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5 Effective Exercises To Do With Dumbbells

5 Effective Exercises To Do With Dumbbells

Nicollette Guido |

5 Effective Full Body Exercises To Do With Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a key tool in strength training. Among the many benefits of dumbbells, they promote a free range of motion, can help address muscle imbalances, and are easy to use for even beginner gym-goers. That said, many types of dumbbell exercises isolate the muscle that’s being worked. That’s great if it’s your intent, but what if you’re looking for more full-body exercises to do with dumbbells?

Then you’re in luck—we have five exercises for that exact type of workout.

There are many full-body exercises you can do. This guide will provide you with step-by-step instructions for completing some of the best exercises using dumbbells. More specifically this guide will explain how to work the right muscles using both rubber-coated dumbbells and neoprene dumbbells. Get ready to look at your dumbbell rack in a whole new light. Let’s get moving.

#1 Renegade Row

If you’re not familiar with the row, you should be. It’s one of the core exercises to build muscle and strength in your back, while also working the rest of your body. There are many varieties such as cable rows, bent-over barbell rows, and our dumbbell full-body exercise of choice: the renegade row. This move provides unique benefits by hitting more muscles than many other row variations.

Muscle groups worked include:

  • Back – This is the primary driver of the movement. Your lats, serratus, and rhomboids will all experience a workout.
  • Arms – While your back will take the lion’s share of the work, your arms are also involved. You will feel it in your rear delts, triceps, and forearms.
  • Core – Stabilization is key. Your rectus abdominus, obliques, and even your glutes will be used to keep you stable while you perform the row.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To do a renegade row:2

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells. Start with a lighter weight until you know how much weight you can handle. For this exercise, dumbbells with flat edges, such as hex, are best for creating a stable base on the floor.
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, get into a push-up position. Engage your glutes and core muscles to stabilize you while in this position.
  • Lift one arm, pulling back at the elbow and keeping it tucked close to your body. In doing so, the dumbbell should rise to your chest. Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with your other arm—that makes one rep.

As with any exercise, good form is critical to safe lifting and achieving desired results. Use weights you can handle and be sure to keep your abs and glutes engaged so your lower back doesn’t arch out of position.

Want to get your chest and upper body involved in this exercise too? After returning the dumbbells to the ground, simply add a push-up before starting your next rep.

#2 Dumbbell Clean

Often, people remain static while completing a movement. By engaging in more dynamic movement with the lower body, you can transform an otherwise isolating exercise into a full-body workout. A great example is our next exercise: the dumbbell clean.

You’ll be working the following muscle groups:3

  • Arms – Biceps, triceps, and delts are all involved (and if you add a press at the end, your back muscles and delts will feel even more of a burn).
  • Legs – You should feel this in your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and even your calves.
  • Core – Stabilization is fairly simple in the clean (though again, an added press will increase the difficulty) but your abs will still play a role in keeping you stable.

Step-By-Step Instructions

If you’re familiar with barbell cleans, this will sound very familiar. Here’s how to perform a dumbbell clean:4

  • From a standing position, perform a hip hinge to grab two dumbbells (one in each hand) from the floor with the backs of your hands facing outward. A hip hinge, instead of just reaching down, will protect your back from improper lifting posture and potential injury.
  • From there, quickly lift the dumbbells to just above your shoulders, elbows bent, while flipping your wrists so that the palms of your hands are facing in, towards your ears. At the same time, push through your heels to a standing position, then into a squat.
  • Lower the weights to your thighs and hinge back to the starting position. This is one rep.

#3 Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press can be added to your dumbbell clean for a more comprehensive full-body exercise, as you combine two basic movements into one. It will also require greater stabilization from your core muscles and glutes.

