Home Exercise Ideas With Dumbbells

One of the many consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought is that almost all of our daily routines must now take place within the confines of our own home – our exercise routine is no exception to this change. Those who enjoy lifting weights and engaging in strength training have likely had to ditch their gym membership or workout studio either because they are closed or because wearing a mask while working out is not ideal to say the least. So not only has our home become our office, but it is also our new workout studio.

If you didn’t already have weights at home before this pandemic started, it is worth the investment to get them now so that you can build strength from the comfort of your home. Even if you did not lift weights before, there is no better time than now to start implementing strength-based workouts into your routine due to the plethora of health benefits it offers. Research shows that engaging in strength training has the potential to positively affect anxiety levels, chronic pain, depression, self-esteem, and sleep. Strength training also increases muscle mass, which helps to boost your metabolism for those aiming to achieve a more toned and lean physique. Other benefits include: improved cardiovascular health, decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and reduced risk of osteoporosis.

The Best Dumbbells On Amazon

To get started on a strength training program, I recommend purchasing a set of 3lb dumbbells, 5lb dumbbells, and 10lb dumbbells. Even if you have lifted heavier weight before, I still recommend these weights to start as many people tend to choose heavier weights than the targeted muscle group(s) can control, leading to compensations and potential injury risk. It’s better to start light and master your form for each exercise before opting for heavy weights. You’ll be surprised how challenging lighter weights can be when you learn to selectively activate muscles during an exercise (I will go over this more below!).

High quality dumbbells you can order online:

  1. Cap Barbell Neoprene Coated Dumbbell Weights

I linked the pair of grey 10lb dumbbells, however this brand also carries other sizes and colors. A lot of my patients and clients prefer neoprene coated weights because they are more comfortable to grip for exercises like renegade rows. And because they come in different colors, you can customize your workout equipment to match your personal style and preference. 

  1. AmazonBasics Neoprene Dumbbell Hand Weights 

This is another reliable and high-quality neoprene dumbbell option. Because they are AmazonBasics brand, if you have any issues with the dumbbells Amazon’s excellent customer service team will likely offer a hasty and hassle-free return and refund without having to clear it with a third-party company. They offer these weights in 1lb, 2lb, 3lb, 5lb, 10lb, 15lb, and 20lb options, and each weight-class comes in a different color. 

  1. Cap Barbell Coated Hex Dumbbell Weights

These are another high quality dumbbell option made by CAP Barbell, however they do not have a neoprene coating. I personally use these weights because they are very easy to sanitize due to the material, they are very durable, and are long-lasting. You can also purchase these in a variety of different sizes/weights.

  1. Cap Barbell PVC-Coated Hex Dumbbell Pairs Set

These weights are the same brand and design as the weights above but have added padding on the handle for a more comfortable grip. However, these weights are only offered in 20lb and 30lb dumbbell pairs. 

  1. Bowflex SelectTech 552 – Two Adjustable Dumbbells

These Bowflex dumbbells are on the pricier side but they are a smart investment if you are planning on sticking to a regular strength training regimen long term. They adjust from 5lb to 52.5lb in 2.5lb increments so that you can easily progress exercises, and target different body regions more effectively given the large weight range. This means you can use this one piece of equipment to target your shoulder muscles and your leg muscles, which require larger weights in order to be adequately challenged. Furthermore, you are saving space in your home by not having to purchase a bunch of different sets of weights for each dumbbell weight increment that the Bowflex provides. 

  1. PowerBlock Sport 24 Adjustable Dumbbell, 24 lbs (Pack of 2)

The PowerBlock Sport is a more economical option compared to the Bowflex. It offers the same compact and versatile range of weights as the Bowflex however the weight range is between 3lb to 24lbs and adjusts in 3lb increments. If you’re new to strength training, this may be a better option than the Bowflex since it starts at 3lbs rather than 5lb, which is more ideal for learning new upper body workouts. 

