You only need these core 5 dumbbell exercises to develop muscle mass, strength and power

a photo of a man holding dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty/Mike Harrington)

Millions of dumbbell workouts promise to build muscle and strength, develop power, or sculpt stronger abs. But how do you know which ones to trust? And which exercises are most effective at building muscle?

Critical Bench, which has grown a huge following of over one million YouTube subscribers, said, “sure, there are hundreds of fantastic muscle-building exercises, but everything boils down to the big lifts that involve the most muscle, known as compound lifts.”

We couldn’t agree more. Compound lifts recruit major muscle groups and joints and hit your major muscle groups all over. Lifting weights regularly at any age using a dumbbell strength training program is crucial for developing muscular strength, endurance, mass, and bone density, keeping you stronger for longer. Grab a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells for home or gym workouts, and give these five exercises a try from the short routine shared by Critical Bench. 

Person holding two dumbbells during bicep curl close up

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

The five compound moves are nothing new or flashy, but they’re some of the best exercises to build strength and muscle mass. When performed correctly and several times a week, you can gain muscle mass using only five dumbbell exercises: goblet squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and bent-over row

Frank Rich, a self-coined “lean expert” bodybuilder and creator of Massthetic Muscle, believes in these five moves to “move the needle most” in your training. They’re also exercises I program the most with clients looking to develop strength, muscle, and power when someone is new to exercise. 

Check out the exercises below, along with tips to ensure your form is correct and how to do each correctly. The exercises could be added to an existing program, but I strongly recommend performing them as one functional workout, which should take 30 to 45 minutes to complete. 

Watch the Critical Bench 5 best dumbbell exercises to develop muscle mass and strength 

As a beginner to strength training, these exercises should be your bread and butter if you want to build your body. I like that the sets and rep ranges are left for you to decide on this one, but the guidelines are as follows:

Aim for five sets and five reps if you want to follow a strength training program to build strength, and opt for around 8-10 reps for a more traditional hypertrophy (muscle building) workout, sticking to 3-4 sets. Rich adds that anyone craving a metabolic conditioning program to burn calories might want to increase reps to 12-15 to build endurance.

During strength training, you’ll need longer rest — a few minutes between sets — to allow your muscles to recover, but for other forms of exercise, keep your rest between 30 to 90 seconds. Rich adds, “do these and only these with proper form and consistency and increase weight over time, and you will grow.” He’s not wrong — the research has shown that three weekly resistance training sessions could efficiently build muscle mass.

Most importantly, it’s a reminder that you don’t need to overcomplicate your training methods with workouts promising fast results, high-calorie burn, or “sculpting lean muscle fast.” 

“This type of training translates to strength, muscular, athletic, and hormonal gains,” says Rich. The lifts impact your anabolic response to weight training — meaning the exercise type elevates hormones like testosterone and your growth hormone, which are critical to muscle growth — as backed up by current studies like this one.

If you’re looking for other ways to boost your metabolism, find out how strength training can boost your metabolism. Slow metabolism? This could be the secret to better results, and these six essential exercises for building full-body strength for more variation. Once you’ve powered out your reps, cool down with these five shoulder stretches to relieve pain and build strength.

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.