You don't need the gym — this 7-move dumbbell workout strengthens your core, glutes and quads

woman in sportswear practicing lunges with dumbbells in hands on the beach at sunrise. Morning workout.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You could build and strengthen muscles all over, including your core, glutes and quads, using this 20-minute HIIT workout with dumbbells. And it’s suitable for all levels of fitness.

The conditioning workout by Talilla Henchoz is perfect for home, garden and gym workouts, and Talilla only uses one dumbbell if you’re short on equipment. You can even modify for a shorter or longer session by adding or removing rounds.

I train using some of the best adjustable dumbbells and kettlebells when working out from home, as this allows me to scale up and down depending on upper-body or lower-body exercises. Read on for the workout below, including some tips on how to get sweating even more (and why it’s killer on the quads and core).

Watch Talilla Henchoz’s 20-minute HIIT workout with dumbbells

Henchoz says, “These kinds of sweats are my fave functional fitness,” meaning the functional training style that works multiple muscle groups and helps improve the efficiency and quality of your day-to-day movement. “This is your sign to build a body for life, not just for summer.”

The full-body torcher was designed as a 40-minute workout using one dumbbell. You could add a second dumbbell to increase the intensity, and we’ve scaled it back to give you a shorter 20-minute option, but you could add or remove rounds to suit your needs.

You get a combination of strength and cardio exercises with a bigger focus on the core muscles, glutes, quads and hamstrings. You’ll increase your heart rate and torch major muscle groups, activating upper body muscles too. I recommend using a medium or heavy dumbbell, but you should always lift weights suitable for your strength level. 

Perform each of the seven exercises for 40-45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds. Henchoz offers one-minute rest between rounds. For a 40-minute workout, complete five rounds and decrease to two or three for the shorter option. 

Here’s the list of exercises:


Some moves, such as alternating swings, deadlifts and snatches, have a dominant posterior chain focus, activating muscles down the back of the body. That includes your erector spinae muscles around the spine, glutes and hamstrings. 

During overhead movements, your shoulders, pectorals and triceps will switch on, and the muscles responsible for stabilizing the shoulders to support loading overhead. Keep your core tight, avoid arching your lower back and always move with power and control. 

Try to maintain a consistent pace and rep target for each exercise, and aim to hit that same number every round. Larger, more powerful muscles like your glutes and quads can generally handle the heavier weight, so challenge yourself on the lower-body exercises. If you only have one weight, focus on maximizing the lower-body movements and remove the presses where you need to. 

More high-intensity, explosive exercises like the snatches, burpees and swings could skyrocket your metabolism during and after workouts, known as the "afterburn effect." That means your metabolism will likely stay elevated for hours after you've put down the weights and continued on with your day. You can thank HIIT for that! 

a photo of a woman doing a reverse lunge with dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty/Josh Manore)

If you don’t have many weight options, we cover 5 clever ways to build muscle without lifting heavier weights here. 

Much research shows that alternating (single-sided) exercises help strengthen weaker muscles, improve balance and stability, and could even stimulate muscles on the other side of the body, called cross-education.

But as a reminder, you won’t notice physical results after performing this one workout; body re-composition and building muscle definition take consistency and time, meaning you’ll need to look at other areas of your lifestyle. 

That could include your stress levels, sleep patterns and diet, but some people are also more prone than others to storing fat — so your genetics could come into play too. Learn how to calculate your body fat percentage and why it matters

More from Tom’s Guide

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.