When you make your way into a crowded gym, the dumbbell rack might be the first thing you head toward — especially if people are already in the squat rack. But dumbbells don’t have to be your runner-up choice.
Free weights like dumbbells offer a whole host of strength and muscle-building benefits. They’ll help address imbalances in strength and mobility in your left and right sides. Because they move more independently than a barbell, they’ll require a whole lot of core stabilization and proper tension through your joints.
You’ll need barbells for sports-specific movements — but if you’re looking to get in a full-body workout with limited space, time, and equipment, dumbbells are at your service. Because of their versatility, they’re perfect for beginners and advanced functional fitness athletes.
Don’t know where to start? Read on for some of the best full-body dumbbell workouts you can do, in or out of the gym.
Best Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts
- Full-Body Dumbbell Workout for Strength
- Full-Body Dumbbell Workout for Endurance
- Full-Body Dumbbell Workout for Muscle
- Full-Body Dumbbell Workout for Unilateral Strength
- Full-Body Dumbbell Workout for Functional Fitness
What are Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts?
Regardless of your goal, when creating a training program, it’s always important to move as well as you can. Whenever a range of exercises are available to you, try to move through your three planes of movement: frontal (side-to-side), sagittal (front-to-back or straight up and down), and transverse (rotating).
If you’re doing a full-body workout, focusing on these movements can help you hit all of your major muscle groups in one session, or spread across the week. All you need to keep it simple is a pair of dumbbells and your bodyweight.
In addition to choosing different movement patterns, you also want to focus on compound exercises, multi-joint movements, and large muscle groups to get the most bang for your buck. There’s nothing wrong with single-joint, isolation exercises — but when it comes to full-body workouts, you want to get in and out with efficiency.
If you generally lift with barbells, then you’re probably not going to get to your maxes using dumbbells. But dumbbells will tax your body in a different way.
For this full-body dumbbell workout for strength, you’re going to hit all your major lifts with compound movements. You’ll finish with some explosive work. Through the workout, you’ll alternate lower with upper body exercises in supersets to allow for some muscle recovery.
Integrating explosive movements, strength-based lifts, and increased training volume will allow for hormonal and neuromuscular adaptations to take place that can improve strength and performance. Heavy, low rep front squats and bench presses can get you pretty close to that feeling of barbell work. Your stabilizers will be working extra hard.
- Dumbbell Front Squat superset Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 x 6 + 4 x 6
- Dumbbell Deadlift superset Dumbbell Overhead Press: 4 x 8 + 4 x 6
- Dumbbell Snatch superset Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry: 4 x 4 per side + 4 x 30 seconds
Note: If you’re able, don’t be afraid to load up heavy on these. Leave two to three reps in the tank in your earlier sets. Keep one or two in the tank during your last sets.
If you’re new to lifting, starting with an endurance training cycle is a great way to begin your program. For advanced lifters, endurance training can breathe new life into your work capacity and help you lift more weight for longer.
You want to teach your muscles to endure and withstand lighter loads for longer amounts of time or reps while performing quality movements. Focus on compound exercises while teaching your limbs, muscles, and core to move together as a unit with tension and control.
This full-body dumbbell workout for endurance hits hinge and squat patterns, pushing, pulling, and challenges your gait. It’s set up as two circuits that you’ll move through with good form, resting for one minute between rounds. You’ll finish with a six-minute EMOM (every minute, on the minute) combination of a unilateral exercise and core workout to leave you feeling sweaty and strong.
The high reps and short rest times are going to keep you moving pretty much constantly. Still, resist the urge to rush through anything. As you alternate through lower and upper body exercises, stay focused. Connect with your breath and perform quality reps to get the results you want and avoid risk for injury.
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 16
- Push-Up: 10
- Renegade Row: 8 per side
- Perform circuit three times.
- Rest: one minute
- Goblet Squat: 16
- Dumbbell Overhead Press: 16
- Farmer’s Carry: 60 seconds
- Perform circuit three times.
- Rest: one minute
Perform one exercise at the top of each minute for a total of six minutes.
- Dumbbell Reverse Lunge: 8 per side
- Dumbbell Dead Bug: 10 per side
Note: For beginners, start with extremely light dumbbells. As you increase the weight, be sure it’s still light enough to complete all reps with good form.
This full-body workout hits major movements, muscle groups, and is structured in the sweet spot for hypertrophy set and rep ranges. You’ll alternate upper and lower body exercises to maximize your training time and give your muscles a chance to recover so you can go after each set with full intensity.
Try out sumo deadlifts with dumbbells to get some extra emphasis on your underused leg muscles like your adductors. You can also try deficit sumo deadlifts to get into a deeper range of motion, which is key to building muscle. Finish strong with thrusters and heavy carries, or try them out as an EMOM instead of a superset if you’re up for it.
- Sumo Deadlifts superset Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 x 10 + 4 x 10
- Dumbbell Front Squat superset Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: 4 x 10 + 4 x 6 per side
- Double Dumbbell Thruster superset Farmer’s Carry: 4 x 8 + 4 x 30 seconds
Note: Use a load that will bring you close to failure within the prescribed rep ranges. If you only have access to a light dumbbell, you can use tempo training to increase the intensity and get closer to failure.
Do you ever notice your barbell slightly tilted to one side when you’re benching? Most people have imbalances on their two sides when it comes to strength, mobility, and muscle. Some of this is because of day-to-day side dominance from being left- or right-handed, but these imbalances can be exacerbated by training exclusively with dumbbells.
Unilateral work is a great way to give extra support, strength, and muscle to your weaker side. In unilateral exercises, you train one arm or one leg at a time. For a full-body dumbbell workout focused on unilateral strength, you’ll combine all four limbs into your session. Consider holding a dumbbell on your non-working side to add a challenge for stabilization and balance.
