You only need 6 moves and a set of dumbbells to build full-body muscle — here’s how

Man performing.a dumbbell bicep curl
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Multi-muscle compound exercises are an efficient way to train, especially if you’re tight on time. These moves help build muscle all over your body and utilize your core, and you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started — all you need is a bit of space and a set of dumbbells.

If you’re training at the gym, choose a weight that’ll challenge your muscles but won’t affect your form. But for home workouts, it’s worth investing in a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, so you can switch loads between moves and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.

Then, with weights by your side, you’ll be ready to take on this six-move routine from personal trainer Alice Liveing. The session is arranged in supersets, where you do two exercises back-to-back and only take a rest after you’ve hit the repetition target for both moves.

You’ll do three rounds of each superset, except for the first duo, where the aim is to do four rounds of goblet squats and dumbbell deadbugs — two full-body compound exercises that’ll engage your mid-body muscles and strengthen your core.

Liveing does include pull-ups in the routine, so you'd need access to a pull-up bar, open door ledge, or TRX straps. But if you don't have those, you can switch the pull-ups for alternatives like dumbbell bent-over rows or dumbbell pullovers instead.

However, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, it’s vital to do each exercise with perfect form to get the most from your training and avoid injury. Fortunately, Liveing demonstrates all of the moves in a post on Instagram, so you can practice your technique before getting started. 

Man performing a dumbbell chest press

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the exercises are designed to work muscles all over your body and increase your range of motion, Liveing also suggests doing a short warm-up to encourage blood flow first. Initially, you’ll do some quick low-impact cardio, followed by several stretches, including cat/cow and rotations.

While the session is designed to target certain areas, it’ll also work your core — a section of mid-body muscle that aids stability, balance, and posture and connects your upper and lower body — as these stabilizing muscles are crucial during compound exercises.

Alice Liveing’s six-move dumbbell workout

For the warm-up, you'll do cat/cow stretches, T-spine rotations, adductor rockers, frog rockers, and The World's Greatest Stretch. For demonstrations, check out Alice Liveing's video on Instagram. Then it's time to tackle the weighted part of the routine, as detailed below:

  • A1. Goblet squats (10 reps, 4 sets)
  • A2. Dumbbell dead bugs (5 reps each side, 4 sets)
  • B1. Pull ups or lat pull down (10-12 reps)
  • B2. Flat bench chest press (10-12 reps, 3 sets)
  • C1. Single leg glute bridge (15 reps each side, 3 sets)
  • C2. Biceps curls (10-12 reps, 3 sets)
ProForm 50 lbs Rapid Strike Dumbbells Set: was $349 now $299 @ Best Buy

ProForm 50 lbs Rapid Strike Dumbbells Set: was $349 now $299 @ Best Buy
Best Buy currently has $50 off these customizable weights. It's not often you find a pair at this price, and you can adjust each dumbbell from 10 lbs to 50 lbs in 10 lb increments between moves or gradually as you get stronger. Plus, they come with a storage tray and integration with the iFit workout app. 

Although you’re not working to a timer for this workout and so can set a comfortable pace that’s right for your body, the routine should take around 30 minutes to complete, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for an effective session even when you have a packed schedule.

It’s also a great alternative to high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) if you’re looking for a more steady-paced routine. But where HIRT helps raise your heart rate by only keeping rest periods to a minimum, Liveing’s routine includes an intense 5-minute cardio finisher for a similar effect.

As you’re working muscles across your body, you’ll likely feel the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) the following day. This is a result of small tears in your muscle fibers your body needs to repair to grow and strengthen your muscles.

Although you’ll often hear that it’s important to get enough protein to help the recovery process along, it’s also worth prioritizing some active recovery, like this six-minute foam roller routine, to give yourself a short massage and encourage blood flow to the affected areas.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym. Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones. He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.