What Exercises to Do With Dumbbells for Beginners?

You’ve decided to start exercising and have purchased a set of dumbbells. You know you need to exercise but don’t know what exercises are best for beginners.  

If you are new to exercising or just want some guidance on using dumbbells for beginners, this article is perfect! 

This blog post will provide you with some ideas on how to use your new equipment, as well as the benefits of each exercise.  

We hope this article helps demystify the process for those who are just starting out! 

How to maximize your training  

Before you start a new workout regimen, think about how to maximize your time and effort.

Set a goal

Are you looking to build strength, gain size, or increase your endurance? Decide what your goal is and create your regimen accordingly.

Stick with high weight, low reps, and more rest between sets to build strength and size.

For endurance, go for lighter weights, higher reps, and less rest between sets.

Set a schedule

Whatever your goal, aim to work out 4 or 5 days per week.

You can get a good workout in 20 minutes or an hour, so don’t worry about duration as much as the quality and composition of your routine.

Avoid training the same muscle groups hard 2 days in a row; recovery is super important to progress.

Order is important

In general, you’ll want to perform harder, full-body exercises, like squats, before more targeted, smaller movements, like bicep curls.

Your goal determines your weight

Choose heavy, challenging weights — whatever that means for you — if your goal is to gain strength and size.

Opt for lighter (but still challenging at the end of your set) weights for more of an endurance approach.

Proper form is a must

If you don’t perform exercises properly, you could miss out on the benefits of the movement or, in more serious cases, cause injury.

Practice the movement with your body weight before you add additional weight.

Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbells are the most accessible free weights, so they’re the first most people tend to try, either in the gym or as part of a home workout. 

They’re also among the most versatile weights you can use. So even if you usually gravitate towards the barbell to tackle big lifts like the back squat, deadlift and bench press, there are plenty of reasons to make sure you also find time for dumbbell exercises.

Alternating Dumbbell Curl

This move is a two-for-one that targets your arms and shoulders. Standing up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, bend at your elbows to curl the weights up to your shoulders (be sure to keep your palms facing your body and your elbows glued to your sides as you curl). Then, pivot your arms, so your palms are facing each other, and press the weights up overhead as you twist your arms so that your palms face forward. Slowly reverse the move to return to start.

Bent Over Row

Grab a dumbbell in each hand, and bend your knees with your feet, hip-width distance apart. Next, push your hips back and roll your shoulders back to bend your upper body down (keeping your spine straight), and pull your arms up with your elbows at 90 degrees until the weights are parallel to your hips. Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the move, then slowly lower your arms back down to start.

Calf Raise

Your calf muscles are among the trickiest to target during a workout. Your best option is to incorporate some kind of calf raise into your routine. This is an especially important move for runners because the calf muscles have to bear a lot of the impact, so ensuring they’re strong enough to handle your training should be a key concern in your supportive workouts.

The calf raise is a very simple move. Stand holding heavy dumbbells, then push through your toes to raise your heels off the floor. Then lower your heels back down. You can vary the part of the calf you work by bending your knees during a raise, or doing them off a raised platform like a step or kerb, so your heels can sink below toe level.

Dumbbell Bench Press

This is a great option for beginners if you stick to a weight you’re comfortable with. Using dumbbells will work more muscles around the shoulders and chest than using a barbell because they’re forced to keep the weights stable, and it’s well worth developing those muscles before moving on to heavier barbells. Lie on a flat workout bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells above your chest, palms facing towards your feet with your arms fully extended. Bend at the elbows to lower the dumbbells slowly until they reach your chest. Pause for one second, then press both dumbbells up powerfully.

Dumbbell Wood Chop

You can use dumbbells to work your core. This move involves twisting through your abs and obliques to raise a weight above your head and mimics the act of chopping wood. First, hold the top of the weight in both hands at one side of your body, then stabilize your core as you pivot to reach it up above your opposite shoulder (as if you were swinging an axe). Then, swipe it back down to the starting position as you rotate through your feet.

Farmer’s Walk

You’ll feel the benefits of this functional exercise the next time you do a big shop. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand and walk for a set distance, like 10m, or duration, taking short steps and keeping your core braced and torso upright – don’t let the weights drag you down. The farmer’s walk is also great for your grip strength and will help improve your posture, and it’s a move with a very low injury risk since the form is easy to master.

Floor Press

Not just an exercise to do when the bench is busy, the floor press places less strain on your shoulders than the standard move owing to the reduced range of motion, so it’s a good way to work your chest if you are worried about aggravating shoulder niggles. 

Lie with your feet and back flat on the floor, knees bent, holding dumbbells on either side of your chest. Press the weights straight above you, then lower slowly until the backs of your upper arms touch the floor. This makes a move harder since it removes the tension from your muscles, so it takes more to initiate the next rep.

Front Squat

Hold a pair of dumbbells up by your shoulders with your elbows by your sides and palms facing each other. Lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground, then drive back up to the starting position.

