All you need for this full body workout routine is a set of dumbbells and a bench. It’s ideal if you train at home, or travel a lot and don’t always have access to a well-equipped gym.
Who Is This Workout For?
In general, full-body workouts can be made to work for beginner, intermediate and advanced trainees alike.
In fact, some advanced lifters prefer high-frequency (4-5 times per week) full-body workouts over more conventional body part split routines.
However, this particular dumbbell workout is targeted mainly at beginner and intermediate lifters who want to train 2, 3 or 4 times per week. You can use it for building muscle, or simply to retain muscle while you focus on losing fat.
3-Day Workout Schedule
The default version of this dumbbell-only workout routine involves training three days a week, hitting your entire body on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- Monday: Full Body Workout A
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Full Body Workout B
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Full Body Workout C
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
However, the days of the week that you train aren’t set in stone. If you can’t make it to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you could always train on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
There’s no rule that says you have to stick with a training frequency of three days a week either.
It’s possible to gain muscle with just two full-body workouts a week, especially if you’re relatively new to lifting weights.
And if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter wanting to maintain the muscle you have right now, two full-body workouts a week will do a decent job of muscle maintenance.
On the flipside, if you want to get a bit more volume in, you can also train your whole body four times a week. For some individuals, high frequency training programs that hit a muscle group 4-6 times a week can be highly effective for building muscle.
You also have the option of changing training frequency from one week to the next.
Some weeks you might only have the time to do two workouts, other weeks you might manage three or four.
But the basic workout schedule remains the same – you do workout A, followed by workout B, followed by workout C, then rinse and repeat.
Full Body Dumbbell Workout A
- A1 Push-Ups 3 sets x 20-30 reps
- A2 Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- B1 Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- B2 Shoulder Press 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- C1 Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- C2 Overhead Triceps Extension 2 sets x 10-15 reps
Full Body Dumbbell Workout B
- Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- A1 Dumbbell Pullover 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- A2 Dumbbell Hack Squat OR Deficit Reverse Lunge 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- B1 Sliding Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- B2 Lateral Raise 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- C1 Dumbbell Preacher Curl 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- C2 Triceps Kickback 2 sets x 15-20 reps
Full Body Dumbbell Workout C
- A1 Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- A2 Dumbbell High Row 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- B1 Dumbbell Leg Extension 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- B2 Dumbbell Leg Curl 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Bent Over Lateral Raise 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- C1 Incline Dumbbell Curl 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- C2 Overhead Triceps Extension 2 sets x 10-15 reps
If you’re pushed for time, just do the first 4-5 exercises. Your shoulders and arms will get some stimulation from the exercises performed earlier in the workout.
You can also throw in some exercises for your abs and calves at the end of each training session, whenever time allows.
How To Progress a Full Body Dumbbell Workout
To build muscle, it’s important to train hard and focus on improving your workout performance over time.
Do the same exercises, for the same number of sets and reps, while lifting the same amount of weight, for the next five years. Nothing much is going to happen.
That’s because the training you’re doing is a challenge your body has already adapted to. As a result, no new muscle mass will be gained.
I’m not saying you’ll make progress every time you train. To do so indefinitely would be impossible, and there’ll be times when you end up lifting the same amount of weight, for the same number of sets and reps you did before.
However, you should be pushing yourself to increase the amount of work your muscles are doing in the gym, whether that’s lifting heavier weights, doing more reps with the same weight, or doing more sets.
You need to give your muscles a reason to get bigger, or you’ll remain stuck at the same size you are right now.
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So make sure to keep a training diary (or use an app), write down your numbers, and always try to beat your previous workout in some way.
The rep ranges for each exercise aren’t set in stone, and can be adjusted to ensure that you’re pushing yourself hard in each set.
For example, the prescription for a particular exercise might be 3 sets of 8-12 reps. But with the dumbbells you’re using, 12 reps might be too easy. In which case, you can simply switch to a higher rep range, such as 15-20, 20-25 or even 25-30.
As long as you take your work sets close to failure, muscle growth is very similar across weights and rep ranges.
That is, while heavy weights and low reps tend to cause greater gains in strength, most research shows that sets of low (5-8), medium (8-15) and high (15-30) reps can all be used to stimulate muscle growth, just as long as you push yourself hard in each set.
And by pushing yourself hard, I mean taking each set close to the point of muscular failure, or the point where you’re not able to complete another rep using good technique.
You don’t need to reach the point where you’re physically incapable of doing another rep., but you do need to get reasonably close.
If you’re using a weight that you’re able to lift for 20 repetitions, but you only do 10, you’re unlikely to stimulate much in the way of muscle growth.
How to Warm Up
The number of sets listed are the actual work sets only, and don’t include warm-up sets.
It’s always a good idea, especially if you’re using heavy weights, to do several progressively heavier warm-up sets. This will prepare the joints, the muscles and the nervous system that controls those muscles for the heavy work to come.
