Don’t Be a Dummy: How to Get a Full Workout With Only Dumbbells

by A Manly Guest Contributor on August 1, 2013 · 34 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Joe Hashey, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

After a hard day’s work you head over to your local gym. Unfortunately, so does everyone else in town who works the same hours. Soon the place is buzzing with people and there is a waiting line for nearly everything except that long row of dumbbells. Frustrated, you have to settle for a quick workout because you still want to get home and enjoy your evening.

Perhaps you even give up on those gym hours and try to work out at home. You purchase a couple of items including a pair of dumbbells to get started, but you don’t really think it will make a difference.

Fear not! I have some workouts for you that can be done with just a pair of dumbbells and are every bit as effective as the machines at the gym with long lines.

Dumbbell Upper Body Workout

I usually work out on an upper/lower body split. One day is lower body, the next is upper, then a rest day and repeat. Most of these exercises are compound movements that require a lot of muscles to work simultaneously.

Workout Routine (exercises explained in video below):

  1. Bow and Arrow Bench Press: 4 x 12
  2. DB Row w/Iso Hold: 3 x 15 and a 15-second hold
  3. Shoulder Complex: 4 x 12
  4. A. Triceps Extension: 3 x 15
  5. B. Zottman Curls: 3 x 15

Dumbbell Lower Body Workout

When workouts are performed with proper intensity and form, you don’t need a laundry list of exercises! The lower body dumbbell workout only contains a few exercises, but they also give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Workout Routine:

  1. Goblet Squats: 6 x 10
  2. Lunge to RDL: 4 x 10 each side
  3. Iso Series (squat/lunge/hip thrust): 4 x 30 seconds each

Dumbbell Full Body Workout

This is the most advanced of the 3 workouts. The plank series is one of the hardest to do. However, don’t let that stop you from trying this out. Make sure you listen to the video for easier progressions and start with light weights! Set yourself up for success and you can always add time or weight next week after learning the exercise patterns.

Workout Routine:

  1. Renegade Rows: 4 x 14
  2. DB Squat Thrust w/Push up: 4 x 10
  3. Single Arm Plank Blackburns: 4 x 10-15 sec each position
  4. Squat Series (not shown in video): 10 bodyweight squats, 10 bodyweight squats to jump x 3 times through WITHOUT resting. Rest for 1 minute at the end of the 3 rounds and repeat for a total of 3 sets.


You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars in fancy equipment or let your workout suffer because of a crammed gym.

Give these workouts a shot during your next training cycle. Post your favorite dumbbell exercises in the comments so you can help others add to their repertoire!


Joe Hashey, CSCS is the owner of Synergy Athletics in Endwell, NY. Joe has been a featured speaker around the country, including at the National Strength Training Conference in Las Vegas. He has also been featured in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and here on Art of Manliness! 

Joe has set up a few free videos and training guides for you here: Free stuff from Joe.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James Petzke August 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm

My gym (which is in my apartment complex) is pretty limited, thanks for the good dumbbell workout, it will help a lot. I’ve never felt like I’m getting a good workout there, now maybe I can.

2 George Stathis August 2, 2013 at 3:37 am

Another great dumb-bell only workout comes from Prof. Attila at 1913. I realy enjoy doing it and you can find it at : The book address is:

3 icba August 2, 2013 at 5:06 am

These sound good I will have to try these. Thanks for another great post.

4 Paul August 2, 2013 at 7:54 am

Check out the Men’s Health Ultimate Dumbbell Guide. It’s loaded with more exercises than most people could think of.

5 Lior August 2, 2013 at 8:51 am

This is just what I need, great article.

6 Braxo August 2, 2013 at 9:46 am

Goblin squats are great, you can do them with dumbells or kettlebells.

7 Claude August 2, 2013 at 9:48 am

For years, all i had were some 40lb dumbells to work with. I had to get pretty creative at times to find new ways to work out. There are some new ones on here though. Thanks for the great ideas.

8 Ron August 2, 2013 at 10:28 am

good stuff! I do dumb bell workouts at home and this video has given me better insight.

9 Doug August 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

I discovered how great dumbbell workouts could be when I found myself in limited living arrangements without a gym membership. You can build and certainly maintain a sound, strong physique with just a pair of dumbbells. Great article!

10 arguer of semantics August 2, 2013 at 11:38 am

To clarify, what he demonstrated in the video as a “power clean” was really more of an external rotation exercise for your rotator cuff, which is really only suitable for weights in the pink dumbbell range.

A power clean however, can and should involve heavier weights, leg/hip drive, and some measure of testosterone.

11 MJ August 2, 2013 at 11:51 am

I just got started working out with kettle-bells. Love them.

