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The 10 Best Dumbbell Exercises to Hit Every Muscle

One or two dumbbells – enough to get your workout done.

These are likely the 10 best dumbbell exercises to hit every muscle.

Selecting the finest dumbbell exercises can be quite a challenge, unless you have a robust set of criteria in place. It’s no easy feat to compile a list of the top 10 dumbbell exercises that collectively target every muscle, but what’s crucial is elucidating the rationale behind their inclusion.

Dumbbells stand out as among the most versatile pieces of workout equipment, suitable for training in the confines of home or other limited spaces. Their three-dimensional utility provides substantial carryover benefits for athletes. Working out with dumbbells enables engagement in all planes of motion and necessitates enhanced core strength and stability for effective use.

This list of the 10 best dumbbell exercises to hit every muscle was not created and thought out by us at BOXROX, but rather by renowned fitness coach Jeff Cavaliere.

Jeff Cavaliere is a fitness trainer, physical therapist, and the creator of the popular fitness YouTube channel called ATHLEAN-X. He is known for his expertise in strength training, conditioning, and sports medicine. Jeff Cavaliere served as the Head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets in Major League Baseball from 2006 to 2009.

Dumbbell-only workouts can be exceedingly challenging. Some may believe that effectively training legs with dumbbells is impossible due to the inability to load the weight sufficiently. This is far from true. Choosing exercises loaded with even 100lb dumbbells and performing them on a single leg can push you to your limits.

Source: Polona Mitar Osolnik on Pexels

The same applies to dumbbell chest workouts, back workouts, and arm workouts. The absence of a barbell does not compromise the quality or effectiveness of the training session. However, lifting light dumbbells consistently will not provide a sufficiently intense workout. Even when training at home, strive to lift the heaviest dumbbells you can handle to promote muscle growth in your workouts.

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The 10 Best Dumbbell Exercises to Hit Every Muscle

Each of the dumbbell exercises listed here has earned its place for very specific reasons and we recommend watching the entire video below on this page for a full explanation to these reasons.

The following is the breakdown of the list of the 10 best dumbbell exercises to hit every muscle:

  1. Gorilla Rows
  2. Static Dumbbell Bench Press
  3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges
  4. Clean Up and Overs
  5. Farmer’s Carries
  6. Pullovers
  7. Step Ups
  8. High Pulls
  9. Russian Rows
  10. Strict Curls into Dumbbell Cheat Curls

These exercises can be performed with either a single dumbbell or a pair of dumbbells, chosen based on their ability to engage multiple muscle groups in a single dumbbell-only workout.

Versatility and multidimensionality were key factors in the selection of these exercises.

For instance, the gorilla row can target either the lower lats or the upper back, depending on whether you keep the dumbbells close to your side or allow your elbows to drift up and out during each repetition, respectively. The row can also be made more explosive by executing it as a plyometric gorilla row.

Next on the list is the static DB bench press, a variation of the typical dumbbell bench press. This exercise allows you to either leave one dumbbell extended or bent as the nonmoving arm, engaging either more core or more chest depending on your choice. Either way, it compels you to learn the crucial leg drive for stabilizing your body on the weight bench.

The reverse lunge is another lower body dumbbell exercise that targets different muscles based on your body’s position in space. When upright, it focuses more on your quads, while leaning forward shifts the emphasis to the glutes and hamstrings.

No athletic training program is complete without some version of the farmer’s carry. This exercise trains not only your grip, conditioning, and traps but also, perhaps most importantly, your ability to stay mentally tough throughout your training. Precision in stepping is crucial when performing this dumbbell exercise.

male and female crossfitters farmer's Carry exercise outside
Farmer’s Carries will put your grip strength and willpower to the test

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The dumbbell pullover, often referred to as the upper body squat, can be executed in three different ways to target the lats, upper chest, or triceps.

The dumbbell high pull ranks among the greatest dumbbell exercises, allowing you to train not only the middle head of the delts but also the rear delt simultaneously. Additionally, any dumbbell exercise that can be weighted more heavily provides a new growth stimulus to the rear delt, often trained exclusively with light weights.

Weighted ab exercises are another excellent option for dumbbell training. The crush grip employed in the Russian row adds recruitment to your upper body during the exercise.

Finally, the dumbbell curl is an indispensable exercise for a total body dumbbell workout. This drop set of strict curl to cheat curl ensures that each set is taken to and through failure for maximum biceps growth.

Watch Cavaliere’s video below to understand why he picked these as the top 10 best dumbbell exercises to hit every muscle.

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Let’s break down the pros and cons of incorporating dumbbell exercises into a fitness routine:

Pros:

  1. Versatility: Dumbbells offer a wide range of exercises that target various muscle groups. From compound movements to isolation exercises, they allow for a versatile workout routine.
  2. Stabilization: Unlike machines that provide stability, dumbbells require more control and stabilization from the muscles. This engages stabilizer muscles, contributing to overall strength and balance.
  3. Individualized Workouts: Dumbbells are available in different weights, making it easy to customize workouts based on individual strength levels. This is beneficial for beginners and advanced lifters alike.
  4. Functional Movement: Many dumbbell exercises mimic everyday movements, promoting functional strength that can be applied to daily activities.
  5. Home Workout Option: Dumbbells are relatively compact and can be used at home, providing a convenient option for those who prefer working out in their own space.
  6. Joint Range of Motion: Dumbbell exercises often allow for a more natural range of motion, promoting flexibility and joint health.

Cons:

  1. Weight Limit: Dumbbells have a weight limit, and for advanced lifters seeking extremely heavy loads, barbells or machines may be more suitable.
  2. Learning Curve: Some exercises, especially those involving free weights, may have a learning curve for beginners. Proper form is crucial to avoid injuries.
  3. Uneven Strength Development: If not used properly, one side of the body may become stronger than the other, leading to muscle imbalances. This can be addressed by incorporating unilateral exercises.
  4. Limited Isolation: While dumbbells are great for compound movements, some isolation exercises may require specialized machines for optimal muscle isolation.
  5. Safety Concerns: Without a spotter or proper form, there’s a risk of injury, especially when lifting heavier weights. It’s crucial to start with appropriate weights and gradually progress.
  6. Equipment Availability: In a crowded gym, finding the right set of dumbbells can sometimes be challenging. Home users may need to invest in a variety of dumbbell weights for a comprehensive workout.
  7. Progression Challenges: As strength increases, it may become challenging to find heavier dumbbells. This is where barbells or machines may offer a more scalable progression.

In summary, while dumbbells have numerous advantages, it’s essential to consider individual fitness goals, preferences, and safety considerations. Integrating a mix of free weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises can provide a well-rounded and effective workout routine.

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Best Dumbbell Bicep Curl ExercisesSource: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Here are some general guidelines for how often to work out based on your fitness goals:

  1. For general health and fitness: Aim to exercise most days of the week, for at least 30-60 minutes per day. This can include a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
  2. For weight loss: Aim to exercise most days of the week, for at least 30-60 minutes per day. This should include a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training, with a focus on creating a calorie deficit through a combination of exercise and diet.
  3. For muscle building: Aim to do strength training exercises at least two days per week, targeting all major muscle groups. You can also include aerobic exercise and flexibility exercises as part of your routine.
  4. For athletic performance: The frequency and intensity of your workouts will depend on your specific sport and fitness goals. Consult with a coach or trainer to develop a customized training plan.

Remember, it’s important to listen to your body and avoid overtraining, which can lead to injury or burnout. Start slowly and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your workouts over time.

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