In most cases, somewhere between 1-3 warm-up sets will do the job. However, the exact number of warm-up sets you do will vary depending on a number of factors, including the temperature of the gym you’re training in, how your joints feel, the amount of weight you’re lifting, and where that exercise is placed in the workout.
There have been times when I’ve been training in a cold gym, it’s early in the morning and my joints are feeling a bit stiff, where I’ve ended up doing 7-8 warm-up sets before getting into the heavy stuff.
On the flip side, with some of the exercises that come later in the workout, the muscles being worked are already warm, so you won’t need many, if any, warm-up sets.
What about stretching?
In most cases, there’s very little benefit in stretching, be it dynamic or static, as part of a warm-up.
While the adverse effects of stretching on strength and power have been exaggerated, most studies show that pre-exercise stretching does little for injury prevention and has no beneficial effects on lifting performance.
Can you stretch as part of your warm up? Yes. Do you have to? No. It’s certainly not mandatory, and many people will do just as well without it.You can read more about how to warm up for weight training here.
How Long to Rest Between Sets
To build muscle, you want to give yourself at least two minutes of rest between each set for the same muscle groups.
If your rest periods are too short, fatigue from the previous set ends up bleeding into the next one. This means you won’t be able to do as many reps, which has the knock on effect of reducing the stimulus for growth.
Most research shows that longer (2-3 minutes) rest periods work better for hypertrophy than shorter rest periods lasting 60 seconds or less.
But you don’t have to sit around twiddling your thumbs between sets. Instead, just do a set for another muscle group.
You’ll notice that some of the exercises are labeled with A1 and A2. That means you have the option of pairing those exercises, which in turn saves you time in the gym.
Normally when you’re lifting weights, you do a set… rest for a couple of minutes or so… do the next set… rest for a couple of minutes… do the next set…. rest… and so on.
But with paired sets, instead of resting between sets, you do an exercise for another set of muscles.
For example, you’d do an exercise for your chest (like the push-up), rest for 30-60 seconds, do an exercise for your back (like the dumbbell row), rest for 30-60 seconds, then go back to the push up again, and so on.
You don’t need to rush from one exercise to the other. Give yourself a bit of time to catch your breath and set yourself up properly.
If you end up resting longer between sets than the prescribed amount, that’s fine. In most cases, you’re better off with longer rest periods between sets, rather than not getting enough.
Dumbbell Exercise Instruction
- Begin by getting into a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your fingers pointing forward.
- Make sure your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels
- Position your feet so they’re roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows.
- Avoid flaring your elbows out to the side or keeping them tucked in to your sides. They should be somewhere in between.
- Lower yourself under control until your chest is just above the ground.
- Once you’ve reached the bottom position, push yourself back to the starting position.
- You can do this exercise either sitting on a bench or standing up.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing forward, and your elbows bent. This is the starting position.
- Push the dumbbells up towards the ceiling, pressing the hands up and together.
- Once your arms are fully extended, pause briefly before you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position by bending your elbows, bringing the weights down to the starting position.
- If you find that overhead pressing movements with your palms facing forwards causes shoulder pain, try moving your upper arms closer to the center line of your body, so your palms face each other.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best dumbbell exercises for training the lower body, the quads and glutes in particular.
I much prefer it to the goblet squat, mainly because holding the weight in front of your chest (as you do with a goblet squat) requires a lot of upper body strength. This limits the amount of weight you’re able to lift and how hard you can work your legs.
- Place the rear foot on something stable like a bench.
- Practice doing the exercise without dumbbells using your body weight for resistance until you get the hang of the technique.
- If balance is a persistent problem, you can hold one dumbbell with your right arm, while you hold on to something stable with your left arm.
- Start off by positioning your feet shoulder-width apart. Play around with the placement of both feet until you find a stance that allows you to perform the exercise without losing your balance.
- The foot in front of your body should point straight ahead.
- Maintain a vertical torso or lean slightly forward throughout the exercise.
- As you squat down, make sure the front knee tracks in the same direction as the foot.
- Straighten your front leg to return to the starting position.
- Once you’ve completed all the reps on your right leg, take a minute or two to catch your breath, before repeating the exercise for your left leg.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Put a dumbbell on the floor at one end of a bench.
- Put your right knee on the bench, then lean forward and put your right hand on the bench to support your body weight.
- Reach down, grab the dumbbell with your left hand and hold it just off the floor.
- In the starting position, your palms should be facing your torso, rather than forward or back.
- Leading with your elbow, pull the dumbbell up and slightly back.
- To increase the work done by your lats, the dumbbell should move in a slight arc, rather than straight up and straight down.
- Keep your upper body roughly parallel to the floor. Your lower body and trunk should remain relatively still as you lift the dumbbell.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbell under control to the starting position.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- In a standing position, position your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
- Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing you, rather than at your sides.
