What Are the Easiest Dumbbell Workouts for Beginners?

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Dumbbells are one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment you can have at your disposal. They may not look as impressive as weight machines — or even barbells — but a pair of these free weights is enough to give you a complete and satisfying full-body workout. New to weight training? Don’t fret. We’ve rounded up some of the best dumbbell workouts for beginners, all of which will set you on the right path.

Dumbbell Squats

Stand up straight while holding the dumbbells down by your sides. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and you should maintain a very slight bend in your knees. With your eyes facing forward, slowly lower your body until you form a 90-degree angle with your knees.

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Focus on keeping your weight in your heels and ensuring that your knees don’t extend past your toes. From that position, stand up slowly. Repeat this movement 10 times in three sets, all while giving yourself ample rest time between sets. Best of all, this simple exercise works your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Single-Leg Deadlifts

Start by standing with a dumbbell — or, as shown here, a kettlebell — in one hand at your side. On the same side as the dumbbell, slowly start lifting your leg straight back and lowering the dumbbell by bending at the hip. Remember: Keep your knees slightly bent. Additionally, you should focus on keeping your back flat and your heel facing up, toward the ceiling.

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Need help balancing? Engage your core. Continue lowering the dumbbell until your upper body and working leg are parallel to the ground — and then slowly return to the original upright position. Three sets of 10 reps per leg should give your glutes, hamstrings, and core a wonderful workout.

Walking Lunges

Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart, your shoulders back, and the dumbbells down by your sides. Take a long stride forward, keeping the toe and knee of your leading leg pointing straight. Lower your body by bending your knees. Bend the leading knee to a 90-degree angle. Try to get your back knee as close to the ground as possible.

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Be sure to keep your chest up and your back flat and straight. Additionally, that front knee shouldn’t lunge out past your toes. To complete the movement, rise up slowly by pushing your trailing leg off the ground, allowing you to step forward and return to that starting position. Perform the lunge with the other leg. Repeat the exercise 20 or so times, alternating legs. Like squats, this exercise strengthens and tones your quads and glutes.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Use a regular bench for this exercise. Lean forward to rest the hand and knee of one side of your body over the bench in a partial table-top position. Keep your arm straight and fingers wide to support your upper body. (Your other leg should remain grounded for extra support.) With your free arm, hold the dumbbell parallel to the ground, arm full extended. Slowly lift the dumbbell by pulling your elbow straight back and squeezing your shoulder blades.

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Keep your elbows close to your body; it’s kind of like starting a lawnmower with a pull cord. Focus on keeping your back flat and engaging your core. To complete the movement, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the neutral position. Complete three sets of 10 rep on one side — and then do the same on the other side. This exercise works your upper back, rear deltoids, and biceps.

Lateral Raises

Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and dumbbells in both hands by your side. Slowly raise your arms straight out laterally until they are about level with your shoulders. Remember: Do not go past the shoulders.

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Feel free to maintain a slight bend in your elbows if keeping completely straight arms is too difficult. Focus on keeping your chest up and core tight. After holding the position for a beat, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Again, three sets of 10 reps should do the trick. Unsurprisingly, this exercise works your shoulders, primarily the deltoids.

Dumbbell Presses

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. As pictured, you’ll want to make 90-degree angles with both arms. With your palms facing forward, slowly raise the dumbbells high above your head until your arms are fully extended.

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Once they’re fully extended, slowly lower your arms, so that the weights return to the starting position. Focus on keeping your chest up, back straight, and core engaged. Dumbbell presses can be performed in either the standing or sitting position. Again, three sets of 10 reps — with ample rest between sets — will help you shape and tone your shoulders.

Dumbbell Bench Presses

Barbell bench presses are likely the most common and recognizable weight-related exercise. Unsurprisingly, dumbbell bench presses are executed in the same way. Lie flat on your back on a bench (or yoga mat) with a dumbbell in each hand. Have your arms fully bent back so that the dumbbells are at shoulder level on both sides of your chest. Remember: Your knuckles should be facing upward.

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Next, slowly push the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended; lower them, just as slowly, back into that starting position. Completing three sets of 10 reps will help you work your chest, shoulders, and arms.

Dumbbell Curls

Perhaps one of the easiest and most intuitive dumbbell workouts is the curl. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and the dumbbells at your sides. For this exercise, your palms should be facing forward. Next, slowly raise the dumbbells by curling your arms up until you no longer feel any weight resistance in your biceps.

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Focus on keeping your chest up, core tight, and the weight in your heels. Avoid swinging back and forth with the weight during this exercise. Both arms can be worked simultaneously — or you can focus on them one at a time. Either way, three sets of 10 reps will work your biceps and forearms. Just be sure to perform the same number of curls on each arm.

With all of these exercises, it’s important to maintain good form. Not only does proper form maximize the workout’s effectiveness, but it also minimizes the chance of injury. If pictures aren’t quite giving you the guidance you need, instructional exercise videos can help you get a better understanding of how to properly (and safely) execute these movements.

Medical content reviewed by Kelsey Powell, MS, Medical Sciences.

Resource Links:

  • "How to Do Dumbbell Squats" via LiveStrong
  • "6 Deadlift Variations to Add to Leg Day" via LiveStrong
  • "Walking Lunges for Great Legs" via LiveStrong
  • "6 Front Raise Mistakes That Could Be Sabotaging Your Shoulder Gains" via LiveStrong
  • "Standing Shoulder Press With Dumbbells" via LiveStrong
  • "Dumbbell Press vs. Bench Press" via LiveStrong
  • "How to Do a Proper Dumbbell Curl" via LiveStrong
  • How to Do Lateral Raises Without Messing Up Your Shoulders via Men’s Health

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