The ultimate dumbbell workout for fat loss and muscle building

A short, sharp and intense training session that requires just one piece of equipment: the humble dumbbell

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For some, an expensive gym membership is out of the question for financial reasons and for others, the thought of working out in a room filled with other grunting, sweaty individuals is beyond nightmarish. The solution: dumbbells. Whether that's a super-plush Bowflex Selecttech 1090i (review) or a set of cast iron York home weights from Amazon, these simple weights are a time-honoured route to a ripped bod, or at least a more toned physique. 

Now all you need is some 

Shaun Stafford is a 2x Fitness World Champion, Optimum Nutrition Ambassador and Head of Performance at top London gym City Athletic

(Image credit: Optimum Nutrition)

We've enlisted the hope of Shaun Stafford, who is a 2x Fitness World Champion, Optimum Nutrition Ambassador and Head of Performance at top London gym City Athletic, to give us his ultimate dumbbell workout for burning fat fast.

"The crux of this workout is simple and effective, but is based on some key pillars: we pair upper-body and lower-body exercises together into “super sets” and we keep the rest periods short and intensity high," he explains.

"The aim is to stimulate some Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) and illicit a strong cardiovascular response, while at the same time raising the lactic acid levels in your blood, both of which have been proven to be effective when it comes to reducing body-fat," he adds.

How to perform the ultimate dumbbell workout for fat loss

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To do this workout, you need a good set of dumbbells and a bit of space to perform the moves. There's no need for any additional equipment, like benches or steps, but it will help if you have a decent pair of stable and supportive workout shoes.

"Grab a heavier set of dumbbells for the leg exercises and a lighter set (probably around half the weight) for your upper-body moves. Then find yourself some space and get cracking," says Shaun.

"This is supposed to be short, sharp and intense, so get a timer at the ready and give it everything you have for the next 40 minutes," he adds.

The super set format of this workout sees Shaun throw in the extra challenge of jumping from one exercise to the next, with minimal rest between them. Here, you should be aiming to transition from 12 reps of lunges on each leg to 12 reps of bicep curls on each arm, for example. See if you can do it without putting the weights down for a real lung-busting test of endurance. 

A word on nutrition

A healthy diet is essential to fuel tough sessions

(Image credit: Optimum Nutrition)

Before jumping straight into the workout, it is worth noting some top tips on nutrition from a man who knows how to fuel heavy sessions. Shaun's quick fire tips on nutrition will make sure all the work is  backed up with some solid decisions in the kitchen. 

Achieve a calorie deficit to burn fat

"You may have heard about this and it is one of the key principles when it comes to fat loss and energy balance. Put simply, you want to ensure that you are consuming fewer calories everyday than you are burning in order to tap into the stored fat reserves your body has built up.

"When it comes to working out how many calories you are consuming, a basic method is to tally up how many calories (from the back of the packet on your food and drink) for a few days to give you an average. Once you have this established, try reducing this number by around 500 per day.

"This should leave you a little hungry but not ravenous, and at the end of a consistent seven days at this new calorie level, you should be around 1-2 pounds lighter. Remember, cutting out the fatty, sugary calories is far better than ditching fruit and veg" says Shaun

Consume adequate protein for muscle growth

"Proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue and when you are training hard in the gym - or like you are with the workout suggested below - you want to make sure that you are giving your body enough resources to recover effectively.

"It is recommended that you are consuming at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Now, if you are looking at the above and thinking that is a lot of chicken, fish or red meat, you are right. But there are other options, too! 

"A lot of dairy is quite high in protein and certain legumes and beans also offer strong amino profiles to supplement a wide variety of other animal-based protein.

"You can also supplement your diet with trusted and researched products such as protein shakes, protein bars and the high-protein snacking range from someone like Optimum Nutrition. All products are widely available, banned substance-tested and come in a multitude of flavours and forms: there really is something for everyone in order to get your protein levels up in a tasty and cost-effective way," he adds.

