The Ultimate Dumbbell PPL Routine (Push Pull Legs)

With home workouts more popular now than ever before, people are frequently turning to exercise routines they can complete with as little equipment and space as possible. One of the most popular options people turn to is dumbbells, as the compact, versatile piece of kit perfectly fits the bill.

However, some people still feel that a program built entirely around dumbbells can’t possibly provide the same results as one that incorporates larger pieces of equipment. Thankfully, while it may be harder to produce results training solely with dumbbells, it is still very possible.

With that in mind, I now want to show you a dumbbell version of the popular PPL routine. I will explain how everything works, what you need to do, and what the best exercises to use are, to allow you to effectively train and develop your body, with nothing but a normal pair of dumbbells.

What Is The Dumbbell PPL Routine Workout Program?

The PPL routine has been often proven to be one of the most efficient workout programs to boost strength and hypertrophy. It is a routine where you split your body up into 3 different sections, the pushing muscles, the pulling muscles, and the legs, which is where the name PPL comes from.

By dividing your body up into the muscle groups that do the same movements, you not only ensure that every muscle gets worked, and worked the same amount, but you also work it multiple times each week. This is vital for continued, balanced development to occur.

Is It Possible To Work Out With Only Dumbbells?

Dumbbells are an incredibly versatile piece of fitness equipment and dumbbell training can be a valuable part of any lifter’s journey. Dumbbells can help you to add muscle mass, tone up, improve your coordination, correct muscular imbalances, and even help you gain strength. 

The number of different dumbbell exercises available also means dumbbells can give you a great full body workout, as there is plenty of options. For each body part there is a wide variety of dumbbell movements that can be performed, ensuring you can hit every fibre in each muscle.

Most barbell movements can also be easily adapted and tweaked slightly to allow you to perform them with dumbbells. That means your only real limitations when it comes to dumbbell workouts are your own knowledge and imagination.

Can You Build Muscle Mass With Just Dumbbells?

The most important things to focus on when trying to build muscle mass are ensuring you use good form and making sure to continue to periodically up the weight as and when it is needed, to ensure your sessions always remain a challenge.

It is definitely easier to build muscle mass with a barbell, as performing two handed exercises allows you to move larger weights, which is more beneficial for growth. That said, provided you continue to add weight and train hard then yes, you can absolutely bulk up with just dumbbells.

Can I Get Ripped With Just Dumbbells?

There is no overnight solution to getting ripped, as that is a goal that will require a high level of commitment and consistency. However, with the right fitness plan and sufficient dedication, you can definitely tighten, tone, and strengthen every muscle in your body using only dumbbells. 

In fact, as getting ripped doesn’t rely on the amount of weight you use, the physical act of shredding up is easier to achieve with dumbbells than it is to bulk up using the same equipment.

That said, it will only happen if your diet is virtually perfect, which is an aspect that is much harder to get right when cutting than when bulking.

Is It OK To Use Dumbbells Every Day?

No matter what equipment you are using, lifting weights every day is only safe and effective as long as you are giving each muscle group time to rest, which means not training it two days in a row.

As dumbbells can be used to train each and every part of the body, it is OK to use dumbbells every day, provided you work a different muscle group than you did the day before.

Realistically, you need to be hitting the weights at least three days per week, while the research says that two days per week is the bare minimum number of times per week you can train if you want to see any noticeable muscle growth. Ideally, you want to be aiming for between 4 and 6 times a week.

Dumbbell Push Workout

Your dumbbell push workout will consist of only pushing movements and will primarily focus on working your chest, shoulders, and triceps, although will sometimes incorporate some other muscles secondarily or as stabilisers.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Lay on your back on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest height, just slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Engage your pecs and use them to press the weights upwards in an arc towards each other. When they meet over the centre of your body really squeeze the chest muscles.

Gradually lower the weights back down, bringing them as low as you can go, until you feel a deep stretch in the chest and shoulders. Pause for a second or two at the bottom before repeating for the desired number of reps, maintaining the tension throughout.

Dumbbell Chest Fly

Lay in the same way as you do in the dumbbell bench press, but this time you will begin with the two weights held straight up over your body and your palms facing each other.

Keeping your arms as straight as you can, slowly lower the weights to the sides until you feel a deep stretch in your chest. Now squeeze your pecs as hard as you can to drive the weights back up to the starting position. Hold the tension at the top for a sec then repeat for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Press Up

Dumbbell press ups involve performing the same setup and movements as a regular press up, but you will use a dumbbell or dumbbells to raise different parts of your body, to change how it affects them. For all options you should use heavy dumbbells, to give you maximum stability.

Place two dumbbells in front of you, roughly shoulder width apart, with the bars pointing from side to side. Grip the dumbbells by the handles and get in position to perform a press up.

Lower yourself until your chest is a few inches from the ground, only bending at the arms, then squeeze the pecs to push you back up. Keep your back straight throughout and pause at the bottom for a second, before repeating for the desired number of reps.

There is also another variation which involves putting another dumbbell on one end by your feet, with the bar in a vertical position. You then place your feet on the dumbbell to move the emphasis of the exercise to the upper part of the pecs and replicate an incline press.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Sit with your back straight and hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width. With your palms facing forwards, engage your delts and triceps to press the weights up in an arc and bring them together above your head as your arms reach full extension.

