Forget crunches — this 6-move dumbbell workout strengthens your core and builds full-body muscle

a woman performing a dumbbell side plank
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s a winning workout when you can strengthen your core and build full body muscle all in one session. We’ve found one that ticks both boxes, and all you need is a set of dumbbells to try it out yourself.

You’ll want to pick a pair of dumbbells that you feel confident lifting in a variety of exercises. Or, if you own a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells at home then set the weight to a lighter setting, and then you can always add on weight depending on how much of a pump you want.

If you often incorporate free weights into your core training then it’s likely you know many of the best dumbbell ab exercises. But what makes this workout built by fitness trainer Britany Williams a little different is that you will be activating the core muscles while performing compound exercises. This means you will engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, leading to improved overall strength and functional fitness. 

What is the workout? 

There are six dumbbell exercises to complete in this workout. The aim is to complete 10 reps of each or 8 reps per side for the moves that target one side of the body at a time. Williams suggests repeating the routine three times over, allowing yourself 60 to 90 seconds to rest between rounds. 

However, you can adjust the number of reps or rounds to your fitness level. Just make sure you are getting the form correct for each rep, as this is what really counts toward making progress. You can view the workout in full below and gather tips on form via Williams’ demonstrations. 

By incorporating compound movements that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, this workout challenges the body in various planes of motion, leading to more thorough strength development.

What sets this workout apart is its emphasis on functional movement patterns that mimic real-life activities, making it effective for building strength and improving overall fitness and everyday functionality. Each exercise in the routine requires coordination, balance, and core stability, providing a full-body workout.

Williams' routine is particularly effective for building a stronger core because it focuses on engaging the core muscles throughout each exercise. While many people associate core strength solely with achieving visible abdominal muscles, it's essential to recognize that core strength goes beyond aesthetics. 

The core muscles include not only the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscles) but also the obliques, transverse abdominis, and deeper stabilizing muscles of the spine and pelvis. Working with dumbbells might feel too challenging for you right now. So if you want to train without them, here are the three best ways to strengthen and build abs without weights.

Alternatively, if you're looking to take your strength and muscle gains to the next level then it's worth considering increasing the challenge of the workout. By progressively increasing the intensity, duration, or frequency of workouts, the body is forced to adapt to the new stressors, resulting in physiological changes that lead to improved performance and fitness. This is what we call progressive overload.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.