- Lift your chest and keep a slight arch in your lower back. You want to maintain this neutral spine position throughout the exercise.
- Begin the exercise by pushing the hips back as far as possible. During the hip hinge movement, your knees should remain slightly bent and your spine in neutral.
- As you lower the dumbbells, keep them close to your body. Don’t let them drift too far in front.
- Keep the knees slightly bent throughout the exercise, with most of your weight back on the heels.
- Lower the dumbbells to the point where you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. For some people, that might be at the midpoint of the shin, while for others it might be level with your knees. It all depends on how flexible you are.
- Return to the starting position by pushing up through your heels.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
- Stand with your feet roughly shoulder width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Your hands should be in a neutral position, meaning that your palms face you.
- Slowly curl the weight up towards your shoulder.
- During each rep, your wrists should remain in a neutral position, as if you were holding a hammer and preparing to hammer a nail into a plank of wood.
- Pause briefly at the top, before lowering each dumbbell under control to the starting position.
- The muscles involved in this exercise are relatively small, so you don’t need to use a heavy weight. Instead, focus on proper form, using a full range of motion.
Overhead Triceps Extension
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in one hand, keeping your arm extended straight up above your shoulder.
- Position your upper arm close to your head, with your elbow pointing out to the side and your palm facing the back of your head.
- Begin the movement by bending your elbow, lowering the dumbbell behind your head.
- Keep your upper arm relatively still as you lower the weight, and move only your forearm..
- Lower the dumbbell until your forearm is parallel to the ground or slightly below, feeling a stretch in your triceps.
- Pause for a moment before returning the dumbbell to the starting position.
- Perform the desired number of repetitions on one arm before switching to the other side.
The Benefits of Dumbbells
Dumbbells have a lot of things going for them. They’re relatively cheap, don’t take up a lot of space, and can be used for dozens of different exercises that work your entire body.
Combined with bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups, a pair of dumbbells will give you a highly effective workout for all the major muscle groups without the need for lots of expensive equipment.
The fact dumbbells don’t require a lot of space makes them ideal if there’s no room in your house for a lot of gym equipment.
Not only does training at home save you money on gym fees, it’s also very convenient.
You just pull the dumbbells out from under your bed, or wherever they’re stored, and start training.
Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can do a few exercises for this or that muscle group.
Then, later in the day, when you get another 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can focus on another muscle group.
For some people, doing a bit of weight training here and there is a more practical way to fit a workout into their day, which means they’re far more likely to get done.
Dumbbell exercises can also be an effective way to work around injuries, mainly because they give you a lot more freedom of movement.
If you find that certain free weight exercises cause your joints to flare up, doing the same exercise with a dumbbell may actually feel better, allowing you to work around any dings or dents that have built up over the years.
Pressing exercises performed with a barbell, for example, put your shoulders and arms in a fixed position, which can sometimes lead to pain in your shoulders, elbows or wrists.
But doing the same exercise with dumbbells gives you a lot more flexibility about how the exercise is done.
By that, I mean you’re able to make small adjustments to the movement pattern, altering the position of your arms in such a way that any joint pain is significantly reduced, or even eliminated completely.
You’re still working the same muscles, but you’re doing so in a way that’s a lot easier on your joints.
Let’s take the overhead press as an example.
When you press a barbell over your head, your palms will naturally face forward, known as a pronated grip.
But with dumbbells, you have the option of using a neutral grip, where your palms face each other.
For many people, switching to a neutral grip, and bringing your elbows in (rather than flared out to the side) will often make the overhead press feel easier on your joints.
With a dumbbell, you can also perform the exercise one arm at a time. Doing so makes it easier to adjust the path of the dumbbell, the position of your elbows and range of motion in such a way that it doesn’t cause you any pain or discomfort.
It’s also easier on your back as well. Pressing a 40-pound dumbbell over your head will impose less compressive load on your spine than an 80-pound barbell.
Some people have one side of their body that’s weaker than the other, which dumbbells can help to correct.
A small difference in strength between your left and right side is perfectly normal, and isn’t something that most people need to worry about.
But if there’s a large imbalance in strength, the stronger side tends to dominate during bilateral movements, which can set you up for injury further down the line.
Unilateral training with dumbbells can help to identify and eliminate any strength imbalances that might exist, creating a better balance of strength.
Dumbbells also offer some benefits in terms of safety, especially if you’re training alone. It’s far better to drop a pair of dumbbells and damage the floor than get crushed by a heavy barbell and damage yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I do a full body dumbbell workout?
You can do a full body dumbbell workout anywhere between 2-4 times per week. That’s a suitable training frequency for most people.
Can you lose body fat with dumbbells?
Losing body fat is more a function of your diet than it is anything else. Combine a dumbbell-only workout routine with a diet that puts you in a calorie deficit, and you’ll lose body fat while gaining (or at the very least maintaining) muscle mass.
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