Forget the gym — this 5-move dumbbell workout builds full-body strength in just 20 minutes

a woman curling a dumbbell in each hand
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re looking to get an effective workout done in just 20 minutes then combination moves — where you merge two or even three exercises into one — are a great way to go as they work your upper and lower body simultaneously and ramp up the cardiovascular benefits too. 

All you need to get started is some dumbbells. You can pick whatever weight suits you, but a set of the best adjustable dumbbells would be a useful option so you can change the weight to suit each exercise, but the moves are picked so that you can use the same weight throughout, or even filled water bottles. 

The use of combination exercises means that in just five moves this 20-minute dumbbell workout targets muscles all over the body. It’s been created by fitness trainer Kat Boley and all you need to do the session at home is a set of dumbbells and ideally one of the best yoga mats, if you’re doing the workout on a hard floor.

Watch Kat Boley’s 20-minute dumbbell workout

You can see how to perform each of the five exercises on Boley’s Instagram post, and given that these are combination moves you may not have done before, it’s worth watching each demonstration a couple of times before starting the workout.

For each of the five moves you do 12 reps — for exercises where you work each side in turn do six on each side for 12 reps in total. Do three rounds of the five moves for the full workout. Boley suggests taking a short break of around 20 seconds between moves, and then a minute at the end of each round. 

Here are the five exercises you’ll be doing:

  • Sumo squat to overhead press 
  • Reverse lunge with overhead press
  • Curtsey lunge with biceps curl
  • Squat, twist and press
  • Bridge with leg raise and chest press

As there are a few overhead press moves in the workout I’d suggest going to a lighter weight if you have a few to pick from, especially when tackling the exercises for the first time, because the presses will quickly tire out your shoulders. You can always swap to a heavier weight for rounds two and three of the workout if it does prove too easy.

This is one downside of combination moves, in that if you were doing exercises like lunges and squats alone you could probably use a heavier weight than when doing them in combination with an overhead press.

If you want to focus on the lower body and use heavier weights this dumbbell leg workout is a great option, but rest assured even with 10lb dumbbells your lower body will feel the benefits from Boley’s session.

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Nick Harris-fry
Senior Writer

Nick Harris-fry is an experienced health and fitness journalist, writing professionally since 2012. He spent nine years working on the Coach magazine and website before moving to the fitness team at Tom’s Guide in 2024. Nick is a keen runner and also the founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers, which specialises in reviewing running shoes, watches, headphones and other gear.

Nick ran his first marathon in 2016 after six weeks of training for a magazine feature and subsequently became obsessed with the sport. He now has PBs of 2hr 27min for the marathon and 15min 30sec for 5K, and has run 13 marathons in total, as well as a 50-mile ultramarathon.

He runs 50-80 miles a week and races regularly with his club, which gives him a lot of opportunity to test out running gear: he has tested and reviewed hundreds of pairs of running shoes, as well as fitness trackers, running watches, sports headphones, treadmills, and all manner of other kit. Nick is also a qualified Run Leader in the UK.