Despite the Fitness Industrial Complex’s continued advancement of bands, bags, and machines, the best at-home workouts can still be achieved with a humble pair of dumbbells. Granted, it’s not as sexy as a CrossFit pull-up rack, a Pilates Reformer, or a brand-new stationary bike accompanied by a too-cheerful trainer yelling encouragement. But with a weight in each hand, you’ll be amazed at the burn — and build — that results after a few sets of lunges, curls, and more. Dumbbell workouts are beginner-friendly, low-tech, and, compared to just about every other fitness trend, relatively inexpensive. (Pro tip: Try browsing Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for a used pair and save even more.) Our favorite dumbbell workouts will yield big results with a mere 30 minutes, two-to-three days a week, and even better, there’s no monthly fee.
Like any strength workout, you are best off performing this routine with at least one day between sessions to allow your muscles a chance to recover. Once you get the hang of the basic moves, try the advanced variation to work your body a little harder.
In all cases, you want to focus on form above all else, since the correct body position maximizes the load on your muscles. In other words, you’ll get stronger and fitter doing fewer reps and simpler moves with the right form than you will be doing complicated sequences incorrectly.
To get started, grab two medium-weight dumbbells, find yourself some clear floor in your living room, basement, or garage, and get ready to pump iron for the next 30 minutes. Note: Most exercises require two or three sets. You can rest as long as you need between sets, but ideally, you’ll aim for around 30 seconds.
The Dumbbell Move: Lunges
How to: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall. Take a large step forward with your right leg, landing with a bent right knee. Lower yourself toward to floor until your right leg forms a right angle, knee over toe, and your left knee hovers above the ground. Push off your right foot and return to standing. Repeat on left side for one full rep. 10 reps, 2 sets.
Make it harder: Take these moves up two flights of stairs, stepping every-other-stair to maintain proper form.
The Dumbbell Move: Lying Chest Press
How to: Lie on the floor, knees and elbows bent, dumbbell in each hand, and hands at your chest. Press dumbbells up into the air until arms are straight and weights are above your head. Bend elbows and release. 8 reps, 3 sets.
Make it harder: Straighten your legs as you lie on the floor. Lift your heels three inches off the ground. Keep them there as you perform the exercise.
The Dumbbell Move: Curls
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, arms straight by your side. Keeping elbows stationary at your side, bend arms and curl forearms in front of you until weights touch your chest. Release. 10 reps, 3 sets.
Make it harder: Perform curls while standing on one leg, the other leg bent in a right angle, knee flexed in front of you. Alternate legs with sets.
The Dumbbell Move: Standing Overhead Press
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your knees soft, bend elbows and lift weights to your chest, then straighten elbows and push weights skyward until your arms are straight, palms facing forward. This is your start position. Bend elbows out to the sides and lower weights to shoulder height. Straighten arms and raise weights to the ceiling again. 8 reps, 3 sets.
Make it harder: Instead of lifting weights straight up, diagonalize to a spot just forward of your head, forcing your body to engage your core and pecs for stabilization.
The Dumbbell Move: Dumbbell Flye
How to: Lie on your back on the floor or on a bench. Lift dumbbells directly above your chest, arms straight, palms facing each other. Inhale and open arms wide out to the sides. Exhale and squeeze your chest muscles as you lift weights back up over your chest. 8 reps, 3 sets.
Make it harder: Do one arm at a time. This challenges your body’s stability and engages your core and glute muscles for balance.
The Dumbbell Move: Reverse Fly
How to: Standing with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart, hinge forward at the waist so your chest faces the floor. Lower dumbbells to the floor below you, arms straight. Keeping your back flat, raise dumbbells out to the sides. Lower. 8 reps, 3 sets.
Make it harder: Perform a squat every time you raise your arms.
The Dumbbell Move: Corkscrew
How to: Interlace fingers around both dumbbells so you are holding them together with both hands. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Rotate your body to the right, swinging your arms to your right side. Shift weight to the left, twisting your body and raising dumbbells above your left shoulder, arms straight. Twist back to the right, lowering dumbbells down to your right hip. Perform 10 corkscrews to the left, then switch sides and perform 10 twists to the right.
Make it harder: As you twist to the left, raise your right leg off the floor so that your weight is entirely supported by your left side. Do the same as you twist to the right.
The Dumbbell Move: Squats
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend knees and elbows as if you are about to sit down into a low chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are over your toes. Straighten back to standing. 10 reps, two sets.
Make it harder: When you reach the lowest point of the squat, push through your heels and jump vertically in the air. Land with soft knees and lower back into a squat again.
The Dumbbell Move: Row Kickback
How to: Standing with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart, hinge forward at the waist so your chest faces the floor. Keeping elbows tucked close to your sides, bend arms so weights come to your chest, then straighten them until weights are behind you. 10 reps, 2 sets.
Make it harder: Once arms are fully extended behind you, lift weights an extra 2-3 inches higher (using your full arm) to engage your deltoids. Release.
The Dumbbell Move: Pushup Row
How to: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, get into a modified pushup position (resting on your knees, body at an incline, arms straight). Keeping your torso stable, bend your right elbow out to the side and raise the dumbbell to your chest. Return to start. Bend left elbow and raise the left dumbbell to your chest. Return to start. This completes one rep. 8 reps, 2 sets.
Make it harder: Perform move in full pushup position (legs straight, balancing on toes).
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