This full-body workout alternates training your single arms and legs through compound movements. You’ll spend some time in the frontal plane with lateral lunges and work your explosiveness while building your shoulder mobility with snatches.
Single-leg Romanian deadlifts will help you build unilateral strength, balance, coordination, and core stability. These will also help you with single foot control, strength, and engagement with the floor. Your core will work extra hard to keep your trunk stiff.
- Dumbbell Snatch superset Lateral Lunge: 5 x 5 (left arm) + 5 x 8 (left leg)
- Dumbbell Snatch superset Lateral Lunge: 5 x 5 (right arm) + 5 x 8 (right leg)
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift superset Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: 5 x 8 (left leg) + 5 x 8 (left arm)
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift superset Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: 5 x 8 (right leg) + 5 x 8 (right arm)
Note: Notice which of your sides is weaker, and use that same weight for both sides. It may feel easier on your stronger side. Still, keep up your focus on quality reps. This will give your weaker side a chance to catch up.
Think about some of the things you do in your everyday life: getting in and out of a car, stepping off a curb, carrying groceries home, or lifting your luggage into an overhead compartment. These are just a few movements you perform throughout your daily life, and training for functional fitness can help your muscles work together to make these activities a bit easier.
If you’ve got mobility, strength, or pain issues, functional fitness can help improve your quality of life. Even if you don’t, training to stay strong and mobile in all directions and planes of movement will help you stay prepared for any physical event — including in the gym. A full-body dumbbell workout for functional fitness can be one of your best options whether you’re a beginner, a parent, or a seasoned lifter in the offseason.
This full-body dumbbell workout for functional fitness covers your squat and hinge patterns, adding in a suitcase deadlift to mimic lifting two heavy bags off the ground. Turkish get-ups will cover rotation and core strength while improving unilateral strength and mobility in your arms and legs.
Perform three rounds of each superset, resting as needed after each complete set.
- Goblet Squat superset Push-Up: 3 x 10 + 3 x 10
- Suitcase Deadlift superset Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Overhead Press: 3 x 8 per side + 3 x 10 per side
- Turkish Get-Up superset Farmer’s Carry: 3 x 3 per side + 3 x 30 seconds
Note: Choose moderate weights so you can focus on getting quality movement and range of motion in each rep.
Benefits of Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts
Whatever your fitness goal is, you want to be sure to move well and get strong. By following a balanced training program of all your major movement patterns and using all of your muscles, you’ll be able to get the gains you want — with just one pair of dumbbells.
On the Go Workouts
If you travel a lot and often find yourself in hotels, most basic hotel gyms have at least one pair of dumbbells. Even local commercial gyms are generally stocked with dumbbells. If you work out at home and avoid gyms, you might opt to invest in an affordable pair.
All you need is some space on the ground (indoors or outdoors) and your dumbbells. With that, you’ll be able to train all major movements and muscle groups, no matter where you are.
Does one side ever give out before the other during your last reps of a set? You may have an imbalance of strength, mobility, or muscle mass. That’s important to address as you carry on in your fitness journey. Training your full-body with dumbbells gives each limb a chance for you to bring your full focus to building more symmetrical strength.
Extra Core Work
If you’ve tried a super heavy dumbbell front squat, you’ll likely notice that not only is it extremely taxing on your upper and lower body. You also need to squeeze your abs intensely to keep your torso stiff as your shoulders and hips withstand the load. When performing an overhead press, your core needs to work hard to stabilize your spine and stop it from extending when you press.
With dumbbells, especially when training unilaterally, there’s a ton of instability happening. as your hands hold separate weights. Your core needs to be super strong to help you stabilize and finish out those lifts. Full-body dumbbell workouts demand a lot from your core, so you’ll get a lot back, too.
Who Should Do Full-Body Dumbbell Workouts
Full-body dumbbell workouts can be beneficial for lifters and athletes of all levels. Whether you’re a competitive strength athlete or are trying to fit in your training around a hectic work life, dumbbells might just be the implement for you.
When you’re new to training, full-body workouts help you get used to new movement patterns while using multiple major muscle groups and joints at the same time. It’s helpful to spend your early sessions really nailing down important patterns like the hinge, squat, push, and pull.
Doing a bunch of them in one session helps you build that mind-muscle connection that you’ll carry with you as you progress. Since you’re not lifting heavy yet, your body can take all the different stimuli without getting overly taxed, so you can still perform quality work.
For athletes who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to training, full-body dumbbell workouts are an excellent choice. If you only have a short window of time a couple of days a week, you have to spend it wisely. Full-body workouts make the most of your time and hit all your major muscles each time you can train.
Competitive Strength Athletes
If you’ve been training a long time and you’re a powerlifter, Olympic lifter, or other advanced strength athlete, it can be good to switch up your routine once in a while. Whether you’re taking a deload week or are trying to improve gaps in programming during the offseason, dumbbells can help you out.
If you never do unilateral training, you may have weaknesses in your two sides that can get worse over time. Spending time addressing them with dumbbells will carry back over to your powerful barbell lifts. This will help you build the strength, power, and muscle you need to up your weights and reach your goals.
Full Body, Full Strength
Full-body dumbbell workouts may not have you training to your maxes the way you can in a split with barbells. But they’ve got plenty of their own benefits. Taxing your whole body in one session is a super efficient use of your time. Hitting every major movement and muscle group helps keep your body balanced and moving well.
The unstable nature of dumbbells also help you notice and address imbalances in your two sides and work your core and stabilizers a little extra. Whether you’re traveling, away from the gym, or working out at home, grab a pair of dumbbells to advance your training goals.
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