I’ve gotten a lot of emails over the years from people asking specifically for a list of dumbbell exercises. They tell me that they only have access to dumbbells (no barbells, no machines) and were wondering if it was still possible to design an effective workout routine this way.
Would their dumbbell only workouts be just as effective as workouts using various other forms of weight lifting equipment? Can they still get great results? Well, the quick answers to these questions is HELL YES!
Not having access to a barbell (and weights for it) or the hundreds of fancy machines most gyms have (not to mention the countless useless ones sold in late night infomercials) will NOT hinder your progress at all as long as you put the dumbbells to use correctly in your workout routine.
In this article I will explain why dumbbells alone can provide a perfectly effective workout, and I will also list some of the best dumbbell exercises for each muscle group as well as a sample dumbbell workout routine.
Are Dumbbells REALLY As Effective As A Barbell or Machines?
Yup, definitely. Not only can you have an equally effective workout… but it may actually be the ideal way to do so in certain cases. For starters, if your goal is to build any amount of muscle or strength, then there is little doubt that the best way to do it is by using free weight compound exercises.
As my article about free weights and compound exercises explains, while machines definitely have their place and are fine to use in most workout routines, they typically rank below free weights when it comes to building muscle and strength.
So honestly, if I had to personally choose between doing workouts consisting of just machines, or workouts consisting of just dumbbells, the dumbbell workouts would win every single time. I don’t want to come across as being anti-machines, because there are some that I use and like. I just like dumbbells a lot more.
Not to mention, with a few very minor exceptions, ALL machine exercises can be replaced with similar dumbbell exercises and it really wouldn’t be much different. In some cases, it may even be better.
What’s that you’re thinking now? What about barbells? This article is supposed to be about dumbbell exercises only, and free weights means both dumbbells AND barbells. It’s okay, don’t worry. Anything that can be done with a barbell can be done with dumbbells. So, dumbbells can pretty much replace everything.
The Best Dumbbell Exercises
Now that you know how effective they can be and how preferable they usually are, you’re probably looking for a list of some of the best dumbbell exercises to fill your workout routine with. So, here now is a list of some of the best dumbbell-only movements.
(Note: Some of the exercises below will of course require some type of bench or seat, but I’ll just assume you have that too.)
- flat bench dumbbell press
- incline bench dumbbell press
- decline bench dumbbell press
- dumbbell flyes (flat/incline/decline bench)
- single arm bent over rows
- double arm bent over rows
- chest supported rows
- standing dumbbell curls
- seated dumbbell curls
- incline dumbbell curls
- preacher curls (if you have a preacher curl bench)
- concentration curls
- hammer curls
- overhead triceps extensions (single or double arm)
- dumbbell skull crushers (flat, incline or decline bench)
- triceps kickbacks
- close grip bench press
- seated dumbbell press (can also be done standing)
- arnold press
- front raises
- lateral raises
- split squats
- step ups
- Romanian deadlifts
- stiff legged deadlifts
And then there’s stuff like dumbbell shrugs, calf raises, and weighted crunches or side bends for abs. See, I told you there was more than enough exercises for a person to create a perfectly effective workout routine using only dumbbells.
And yes, these exercises could definitely be used to create a dumbbell-only version of the (brand new) Intense Workout Weight Training Routine that I lay out in The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide.
Sample Dumbbell Workout Routine
Below is a sample 3 day dumbbell workout routine that uses the push/pull/legs split I describe in my article about workout plans and splits.
This sample routine is actually something I created specifically for a friend of mine who works out at home and only uses dumbbells (and personally prefers this specific split). In fact, if I only had access to dumbbells myself and was training using a push/pull/legs split as well, this is probably the exact workout routine I’d be using.
Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
- flat bench dumbbell press – 4 sets
- incline dumbbell flyes – 3 sets
- dumbbell shoulder press – 3 sets
- lateral raises – 3 sets
- dumbbell skull crushers – 3 sets
Day 2: Back, Biceps
- bent over dumbbell rows – 4 sets
- pull ups or chin ups (assuming you can find a bar to do them on, otherwise single arm dumbbell rows with your elbows tucked close to your sides) – 3 sets
- dumbbell shrugs – 3 sets
- dumbbell curls – 3 sets
Day 3: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
- split squats – 4 sets
- Romanian deadlifts – 4 sets
- lunges – 3 sets
- single leg standing calf raises – 5 sets
There’s a pretty simple and extremely effective dumbbell workout routine for anyone looking to build muscle, lose fat or improve their body in any way. It contains pretty much all of the best exercises I’d include if the person had access to machines and a barbell in addition to dumbbells.
Now Put It All To Use!
So, like I said back at the beginning, if you only have access to dumbbells, you shouldn’t feel like you’re missing out on something. You definitely shouldn’t use it as an excuse. Don’t give me any “Waaah waaaah! I can only do dumbbell exercises! Waaah waaah! I don’t have any fancy machines or barbells! Waaaah waaaah!”
If anything, you’d have it backwards. If you only had access to the “fancy machines” then maybe you could whine a little. Having only dumbbells for your workout routine doesn’t put you at a disadvantage at all. In fact… it does just the opposite.
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