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This killer full-body dumbbell workout builds strength with just six exercises

a man doing a bicep curl
(Image credit: Getty/mihailomilovanovic)

Whether like me you’ve recently quit the gym due to the cost of your membership rising, or you’re still working out from home post-pandemic, looking for decent workouts that can be done will little, or no equipment can be challenging. Luckily, I’ve enlisted the help of an expert to share a full-body workout you can do with just a set of dumbbells. 

If you are looking for a set of dumbbells to add to your home gym set-up, it’s worth checking out the best adjustable dumbbells on the market. Unlike a regular set of dumbbells, as its name might suggest, with adjustable dumbbells you can add, or remove, weight at the click or twist of a button, making them ideal for strength training at home. If you don’t have dumbbells, the exercises below could be done with a kettlebell, or a couple of milk cartons or water bottles (just make sure the lid is screwed on before you get started). 

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here’s the best ab exercises to try, according to Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer, six resistance band exercises that allow you to build your arm muscles from home, and what happened when I added 100 dead bugs to my daily routine

A full-body dumbbell workout

To find workout inspiration, we turned to Studio SWEAT onDemand (opens in new tab) CEO and Founder Cat Kom. “Ah yes, the humble dumbbell,” says Cat. “Simple, beautiful, and arguably one of the most versatile and underrated pieces of fitness equipment out there. They’re adjustable for weight and easy to use, meaning there are tons of dumbbell exercises for beginners out there. Not to mention they take up almost no space, making them ideal for at-home workouts.”

To get a full-body workout from home, do 12 reps of each exercise below in the order they are listed. Aim to do the circuit three times through. 

When it comes to selecting the weight of the dumbbell, Cat says, “the dumbbells you choose should be heavy enough so that the last few reps are hard, but not so heavy that you can’t do 12 reps with good form.”

Standing Dumbbell Curl 

an illustration of a man doing a dumbbell curl

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

To do a standing dumbbell curl, hold a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells shouldn’t be resting against your body, and your palms should be facing forward. Bend the elbows slightly for this exercise — the move is coming from the bicep, not the elbow. Slowly curl the dumbbells up towards your body, squeezing your biceps at the top, before lowering them back down to the starting position. That’s one rep. 

Dumbbell Front Squat 

an illustration of a woman doing dumbbell squats

(Image credit: shutterstock)

To do a dumbbell front squat, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand — this isn’t a goblet squat, so even if you have to go lighter, make sure you’re holding two dumbbells. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing in towards your body (note: the illustration above isn't correct). Keeping your head and torso up, squat down, pushing your hips down and back behind you. Squat as low as you can, pause, then squeeze your glutes and rise up to your starting position. That’s one rep. 

Dumbbell Bench Press 

an illustration of a woman doing a chest press with dumbbells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you don’t have a bench, you can do this exercise on a footstool or a step; just make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Start by lying back on the bench and raising a dumbbell in each hand with your arms out straight — the dumbbells should be over your shoulders, and your palms should be facing toward your feet. Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, pause at the bottom, then drive the dumbbells back up to your starting position. Think about pressing your back into the bench for the entire exercise, as if you’re pulling the dumbbells towards you, not arching up towards them.  

One Arm Tricep Extension 

an illustration of a woman doing a single arm tricep curl

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For this exercise, you’ll work one arm at a time, so you can pop one dumbbell down on the floor. Grasping the dumbbell in your left hand, hold it behind your head, with your elbow pointed up towards the ceiling. Extend your arm at the elbow until your arm is straight and the dumbbell is directly above you. Pause, then lower back to your starting position. Complete all the reps on your left before switching to your right side. 

Shoulder Press

an illustration of a man doing a shoulder press with dumbbells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You can do this exercise seated or standing — standing is more challenging and requires you to work your core as you press. Start with a dumbbell in each hand and raise the dumbbells to your shoulders, with your palms facing forward and your elbows out to the side at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your torso still, extend through your elbows and raise the dumbbells overhead, so that your arms are straight above you, then bend your elbows back to your starting position. That’s one rep. 

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge 

an illustration of a woman doing a reverse lunge with dumbbells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For this exercise, you’re doing 12 reps on each leg — you can alternate between legs as you go. Start holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your feet together. Step backward with your left leg, landing on the ball of your left foot, then bend your knees to lower towards the ground — be sure to keep your front knee behind your toes at the bottom of the movement, if your knee is over your toes, chances are you’ve not stepped back far enough. Once you’ve completed the lunge, step your left foot back to your starting position, and repeat on the right. Here’s more on how to do a lunge and the variations to try

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

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 four 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.