If a workout consists of popping a squat on the 50-pound dumbbell to chat it up with friends, it may be time try something new. Dumbbell exercises provide a great full-body workout in a compact amount of space. Yes, we said great workout — not just a few decent arm exercises. Read on to de-zombify that workout routine with 30 killer new dumbbell exercises.
1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: This deadlift variety is sure to please the hamstrings (or punish them). Standing with feet hip-width apart, toes facing forward, and dumbbells at your side, shift the hips back and slightly bend the knees as you lower the dumbbells toward the floor (keep them angled on the outside of your legs). Maintain a neutral spine while lowering the weight just until you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings. Come back up to standing, making sure to contract those glutes and hamstrings on the way up. That’s one!
2. Dumbbell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: This one is tougher than it looks, but worth the effort. Starting with feet hip-width apart and dumbbells at your side, place your weight on one foot, and bend slightly at the knee. Lean forward, lifting the opposite foot straight up into the air behind you. As you come forward, move the dumbbells from your side directly over your planted foot. Return to standing position by lowering your back leg as you come up. The dumbbells should return to the sides of your thighs.
3. Dumbbell Hang Clean and Press: Don’t take this one to the laundromat! Get down in squat position and track a dumbbell on each side outside of your ankles with palms facing your feet. With vertical shins and a neutral spine, move upward to a standing position while pulling the dumbbells up. Next, forcefully drive the dumbbells up toward the shoulders using the hips and legs. As you come in for the catch, slightly squat to bring the weight to your shoulders with a neutral grip (palms facing the body). Explode the weight off your shoulders overhead. Lower the weight back down.
4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch: In a wide-squat stance, hold the dumbbell in your right hand in front of the knees. Drive the weight up, keeping it close to the body, and thrust it up with your hips. When the weight reaches chest height, fully extend the legs. Then squat back down so your body is underneath the weight. Drive the weight up overhead into full lockout position. This should be one quick movement. Think explosively!
5. Russian Dumbbell Swing: The playground’s got nothing on these. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands out in front of you. Hike the dumbbell back between your legs, then thrust your hips forward to move the dumbbell up and out to about shoulder height. Though it is called a swing, this exercises is all on the hips and glutes.
6. Dumbbell High Pull: Time to get up on those toes! Assume an athletic stance with feet shoulder-width art and knees slightly bent. Place the weight straight out in front of your knees with palms facing in, maintaining a neutral spine with the chest up. Keeping the arms straight, explode upward, fully extending the hips, knees, and ankles while shrugging the shoulders up. Next, pull the dumbbells up toward the top of your chest close to your body, keeping the elbows slightly higher than the wrists.
Legs and Glutes
7. Dumbbell Front Squat: Take some pressure off that back. Start this one with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells on your shoulders with a neutral grip and elbows up. Next, hinge back, keeping the back straight like you’re sitting on an imaginary bench (come on, work with us here!). Lower the body until hips are below your knees. Complete the move by driving through the hips as you come back up to standing position.
8. Dumbbell Pistol Squat: This exercise isn’t for the faint of heart (so beginners, try it sans dumbbells first). Stand with feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell sideways in both hands. Extend the left leg out in front of you and squat down on the right leg, moving the dumbbell straight out. Go all the way down (and we mean all the way down!) until your butt touches your ankle. Return to start position and repeat for reps on both sides.
9. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat: Squat so much you nearly split your pants. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Prop your left foot onto a bench and plant your right foot on the floor into a wide split stance. Lunge straight down, keeping your front leg linear and your spine rigid. Come down until your knee hovers above the floor, and then push back up to starting position and repeat for reps on both sides.
10. Dumbbell Side Lunge: Feeling a little sideways? Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and a pair of dumbbells at your side, take a big step to the side with your left foot, pushing your hips back and lowering your body into a deep lunge position. As you come down, move the dumbbells straight down to the floor so that your chest comes over your left knee. Return to starting position and repeat for reps on both sides.
11. Dumbbell Step-Up/Reverse Lunge Combo: Put a little pep in your step up. Stand 6 inches from a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Place your entire left foot onto the bench as you step up. Drive through the heel on the elevated leg, bringing the right leg up to hip height. Lower back down to start position, and step back with your left foot into a deep lunge. (Be sure to track your right knee over your ankle at a 90-degree angle.) Repeat for reps on both sides.
12. Dumbbell 45-degree Hyperextension: The motto here: Relax the back, recruit the glutes. Find a GHD machine and from starting position, lean over with hips flexed as far as they will go. Grab a dumbbell and position it under your chin so it looks like a bowtie. Relax all of the back muscles and pull up with the glutes. Come up to slightly hyperextension and return to start position.
Chest and Back
13. Dumbbell Floor Press: Who said presses need a bench? Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor and a dumbbell in each hand. Position the dumbbells at your shoulders with elbows rested on the floor. Push straight up bringing the dumbbells directly overhead. Return to starting position.
14. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press: A challenging twist on the classic, lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells on the outside of your shoulders and alternately press the right dumbbell up overhead and back down, then the left. This exercise also forces you to engage the core for stability — bonus!
15. Dumbbell Pull-Over: Expand your wings by working the serratus muscles. Get in a tabletop position with shoulders planted on a bench and feet on the floor. Next, hold a dumbbell by one end with both hands straight overhead, engaging the glutes and back muscles. Lower the weight in an arch behind your head until you feel a good stretch. Bring the dumbbell back to starting position.
16. Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise: Guaranteed to unleash the beast, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the hips so your body is positioned just above parallel, holding dumbbells in both hands, with palm facing in. Raise the dumbbells straight out up to shoulder height and lower back down to starting position. Repeat for reps on both sides.
17. Dumbbell Chest Supported Row: Ready to dive on in? Lie face down on an incline bench supporting your weight on your toes. Holding a pair of dumbbells straight down in front of you so they are parallel to the floor, pull the weight up toward your chest, getting a nice squeeze in your upper back muscles. Lower the weight back down and continue the stroke.
Shoulder and Arms
18. Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Flys: Don’t swat these away. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the hips so the torso is at parallel to the ground, holding a pair of dumbbells straight down with palms facing in. Next, with elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells out the side so that the elbows extend above the shoulders. Return to starting position.
19. Dumbbell Upright Row: These will lead you back to shore. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and place a pair of dumbbells straight down in front of you. With palms facing your body, pull the weight straight up the front of your body to the top of your chest, keeping the elbows slightly above the shoulders.
20. Prone Rear Delt Raise: Delta, delta, delta we can help ya help ya help ya! Lie face down on an incline bench supporting your weight on your toes. Stick a pair of dumbbells straight out in front of you with palms facing in. Raise the dumbbells out the side and back, bending your arms slightly as they come up.
21. Incline Lateral Raise: Sit side-saddle on an incline bench with your left side resting on the bench. With a dumbbell in your right hand down at your right side, raise it straight up overhead above shoulder height. Return to starting position and repeat for reps on both sides (cake).
22. Dumbbell Shoulder-to-Shoulder Press: Hold a dumbbell flat in your right hand, resting it on the top of your shoulder. Press straight up and then lower your arm. Alternate with the other arm. That's one rep!
23. Dumbbell Spider Curls: An exercise good enough for Peter Parker will certainly put a little bulge in those biceps. Lie face down on an incline bench supporting your weight on your toes. Hold a pair of dumbbells straight out in front of you with palms facing out. Curl the weight up to full contraction without rocking back and forth. (Isolation, baby!) Return the weight to starting position. Want to change it up a bit? Alternate left and right for single-arm spider curls.
24. Dumbbell Incline Biceps Curls: Get an extra squeeze in. Sitting on a 45-degree angled incline bench with a dumbbell at each side (palms facing your thighs), curl both dumbbells up at the same time to full contraction. Avoid swinging the weight up for momentum (definitely not as easy as it sounds!).
25. Dumbbell Skull Crushers: The exercise name says it all, so be sure to follow closely: Lie face up on a bench with feet planted on the floor and your back pressed down. With a dumbbell in each hand, raise the arms straight up (palms facing each other). Then, bending only at the elbows, lower the weight down to your ears, finishing in 90-degree angle. Return to starting position.
26. Renegade rows: James Dean probably did these in his sleep. Assume the push-up position with feet about shoulder-width apart and dumbbells placed in each hand, positioned below the chest. Next, pull the right dumbbell toward the oblique muscles, keeping it close to the torso. Lower the dumbbell back down and repeat on your left side. Continue for reps on each side in an alternating fashion.
27. Dumbbell Overhead Side Bend: Get a good stretch in. Hold a dumbbell overhead with both hands. Without twisting your upper body, bend toward your right side until you feel a good stretch on your left side. Return to start position and repeat for reps on both sides (and consider yourself spent!).
28. Dumbbell Russian Twist: Sit on a gym mat with a dumbbell in each hand. Holding the dumbbells out in front of you, bring them down to your right side, only moving your arms. (Twisting at the spine is a big no-no!) Bring them all the way to the left, keeping your spine rigid. Repeat for reps.
29. Dumbbell Windmills: Ready to feel the air up there? Stand with feet slightly wider than your shoulders and press a dumbbell overhead on your right side. Rotate the feet to the left side a bit. Now, lean the torso forward while holding the weight straight overhead until your bottom hand touches the floor. Concentrate your gaze on the weight to stay balanced. Return to start position and repeat for reps.
30. Dumbbell Wood Chop: Paul Bunyan knew a thing or two about these. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell out in front of you. Squat down, rotating right to bring the dumbbell down to your right foot. Bring the dumbbell back up, keeping you arms out in front of you. Rotate into left lunge with your arms going overhead to the left side. Repeat for reps.
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Originally published April 19, 2012. Updated July 14, 2014.