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The All Dumbbell Workout

Updated on December 4, 2016

The Benefits of Dumbbells

It's a shame that many people have overlooked the versatile dumbbell in their search for the perfect machine. Dumbbells occupy little space, and they can be used to work every body part efficiently and completely.

Dumbbells require balance and coordination, which is why, in part, dumbbells can be more effective than machines and or even barbells.

Balance is a big deal in weight training, and for good reason. When you lift two dumbbells overhead in alternate fashion, you have to use your muscular coordination to balance the weights. This balancing act requires a high degree of muscle stabilization, co-contraction and proprioception — a sense of where your body is in space.

The first time you try to bench press with two dumbbells, it feels as if the weights are all over the place. You know you're strong enough to lift the weights, but you seem to fight with the resistance and struggle to channel your power correctly. This is the body's way of learning to conquer balance and improve its coordination. The guided form of resistance you encounter with a machine won't test your muscular strength in this important way.

Balance and coordination skills are a team effort — while one or more muscles actively contract to move one of your limbs through a range of motion, other helping muscles stabilize a joint or assist at various points throughout the motion. This phenomenon is called synergy, the cooperative action of two or more muscles.

While those muscles work in synergy, certain joint and muscle receptors constantly monitor small deviations in direction and speed. This monitoring helps to direct the development of a muscle in conjunction with the mechanisms of balance and skill coordination. All of that interplay is crucial to building muscle size and strength.

For about fifty dollars you can buy yourself a dumbell set with about 15 kg of weight. It may not be enough but it's a good start. Don't buy fixed weights. You want to be able to change the amount of weight you're using for each muscle group.

Buy a good starter set and then purchase extra free weight plates. In addition to that a workout bench. Preferably one that is hinged so it can incline.

Alternatively you can skip the sports store and try to find benches and weights. For a lot less than new.

Brand new weights from where I live runs at about $3.50 per kg. I've bought second hand for less than a dollar a kilo.

Even if you can't get it for cheap free weights are a timeless investment. Short of leaving them outside in the weather, they'll last forever. If they get a little rusty they can be cleaned up and repainted. I was given a set of weights by my older brother back in 1989 and I've still got them. I've since got back into weight training and I've added to the collection over the years. My sons are using them now too (they hadn't yet been born when my brother gave me the weights).

A set of free weights and a bench that inclines will be all the equipment you need for a complete body workout.

The Ideal Dumbbell Program

Maybe not 'ideal' but certainly the simplest outline you'll find. I'll briefly discuss each body part, with a link to a hub which will go into that muscle group in detail. And a couple of exercises using only dumbbells, and a video that demonstrates it.


The dumbbell chest press is done the same way as you would a barbell bench press. It might feel a little awkward and out of balance, but it's probably less risky if you don't have a partner spotting you than a barbell loaded up with too much weight. Whenh you finish have the dumbbells up against your chest and slowly sit up straight. Don't just drop them at your sides.

Dumbbell flyes also require balance and coordination. As with any exercise involving the lifting of weights, don't try to overdo it and go too heavy.

Find out more about the chest muscle.

Dumbbell Chest Press

Dumbbell Flyes


At the front of the upper arm is the biceps, a large muscle that draws up the arm when it contracts. It also enables the palm to be turned upward.

Standing up straight holding a dumbbell in each hand curl your arm up and slowly drop and then do it with the other arm. Keep your upper arm and body stationary, the only movement should be from your elbow and your forearm drawing up.

The concentration curl helps keeps the upper arm completely immobile. Using the shoulder at all will take the emphasis off the bicep muscle and be less effective.

Find out more about the biceps muscle.

Alternate Bicep Curls

Concentration Curl


The biceps and triceps control most of the movements of the arm. At the back of the upper arm is another large muscle, the triceps, which extends the arm when it contracts.

The tricep kickback is easiest to do with the support of a bench. The tricep overhead extension can be done with one arm, or two. You can of course use more weight if you're using both hands.

You can also work the triceps without dumbbells, with tricep dips. These can be done by supporting your hands on a bench.

Find out more about the triceps muscle.

