There’s no piece of workout equipment that can make you feel more powerful and strong than a pair of dumbbells. They give you freedom of movement and force you to recruit more muscles at once. That’s why they’re the preferred choice for total-body workouts.
But in order to get the most out of your dumbbell workout and ensure that you’re moving safely and efficiently, maintaining proper form is key. Ben Booker, lead trainer of Daily Burn’s Live to Fail program, says, “When you can’t follow a smooth up and down motion, or the weight gets squirrely, then drop the weight to get the form right.”
As you get stronger, your heavy set of dumbbells will feel lighter, and you can increase weight by five-pound increments. “It’s called progressive overload; you’re going to slowly add weight and it should be done within a targeted rep range,” Booker says.
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20-Minute Total-Body Dumbbell Workout for Beginners
Ready for a full-body tune up? Working your glutes, arms, chest and back, these four fundamental dumbbell exercises focus on targeting major muscle groups. Booker recommends starting with four sets of six to eight reps.
1. Dumbbell Squat
Targets: Quads, hamstrings, and shoulders.
How to: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in racked position with elbows bent and the dumbbell at shoulder height (a). Lower your butt down and back into a squat, keeping your weight in your heels. The dumbbell should stay directly over your feet (b). Stand back up and repeat, keeping your back flat and chest tall (c).
2. Glutes Bridge Chest Press
Targets: Glutes and chest.
How to: Lie down on the ground with your feet flat and knees bent. Hold onto a dumbbell in each hand and keep them shoulder-distance apart (a). Press your hips and lower back up into a bridge so they’re off the ground. Keeping your torso and thighs aligned, press the dumbbells up above your chest, palms facing away from your face (b). Bend your right elbow to lower the dumbbell down to your chest, keeping the left arm raised (c). Push the right dumbbell back up to starting position and repeat with the left arm (d).
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3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Targets: Rhomboids, lats, shoulders, and biceps.
How to: Stand behind a plyo box with your right knee on top of it and your left foot behind you. Grasp a dumbbell in your left hand and bring your torso foward you so your back is flat and parallel to the floor. Put your right hand on the box (a). Pull the dumbbell back towards the left side of your chest to perform a row, squeezing your shoulder blades together (b). Lower your left arm back down, and then switch sides (c).
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4. Seated Triceps Extension
How to: Sit on a plyo box and hold one dumbbell in each hand. Press them directly overhead with your palms facing each other, chin up and elbows right by your ears (a). Lower the dumbbells behind your head, while keeping your elbows by your ears (b). Straighten your arms and return to the starting position (c).
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Originally published on February 3, 2018. Updated on December 16, 2021
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