New to the gym? Use this dumbbell only 'shy girl workout' to build muscle all over

a photo of a woman's arms holding a pair of dumbbells in the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If the idea of walking into the gym, wading through a sea of muscle heads to get onto a machine, or setting up a type of weight that you aren't familiar with scares you, we want you to know that you aren't alone. Gymtimidation is real but you shouldn't let it stop you from using a gym membership that's coming out of your pocket every month.

Videos with the hashtag #shygirlworkouts on TikTok have garnered over 21.8 million views, presenting a strong case that you aren't the only one feeling nervous in the gym. 

Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why people don't feel comfortable in the gym such as having anxiety around crowded spaces, feeling self conscious about their body or fitness levels, fear of using the equipment wrong or worrying that everyone is watching them. 

Wouldn't it be nice if you just had to find a small space in the gym, use one piece of equipment for the whole duration of the workout and sculpt some muscle while you're at it?

Gymtimidation is real but you shouldn't let it stop you from using a gym membership that's coming out of your pocket every month.

Say hello to personal Trainer & founder of Fit Labs Kensington, Ali Malik who has put together a seven move all standing dumbbell routine. That's right, no hanging around waiting for a bench or having to ask someone how many more sets they have, just grab some dumbbells, find a spot on the gym floor and get moving.

You can also use this workout at home if you own your own weights, such as a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells.

What is the workout?

The workout consists of seven dumbbell exercises that target a variety of muscle groups, including the back, lower body, shoulders, core, biceps, and triceps. It incorporates a mix of strength-training exercises, focusing on compound movements like rows and squats, as well as isolated exercises like bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. 

The recommended sets and reps differ slightly between exercise to provide a structured approach to building strength and endurance across multiple muscle groups. Malik recommends 45-60 seconds rest between sets and 90-120 seconds rest between exercises. Keep reading to follow along. 

Bent Over Underhand Dumbell Row

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a Bent Over Underhand Dumbell Row

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of trainer Ali Malik Bent Over Underhand Dumbell Row

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Hinge forward by about 45 degrees while standing, hold both the dumbbells at your knee level using an underhand grip, and row the dumbbells, towards your waist pinching your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  • Complete 3-4 sets each with 12-15 reps.

Dumbell Sumo Squat

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a Dumbell Sumo Squat

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a Dumbell Sumo Squat

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Hold both dumbells with both palms facing your body and stand straight up. Position legs so that they are wider than shoulder width apart with your knees slightly bent. Your toes should be facing out. Your arms should be stationary while performing the exercise.
  • Slowly bend the knees and lower your legs until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Make sure to inhale as this is the eccentric part of the exercise. Press mainly with the heel of the foot to bring the body back to the starting position while exhaling.
  • Complete 3-4 sets each with 12-15 reps.

Renegade Rows

a photo of Ali Malik performing a dumbbell renegade row

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a dumbbell renegade row

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Position yourself in a press up with a dumbbell in each hand. Make sure your arms run directly down from your shoulders and that your feet are about shoulder-width apart.
  • When you’re ready, lift one of your weights up to your body and towards your rib cage, keeping the dumbbell close to you and your elbow pointing upwards. As you do this, focus on keeping your body still to avoid twisting your torso.
  • Lower your arm back down to the ground, and repeat on the opposite side. 
  • Complete 3 sets each with 20 reps (10 each arm).

Dumbell Snatch

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a dumbbell snatch

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of Ali Malik performing a dumbell snatch

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Place the dumbbell on the floor and stand over it with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. 
  • Pick up the dumbbell with an overhand grip.
  • Sit your hips back and lower into a squat letting the dumbbell hang to touch the floor directly beneath your chest. Try to keep your chest up and back straight.
  • Lift the dumbbell up with your legs and back coming straight up too. Keep the arm straight until the dumbbell gets to the hip. Try to keep your elbow high during this pulling process.
  • When the dumbbell has gone overhead push the hips back and bend the knees into a squat position. Stand up straight keeping the arm locked out.
  • Release the arm back down. Squat so the dumbbell is again hanging down, touching the floor. That's one rep.
  • Repeat, picking up the dumbbell with the same hand. Complete 3 sets each with 10 reps each arm.

Standing Bicep Curl

a photo of Ali Malik performing a dumbbell bicep curl

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a dumbbell bicep curl

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Begin standing tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms relax down at the sides of your body with palms facing forward.
  • Keep your upper arms stable and shoulders relaxed, bend at the elbow and lift the weights so that the dumbbells approach your shoulders. Or for a full range of motion, raise the dumbbells to your eyes or forehead level.
  • Your elbows should stay tucked in close to your body. Exhale while lifting. Lower the weights to the starting position. Complete 3 sets each with 10-12 reps.

Tricep Kickbacks

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a dumbbell tricep kickback

(Image credit: Ali Malik)

a photo of trainer Ali Malik performing a dumbbell tricep kickback

(Image credit: Ali Malik)
  • Lift the left elbows so that it is in line with your torso (parallel to the floor). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbows.
  • Extend the lower arms, keeping the elbows in a fixed position, At full extension, it will feel like the weight is reaching toward your hip behind you.
  • Keep the elbows fixed (arms parallel to the floor) and return the weight to the starting position (with a 90-degree bend at the elbows).
  • Repeat, keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine long and strong. Complete 3 sets each with 10-12 reps. 
a photo of trainer Ali Malik
Ali Malik

Personal Trainer Ali is a highly skilled strength & conditioning coach, who has helped increase the fitness levels of thousands of clients and boost their performance skills. A lifelong athlete himself, Ali knows first hand what it takes to improve fitness and skill levels. He coaches people of all ages, from teenagers to seniors and is a firm believer and practitioner of athletic harmony between body & mind. Ali Founded Fit Labs, which is a luxurious, empowering boutique fitness experience in Kensington. Ali and his team believe that movement should be accessible for people of all fitness levels, genders, body-types and ages.

What are the benefits of this workout?

Firstly, this type of minimal equipment workout avoids complex machines or equipment, making it more accessible for anyone who may feel overwhelmed or unsure about using gym machinery. Plus, standing exercises with dumbbells allow individuals to perform the workout in less crowded areas of the gym, providing a nice layer of comfort to your gym workouts.

In terms of the exercise benefits of this workout, the inclusion of both compound and isolated exercises in this routine offers a well-rounded approach to your gym workouts. Compound movements, such as Dumbbell Sumo Squats and Renegade Rows, engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, promoting efficient calorie burning and functional strength.

On the other hand, isolated exercises like Standing Bicep Curls and Tricep Kickbacks target specific muscles, promoting balanced muscle development and definition. This mix of dumbbell exercises not only enhances overall strength but also will contribute to improved joint stability, flexibility, and a more sculpted physique. 

If you're looking to build muscle, then you will want to include some progressive overload when you use this routine. Don't be scared to increase the weight size once you feel strong enough to do so, just keep things moving up gradually and always prioritise your form.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.


Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.


She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.