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11 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Building Muscle in the Gym or at Home

Dumbbell exercises are a versatile and convenient way to workout at home or at the gym. There is a time and place for machines and barbells. The time is now and the place is anywhere and everywhere.

Dumbbells, however, offer convenience, versatility, and some unique benefits.

Benefits of using dumbbells:

1: Increased muscle activation by decreasing stability.

2: Safer to train alone (think bench press)

3: Increased range of motion

4: Identify muscular imbalances

5: etc, etc, etc

Here, I am going to highlight the top 11 dumbbell exercises that will help you build strength and lean muscle mass! Check out my article from last week on why dumbbells made the list of my top pieces of home exercise equipment.

Let's do this thing!

1: Goblet squats: This exercise targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically with both hands at chest level and lower yourself into a squatting position. Make sure to keep your torso vertical. Return to standing. These pair best with short shorts!

I like 3 sets of 15-20 reps!

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2: Single leg RDLs: One of my all time favorites! This exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Hold a dumbbell in one or both hand(s) and balance on one leg while you bend forward at the hips and lower the dumbbell towards your ankle. Make sure to keep your spine neutral and core engaged.

Try 3 sets of 8-12 reps per leg

3: Lunges: Lunges are great for targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Step forward with one foot and lower your body straight down. Push back to the start and repeat on the other side. You can hold dumbbells at your sides or even in front of your chest to increase the resistance.

Knock out 3-4 sets of 12-20 reps!

If you're ready to start stepping up your workouts check out a free 7-day trial to my daily workout plan here.

4: Z Press: The z press is a unique exercise that targets the shoulders and core. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and press them overhead while you sit up tall. Keep your core tight and your torso vertical throughout the set.

3 sets of 6-12 reps

5: Bench press: This classic targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Lower the dumbbells towards your chest and then press them back up. You can mix this exercise up by doing incline, decline, tempo, single-arm, etc...

Try 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

6: Single arm rows: This staple targets the lats, middle back, and biceps. Hold a dumbbell in one hand with your other hand resting on a bench. Pull the dumbbell up/ back then lower it back down for the prescribed amount of reps. Repeat on the other side.

I like 12-15 reps here.

7: Biceps curls: Trying to build a set of canons? Start here! Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your elbows close to your sides and curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders. Slowly lower them back down. Grunt for extra muscle activation (kidding).

3 sets of 8-12 reps.

8: Incline skull crushers: This exercise is a triceps killer. To perform incline skull crushers, lie on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your elbows pointing toward the ceiling. Lower the dumbbells toward your head by bending the elbows and then press them back up.

Ps they call these "skull crushers" for a reason. Be careful!

3 sets of 6-10 reps heavy

9: Bulgarian split squats: This exercise is the WORST and targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It's a love/ hate relationship because they work!

Hold a dumbbell in each hand or goblet style and place one foot on a bench behind you. Lower your body straight down, making sure to keep your chest up, and don't let the knee buckle inside.

Try 3 sets of 12-15 per leg.

10: Step-ups: This underrated exercise hits the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, plus some cardio. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step up onto a bench with one foot. Return to the start and repeat on the other side.

Aim for 3 sets of 16-20 reps (8-10 per leg)

11: Farmers carries: Build the grip, core, cardio, and legs. Hold a dumbbell in each hand or single arm for added core work and walk across the room. Tighten your core and focus on posture.

I typically march off 10 yards and walk back and forth 3-4 times for 3-4 sets. Get heavy on these. For an added bonus do this exercise outdoors and soak up some vitamin D.

These 11 exercises hit just about every muscle group. Incorporating these dumbbell movements into your workout routine can help improve your overall fitness and physique. They are also easy to travel with and to store, making them an accessible and convenient option for at-home workouts.

Remember to always use proper form and to start with a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level, and progressively increase as you get stronger.

Happy Gainz,


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