Hammer Press

This variation on the dumbbell bench press puts less strain on your shoulders, and so is a welcome addition to the gym routine for anyone who has concerns about that, particularly easy-to-injure joint. 

Lie a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other – that grip is the only real change in the move. Press the weights above you until your arms are extended, then bring them back down slowly.

Hip Thrust

This exercise strengthens your glutes, hamstrings and quads, and is traditionally done with a barbell, but there’s no reason you can’t sub in dumbbells for it if that’s all you have. Sit by a weight bench, facing away from it with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor and leaning back, so your shoulders rest on a bench. Hold the dumbbells, so they’re resting on your thighs just below your hips. Drive your hips up to lift the weights. In the top position, your knees should be bent at a 90° angle, and your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Lower back down with control.

Triceps Kick-Back

Pair this move with the biceps curl to ensure you’re working both of the major muscle groups in your upper arm. Like the biceps curl, the triceps kickback is an isolation move in that it targets the triceps solely.

Set up a bench so you can place one knee, shin and foot on it, and then bend over until your torso is parallel to the floor, holding the bench with one hand. On the other hand, hold a dumbbell and place your upper arm against your body with your elbow bent at 90°. Straighten your arm, moving the dumbbell backwards until your forearm is parallel to the ground, making sure to keep your upper arm still, so you’re only using your triceps for the lift. Slowly lower the weight back to the start.

Lateral Raise

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand next to your outer thighs. Keep your back straight and slowly lift the weights out to the sides until your arms parallel the floor. Your elbows should be slightly bent. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Target your deltoids with this move, which involves raising a set of dumbbells out to the side until they’re parallel to your shoulders, creating a “T” shape with your body. Be sure to engage your core and glutes as you move, and start with light weights until you master the slow, controlled motion of the move.

Overhead Press

You can do this either seated or standing. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your shoulders with your elbows out to the sides and bent at 90°. Extend through your elbows, press the weights overhead, and slowly bring them back to the starting position.

Single-Leg Deadlift

This hip-dominant, unilateral move targets your hips and glutes one side at a time. Hold a weight in one hand, and stabilize with your foot on the opposite side. Bend your standing knee and slowly lower the weight down toward the floor (keeping your chest proud, back flat and hips square) while the foot is on the same side as your weight back behind you. Activate your “floating” leg throughout the move by flexing your foot, which will help to fire up your glutes. Drive through your standing leg to return to the starting position, and track the movement with your gaze to maintain proper form.

Weighted Reverse Lunge

Kick your lunges up a notch by adding some weight into the mix. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and take a big step back with one leg. Dropdown into your lunge, making sure that your front knee stays behind your toes, then drive up through your front foot to return to stand and repeat on the other side.

Holding dumbbells by your sides, take a big step forwards and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90°. Then push up through the front leg and return to the starting position.

This blog post will provide you with some ideas on how to use your new equipment, as well as the benefits of each exercise. By reading this article, we hope that you have a better idea of what exercises are best for beginners and feel confident in using dumbbells to work out at home! 

If there is a type of dumbbell exercise we didn’t cover, or if you still need help deciding which one would be best for you, check out this blog post for more dumbbell exercises.

FAQs About Dumbbells 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on your fitness goals, your fitness level, your gender, and your budget. As such, we need to dig into this question based on all of these points.

The best way to answer this question is to break it down into three sections: building muscle, improving strength, and losing fat (a.k.a. getting the tone and shredded). Within these sections, we will provide options for beginners, men, women, and budget. 

Your dumbbell weight requirements will depend on why you’re strength-training — whether you’re lifting weights for increased strength and endurance, for example, or power. Women lifting to increase muscle mass can use free weights between 5 and 8 pounds, while men can use 8- to 10-pound dumbbells to start.

Low reps with heavyweight tend to increase muscle mass, while high reps with lightweight increase muscle endurance.

This doesn’t mean that you have to rely on one method exclusively. On the contrary, alternating between the two may be the best approach for long-term success. Here’s why.

  • Lifting heavy weights builds muscle, but constantly upping the weight exhausts the body. The nervous system must also adjust to the new fibre activation in the muscles. Lifting lighter weights with more reps gives the muscle tissue and nervous system a chance to recover while also building endurance.
  • If you follow the same fitness program over a period of time, you will eventually hit the dreaded “plateau.” When your mind and body have adapted to the routine, it is no longer challenging, and you stop making progress. Changing things gives your body and nervous system the kick in the pants they need to start progressing again.
  • Eventually, you’ll hit a point where you can’t lift any more weight or can’t lift the weight long enough to be effective. This can cause your form to break down, putting you at greater risk for injury. Switching to high rep/low weight for a time will allow you to continue making progress, concentrate on your form, and build up endurance so you can hit those heavy weights again.

These workout change-ups should be planned and strategic, such as every other workout, every other week, or a 6-8 week rotation. An unstructured, uneven approach will lead to uneven results.

It’s important to remember that many factors go into building muscle mass, apart from the workouts you perform. 

Diet, genetics, metabolic rate, hormone levels, body type, and even your muscle fibre composition all contribute. 

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