Dumbbell-Only Workouts: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Best Body

When starting your health journey, getting overwhelmed by the different types of fitness equipment in the home gym market is easy.

There are barbells, functional trainers, and at least 5 different types of benches – but what if you only have the humble dumbbell at your disposal? You might be wondering, “Is it possible to build a decent body with only dumbbells?”

The answer? A resounding yes.

Dumbbells are one of the top resistance training tools for both beginners and elite athletes. Their effectiveness at building strength and muscle makes them a staple for any fitness routine – and their storability makes them a staple for any home gym.

In this article, we’ll explain

  • Why a dumbbell is all you need to build your dream body
  • How you can achieve a full-body workout through 11 dumbbell-only exercises

Can You Build Muscle With Only Dumbbells?

You can absolutely build muscle using only dumbbells. Actually, several studies have shown that free weight training with dumbbells is equally effective [1] in building muscle mass and strength as weight training machines. [2]

But to better understand why a dumbbell-only workout is so beneficial for muscular growth, let’s first take a look at the science behind muscle building.

What Is Muscular Hypertrophy?

Muscular hypertrophy – AKA Muscle Growth – is the process of increasing and growing muscle cells. The primary way to achieve muscle hypertrophy is through resistance training [3], which is where dumbbells come in.

Every time you strength train using a resistance training tool (dumbbells, functional trainers, etc.), you cause damage to your muscles known as “microtears”. And on rest days (because non-training days are important), your body builds back the torn fibres with new tissue – tissue that is incrementally larger than before. So while “tears” might sound scary, your body’s ability to heal these tiny injuries leads to an increase in muscle mass over time.

Progressive Overload Is Essential for Hypertrophy

Progressive overload is the process of gradually making exercises harder over time. Consistently increasing the strain on your muscles is the key to growth (hypertrophy) and strength, and avoiding plateaus.

Here are a few ways you can achieve progressive overload:

  • Increase the weight
  • Increase the number of repetitions
  • Increase the number of sets
  • Decrease the rest between sets

Keep in mind that progressive overloading during strength training is a fine line. Increase the time, weight, or repetitions too quickly, you risk an injury. Increase them too slowly, you can stall out and hit a plateau. This is why the Fitness Town Rubber Hex Dumbbells are great for progressive overload – they increase in increments as little as 2 lbs.

Advantages of Dumbbell-Only Workouts

While we love all fitness equipment, dumbbells hold a special place in our hearts. The fact that you can achieve a full-body workout with a single tool and minimal floor space makes them a winner in our book.

But to help prove we’re not biased, here are some advantages of dumbbell-only workouts:

They Build Stability and Strength

When you train with dumbbells, you can’t hide your muscular imbalances. You’ll instantly notice if one side of your body is stronger than the other. Bruised ego aside, this is one of the strongest selling points of dumbbell-only workouts.

Working out with dumbbells challenges your balance by recruiting your core and stabilizer muscles, which can lead to increased body coordination over time. [2]

They’re Convenient

There’s a reason they’re called the “humble dumbbell”. It might not look like much, but this simple strength training tool can help you achieve your dream physique.

Dumbbell-only workouts are a convenient way to train because you only need one for a great workout, they’re easy to store, and they’re highly portable. Even better, there are adjustable versions, like the MX55 Adjustable Dumbbells, that range from 10 to 55 pounds – so you truly only need one set for your strength training needs.

They Increase Workout Versatility:

With a set of dumbbells, the workout possibilities are endless. No matter what type of athlete you are – CrossFit, bodybuilder, powerlifter, or beginner – you can use dumbbells as a part of your training.

Not sure how? Below we’re giving you the 11 best dumbbell-only exercises to help you achieve a full-body workout.

Top 11 Dumbbell-Only Workouts

Ready to target your full body with a single pair of dumbbells? Check out the 11 best dumbbell-only workouts below.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Why: The Dumbbell bench press is one of the best chest workouts you can do. We recommend alternating between flat, incline, and decline positions to target your chest, arms, and shoulders from different angles.

Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Why: Bicep curls belong in every male and female strength training program. Strong biceps are the cherry on top of upper body strength and will help you during back and chest workouts. Remember to keep your elbows tucked!

Dumbbell Flys

Why: Dumbbell Flys are one of the only exercises that can target and recruit the upper and lateral pec muscles. And since it’s all about the squeeze, you don’t need heavy dumbbells to get a good workout.

Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press

Why: The seated version of the shoulder press helps alleviate pressure on your lower back, while still building strength and size in your shoulders.

Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

Why: The hip-hinge position of bent-over rows allows you to actively recruit your entire back from your traps to your lumbar. Because you’re working so many muscles, these are one of the best dumbbell workouts you can do for back development.

Dumbbell Lunges

Why: Lunges allow you to focus on a single leg at a time, which helps to reduce imbalances while building strength. And because you’re using dumbbells, they’re also great for developing mobility and stability.

Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

Why: The hip hinge during stiff-legged (or Romanian) deadlifts allows you to target your entire posterior chain – everything from your upper back to your calves – with a particular emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes. Remember to keep a slight bend in your knee as you reach the ground to avoid hyperextension.

Dumbbell Squats (Goblet Squats, Bulgarian Split Squats)

Why: Every workout routine (even one that’s dumbbells only) needs to have some variation of a squat. There are so many different variations and each one targets your muscles differently. Our favourite dumbbell-only squats are goblet squats and Bulgarian split squats.

Dumbbell Standing Overhead Tricep Extensions

Why: We love any exercise that helps you sneak in a core workout. In addition to building the back of your arms, tricep extensions also help stretch your lats and recruit your core. For beginners, you might want to start with the seated variation of overhead tricep extensions and work your way to standing.

Dumbbell Step-Ups

Why: Dumbbell step-ups are great for overall leg development. The higher the box (or bench), the tougher the workout. Focus on recruiting your glutes instead of pushing off with your foot on the ground.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Why: Lateral raises target all three heads of the deltoid which helps you achieve the infamous “boulder shoulders”. A tip for proper form: pretend the dumbbell is a pitcher of water, and you want to pour the water out at the top of the movement. This helps you keep your elbows and pinkies up.

Start Strength Training With Dumbbells Today

Building a decent body with dumbbells is not only possible but highly attainable. The key to muscle growth and true transformation is consistency. And with the unlimited possibilities of dumbbell-only workouts, there’s no excuse to skip a good sweat sesh.

For more fitness tips and equipment breakdowns (like what’s the difference between hex and round dumbbells), check out our blog. And while you’re there, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest from Fitness Town.




[1] Schwanbeck, Shane R.1; Cornish, Stephen M.2; Barss, Trevor3,4,5; Chilibeck, Philip D.1. Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 34(7):p 1851-1859, July 2020. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003349
[2] Aerenhouts D, D’Hondt E. Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(21):7848. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17217848
[3] Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 4;16(24):4897. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16244897. PMID: 31817252; PMCID: PMC6950543.

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