Triceps Kickbacks

Triceps Overhead Extension

Triceps Dips


Wrist and hand movements are controlled chiefly by the muscles of the forearm.

The forearm muscles can be exercised with dumbbell wrist curls and dumbbell reverse wrist curls. Supporting your arms on your legs or on a bench.

Find out more about the forearm muscles.

Dumbbell Wrist Curls

Dumbbell Reverse Wrist Curls


The deltoid is the large muscle forming the shoulder cap, and serves to raise the arm from the side; it runs from the shoulder-blade to the middle of the humerus.

The Alternate Front Raise blasts the anterior (front) deltoids. The Dumbbell Lateral Raise targets the medial (side) deltoids. Bent-over Lateral Raises intensely works the posterior (back) deltoids.

Find out more about the deltoid muscles.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Alternate Front Raise

Upper Back

The chief muscles engaged in lowering the arm again are the latissimus dorsi (lats), which runs forwards and upwards from the back and side of the chest wall to be attached to the front of the neck of the humerus; the coraco-brachialis, attached to the middle of the front of the humerus; and the pectoralis major, which forms the front fold of the armpit.

The latissimus dorsi is the widest and most powerful muscle of the back. Properly trained its what gives bodybuilders the sought after V taper.

The lats can be worked out with a one arm dumbell row and also a bent over row.

Find out more about the upper back muscles.

One Arm Dumbell Row

Dumbbell Bent Over Row


The traps help strengthen the neck and help support broader shoulders. Shoulder shrugs will give you that tough as nails look.

Find out more about the trapezius muscle.

Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug


Don't ignore your legs. It's too easy to procrastinate or be distracted and work on upperbody muscle groups, but you're going to look silly in summer when you're stripped down to your swimmers at the beach or pool and displaying an imperssive physique up top but an unimpressive set of legs.

Machines set up to do curls and extensions can help you isolate the quadriceps and hamstrings, but you can blast both with squats and also lunges.

Find out more about the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Dumbbell Squats

Dumbbell Lunge


Standing calf raises: Rise up on the balls of your feet as high as possible, then lower back down. For greater range of motion, place a block under the balls of your feet. This lowers your heels when you drop back down, stretching your Achilles tendon and putting tension on the gastrocnemius and sole-us muscles. A holding weighted dumbbells will make this exercise more difficult... and more effective.

Seated calf raises: The procedure is the same as for standing calf raises, but you're seated. You can sit the dumbbells on your legs as you rise up on the balls of your feet. Seated calf raises aren't effective in strengthening the gastrocnemius, which is best worked while standing. But they do wonders for the soleus muscle

Donkey calf raises: You don't need weights to do this one. Bend over, with the balls of your feet balanced on the edge of a large, solid block, and have your training partner sit on your back right above your pelvis, for resistance. It's cumbersome, but effective.

Find out more about the calf muscle.

Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises

Donkey Calf Raises

What are you waiting for?

Follow these exercises to develop your own programme and you'll be able to do a full routine in the privacy of your own backyard, terrace, garage or spare room — with a minimum of equipment. Later, when you can afford it, get yourself a barbell, and definitely a bench with a leg attachment.

In the meantime the key is to train your whole body regularly by using only dumbbells.


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    • profile image

      The Dumbbell 

      8 years ago

      Nice article. Agreed, most people use dumbbells for bicep curls, shoulder press and flyes. Not many reliase that you can easily have a full body workout if you know what you're doing.

      I would howwever recommend that home users always get a set with scre on collars. I winstees and experienced too many accidents using any other type of locking mechanism.

    • rubenrubert profile image


      8 years ago

      Well Illustrated hub . I had no idea about the Donkey Calf raise

    • hypnodude profile image


      9 years ago from Italy

      For real muscles nothing beats dumbells, not even the barbell, if it's the right word. Sorry for my English. No machine is equally worth. Not even the cables (???). Very good hub. I hope a lot of people will read it.

    • Drew Breezzy profile image

      Drew Breezzy 

      9 years ago from somewhere in my mind

      I am going to try and incorporate these in my workout tomorrow. I already do some of them but there were many that were new to me. Btw I bookmarked this hub for future reference.


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