In this post, I’m going to show you a fast, simple and effective full body dumbbell workout that you can use to build muscle.
Let’s dive right in…
Back when I started out lifting weights, I had a bench, a barbell, a pull-up bar and a couple of adjustable dumbbells tucked away in the corner of my living room.
That was it. I didn’t even have a squat rack.
But I made a lot of progress in those early years, simply because I showed up, worked hard, and made the best of what I had.
In fact, you can get a solid full body workout in with just your own bodyweight and some dumbbells. A bench, pull-up bar, and some gymnastic rings (or a suspension trainer) would come in handy too.
Training in a garage or spare room still requires self-discipline (in some ways, I used to find it harder to train at home, because of all the distractions).
But if you’re short on time, there isn’t a gym for miles around, or you just like the idea of having your own “Fortress of Solitude” where you can train in peace and quiet, a garage gym will do the job just fine.
Full Body Dumbbell Workout
This full body dumbbell workout involves just five exercises, which hit all of the major muscles. They’re shown below in the order I suggest you do them. I’ll talk more about sets and reps in a moment.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
2. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Other than the single-leg glute bridge, you can also work the hamstrings with the Romanian deadlift. The barbell variation is shown in the video below, but it can also be done using dumbbells. Leg curls on a Swiss ball, suspension trainer or glute ham roller are also an option.
Glute Ham Roller
To make the push-up harder, and put more of an emphasis on the upper chest, you can raise the legs and do decline push-ups.
4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
As an alternative to the dumbbell row, you also have the option of the inverted row. In the video below, I do the inverted row using a tow rope that I got from B&Q, which I threw over the beams in my garage.
You can also get some gymnastic rings from Amazon (a lot cheaper than most suspension trainers), which do a similar job and can also be adjusted in length.
5. Single-Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press
In terms of sets and reps, aim for 3-4 work sets per exercise. For the exercises that involve working one side of the body at a time, that’s 3-4 work sets per side, not in total.
With the Bulgarian split squat, for example, you’d do as many reps as you can on one side. Then you’d stop, have a rest and catch your breath. Switch to the other leg and do the same thing again. Rinse and repeat until you’ve done at least three sets on both legs, then move on to the next exercise.
Each set should end only when you’re a rep or so short of technical failure – that point where you’re unable to lift the weight under control, using good technique. You want to do as many reps as you can in each set, but not at the expense of good form.
The reason I haven’t prescribed a specific number of reps is because I have no idea how strong you are or what sort of dumbbells you’re using.
If I told you to do sets of 10-12 reps, but you were really capable of doing 20 reps, there wouldn’t be much of a stimulus for growth. Muscle growth is best achieved by pushing each set to within a rep or two of technical failure – the point where fatigue stops you from completing another rep.
Reaching this point sends a signal to your muscles that they need to adapt by grow bigger and stronger for next time. Your muscles need to be given a reason to grow, or they’ll remain stuck at the same size they are right now.
Both high reps and low reps can be used to gain muscle, so don’t worry if you end up doing 5 reps, 10 reps or 30. Just focus on pushing yourself hard in each set.
Where are the arm exercises?
The push-ups and overhead press will hit your triceps, while the rows will work your biceps. So those muscles are being worked to a degree when you train your chest, back and shoulders. But if you want to do some extra work for your arms, throw in some arm exercises at the end of the workout.
What about the abs?
With the single-arm dumbbell row and single-arm dumbbell press, all the resistance comes from one side. As a result, the muscles in your “core” have to work harder than normal to keep your body stable.
Push-ups have also been shown to work the abs to a degree. So you are getting some work for your abs as a side effect of doing those exercises.
However, if you want to do some more direct ab work, I show you some of my favorite ab exercises here.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a "cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.