The Ultimate List: Dumbbell Exercises by Muscle Group

Want to keep your workouts simple and not have to wait for machines at the gym? Just grab a couple dumbbells and practice all these exercises, you'll be sure to get a great full-body workout.

Whether your gym only has dumbbells or the New Year’s crowd is hogging all the barbells, this dumbbell-only workout promises to provide you with a solid workout, regardless.

Dumbbell exercises give you more control throughout the exercise, helping you develop your stabilizing muscles, which leads to more functional strength. 

Dumbbell exercises also provide other valuable benefits, including the following:

Regardless of your circumstances, you should always try to include dumbbell exercises into your routine!

This full-body dumbbell-only workout will highlight the best compound chest exercises for working each of your major muscles groups, including chest, shoulders, back, arms, abs, and legs.

Add these dumbbell workouts into your routine to take advantage of all the dumbbell weightlifting benefits today.

The Best Dumbbell Exercises

Chest

  • The dumbbell bench press is one of the best exercises for increasing upper body strength and building large, strong pecs.
  • Muscles Targeted: Pectorals, Deltoids, Triceps.
  • Reminders:
    – For the starting position the dumbbells should be at about chest height, palms facing your lower body, elbows at approximately 90 degrees.
    – Make sure you keep your feet flat on the floor with a slight arch in the lower back.
    – The weights should track straight up and down during reps. Don’t allow them to sway inward or outward.
  • The Purpose of the incline dumbbell bench press is to engage the upper chest more so than the flat bench variation.
  • Muscles Targeted: Pectorals (upper), anterior deltoid, triceps.
  • Reminders:
    – Angle the bench to approximately 15-30 degrees, hands should be about shoulder width apart, and start at about shoulder height.
    – As you exhale press the set of dumbbells upwards directly above the shoulders, they can track inward slightly at the top of the lift.
    – Return to the starting position by lowering the weights towards the side of the chest, and repeat.
  • Dumbbell Flys are an excellent exercise to develop that separated chest look. They tend to focus on the inner pecs providing this definition.
  • Muscles Targeted: Pectorals (inner), Delts, Biceps.
  • Reminders:
    – Using a flat bench hold a dumbbell in each hand, use a light weight to start until form is perfected, and raise the weights directly over the chest.
    – Pinch your shoulder blades together and maintain a slight bend in the elbow the entire time.
    – Lower the weights out to your sides and downward until your upper arms are parallel to the ground, return to starting position following the same arc.
  • An amalgamation of both the incline dumbbell press and the flat bench fly, this exercise engages the inner portion of the upper chest more than either of its counterparts.
  • Muscles Targeted: Pectorals, Anterior Deltoid, Biceps.
  • Reminders:
    – Set the bench at approximately a 15-30 degree angle, palms facing inward, weights directly above the chest.
    – Maintain a bend in the elbows and a slight arch in the lower back.
    – Be sure to get the full range of motion and lower the dumbbells until you feel a comfortable stretch in your chest.
    – Make sure the dumbbells are in line with your pecs throughout the entire motion.

Shoulders

  • The Military press is fantastic for building strong lean shoulder muscles. Particularly using dumbbells for this exercise can truly benefit the stabilizer muscles in the deltoids if done properly.
  • Muscles Targeted: Deltoids, Triceps.
  • Reminders:
    – Start with your feet shoulder width apart and carefully bring the dumbbells to about shoulder height.
    – Have your palms facing forward and press the weights overhead keeping your forearms straight and perpendicular to the floor.
    – Bring the weights back down until your upper arms are at about a 45 degree angle and repeat.
    – As you perfect the form you can begin to lift heavy but it’s best to have a spotter hand you the weights and allow ample rest between sets.
  • Lateral raises are a perfect addition to any workout routine to really get that definition in the different areas of the deltoids.
  • Muscles Targeted: Lateral Deltoid, Rear Deltoid.
  • Reminders:
    – Begin with a slight bend in your knees and the dumbbells at your sides.
    – Pinch your shoulder blades tight as you raise the weights directly outward and up.
    – Lift until your hands are at about the height of your shoulders or neck and slowly lower them to the starting position, repeat.
  • As the name and movement implies these are great for improving strength in the front portion of the shoulders.
  • Muscles Targeted: Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid.
  • Reminders:
    – Begin with your palms facing your thighs and a straight back.
    – Engage the shoulder by reaching the weights forward as far as you can in front of you.
    – Be sure not to lift the weights too high, stop when they reach about shoulder height but no higher than your chin.
  • Also known as the rear delt fly, this exercise is excellent for targeting the posterior and incorporating some of the upper back as well.
  • Muscles Targeted: Posterior Deltoid, Rhomboid, Trapezius
    – Perform the motion either standing while bent over or utilizing a bench for support.
    – Keep your feet shoulder width apart and bend forward as close as you can to parallel with the ground while maintaining a neutral spine.
    – As you move the dumbbells outward and back they should track in line with your rib cage.
    – Be sure the lift is coming from your back and shoulders, not a bending motion of the elbows.

