This 15-minute workout builds full-body strength in just three moves

woman performing squat exercise with dumbbells
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Tired of the usual dumbbell full-body workouts? You only need these three moves and a spare 15 minutes to build strength and muscle mass all over. This exercise routine is simple enough to slot nicely into your lunch hour and works most muscles without spending an hour in the gym. 

The workout includes three of our favorite core functional movements to help you work on your mobility, coordination, and strength and build lean muscle mass. Unlike our favorite bodyweight workouts (like this calisthenics workout that uses four exercises to build full-body strength), we recommend a set of the best adjustable dumbbells to complete the exercises. 

Jess Rosart, gym manager and coach at London CrossFit gym WIT, is behind the creation and told us, “when I think of the perfect full-body workout, it incorporates core functional moves that stimulate muscles throughout your entire body.

“If you’re short on time and need something simple yet effective, I usually opt for 3-4 movements and work on an every-minute-on-the-minute (EMOM) structure to give me a time frame to complete the work and keep me on track.” This workout does exactly that. Read on for the dumbbell full-body workout, pro tips to perfect your form, and some scaling options for all fitness levels. 

Jess Rosart’s 3-move dumbbell full-body workout 

Workout: E3MOM

Every 3 minutes x 5 rounds 

12 deadlifts

12 squats

12 shoulder overhead press

Rest for the remaining time.

Perform exercises back to back and rest for the remainder of the three minutes, repeating every three minutes for five rounds. 

As mentioned, this workout will help build full-body strength and can be done at the gym or as part of an at-home workout. We recommend using medium-heavy weights, but you can pick a heavier weight to make this more challenging, and if you’re a beginner, stick to body weight or lighter weights at first.  

This should feel challenging and you should have some time to recover before the next three minutes. However, if you finish with over 30 seconds to spare, you could be lifting too light, so add more weight or reps. 

You can learn how to deadlift with perfect form and the most common mistake made during squats here, but Jess has included some top tips below to maximize your results. 

1. How to deadlift

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and ensure your knees are slightly bent with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your torso parallel to the floor while sending your hips backward. Allow your arms to follow in front of your knees and shins and tap them to the floor just in front of you. Keep your back in a neutral position, slow and controlled, before standing back up. 

2. How to squat

Jess performing a goblet squat holding one dumbbell in both hands and sitting down into her squat

(Image credit: Jess Rosart)

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one weight in both hands or rack both weights onto your shoulders. Allow your knees to track your toes and keep your weight in your heels as you lower down into a squat. Thighs should be parallel to the floor. Pause at the bottom, then push through your heels to stand and squeeze your glutes. 

3. How to do an overhead press

Rack both weights up onto your shoulders with your elbows pointed forwards. Start with feet hip distance apart and engage your core. Press the weights above your head until your arms are straight then lower with control back to your shoulders. If you’re doing this bodyweight, switch to push-ups instead. 

Exercises like squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts are called compound exercises, which means they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, squats work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and even your core muscles, and deadlifts work the same muscles as well as your back. Overhead presses work your chest, shoulders, core, and triceps. In short, you can achieve an effective full-body workout and build strength all over without spending hours in the gym. 

In short, work smart not harder!

And even better, research has shown exercises that engage more muscles at a heavier load require more energy to perform the move, which also increases your calorie burn and gives your metabolism a little boost. Completing the exercises to a time limit adds a cardio element that can ramp up your heart rate even more, which also improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs.   

If you’re looking for a low-impact workout, this 15-minute walking workout boosts your mood and calorie burn. For more ways to build strength, this kettlebell workout only takes 15 minutes to work your entire body and I tried a dumbbell abs workout that takes 15 minutes to sculpt your core.  

Your Expert
Jess Rosart with dumbbell above her head smiling to camera
Your Expert
Jess Rosart

Jess is the gym manager and coach at London CrossFit gym WIT Fitness and has over 14 years of experience in the coaching scene, including artistic gymnastics and CrossFit. As well as coaching classes and taking 1:1 personal training sessions, Jess leads nutrition challenges and runs women’s only training sessions. 

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.