Supinate (tilt) your wrists, so that your little fingers raise, and your thumbs come towards your head and squeeze your delts as hard as you can for a second. Lower the weights back to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Stand with a straight back and take a dumbbell in each hand. Let them hang by your waist, with your arms fully extended. Keeping your arms as straight as you can, use only your delts to raise the weights up and out to the sides, until your arms are roughly parallel with the floor.

Hold this position and try to slightly tilt your hands, so that your little fingers rise and your thumbs fall. Once your wrists have turned as far as they can go, pause and really squeeze the delts for a second, then slowly return to the starting position and complete the target number of reps.

Dumbbell Overhead Extension

Keeping your back perfectly straight, lift a dumbbell in the air until it is above and just slightly behind your head, with your arms at full extension. Hold the weight with your palms flat on the underneath of the dumbbell’s top weight, with your forefinger and thumb in a diamond shape around the bar.

Keep your upper arms still and squeeze your elbows together, then bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell down behind your back. When you hit the bottom, tense the triceps as hard as you can to extend the elbows and push the weight back up.

Hold the position and really squeeze for second, before repeating until you hit the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Pull Workout

The dumbbell pull workout will use all of the muscles responsible for the pulling movements your body can perform and includes the back, biceps, and traps. It will again also work a number of smaller stabiliser muscles and even hit some other major groups to minimal degrees.

Weighted Pull Up

Hold a pull up bar with an overhand grip as close to the ends as possible, making sure your hands are outside of shoulder width and allow your weight to hang. Hold a dumbbell between your ankles and raise your feet towards your buttocks by bending your knees, letting your arms reach full extension.

Keeping your back straight, squeeze your lats and biceps and pull yourself up in a slow, controlled fashion, only bending your elbows. Keep going until your chin is higher than the bar and try and touch your chest to it, if your strength or range of motion lets you.

Hold still and fully contract the lats, then slowly lower yourself back down, stopping a few inches short of the starting position to maintain tension, and then repeat for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Deadlift

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes and heels firmly planted into the floor, and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides, with arms at full extension. Slowly lower your buttocks to the ground by bending your knees, keeping your back straight and the dumbbells just outside your legs.

When your hamstrings go just past parallel with the floor, pause for a second then squeeze your glutes to drive them and your hips forward, pushing you upwards, keeping your arms at full extension the whole time.

When you reach a fully vertical position, squeeze your traps, contract your abs, and pause for a second, then slowly begin again and complete the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row 

Place one knee on a bench and bend over until your torso is parallel with the floor. Place the hand on the same side of your body on the end of the bench for support and take a dumbbell in your free hand, keeping that arm at full extension, with it pointed towards the floor.

Engage your lats and bend your elbow to slowly raise your arm, until your elbow is higher than your back. Really squeeze the lats on the working side of the body for a second, then lower the weight back to the starting position and continue until you hit the desired number of reps.

Once you are done, you then need to match the number of reps on the other arm. This exercise can also be done with both arms at the same time simply by bending over and not using a bench. This will be quicker but also less stable, so you won’t be able to lift as much weight.

Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Hold a dumbbell in either hand at your sides, with arms at full extension. With your palms facing your body, keep your upper arms still and contract the biceps to begin raising the weights. As they rise, twist your wrists until your palms are facing you and the weights are almost at your shoulders.

Squeeze the biceps hard and hold the tension for a second, then lower the dumbbells back down in a slow and controlled manner, making sure to twist your palms back to face your body as you go. Just as your arms reach full extension, begin the move again and complete the required reps.

Zottman Curl

The Zottman curls begin in the exact same way as a regular dumbbell bicep curl, except your palms will be facing the same way you are, rather than towards each other. You will then curl them to your shoulders like you normally would.

Now, when the weights reach your shoulders and your palms are facing you, squeeze for a second, then twist the wrists 180 degrees, so they are once again facing away from you. Now, lower the weights back to the starting position while keeping the hands facing this way.

Again, twist the wrists 180 degrees, so they are back in the original position, and continue the sequence until you have completed the desired number of reps.

Upright Dumbbell Row

Stand with your back straight and hold two dumbbells with their ends toughing in front of you by your waist, with your arms fully extended. Engage the traps and delts to lift the weights in a straight line, flaring your elbows out to the sides to keep the weights toughing and maintaining the tension.

When your elbows are higher than your shoulders, pause for a moment and try to squeeze the traps even harder, before slowly lowering the weights and repeating until you hit the target number of reps. The wider the grip you use, the more of the stress will be moved from the delts to the traps.

Dumbbell Shrugs 

Take the heaviest dumbbell you can manage in either hand and grip it as tight as possible. Now squeeze the traps as hard as possible to lift the weights up and bring your shoulders to your ears. Once you go as high as you can, pause for a few seconds and try to tense the traps even harder.

Lower them back down extremely slowly, maintaining maximum tension at all times and repeat until you hit the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Leg Workout

The dumbbell leg workout will use all of the muscles in the lower half of your body, which includes your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, and calves, as well as some minor supporting muscles.