Lower Back and Upper Back

  • An excellent compound movement like many deadlift exercises. This is an effective motion to engage the legs as well as the core, back, shoulders, and arms.
  • Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Glutes.
  • Reminders:
    – Place the dumbbells next to your feet, stand with your feet about hip width apart and angle the toes outward slightly.
    – As you lower your body hinge at the hips, moving your butt backwards and keeping a straight spine.
    – When you lift drive the power through your heels and keep the weights inline with your shins and calves the entire time.
  • Rows are a critical component of any workout routine and the one-arm dumbbell row is no exception. Great for sculpting your back and engaging the core to keep your stability.
  • Muscles Targeted: Lats, Trapezius, Rhomboids.
  • Reminders:
    – Using a flat bench place one knee on the bench with the other leg extended, grasp the top of the bench with one hand to stabilize yourself.
    – Maintain a neutral spine and keep your back parallel to the bench.
    – Lift a single dumbbell towards your rib cage while simultaneously clenching all of the muscles in your back.
  • A great alternative or variation of the previous exercise. Some gym goers say it’s more demanding as the motion is similar yet you are lifting two dumbbells rather than one.
  • Muscles Targeted: Lats, Traps, Rhomboids
    – The starting position is similar to that of a deadlift, place the weights to your sides in front of your feet.
    – As always keep a neutral spine and do not curve your lower back.
    – During the rowing motion bring the weights upward along your shins and then inward at the top of the rep almost following the the line of your legs.

Triceps

  • The Lying tricep extension is one of the most isolating exercises for your triceps. It’s great for building size and strength.
  • Muscles Targeted: Triceps
    – Lie flat on a bench with your arms raised directly above you, keep your upper arms in a perpendicular position to your body, palms facing inward.
    – Bend at the elbows while keeping your upper arms locked in place.
    – Lower the weights until they are either side of your head and return to starting position .
  • No Tricep workout would be complete without the notorious skullcrusher. Not only does it sound cool but you’ll definitely feel the burn.
  • Muscles Targeted: Triceps, Shoulders, forearms
    – Grab a single dumbbell with both hands, cup your hands around one side of the weight.
    – Raise your hands directly overhead and keep your wrists straight so the weight is horizontal.
    – As you lower the weight keep the elbows tucked in towards the head , continue until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and return to starting position.
  • This is a fantastic compound exercise that not only works the triceps but also utilizes the chest and shoulders. It’s a fun way to mix it up and keep things fresh.
  • Muscles Targeted: Triceps, Pectorals, anterior deltoid
    – Assume the same position as the dumbbell bench press, turns the palms facing each other, bring the dumbbells together so they are touching.
    – Bring the weights down towards your sternum while keeping the elbows tucked in to the ribcage.
    – Extend the arms as far as you can without locking your elbows to make it more challenging.
  • This exercise can be done using a bench for support or standing and bent over. It’s a great finisher for arm days to really push yourself.
  • Muscles Targeted: Triceps
    – Whether you’re using a bench or standing keep a neutral spine and a small arch in your lower back, grab the dumbbell so your palms are facing inward to the body.
    – Pivot at the shoulder and raise your upper arm until it’s parallel to the floor, bend at the elbow allowing the weight to hang down.
    – ‘Kickback’ until your arm is extended as straight as possible, make sure the motion is coming from your elbow and not the shoulder.

