Short on time? This 20-minute dumbbell workout uses 5 exercises to work your entire body

a photo of a woman holding two dumbbells doing a squat
(Image credit: Getty Images/CavanImages)

Looking to work your entire body without needing tons of time or equipment? The good news is that you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get results — if you’re someone who tends to procrastinate in the gym, or you tend to get bored, a short workout like this is a good place to start. All you’ll need for this full-body workout is a set of the best adjustable dumbbells and 20 minutes of your time. Ready to get started? Read on. 

The workout, put together by NYC fitness trainer Elise, who runs the Instagram account Elise’s Body Shop, uses just one set of dumbbells. Adding dumbbells to your workouts can help build muscular endurance, improve your balance, and notice any weaknesses in your body, as you work each side unilaterally. 

As always, if you’re recovering from a specific injury, you’re a complete beginner, or you’re pregnant, this might not be the right workout for you and your body. If in any doubt, it’s a good idea to chat with a personal trainer before adding new exercises to your workout regime. 

What is the workout? 

Ready to get started? The workout follows an ‘EMOM’ format. This means every minute on the minute — you’ll complete the set number of reps, and then rest until the end of the minute. You’ll repeat the circuit of five exercises four times through, making the entire workout 20 minutes in total. Here are the exercises: 

Minute one: 20 front squats

  • Start by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with your toes pointing outwards.
  • Activate your core, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine, and sit your hips down and back into a squat. Ensure you don’t round your back as you squat — keep your core engaged and glue your elbows into your sides.
  • Squat down as low as you comfortably can, then engage your glutes and press your feet into the floor to push back up to your starting position.

Minute two: 15 dumbbell rows

  • Again, start with a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing one another.
  • Hinge forward, lift your chest, and straighten your back — do not let your back arch during this exercise.
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees, and bend at the elbow to row both dumbbells into your chest.
  • Pause, and then straighten your arms back to your starting position.

Minute three: 20 reverse lunges

  • To do a reverse lunge, you’ll want to start at the top of your exercise mat with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Engage your glutes (squeeze them together) and brace your core as you step backward with your right or left foot, making sure your legs stay shoulder-width apart and your hips stay facing forward.
  • Keeping your spine perpendicular to the floor, lower your body to the ground until both legs are at a 90-degree angle. The front knee should be over the front ankle, and your back knee should be underneath your hip.
  • Press back from the back foot into your starting position and repeat the move on the other side.
  • Keep alternating sides until you’ve completed 20 reps.

Minute four: 12 snatches

  • For the dumbbell snatch, start with your feet wider than hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with the dumbbells pressed together.
  • Bend into a squat, lowering the dumbbells down towards the floor.
  • Push up through your legs, and as you do so, raise the dumbbells to your shoulders and complete a shoulder press, lifting both dumbbells above your head, before lowering them back towards the ground to move into another snatch.

Minute five: 15 push presses

  • For this exercise, start with a dumbbell in each hand, with your elbows bent and the dumbbells by your shoulders. Your feet should be wider than hip-width apart.
  • Bend the knee slightly — this isn’t a squat, and as you straighten your legs again, push the dumbbells up above your head.
  • Return to your starting position, lowering the dumbbells back down to your shoulders.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles engaged throughout — think about sucking your belly button in towards your spine.

What are the benefits? 

One huge benefit of EMOM workouts is that they are time efficient — you don’t spend minutes scrolling Instagram during breaks between exercises, as you’re constantly watching the clock for the next 60 seconds to begin. Staying focused in the gym can help you get results. During an EMOM workout, you’re trying to get your reps done as quickly as possible so you have time to rest before moving on to the next exercise, helping you stay on task, and working hard. 

They can also help you build stamina and challenge yourself. Your body has to learn to recover faster, and as your heart rate doesn’t have too long to drop between exercises, you’ll work up a sweat and burn calories during this training method. As always, when it comes to selecting the right weight for your workout, remember that the exercise should feel challenging, but never impossible, by the final few reps. Even though you’re desperate for that rest, make sure you are still moving with good form.

Finally, EMOM workouts like this one can be used as a fitness benchmark. If you’re at the start of your strength training journey, a 20-minute workout like this one can be done each month to help you see progress — whether that’s getting more rest each minute, or increasing your weight and getting the same amount of rest you started with. What are you waiting for? 

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.