I have a set of dumbbells that I would like to use in the new year. Is there a handy list somewhere (preferably with pictures) of beginner exercises I can do with my dumbbells? I do not have a weight bench, so I'll need something bare-bones. I'd preferably like something very easy to start out with; I'm more likely to stick with something easy, so that's a good starting point for me.

Thanks in advance for any tips!

  • 4
    What are your goals? Bodybuilding, health, strength? Jan 3, 2012 at 17:38
  • I guess I have two goals: improve my overall health and try to increase what little upper body strength I have. I need to start somewhere, so I figured I'd try to find a list of simple exercises to try. Jan 3, 2012 at 20:44

4 Answers 4


You can supplement some bodyweight exercises with dumbbells:

  • dumbbell squats
  • dumbbell lunges
  • dumbbell sit-ups
  • dumbbell calf raises
  • dumbbell step ups

Here's a more complete list of other dumbbell exercises.

For a beginner, I'd suggest finding exercises that use a large number of muscles at the same time, so that you only need to learn a few exercises and do them well. Squats, overhead press, rows, these will be better than focussing on little things like calves, biceps, forearms, etc.

  • Is there any reason you suggested almost exclusively lower body exercises? OP specifically said they want to increase their upper body strength.. what a bizarre answer. There are so many other exercises I would recommend beginners do instead of 4 leg exercises and useless sit-ups...
    – user91988
    Aug 5, 2020 at 14:45

I'm no expert, but if I were stuck with dumbbells as my only strength and power training equipment, the following exercises would be my first choices:

  • Lunges with maximal weight
  • Power cleans, and power snatches with heavy but submaximal weight
  • Overhead Presses and Push Presses with maximal weight (NB: these combine well with the power cleans)
  • Turkish get-ups with submaximal weight, for stability in the shoulder girdle and trunk rather than maximal strength
  • One-arm rows
  • Farmer's walks
  • Squats or goblet squats
  • Swings, as with a kettlebell, for conditioning and posterior chain development

With maximal weights, sets of 5 are good. With sub-maximal weights, sets of 8 or more are better for most purposes. I'd shoot for "heavier" rather than "more reps" as a general rule, particularly since you'll eventually run out of heavy enough dumbbells.

I might do something roughly like this:

  • A: warm-up, 3 sets of 10 weighted lunges, 3 sets of 3 snatches, 3 sets of 5 clean-and-press (power cleaning the dumbbell once for each press), two sets of one-arm rows on each side, heavy farmer's walks
  • B: warm-up, five Turkish get-ups each side with moderate weight, 3 sets of 20 squats, 3 sets of 5 hang cleans, 3 sets of 10 push presses (power cleaning once for each set), a set of 20 swings

Make sure you use the full range of motion in each exercise, keep your back straight for everything, learn good form, and lift heavy. If you need more conditioning work, run, using both sprints and distances up to 5k. I'd do some bodyweight work (read: dips and pull-ups) to round out the training.


I'm with Dave on "renegade rows", one of the best exercises ever.

Honestly, when it comes to dumbbells, I'm more of a "oh, my muscles can make things move this way" kind of person. There aren't a lot of options, ultimately--curls, hammer curls, forearm curls, wrist rolls for the biceps and forearms. Skull crushers and kickbacks for the tris. Front, side, and rear lateral raises, presses at various angles for the shoulders. Shrugs. Rows.

You can use DBs for things like deadlifts, wood choppers, olympic lifts, etc. as well.


One mistake which I did when starting with lifting was that, just focussed on biceps - a few sets of dumbbell curls. I will advice you to focus on all muscles equally. I would advice this list:

Back: One arm row, dumbbell deadlift,bent rows

Shoulders: Upright row, front raise, shrugs, lateral raise

Arms: Dumbbell curls, Hammer curls, triceps kickback, one arm extension

Legs: Squats, goblet squats lunges

Chest: Pushups, flyes, dumbbell press. You can see tutorial here Dumbbell Workout for Chest.

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