The ultimate dumbbell workout for fat loss

Let the sweating begin

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Super Set One

Stiff-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift: 8 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang by your side at arm's length. Position the feet so they are just narrower than shoulder-width. Allow a slight flex in the knee but don't bend the joint as you push your butt out and hinge at the waist for the movement.

The key here is to lower the dumbbells, with knuckles facing shins, by hinging only at the waist, keeping the back nice and flat and exhaling on the way down.

Don't over-stretch on this movement and return back to the start of the exercise when you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings. This will be higher or lower down the leg, depending on your flexibility.

Incorporate the glutes when returning to the top of this exercise by engaging those butt muscles to help shift the weight back to the starting pose. Don't use your back.  

Do 8 of these and then go straight into...

Standing Shoulder Press: 12 reps

With knuckles facing outward, stand with legs slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. The dumbbells should be held just outside of the shoulders.

Press the dumbbells with good form: so don't drive through the legs or lean backwards. Instead, engage the abs for stability and call upon the lats and other back muscles to drive the weights upward. Return to start and that's one rep. 

Once you've completed 12 reps, you can now rest for 60 seconds. That's one set done. Three more to go!

Super Set Two

Dumbbell Front Squat: 8 reps

Stand in the same position as you did when performing the standing shoulder press (above). But rather than driving the weights above your head, this exercise requires squatting low and driving the weight up with the legs.

Maintain a nice, flat back and only hinge at the hips. You'll want to try and sit the butt backwards during this exercise and then drive through the heels, engaging all the major leg muscles and abs, while keeping the weights locked into the shoulders.

Now transition into...

Bent Over Dumbbell Row: 12 reps

Adopt the same position as you did for the deadlift, hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells to shin level. Keeping that back braced and abs taught, draw the dumbbells up to chest height using the major back muscles.

Top tip: engage the lats by drawing your shoulder blades up and backwards at the same time, as if you are tucking the shoulder blades into your back pocket. 

Rest  for 60 seconds and repeat all of the above for four sets.

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Super Set Three

Single-Arm Dumbbell Swing: 12 reps each arm

Similar to a kettlebell swing, this exercise requires just on dumbbell held at arms length, just between the legs (you should be stood with feet shoulder-width apart).

To begin the movement, hinge at the hips, push the butt backwards and explode upwards using the glutei and leg muscles to drive the weight out and upward in front of you.

The power of the drive through the legs should be enough to let the weight swing upwards and momentum will bring it back between the legs. Remember to squat down as the weight passes through your legs and drive upwards, as you would when performing a standard squat, to ensure the back isn't rounding. 

Press Ups: 12 reps

This exercise should feel very familiar to most. Remember, keep palms flat on the floor and maintain a nice straight line running from head to toes. Don't flare the elbows on the way down, keep them tucked in to the sides, and engage the chest, back and core when performing the explosive push-up.

Rest for 60 seconds and repeat all of the above for four sets. 

Super Set Four

Alternating Dumbbell Lunges: 12 reps each leg

Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and hold at your sides, palms facing in. Stand with feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart and top backwards with one leg. The knee of the trailing leg should get as low to the floor as possible (without touching it) and the planted thigh should perpendicular with the lower leg.

Remember, don't let the planted knee wander forward over your toes. Try and mitigate this by shifting the hips backwards and squatting with an upright chest, head looking forward. Now switch legs and repeat. 

Standing Bicep Curls: 12 reps

Everyone has seen someone furiously working the biceps in the gym, but most perform this move wrong. Good posture is key here, so keep a high chest with shoulder blades retracted.

With elbows 'pinned' into your sides, curl the dumbbells simultaneously up to the point where the bicep is at maximum flex - any higher and you'll be working the shoulders, which is not the intention here. Pause at the top and return slowly. Repeat.

Top tip: If you can't help rocking backward and forward during this move, or swinging the dumbbells to the top of the position, you likely need to drop some kilos from your dumbbells. Also, try this move in a split-stance, with bodyweight on the front foot and the toes of the rear foot brought in for balance. This will force good posture. 

Now rest for  60 seconds, repeat for four sets and you're done! 

Shaun is an ambassador for Optimum Nutrition. Check out their products here.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.