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The 4 Best Exercises To Do With Dumbbells

A man showing the best exercises to do with dumbbells.

Why these 4 exercises to do with dumbbells?

These four best exercises to do with dumbbells will help you build functional strength, burn fat while sculpting a lean defined physique.

As well as enabling you to enhance your fitness, these four best exercises to do with dumbbells will spice up your training routine.

The dumbbell exercises below have been selected because they work multiple muscle groups. In addition, they can enhance muscle endurance.

Furthermore, all of the dumbbell exercises can engage the cardiovascular system. Because they are big functional, whole-body movements that activate a wide range of muscles, the heart has to work harder to fuel the working muscles.

Related: Check out the best dumbbells for the home gym

How to use these best exercises to do with dumbbells

The dumbbell exercises below can be incorporated into any gym or home-based workout. They can be performed as part of a general resistance training routine or used within a circuit.

Below we have outlined two other ways that you could use these best exercises to do with dumbbells.

AMRAP dumbbell workout

These dumbbell exercises are perfect for AMRAP training. Set a 5- to 10-minute countdown timer and see how many reps you can perform.

You could even make the four best dumbbell exercises into a workout. Starting at the first dumbbell exercises - #1: single arm dumbbell snatch – complete a 5-minute AMRAP ensuring to log your rep score.

Take a 1- to 2-minute rest before proceeding to the next dumbbell exercise.

EMOM dumbbell workout

Why not make an EMOM out of these four best exercises to do with dumbbells?

EMOM (every minute on the minute) is a very effective training method. As well as giving your workout structure and a clear start and end point, EMOMs are brilliant for driving volume and intensity.

every minute on the minute method

1: Decide of the number of 1-minute rounds you are going to complete for each dumbbell exercise.

2: Specify a rep range. Remember, the optimal ratio between reps and rest is 50:50. That, of course, equates to 30-seconds exercising to 30-seconds of rest. Although, you can increase the exercises as you progress through the workout.

3: Set a 1-minute countdown timer and go EMOM!

Related: Adjustable dumbbells are essential home gym equipment


The 4 best exercises to do with dumbbells

A CrossFit athlete about to demonstrate the best exercises to do with dumbbells.

#1: Single arm dumbbell snatch

The dumbbell single arm snatch is a brilliant functional strength developing exercise. They develop strength and power primarily in the posterior chain muscles – which includes the hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back. In addition, the single arm snatch gets the heart rate up making them the ideal conditioning exercises.

Technique breakdown of the dumbbell single arm snatch

  • Same as with kettlebell swings, stand directly over a single dumbbell ensuring to adopt a stance slightly wider than shoulder-width.

  • Bending at the knees (a little rounding of the back is both unavoidable and if you engage the core and maintain control of the movement, acceptable) grasp the dumbbell.

  • Keeping your eyes riveted on point to your front, pull the dumbbell up above your head in one smooth movement.

  • Ideally, you should use the quadriceps contraction to get the dumbbell moving. However, CrossFit athletes typically use lower back strength and hip extension.

#2: Dumbbell thruster

The dumbbell thruster offers a step up in intensity from its barbell counterpart. Controlling the dumbbells when thrustering requires more core activation and mental concentration. If you don’t keep control of those dumbbells during the shoulder press, they can easily pull you off balance.

When you execute a dumbbell thruster you engage a veritable panoply of muscle groups. Quadriceps, glutes, lower back and core muscle, shoulders, triceps and a whole host of synergist muscles – far too many to list!

Technique breakdown of the dumbbell thruster

  • In the start position hold the dumbbells in front of your shoulders.

  • Adopt a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance.

  • Initiate the exercise by squatting until a 90° angle forms at the back of the legs.

  • Stand up out of the squat transitioning into the shoulder press.

  • Now, the transition between the squat and shoulder press should be a single smooth fluid movement. It isn’t two movements and shouldn’t be performed as such. However, in saying that, if you are learning this exercise for the first time, it is fine to break the thruster down into its two constituent parts: squat/shoulder press.

  • With the arms in full extension, dumbbells suspended above your head, reverse the exercise. Remember, when you lower the dumbbells, you should sink straight into the squat without pausing.

#3: Farmer’s walk with dumbbells

A favourite strongman event, Farmer’s walk has got to be the father of functional strength exercises. Antiquated though this exercise is, it is still one of the most effective functional strength builders.

