Build Strength All-Over With This Well-Rounded Beginner Dumbbell Workout

Man holding dumbbell by his shoulder
(Image credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images)

When you first start exercising, the idea of using free weights can be intimidating, and many people begin with cardio and stick with that. But including resistance training in your routine can protect your joints and improve your bone health, as well as making you stronger, and dumbbells are the natural entry-level of choice.

This beginner dumbbell workout is a great place to start. It’s been put together by personal trainer Lorna Wilkins, co-founder of Tommy Hatto Online, and it will ease you into training with weights.

The workout combines eight straightforward dumbbell exercises that target all of the main muscle groups in the body. Learning these fundamental movements will stand you in good stead for future training, while also delivering an effective workout.

If you’re keen to try this workout at home but don’t have weights yet, our guide to the best dumbbells can help you find the perfect pair. An adjustable dumbbell can be a good option since these offer a wide range of weights, so you can continue to challenge yourself as you get stronger. Getting a set of different weights or an adjustable dumbbell will also allow you to graduate to this dumbbell workout plan as you get stronger. 

PowerBlock Sport 24 dumbbells

The PowerBlock Sport 24 dumbbells are our recommendation for entry-level adjustable dumbbells (Image credit: Jonathan Shannon / Future)

How To Do This Beginner Dumbbell Workout

This beginner dumbbell workout is made up of eight exercises. To keep it simple, Wilkins has stipulated one set of 12 reps and a 60-second rest period for each exercise. Perform the required reps for exercise 1, rest for one minute, then move on to the next exercise. 

Another way to make this routine more challenging as you get stronger is to add an extra set to each exercise (in this workout, one set equals 12 reps). 

For the weights, Wilkins suggests using dumbbells that feel manageable for each exercise’s given rep range, allowing you to reach the target number for each set without compromising your form. As you repeat this workout you should then step up the weights by a few pounds to make the most of progressive overload, a training technique that helps build strength.

Wilkins notes that you should pay close attention to your exercise form at all times. “Don’t be afraid to ask a personal trainer to watch you and provide training cues,” says Wilkins. Before you begin, remember to warm up fully to increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Follow this gym warm-up routine if you’re not sure what to do.

Then, once complete, finish your session with a comprehensive warm-down or stretching routine to keep your muscles in good working order. 

Wilkins urges anyone following this workout to prioritize rest too, in order to allow your muscles to recover fully and help prevent injury. “Overtraining—especially when new to exercise—can lead to burn-out and injury, so make sure to include rest days in your weekly routine and get plenty of quality sleep each night,” she says. 

Beginner Dumbbell Workout Overview

  1. Goblet squat x 12
  2. Reverse lunge x 12 each side
  3. Overhead press x 12
  4. Biceps curl x 12
  5. Triceps extension x 12
  6. Bent-over row x 12
  7. Floor press x 12
  8. Dumbbell crunch x 12

Beginner Dumbbell Workout Form Guides

1 Goblet squat

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Hold one dumbbell vertically, gripping it with both hands underneath the top of the weight. Ensure that you keep it close to your chest throughout the exercise. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with toes slightly turned out, bracing your core and looking straight ahead. Bend your knees and push your hips back like you’re sitting down in a chair. Keep your heels flat on the floor and your knees above your toes, making sure they don’t cave in. Pause at the bottom of the movement, then push back up to the starting position.

2 Dumbbell reverse lunge

Reps 12 each side Rest 60sec

Hold dumbbells by your sides. Keeping your chest up, take a big step back into a split stance, with the heel of your back foot raised. Bend both knees to lower slowly until your back knee gently touches the floor, then push back up to the starting position through the heel of your front foot. Complete 12 reps on your left leg, then repeat on your right before resting.

3 Overhead press

Reps 12 Rest 60 sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold both dumbbells by your shoulders with your wrists and elbows directly under the weights. Engage your core muscles to keep your ribs down and avoid arching your lower back as you extend your arms to press the weights straight up. Slowly return the weights to the starting position, keeping your elbows directly below your wrists throughout.

4 Biceps curl

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Hold both dumbbells with an underhand grip and engage your core, keeping your elbows tucked in to your ribs, with your chest up and shoulders down and back. Curl one weight up toward your shoulder by bending your elbow, while looking straight ahead and keeping your wrists straight. Return it to the starting position slowly and under control, then curl the other one up and continue alternating.

5 Overhead triceps extension

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Hold one dumbbell vertically, gripping it with both hands underneath the top of the weight. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a soft bend in your knees. Lift the dumbbell directly overhead, engaging your core and relaxing your shoulders. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell slowly behind your head, so you feel the stretch down the back of your upper arms. Press the weight back to the starting position and repeat. 

6 Bent-over row

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Hold dumbbells by your sides and, with a slight bend in your knees and a straight back throughout, push your hips back and lean forward until your chest is almost parallel with the floor, letting your arms hang down. Retract your shoulder blades and engage your core, then lift the dumbbells to the sides of your torso, squeezing your upper back muscles. Lower the dumbbells under control. 

7 Floor press

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, holding dumbbells. Press your lower back into the floor to engage your core and position the weights either side of your chest, with your upper arms and elbows in contact with the floor. Extend your arms to press the dumbbells straight up, keeping your wrists straight. Lower under control and touch your elbows to the floor, keeping your shoulder blades retracted and chest muscles engaged, then drive up into the next rep. 

8 Dumbbell crunch

Reps 12 Rest 60sec

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, holding one dumbbell across your chest in both hands. Breathe in, then as you exhale, squeeze your core to peel your upper back off the floor, taking care not to sit up fully. Pause, then slowly lower your torso back to the starting position as you breathe in, and repeat. 

Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.