Best dumbbell exercises for every body part according to a fitness expert

Here are the best dumbbell exercises to build muscle all over your body

Best dumbbell exercises: Pictured here, the back view of fit muscular female doing dumbbell overhead triceps extension exercise during functional workout in gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best dumbbell exercises can get you stronger, leaner and more muscular faster. Here, we not only collected all the dumbbell workouts a beginner should know about, but we also asked an expert to explain why they are the top dumbbell moves you should know about. 

The popularity of home workouts rose to an all-time high in the last few years, thanks to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures put into place. As a result, the best dumbbells and especially the best adjustable dumbbells flew off the shelves – it was more challenging to find a good Bowflex deal than it was to source toilet paper or hand sanitiser.

Hence why even now, years later, people are eager to find out how to build muscle all over their bodies using dumbbells. Using the below exercises, you, too, can pack on muscle mass (if that's what you want) and get stronger without leaving the house. And to make sure we recommend the right exercises, we asked Erin Kloosterman, Head of Sports Science at Sports Performance Lab, to list the essential dumbbell moves everyone should do.

Erin Kloosterman

Erin Kloosterman is Head of Sports Science at Sports Performance Lab. She holds certifications in Athletic Training and is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

If you're planning on working out more often, you must pay attention to recovery. This includes eating the right things – don't forget to check out T3's best protein powder and best weight gainer guides – resting for the required amount of time, and making sure you warm up before your workouts. If those criteria are met, you should be all set to get stronger/leaner/more muscular fast.

Best dumbbell exercises for every body part

Delts – Dumbbell Raise

This exercise can be utilized to work every portion of the deltoid muscle group – no wonder it's regarded as one of the best shoulder exercises one can perform. To target the anterior deltoid fibers, a straight arm front raise can be utilized. To target the lateral deltoid fibers, a straight or bent arm side raise can be utilized. To target the posterior deltoid fibers, a straight arm extension can be utilized. Typically a lighter weight should be used when performing these exercises to ensure the exercise is performed correctly. These exercises can be done once a week in addition to other upper body work.

Upper back – Dumbbell Row

This exercise targets mainly your middle traps, lats, and rhomoids. Many of us have jobs where we are hunched over a desk all day, utilizing a few different row variations in your weekly program is great for developing better posture. A row can be done in many different positions, standing, seated, or bent over (here's how to do bent over barbell rows).

Triceps – Dumbbell Tricep Kickback

This exercise directly targets your tricep muscle group and is a safer option than your typical "skull crushers". When doing a tricep kickback it is best if you perform the exercise in a bent over position in order to work against gravity and reduce the amount of compensatory movements. You can incorporate this exercise once a week into your program.

Biceps – Dumbbell Curl

There are many variations of a DB bicep curl that should be incorporated into your program once or twice a week. The hammer curl is the variation when you're holding the DB with a neutral grip (thumbs forward). Another variation is to hold the DB with a pronated grip (palms down) and you could also do a supinated grip (palms up). Each variation will work your biceps group and it helps keep your routine interesting when you are able to switch things up.

Pecs – Dumbbell Flyes

This exercise can be performed laying on a flat bench or seated on an incline bench. This exercise is not only great for developing your pecs but it also works your upper back and arms as well while they stabilize the weight throughout the movement. You can incorporate a fly into your program once a week.

Abs/core – High Plank with Dumbbell Pull-through

This exercise is not very popular but is great for developing the entire core. You start in a high plank position with a DB off to the side of one of your arms. Then you will rotate your torso by reaching for the weight with the hand that is farthest from it. Pull it underneath you to the other side of your body and then repeat the motion with the other side. Your rectus abdominis will be engaged to help stabilize you in the high plank position while your obliques work during the rotation and pull through. This exercise can be used once a week paired with your other core movements.

Glutes – Dumbbell RDL (Romanian deadlift)

This exercise can be performed in many different ways. You can do single leg, double leg, single arm, or double arm. This exercise isn't easy but all the different variations make it a great exercise to progress as you become more advanced in lifting. The most simple version is double legs and double arms. It works on developing your glutes and hamstrings while improving your mobility. This exercise should be incorporated into your workouts once a week and should be made more difficult over time by using the more advanced variations.

Legs – Dumbbell Step Up

 A very simple exercise that utilizes a lot of muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calf, and many small stabilizing muscles). There are two popular variations, a forward step (facing the step) and a lateral step (your side to the step). A step up helps improve your mobility and stability. During a step up, your step should not be higher than a 90-degree angle to start. As important as the "up" is, the "down" is where you should focus most of your energy.

A slow and controlled downward movement will help improve your balance in daily life and help reduce your risk of injury while performing this exercise. You can do a step-up variation in your program once or twice a week. You can even do this exercise when you aren't in the gym. ANY stair can count!

Matt Kollat
Fitness Editor

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).