Best Dumbbell Exercises

Happy Monday!

Did you all watch the SuperBowl yesterday? What’d you think of the halftime show? I personally loved it, and loved Coldplay, but I keep reading about how people thought they were boring and/or Beyonce was better. I loved the whole thing – very entertaining. Plus, my sister and I will be seeing Coldplay on tour so we thought it was cool :)

Anyway, today marks Day 1 of my 5 Day Fitness Challenge (which you can sign up for here if you haven’t already). The first workout is a leg workout, and I’ll link to it below. First I just wanted to talk about dumbbell only workouts.

My 5 day challenge only uses dumbbells, mainly because it’s easiest for people since most have them. However, I prefer dumbbells over machines or even barbells. Dumbbells work your entire body more because you’re holding one in each hand, so you need to engage your core for exercises. Think about how much harder it is to do a dumbbell chest press than a barbell press. Or a single arm row as opposed to a barbell row. Not saying I don’t like barbells, because they definitely have their place, but dumbbells are #1 for me.

Using dumbbells can also show you if you have any muscle imbalances. For example, when I do dumbbell chest press, I realize that one arm is able to go down lower than the other arm, which points to an imbalance.

Lastly, dumbbells can help build your grip strength. Trying to do walking lunges with less-than-great grip strength is HARD and your forearms will be burning. Using dumbbells for lunges, farmer’s carries, deadlifts, and more can help build your grip strength (which translates well for heavier deadlifts or pull-ups if that’s your goal).

So here are a few of my favorite dumbbell exercises:

The best dumbbell exercises (in my opinion) to build total body strength! |

Single-arm row

I love single arm rows. I feel like they really target your back and build strength fast. I like to support myself on a box or bench (as opposed to my knee) to really have a stable base. One tip is to make sure that when you lower the dumbbell, you’re not lowering it all the way down and letting your shoulders relax. You want to SQUEEZE your shoulder blades the entire time. So even when you’re at the lowest point, you’re still squeezing/flexing your shoulder blade/back, and using those muscles to pull it back up, instead of momentum.

single arm rowPhoto source

I also like to stand, like the photo above, as opposed to having one knee on the bench. This way engages more of your core AND your hamstrings and glutes.

Single-leg deadlift

These are killer (and in my workout video). If you have awful balance like I do, it’s even harder. But that’s the best part. It helps you get better at balancing and using your core, which is so important for runners and athletes.

single leg deadliftPhoto source

Start with bodyweight only, and work your way up to holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then work your way to an offset (one dumbbell) with a heavier weight. Your hamstrings will definitely be feeling it the next day!


This is an exercise that is definitely more challenging with dumbbells than a barbell. I think it is “easier” to get the weight up with a barbell. This is also a great exercise for building tricep strength, which is important for any pushing exercise (bench press, push-ups, etc.). 

Photo source

Make sure you lower the dumbbell down to the bench (touch the bench by your ears) before going back up. You can also do single arm variations. You want to keep your elbows in and back, kind of on an angle going behind you, not straight up. Your elbows should stay in that position, and only your hands move the weights throughout the motion (not your elbows swaying back and forth).

These are three of my top dumbbell exercises. I am always sore the next day after doing these! 

Here is my first workout of the 5 Day Fit Challenge :)

Make sure to sign up for the challenge so you can be entered to win a PlantFusion prize pack! It’s 5 days of workout videos sent right to your inbox, printables to take to the gym, support and (like I said) a chance to win some free protein powder! Who doesn’t want that?

What are your favorite dumbbell exercises? 

If you could only do ONE exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? I think I would choose walking lunges…so tough but a total body exercise AND gets the heart rate up!


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  1. I like doing bicep curls while standing on one leg to get more core work involved!
    Margo recently posted…Brooklyn Fit Chick Wins Cool Yoga Mat from @Reebok & @TaraStilesMy Profile

  2. These are all great exercises! The single-legged deadlifts are really tough for me so I’d have to use really light weights, if any at all! I’m glad that I’m taking a boot camp class where I get to work with free weights!
    Janelle @ Run With No Regrets recently posted…Weekly Wrap: SuperBowl Sunday and Countdown to LentMy Profile

  3. I love the one armed row because for some reason it makes me feel hardcore at the gym. ha ha!
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Weekend Recap – A Homebody’s ChroniclesMy Profile

  4. I love that single leg deadlift but it is such a tough one for me! I’m not the most balanced person so I always feel like it’s a challenge (in a good way of course).
    Chrissy @ Snacking in Sneakers recently posted…12 Week Half Marathon Training Plan for BeginnersMy Profile

  5. Ooh, it’s been a while since I’ve done skullcrushers! I’ll add them in this week. I do the isngle leg deadlifts 1-2 x a week. My legs seem to NEED them.
    Coco recently posted…Chilling Out With Hot YogaMy Profile

  6. Love all of these moves! Skull crushers get me every time!
    Nicole @ Fitful Focus recently posted…Paleo Coconut Green SmoothieMy Profile

  7. Those are 3 that I always have in my routine as staples. Perfect for all levels of exercisers.
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…Blueberry Banana Strawberry Oatmeal BakeMy Profile

  8. I love single leg squats so I’m going to have to try those single leg deadlifts. Too often I forget to focus on the individual sides.
    MCM Mama Runs recently posted…Date night, Old Ox Brewing, and Super Bowl AdsMy Profile

  9. Ugh those single leg deadlifts. I struggle with balancing on one leg! It’s a work in progress.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Big Sur Marathon Training– Week 1My Profile

  10. Great selection. I’ve done all of these at some point in my body circuit classes over the past few weeks.

    Picking one exercise is so hard! Maybe deadlifts? Curls? I don’t know!
    Jenn recently posted…weekly recap: 1/31 – 2/6My Profile

  11. These are 3 of my favorite! Especially deadlifts.
    jill conyers recently posted…30-Minute Tone and Burn Treadmill WorkoutMy Profile

  12. Dumb bells are definitely a go-to piece of exercise equipment. We own a full set and they are very versatile. Thanks for the recommended exercises – I’m going to share with my fitness group which has ballooned to over 4K active members.
    Diatta @ Femme Fitale Fit Club recently posted…Featured Fitale – Chemese ArmstrongMy Profile

  13. Great exercises, I love the single leg deadlift. I have being doing a lot of single leg dumbbell moves and they are great!
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…Injury Update plus the new ASICS fuzeXMy Profile

  14. Thank you for these exercises! Do you have any recommendations on how long, how much should I do them? I asume its not just 5 days

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