When Farmer’s walking literally every major muscle group is engaged. But also a whole host of synergist (stabiliser) muscles are stimulated as well.

Technique breakdown of the Farmer’s walk

  • Traditionally, Farmer’s walk is performed with a pair of dumbbells. But you can break from convention if necessity insists. Other perfectly acceptable Farmer’s walking weights include kettlebells, weight discs, power bags, sandbags, and even your weekly shopping (just make sure that the loads are evenly weighted).

  • Before embarking on the Farmer’s walk, firstly measure out a ‘runway’ – that is, a straight walkway that is bereft of obstacles and trip hazards. Also, it’s good practice to measure the runway so that you know how far you’ve walked. Remember, Farmer’s walk is not measured by how many repetitions you perform, but how many metres you carried a specific load.

  • When picking your dumbbells up, ensure to observe correct lifting principles: back straight, tight core, eyes fixed to your front.

  • Stand up, compose yourself, and proceed to walk.

#4: Dumbbell squat jumps

The dumbbell squat jump is a great plyometric exercise that adds both strength and dynamic power to the legs. But the squat jump does more than strengthen the quads and glutes.

Because you are holding a pair of dumbbells at your side throughout the movement, your trapezius, shoulders and forebears are constantly activated. Thus, don’t be surprised (or confused) when a day or two later after performing this exercise your traps and shoulders are laid up with the DOMS.

A word of advice when doing dumbbell squat jumps. It’s best to perform this exercise on a soft mat of some description. The padding absorbs most of the impact of the jump so that your hips, knees and ankles don’t have to.

Technique breakdown of the dumbbell squat jumps

  • Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, arms straight, adopt a shoulder-width stance. (It may be more comfortable to go a touch wider.)

  • To initiate the exercise, execute a squat – there’s no need to go down any further than 90° (none of this ‘ass to grass’ rubbish).

  • Pause for a split second before powering out of the squat propelling your body off the floor.

  • On landing ensure to roll from the ball of the foot to the hell: DO NOT land flat-footed. If you are landing correctly, you will be doing so in silence. If you sound like a stampeding heard of bison, check your technique.

  • Remember, as you land from the jump sink straight back into the next squat.

  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Related: Try this 30-Minute Dumbbell Workout


4 best exercises to do with dumbbells FAQ

Can I build muscle with just dumbbells?

Yes, you certainly can build muscle with just dumbbells. However, dumbbells are only effective muscle builders if they are heavy enough. If you select a sufficiently heavy pair of dumbbells for you and apply the strength-training principles to your workout, it’s likely that over a number of months you will experience an increase in muscle mass.

What are 3 benefits of dumbbells?

  • Dumbbells are extremely versatile. You can perform in excess of 25 different exercises with a single pair of dumbbells. Next to the kettlebell, dumbbells are the single most versatile piece of exercise equipment.

  • Dumbbells enable you to develop a range of components of fitness. For example, with dumbbells, you can improve muscle strength, endurance, and power, while also reshaping body composition.

  • Dumbbells, unlike fixed machines, do not restrict or confine your natural range of movement. In addition, dumbbells help you to develop symmetrical strength as you are unable to compensate with a dominant side.

Related: Want do discover more benefits of dumbbell training?

What exercises to do with dumbbells to lose weight?

All of the exercises outlined above can help to burn fat and reduce body weight. If you use dumbbells in AMRAPS, EMOMs, circuits, and/or HIIT workouts, they will burn fat while also improving muscle tonality.

What exercises to do with dumbbells for abs?

One of the best exercises to do with dumbbells for abs is the Russian twist. The Russian twist develops a strong core and transverse abdominus while also chiseling out a granite set of abs.

The exercise is easy to perform and can be mastered in minutes.

Russian twist technique

  • Seated on a training mat with a single dumbbell at your side, lift your feet off the floor and hold the ‘crunch’ position.

  • Take the dumbbell and hold it at your front in both hands. Your arms are bent, and the dumbbell is held about six inches from your abdomen.

  • Initiate the movement by rotating the dumbbell to your side.

  • As you do so rotate your body in the opposite direction. The dumbbell acts as a counterweight and helps to stabilise your position.

  • Continue oscillating from side to side until you have completed the set number of reps.


Want to master more exercises to do with dumbbells?

Follow the link to our dedicated Workout and Fitness Page.


In this text box it says: As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance! Blog Author: Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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