If a pair of dumbbells is the only gym equipment you own and you’ve been searching high and low for the best full-body dumbbell workout, today is your lucky day! We present you the only guide you need to help put your body through its paces, build muscle and shred fat while only using dumbbells. These exercises can be done at home or in the gym; whatever works for you best.
The dumbbell is one piece of gym equipment that packs a lot of potential in a small package. It’s versatile, relatively portable and not too expensive to purchase. Dumbbells are also quite easy to use when compared to other gym-based apparatus, especially adjustable dumbbells that are also easier to store than large gym equipment.
But are they able to give you a full-body workout, without needing anything more substantial, like a weights bench or squat rack? You betcha! And to prove it, we’ve asked the help of fitness expert Jamie Bantleman, Testing and Community Manager at smart fitness apparel brand Prevayl (opens in new tab), to put together the best full-body dumbbell workout.
“This is a full-body training programme, taking you through big compound movements to get enough bang for your buck,” promises Bantleman.
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Best full-body dumbbell workout: What are supersets?
This full-body dumbbell workout consists of five different exercises, two of which are performed as “supersets”.
Superset simply refers to the act of performing two different resistance training exercises back to back without a rest in between. The benefits of superset workouts are that you are effectively doubling the amount of work you are doing in one rep while keeping the recovery periods the same as when you’re completing individual exercises. This overloads the muscles and promotes growth while also saving time in the gym.
Without further adieu, here is our best full-body dumbbell workout, split up into five sections: warm-up, A, B, C and cool down.
Best full-body dumbbell workout: Warm up
No weighted workout should ever begin without a good warm-up first, especially when you’re planning to work the entire body. Start off with 5-10 minutes of dynamic movements to get your heart rate elevated and blood pumping to all parts of your body. This will
Some good dynamic warm-up exercises include: arm swings, bear crawls, body weighted-squats and lunges, or even a quick job on the treadmill, exercise bike or elliptical machine if you’re at the gym. Looking for some inspo? Check out the 10-minute full-body warm-up drill from kickboxer and FightCamp coach Aaron ‘Speedy' Swenson.
Best full-body dumbbell workout: Section A
A1/Dumbbell front-loaded squat (4 sets x 8 reps with 10-second recovery)
A2/Dumbbell bent over row (4 sets x 8 reps with 90-second recovery)
By pairing the front squat with a bent-over row, you’re creating an antagonistic physiological change going from a push to a pull movement (read more about push-pull-legs workouts and the benefits of push-pull-legs workouts). Besides helping you achieve more in a given time, the benefits of this include a better muscular balance, which won’t only help prevent injury further down the line but will ensure your muscles grow proportionally.
Another advantage is increased strength. By contracting antagonistic muscle groups alternately, you can enhance motor unit recruitment, which essentially gives a muscle more power. “A front squat is one of the most effective exercises - by loading the quadriceps, you are also working your core to ensure trunk stability and engaging your upper body to carry the load,” says Bantleman.
“The bent-over row is a kingpin exercise that not only works your back but also your lower body, core stability and biceps thanks to its ‘pulling’ motion.”
How to do it:
For the front-loaded squat, take your dumbbells and rest them on your shoulders and initiate the movement, squatting at the maximum depth you are capable of before driving back up through your knees.
For the bent-over row, the start position will (unsurprisingly) see you bent over with a straight back. Taking a dumbbell in each hand, drive your elbows as high up by your side as possible to engage your lats and rhomboids.
Best full-body dumbbell workout: Section B
B1/Dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts (4 sets x 10 reps with 10-second recovery)
B2/Dumbbell strict overhead press (4 sets x 10 reps with 90-second recovery)
The second section of our full-body dumbbell workout is very similar to the first in the sense that it’s another superset that involves both pull and push exercises.
The first exercise of this superset is a stiff leg deadlift. Often confused with a Romanian deadlift (where you take a barbell from the rack and initiate the movement), a stiff leg deadlift involves raising the dumbbells from the floor.
The benefit of doing the latter is that it has a greater effect on strengthening the posterior chain. This will not only improve your posture and lower back strength but give you more explosive power when it comes to movements such as jumping and performing leg presses. It can also help improve your incline running capability.
How to do it:
For the stiff leg deadlift, start with a dumbbell in each hand while maintaining straight legs and a straight back. With a neutral spine position, slowly bend over while keeping the dumbbells in front, running down the front of the legs until they meet the middle of your shins. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, bring the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
As for the B2 exercise (the strict dumbbell overhead press), stand with your dumbbells in a shoulder press position and without any assistance from a leg drive, push the dumbbells to a full lockout at the top of the movement. Imagine that at the top of your arms – at the highest point – is a window, and you should drive your head through that window at every rep as you bring the dumbbells down.
Best full-body dumbbell workout: Section C
C/Devil's press (8 set x 5 reps EMOM)
Lastly, we have a fast but aggressive conditioning piece to finish off the session. By performing an EMOM (every minute on the minute) workout for five minutes, you’ll be performing the exercise for five rounds every minute.
“I have opted for a nasty finisher here with the devil's press,” says Bantleman. “We have all heard of and seen burpees, and you may have even been made to do them from time to time…but have you ever tried them with dumbbells?!”
Well, that’s what this last exercise involves…
How to do it:
To perform a devil’s press, stand with legs just wider than shoulder-width apart in front of a pair of dumbbells which are spaced shoulder-width apart on the floor. Throw yourself down to the ground as you would with a burpee, performing a full rep with chest lightly hitting the floor between your dumbbells. On the way back up, pick up the dumbbells and perform a snatch-like movement to drive them straight above your head. That’s one rep.
Perform eight reps of this and with the time remaining in that minute, recover before the second minute starts. Then, do it all again until you have completed five rounds.
Best full-body dumbbell workout: Cool down and stretch
As with any workout, it’s highly recommended that you cool down and stretch afterwards. Static stretches are the best post-resistance training, as they will minimise DOMS and help prevent injuries.
Consider performing any yoga-type stretches that hit multiple parts of the body, such as pigeon pose, upwards dog, child’s pose and hold each for at least 30 seconds. Check out the 10 best stretches for some more ideas and how to perform them.
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