12 Luke August 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I did my upper body this morning, tomorrow I’ll do lower body. Thanks for sharing. I just started working out again. As T.R. would say I’ll make my body! BULLY!

13 Dirk August 2, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Or, you could consider doing bodyweight excersises. Handstands are one of the most underrated ones but are great in toning the uper body when combined with push-ups.

14 Stewie August 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

You don’t even need dumbells ;)
All you need is a horizontal bar, be it a tree branch, or even some monkey bars. Slowly progress in difficulty until you can do leg raises and pullups. Couple that with pushups, bridges, squats, and that basically works your whole body, without a gym or any equipment :)

15 Leia August 2, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Check out Scott Sonnon’s TACFIT Mass Assault. Great dumbbell program. I personally recommend it.

16 don Roberto August 4, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Dirk & Stewie, I think bodyweight exercising is a great idea; it appeals to the minimalist in me (who seems to come out at the oddest times…).

I’m also a great fan of Dr. Leonard Schwartz’ Heavyhands system; the books are available very cheaply on Amazon or in one of the used book sites (,, etc.). Basically, it’s low weight (dumbbells as small as 1 lb each) but very high reps–like thousands per day. Basically, walking and/or running, pumping the weights in time with your steps. Feels great, and can be as low-impact as it needs to be.

17 marc August 5, 2013 at 9:45 pm

That black and white photo looks like Jess Willard the Boxer who beat Jack Johnson but went on to loss against jack Dempsey.

18 Ogi August 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thanks for mentioning Zottman Curls, I totally forgot that exercise! I will have to include it in my Friday’s session.

19 J August 7, 2013 at 7:16 am

How long should you rest for in between in each set?

20 Arnold August 9, 2013 at 10:11 am

Great article! Had fun with these.

21 Bill August 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Excellent post. I especially like the tip that you don’t need a laundry list of exercises. So true. Thanks for sharing!

22 Garry Davidson August 11, 2013 at 7:28 am

Thanks for the post Joe.

I like that you focus on compound movements.

There’s no limit to how many exercise variations you can have with dumbbells.

Dumbbells allow you more flexibility than barbells or machines. The only limitation is you can’t handle as heavy a weight with dumbbells, as you can with barbells.

Dumbbells really help you to get in a full range of motion with exercises like the bench press and shoulder press.

It IS a shame to do those bow and arrow bench presses on the floor though, since you miss out on that extra range of motion benefit you get with dumbbells.

Might I suggest you grab a medicine ball and use one these in place of a bench? Since there’s always a few extra lying around in most gyms. That way you can really push those dumbbells back and feel the stretch in your pecs at the bottom of the movement.

23 Zeejet August 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

As much as I like AOM and it’s articles, there are other places to get access to more complete archives of fitness articles that might suit you more personally.

See EliteFTS, T-Nation, and

24 James S. August 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Good stuff. I would also add farmer’s carries, clean and presses, and static holds.

25 Jonathan August 31, 2013 at 3:44 pm

The information in this post is good. I can see this post being particularly helpful when staying in a hotel, or apartment complex that has limited resources. James mentioned that clean and presses are good as well. I agree with him, but make sure you use proper form when completing more advance lifts like the clean and press.

26 Vincent September 12, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Zottman curls – I can’t remember the last time I even heard someone mention them.
Great tips. Thanks.

27 jasmin September 13, 2013 at 1:32 am

great ,,happy to get these ideas with dumbells….now at home i can do it on my time..
thanks …

28 weagree September 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Been doing free weights for a long while, with good results, but these exercises push the routine for better results. And this routine is quick.

29 Dan Dwyer September 29, 2013 at 11:02 am

Great workouts for the traveling man that stays in hotels that are only equipped with dumbbells and cardio equipment.

30 john October 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm

It seems good that we have alternate dumbbells as we can take it with ourselves when we travel.

31 Michael J R Jose December 16, 2013 at 8:50 am

The Arnold Press (yes, that Arnold) – take a moderate (relative to your ability) weight, then bicep curl and press up like an overhead press, then lower under strict control – 5 reps. Then do other arm – 5 reps. Then back to first arm – do a set of five by five. If this is too easy, add some weight. Great for arms, shoulders, lats.

32 Eames January 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Could someone explains the reps? Does 4×15 means 4 sets of 15 reps for each hand or both?

33 Matt Claybourne January 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Joe great post. I dont think you can beat Dumbbells for upper body work and as mentioned by others its there flexibility too which really can not be ignored either.
The fact you dont have to be in a gym to do this sort of thing either I think helps too if gyms are not your thing

34 max February 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Fantastic video, good for those like myself who have limited exercise equipment

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