While this exercise is great to pair with the dumbbell clean, it can also be done on its own.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To perform the dumbbell shoulder press:5

  • Start with a dumbbell in each hand, held just above your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointing forward at around a 45-degree angle. Flaring your elbows out is a common mistake that can lead to a shoulder injury.
  • Engage your core and glutes so that you don’t arch your lower back during the overhead press (another potential for injury).
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead. Be careful not to press forward, as that can cause instability, or lock your elbows or flare your rib cage, as both are types of overextension which could lead to injuries.
  • Lower the weights back down to the starting position, slowly and in control for maximum benefits. This counts as one rep.

Debating whether to use a barbell vs dumbbell for this exercise? While some people prefer to use a weightlifting barbell for the potential to overload the exercise with a heavier weight, the dumbbell variation provides a freer range of motion and can be beneficial to beginners and experts alike when weight training.

#4 Step Ups

If you’ve ever walked up a flight of stairs, you’ve essentially done a series of step ups. These exercises are useful as they promote healthy alignment and muscle activation for a movement we do all the time. And, by adding either a lighter or heavier weight, we can work our muscles more fully while promoting good form and stabilization.

Muscle groups worked in a step up include:6

  • Legs – Pretty much every leg muscle has a role to play in this. This exercise hits your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors, and abductors.
  • Core – Engaging your abs is a staple of most exercises, especially those that require balance, like this one.
  • Arms and grip strength – Your arm muscles likely won’t be burning after this dumbbell exercise, but anytime you’re holding a dumbbell, you’ll be engaging your arms and grip.

Step-By-Step(up) Instructions

The exercise itself is quite simple, which leaves plenty of opportunity to ensure proper form and that you’re maximizing the workout’s benefits. You’ll need a box or stair to step onto, then:

  • Hold a free weight in each hand with your arms hanging at your sides. Activate your core and stand tall. Don’t arch your lower back or hunch over.
  • Step onto your box or stair. Press into your left leg, bending the knee and activating the quad and hamstring muscles, to transfer your weight onto it and bring your other right leg up. Reverse the movement to step back down, focusing on your knee alignment and quadricep load as you do. Don’t forget to work both legs equally.

If you feel you’re falling to the side, you may lack the core strength to fully stabilize yourself. Try using a lighter weight and doing exercises to strengthen your core and glutes in tandem.

#5 Walking Lunges

Lunges are often overlooked, but they’re highly effective exercises when done correctly. Despite how simple they look, they can be quite challenging when performed with perfect form. If you want a dynamic lunge variety, the walking lunge should be your top choice.

These exercises can be done with just your bodyweight but once you get stronger, adding dumbbells is a great way to amp up the difficulty.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To perform a walking lunge:7

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, take a large step forward with your right or left leg, bringing yourself into a lunge position. Engage your core to keep you from wobbling, and check that your knees are directly over your toes, not flared out to either side.
  • Lower your back knee until it’s parallel to the ground—both legs should be bent at 90-degree angles.
  • Push through the heel of your front leg and activate your quads to return to a standing position with your feet together. You should feel your quad muscles driving this movement.
  • Step forward with the other leg and repeat the movement. You will travel forward with each lunge.
  • As you become more stable, you can move directly from one lunge into the next, skipping the moment when your feet return together.

Enhance Your Dumbbell Game with Tru Grit

These are far from the only exercises you can do with dumbbells, but they’re some of the best full-body options. Whether you’re just starting on your training journey or you’re a grizzled veteran, dumbbells need to be part of your routine. And if you’re looking for the best dumbbells to add to your home workout, look no further than Tru Grit.

We have the dumbbells, racks, and benches you need to take your workout to the next level. When you’re ready to step up your game, we’re here to help.


Livestrong. Burn More Calories and Build More Muscle With Full-Body Workouts. 

Barbend. Renegade Rows: Muscles Used, Form, And Benefits. 

Coach. How To Do A Renegade Row. 

Barbend. Dumbbell Clean & Press – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, And Benefits. 

Men’s Health. Dumbbell Clean. 

Eric Roberts Fitness. How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press: The Correct Guide. 

Women’s Health. How To Do a Dumbbell Step-Up: Your Go-to Exercise for Building a Strong, Perky Bum. 

Verywell Fit. How to Do Walking Lunges.