However, to fully extend the pectoral muscles, you need to come down at least an inch or two lower than that point. Getting a full extension and contraction on the bench is vital for full muscle development. (1)

When you perform the bench press with dumbbells, you do not have the restriction of a bar going across your chest. That allows you to get that extra couple of inches of extension in the bottom position of the movement.

Using dumbbells on the bench press also allows you to move the weights laterally as well as vertically. For example, you can do a version of the press where you are pressing the dumbbells into each other as you come up and down. This allows you to magnify the training effect, especially regarding the inner pecs. (2)

This ability to move the dumbbells laterally benefits you on many other exercises. We can think of the dumbbell curl where you can supinate your wrist and the Arnold Press version of the shoulder press where you also supinate your wrists. These abilities make shoulder workouts with dumbbells especially effective.


Using dumbbells is a lot safer for your body. There are two aspects to this. Firstly, using dumbbells for an exercise like squats places a whole lot less pressure on your spine than doing the barbell version. To do the dumbbell version of the squat, you simply hold dumbbells in your hands as you perform the exercise. The quads and glutes get the same load as if you were using a bar, but the load on your erector spinae muscle and your spine is removed.

Another major benefit of using dumbbell exercises over barbells is that they are a lot safer. Let’s go back to the bench press. If you fail on a rep, you are going to be stuck with an unmanageable amount of weight on your chest. Unless you’ve got a spotter handy, you are likely to suffer from major injury.

When you’re using dumbbells, however, all you have to do when you get stuck is drop the weights. It’s the same thing with dumbbell squats. That is a major benefit, especially when you are going heavy in the 6 rep or lower range. (3)

The workout below combines the best dumbbell exercises into an extremely effective dumbbell workout for beginners and advanced trainers alike.

Full Body Dumbbell Workout Plan

Incline Dumbbell Row

This exercise is a modified version of the bent over barbell row that is a whole lot more lower-back friendly. Set up an incline bench at 45 degrees. Now place a pair of dumbbells behind the bench so that you can grab them when lying face down on the bench. Lie face down on the bench and reach down to grab the dumbbells. Keeping your torso pushed into the bench, row as high as you can and lower slowly.

3 x 12 reps.

Dumbbell Squats

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your toes pointed out slightly. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Now drop the hips down and back to descend into a full squat position with your thighs slightly below parallel. The weights should be nearly touching the floor in the bottom position. Now, looking up, drive through the heels to return to the start position.

3 x 12 reps

Incline Dumbbell Press

Sit on the end of a bench with a pair of dumbbells resting on your thighs. Roll back onto the bench, bringing the dumbbells up to arms length above your chest. Breath in as you expand your chest and lower the dumbbells down to the sides of your chest. Be sure to go all the way down to a point at least an inch lower than your nipples. In the bottom position, your scapulae should be squeezing together. Now breathe out as you power back to the start position.

Arnold Press

Sit on a bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands positioned at the top position of the dumbbell curl (palms facing you). Drive the weights up. As you do it, supinate your hands so that, in the top position, they are facing outward. When you come back down, return to the palms facing position.

3 x 12/10/8

Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curl

Stand with dumbbells in your hands at your sides, palms facing your thighs. Starting with your right arms, supinate your hand to face to the front and then curl up to a fully contracted bicep position. Be sure to keep your elbows in at your side. Reverse to the process to finish with your palm facing your thighs again. Repeat on the left side.

3 x 10 / 12 / 8

Lying Overhead Tricep Extension

Lie on a bench with a pair of dumbbells held overhead above your chest. Your palms should be facing each other. Now, keeping your elbows in, lower your upper arms tp bring the dumbbells down to your forehead. Allow them to just touch your hairline and then power them back to the start position.

3 x 12

Dumbbell Training FAQ

How to build muscle with dumbbells at home?

You can get a very good at home dumbbell workout. The key to building muscle with dumbbells at home is to replace barbell moves, such as squats and deadlifts, with their dumbbell counterparts. Add in moves like dumbbell pullovers and the one arm dumbbell row.

Thus, you can get a good dumbbell leg workout with just a pair of dumbbells. Perform dumbbell squats, lunges and the wall sit to finish.

How heavy should dumbbells be?

You will want your dumbbells to be heavy enough to allow you to be challenged at six reps on the dumbbell bench press. On a beginner dumbbell workout program, you want to last 2 reps to be challenged on every set.

Are the dumbbell pullover and one arm dumbbell row good exercise?

The dumbbell pullover is, but not for the reason that most people do it. Rather than expanding the rib cage, the dumbbell pullover is an effective upper chest exercise. However, the one arm row does not work your lats effectively – give it a mis!

Are dumbbell exercises effective?

Yes, they are. In fact, dumbbell exercises are generally more effective than barbell moves because you can get a fuller range of motion and supinate your wrists.

What are the best dumbbell back workouts?

  • Bent over dumbbell row
  • Shrugs
  • Chin Ups (weighted with dumbbell)

What are the best dumbbell shoulder workouts?

  • Arnold Press
  • Side lateral raises

What is the best tricep dumbbell workout?

  • Overhead tricep extension
  • Close grip dumbbell bench press

Is it Ok to do dumbbell exercises every day?

Yes, it is ok to do dumbbell exercises every day. However, you should split your body in half so that you are not working the same body part every day.


Switching to dumbbell exercises could be the thing to revitalize your training. Dumbbell exercises will allow you to get a full range of motion and be a lot safer. Why not give your full body workout a 6 week trial. We think it will turn you into a dumbbell believer!


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4699540/
  2. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2013&issue=09000&article=00009&type=Fulltext
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28677940/

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