On this day we will also train your abdominal muscles, as they aren’t worked on either the pull or push day and need to be worked if we are going to develop the entire body.

Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stand with your legs and back totally straight and your feet shoulder width apart. Take a dumbbell in either hand and hold them in front of your thighs, with your arms fully extended downwards. Make sure to keep your knees locked and back totally straight and bend forward at the waist 90 degrees.

When your upper body is parallel with the floor, pause and try to squeeze your glutes and engage your hamstrings. Use them to lift the weights and stand you back up, while still keeping your back perfectly straight. Pause at the top for a second then slowly repeat for the target number of reps.

Dumbbell Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold a dumbbell at chest height, supporting it by placing the heels of your hands on the underside of the top weight. Keep your heels flat on the floor  and back straight, then slowly begin to lower yourself down by bending only at the knees.

Keep squatting until your thighs go past parallel with the floor and pause for a second. Engage your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and even your calves, and use them all to drive upwards and stand back up in one flowing motion, making sure to never bend forward at the waist.

Pause at the top for a second and then repeat until you hit the target number of reps. This exercise can also be altered by putting your feet together and placing your heels on a weight plate, which will shift virtually all of the tension onto your quads.

Walking Lunges

Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet side by side and your back straight. Take one foot, move it forwards, and put it flat on the ground a few feet in front of you. As you move your leg, slowly bend your other knee and lower yourself down, shifting the weight on that foot to your toes.

You should end with a 90 degree bend in both knees. Now, contract the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and use them to start standing back up. As you do, step through with your rear leg and perform a lunge with it in one flowing motion.

Keep repeating this motion propel yourself forwards as if you were walking, making sure to concentrate on keeping your balance each time. Continue until you reach you target distance or the desired number of reps, making sure to do the same number on both legs.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat uses much the same movement as the walking lunges, just with a few major differences. Firstly, you will begin by moving a leg backwards instead of forwards and placing it on a bench instead of the floor, with your weight on either your toes or the top of your foot.

Now, you will lower yourself down in a perfectly straight motion, keeping your back straight and taking the front leg to the finishing position of a lunge, making sure your knee never goes further forward than your toes.

Now, you will again engage the quads, hamstrings, and glutes to drive you back up. However, this time you will stay in one place and complete the desired number of reps on the front leg, before switching them around and matching it with the other.

Single Leg Standing Calf Raise

Stand with your toes on the edge of a box or step, with your heels hanging off, and hold a dumbbell in one hand. Slowly raise the leg on the opposite side to the dumbbell off the ground so you are balancing on one leg and place your free hand on something near you to give you support.

Slowly lower your heel down as far as you can go, until you feel a deep stretch, then tense your calf muscle to drive you up onto your toes. Squeeze the calf as hard as you can for a moment, then lower yourself back down and repeat for the desired number of reps before matching it with the other leg.

Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise is almost identical to the single leg calf raise, only you will have both feet on the floor and dumbbells in each hand. For safety reasons you will also want to stand with your toes on the edge of a weight plate, rather than a step or box, as you won’t have a free hand for support.

Abdominal Giant Set

The following three exercises will each target one of the three main sections of your abs, the upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. You will perform all three exercises back to back, without stopping, and only when you have finished the last one will you rest.

Double Leg Lift

Lay flat on the floor on your back and grip a light dumbbell between your ankles. Keeping your knees straight, slowly raise the weight towards the ceiling. When your legs are completely vertical, drive your hips up, raising them off the floor, while keeping your back firmly on the ground.

Lower your legs back down until your heels are just shy of touching the ground, then begin the process again and continue until you hit the target number of reps.

Weighted Crunches

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and a bend of around 45 degrees in your knees. Hold a dumbbell on your chest and contract your abs to lift your torso off the ground. Keeping the weight tight to your chest, try and get as high as you can, bending across the middle of your abs, not at the waist.

Squeeze and slowly lower yourself back down, before repeating for the desired number of reps.

Russian Twists

Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and hold a dumbbell with both hands by your abs. Raise your feet off of the ground and keep them suspended while you twist your torso from side to side, taking the weight as far as you can in either direction each time.

Make sure to complete the same number of reps in either direction.

Schedule

For best results, this is a routine where you will be working out 6 days per week, with a schedule that looks something like this:

  • Monday: Push day workout
  • Tuesday: Pull day workout
  • Wednesday: Legs and core workout
  • Thursday: Push day workout
  • Friday: Pull day workout
  • Saturday: Legs and core workout
  • Sunday: Rest

However, if that is too much for you, you can work on a rolling three day cycle, taking a rest day every time you complete all three of the workouts.

Final Thoughts

The push pull legs routine is a great option for developing both size and strength in your entire body. While the more equipment you have access to, the easier you’ll achieve results, you will certainly be able to make incredible progress if you follow the workout we have outlined using only dumbbells.

For those wanting to take things a step further, there are also a number of dumbbell workout apps in circulation that can give you even more ideas and help you progress even further.

All that’s left to do now is give it a try, so you can see the results a dumbbell ppl workout can produce for yourself.

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