How to Use Dumbbells

Learn how to use dumbbells, the best 5 dumbbell exercises, and get the best dumbbell workouts for muscle building and fat loss.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #123

How to Use Dumbbells

Every gym has at least a few dumbbells, sometimes tucked into a dusty corner and sometimes featured in row upon row on a prominently displayed rack. Dumbbells are highly versatile and can be used in a wide range of exercises. But despite their high efficacy for muscle gain and fat loss, as well as their portability and ease-of-use, many people simply don’t use dumbbells effectively in their workout – or don’t use them at all.

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So in this episode, you’re going to learn how to use dumbbells, the best 5 dumbbell exercises, and get the ideal dumbbell workouts for muscle building and fat loss. Even if you’re a seasoned exercise enthusiast, you’ll benefit from trying the workouts in this episode.

What Is a Dumbbell?

Dumbbells are typically comprised of a handle in between two weights, and are usually made from iron, steel, chrome, or plastic filled with concrete. They can be used individually, or you can use two at the same time. Some dumbbells are adjustable, meaning you can add resistance by attaching more weight to the dumbbell, but most of the dumbbells you’ll see at a gym or health club are fixed, meaning that you can’t change the weight.

If you want to buy dumbbells for your home, you can typically find them at a sporting goods store. They’re usually sold at a certain price per pound (yes, just like buying meat and produce at the grocery store, except much heavier!). A basic hex dumbbell, often multi-colored and of the concrete variety, costs around $0.50 to $0.60 per pound, while a more durable and nicer-looking chrome dumbbell may cost up to $3 per pound. Fancier adjustable dumbbells, which allow you to quickly change resistance using a dial or a pin system, can cost up to $10 per pound.

How to Use Dumbbells

Compared to kettlebells (which I talked about in the episode How to Use Kettlebells), dumbbells are safer to use and easier to learn how to use, and compared to barbells, dumbbells allow you to move through a much more natural range-of-motion.

To use dumbbells, you simply grip the handle (or handles), remove the dumbbells from the shelf that they’re on (typically called a rack), and lift them through your desired range-of-motion, which can include curling, pressing, extending, or any of the 5 best dumbbell exercises you’re about to learn.

The 5 Best Dumbbell Exercises

Although there are hundreds of exercises you can do with dumbbells, these are the 5 full-body dumbbell exercises that are going to allow you to burn calories, boost your metabolism, lose fat, and gain muscle all at the same time:

1. Dumbbell Goblet Squat: Clutching the top of the dumbbell with both hands, hold one dumbbell at your sternum (the center of your chest), position your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and then perform a squat. Inhale as you sit, and exhale while driving through your heels to return to a standing position. You’ll find this version of the squat easier to perform with good form compared to a barbell squat, and also something you can do at home with just one single weight.

2. Dumbbell Walking Lunges. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Step your right foot forward, far enough that it creates a 90-degree angle when bent, with the left foot planted at the start position. Keep your chest high and torso tall as you lower down toward the ground. Drive through your right heel and take one giant step forward so that you simply repeat the motion with the left leg as you move from point A to point B.

3. Dumbbell Swing. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding one dumbbell in both hands. Squat down until the dumbbell is back between the legs and until your back is almost parallel to the ground, then thrust your hips forward to swing the dumbbell up and out to shoulder height, driving the weight with you legs and your hips and keeping your arms relatively straight.

4. Dumbbell Squat to Overhead Shoulder Press.Hold two dumbbells and bend your arms so that the dumbbells are up on your shoulders. Perform a squat, but as you stand out of the squat, press the dumbbells overhead, and then as you return back to the sitting position of the squat, allow the dumbbells to return back to your shoulders.

5. Dumbbell Renegade Row. Get into a push-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping a dumbbell in each hand with the palms facing each other. Keep your back flat and your abs tight, and then pull (row) the right dumbbell up toward the right side of your body, keeping your elbow tucked close to your side. Slowly bring the dumbbell back down to the ground, and then repeat on the left side, trying to keep your body from rocking as you alternate from left to right sides.

The Best Dumbbell Workout

Now that you know the best dumbbell exercises, here’s the fun part: a full body dumbbell workout that you can do at home or at the gym for maximum fitness gain. Here’s how to do it:

1. Dynamic warm-up for 5-10 minutes.

2. Perform the following 2 exercises back-to-back, recover for 30-60 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3-5 rounds.

  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat

  • Dumbbell Walking Lunges

3. Perform the following 2 exercises back-to-back, recover for 30-60 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3-5 rounds.

  • Dumbbell Squat to Overhead Press

  • Dumbbell Renegade Row

4. Finish with 15-25 Dumbbell Swings for each side

That’s it! This workout will give you a full body burn with no fancy equipment required except for dumbbells.

If you need a blueprint for getting a better body without wasting your time, and you want a plan that is customized to your unique shape, then look no further than my new book Get Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body, which teaches you how to use dumbbells, weight machines, barbells, medicine balls, cables, elastic bands, and more You can grab it now, along with free body typing questionnaires, body fat and metabolism calculators, and everything else you need to get started with the perfect workout now, at GetFitGuy.com.

If you have more questions about how to use dumbbells, then post them in Comments below or join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!


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Blue Dumbbells image from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.