Biceps

  • Slightly different to a regular curl the hammer curl focuses more on the long head of the bicep. This helps to build the entire bicep in size and strength.
  • Muscles Targeted: Biceps
    – Grab a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet close together, and face your palms inward.
    – Raise your upper arms slightly so that the elbows are slightly in front of your hips at the starting position.
    – Then it’s as simple as curling the weights up towards your chest but stop before touching, go until your elbows are just beyond 90 degrees.
  • A Lesser known variation of the curl but don’t let that fool you. It definitely does the trick and works every area of the bicep.
  • Muscles Targeted: Biceps, Forearms
    – Assume the same starting position as hammer curls however as you bring the dumbbells past your hips rotate the forearm so your palms face upward.
    – Before lowering the weights at their peak do a full rotation of the forearms so your palms face outward.
    – Then lower them in a slow controlled fashion and return to starting position.
  • Also known as a concentration curl this variation will help to achieve peak contraction in arms and truly isolate the muscles.
  • Muscles Targeted: Biceps
    – Sit on a bench with a wide leg stance, rest the working arm elbow on the inner thigh, the other hand can ber placed on your knee for support.
    – Bring the dumbbell slowly towards your chest, try to track the weight in a straight line, and raise as far as you can.
    – Slowly lower the weight to avoid unnecessary strain on your elbow.

Abs

  • You’ve likely heard of knee or leg raises but have you ever considered adding a dumbbell? You can thank us later.
  • Muscles Targeted: Abdominals, Hip Flexors, Obliques
    – Place the dumbbell upright within reaching distance of your feet from the hanging machine or platform, then mount the machine as appropriate.
    – Grab the dumbbell by hooking your feet under the raised side of the weight.
    – As you bring your knees up don’t shift your hips and body backward, try to keep your upper body still and raise your knees in front of you.
  • By adding a decline to crunches it helps to improve spinal flexion. As it’s a crunch we don’t do the full range of motion which focuses on the upper abs.
  • Muscles Targeted: Abdominals, Obliques
    – Lie on a decline bench and secure your legs if needed, grab a dumbbell and position it over the center of your chest.
    – Roll your shoulders and head forward to engage your core.
    – Once you’ve ‘crunched’ forward continue the motion upward until your back is slightly raised from the bench and then lower yourself back down.

Legs

  • This is a great squat variation as it takes some of the stress out of the lower back and still provides a grueling compound movement.
  • Muscles Targeted: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
    – Assume a narrow or wide stance, whichever you prefer, or mix it up to see what you like.
    – Hold a single dumbbell with both hands so that its vertical and your hands are placed either side of the bell at one end, position it in the center of your chest.
    – As you lower your body shift your hips backward, keep your shoulders over your feet, and drop far enough that your hips are below your knees.
  • Weighted lunges are a good way to work the upper legs and increase mobility. It’s best to get down the form prior to adding weights but after that its game on.
  • Muscles Targeted: Quads, Glutes
    – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, dumbbells hanging at your sides.
    – Step forward far enough that your leading knee will be at a 90 degrees angle when you lower your body.
    – Lower until your back knee is nearly touching the ground, with an explosive movement drive through your foot in the leading leg and push back to a standing position.
  • Romanian deadlifts isolate the hamstrings more so than traditional deadlifts. Don’t be the person who skips leg day and put your hammies to the test with this workout.
  • Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, Glutes
    – Stand with the weights in hanging in front of you, palms facing backwards, and engage the core.
    – As you bend forward pinch your shoulder blades and do not curve your back.
    – Bend until you feel a comfortable stretch in the hamstrings, keeping your legs straight but do not lock your knees.
    – Maintain the form on the way up and engage your glutes to assist in the motion.
  • One of the few exercises to truly isolate the calve muscles this is a must for a balanced physique!
  • Muscles Targeted: Calves, Tibialus
    – Stand with the weights at your side and place the balls of your feet on a slightly raised surface such as a barbell plate, rest your heels on the floor.
    – Bring your body up and raise your heels off the floor rolling onto the balls of your feet.
    – Try to get as much contraction as yopu can in your calves before lowering yourself.

3-Day Dumbbell-Only Workout Split

dumbbell split workout

Here’s an example of a super-effective 3-day split you could do with dumbbells:

Monday

Wednesday

Friday

Conclusion

Use these dumbbell exercises on their own for an awesome full-body workout, or add them into your regular routine.

Don’t miss out on the benefits of dumbbell exercises by only sticking to the machines and barbells!

Dumbbells are a great way to change it up and keep your muscles guessing!

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