Best Dumbbell Exercises

I am going to show you the best and most effective exercises you can do with your dumbbells to promote targeted strengthening and a balanced exercise routine. Targeted strength training means that each exercise in your workout is intended to work a specific muscle or muscle group. By knowing which muscles are supposed to be activated during an exercise, you can reap the full health benefits of your workout and ensure that every repetition has a purpose and helps you come closer to achieving your fitness goals. This understanding can also help you decrease the likelihood of injury caused by using compensatory movements (using muscles other than the intended muscle or muscle group, or using momentum) to perform an exercise. 

Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercise

Shoulder Scaption

This exercise is intended to work the deltoid muscle (anterior and medial portions), so this is the primary place where you should feel your muscles activating if performing the exercise correctly. In order to prevent compensatory movements, you also want to engage your core so that you are not arching your low back or swaying your trunk backwards as you raise your arms. Therefore, it is also normal to feel your core working but not your low back.

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Best Dumbbell Glute Exercise

Glute Kickbacks in Quadruped

This exercise is intended to work your largest glute (short for gluteus) muscle, called your gluteus maximus. Therefore, you should primarily feel this muscle in the buttox region of the leg that is moving. It is also okay to feel some muscle activation in your shoulders or in the stabilizing leg/glute as those areas are supporting your body weight and thus are working as well. You want to avoid kicking your leg up too high so as to over-arch your low back.  Prevent any rotation in your hips or trunk as you lift your leg up so that you’re able to more effectively and precisely activate your glutes. 

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Best Dumbbell Bicep Exercise

Bicep Curls

This exercise is meant to target your biceps muscle. Therefore this is the primary region you should feel this exercise. Often times when you select a weight that exceeds your strength capacity or if you continue to perform repetitions past the point of fatigue, your body will use your hips and low back to swing the weight up into a curled position, essentially using momentum rather than muscle power. This can lead to injury in the lower back or in your biceps. To set yourself up for success, make sure that you’re bracing your core throughout the movement and stop or rest when you notice that you’re beginning to use compensatory movements.

Image source.

Best Dumbbell Quad Exercise

Stationary Lunges

This exercise is meant to target the quadriceps (composed of four different muscles) of the leg that is in the front. Therefore, if you’re doing the exercise correctly you should feel the most muscle activation coming from your thigh muscles of the leading leg. If you feel like the trailing leg is working harder, try shifting your weight forward so that the majority of your weight is on your front leg throughout the exercise. To ensure you are balanced, make sure you do the same number of repetitions of this exercise on both sides. 

Image source.

Best Dumbbell Tricep Exercise

Tricep Kickback

This exercise is meant to target the triceps so that is the primary place you should feel this exercise. However, it also targets your latissimus dorsi muscle, a large muscle on your back so it is okay to feel muscle activation there too. You want to avoid any swaying of your trunk or shifting your weight forwards and backwards on your feet, which keeping your abdominal muscles engaged can help prevent. 

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Best Dumbbell Chest Exercise

Chest Press

This exercise targets the pectoralis muscles (also called your pecs), which are located on your chest. The most common compensatory movement with this exercise is shrugging the shoulders up towards the ears, which activates the upper trapezius muscle. Therefore, try to ensure your shoulders stay down, away from your ears as you press the weights up. Keeping your core activated by pressing your low back down into the ground will also help prevent your upper traps from turning on to assist with the movement. 

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Best Dumbbell Hamstring Exercise

Romanian Deadlift

This exercise primarily targets the hamstrings, which is where you should feel the most muscle activation during this exercise. If you do not feel a “stretching” sensation in your hamstrings as you hinge forward, try straightening your knees slightly (do not completely straighten or lock out your knees). Deadlifts also target the glutes and lower back muscles so it is normal to feel muscle activation or soreness in these areas as well. This exercise takes some practice to get the hang of but it is very effective at strengthening the hamstrings, which are often neglected. Some compensations you want to avoid are rounding of your back or shoulders, excessive bending or straightening of your knees, and shrugging your shoulders as you stand up between each repetition. 

Image source.

Best Dumbbell Back Exercise 

Reverse Fly

This exercise targets multiple muscles on your back, including: your rhomboids (highlighted in the pictured below), middle trapezius, and posterior deltoid. Therefore, it is okay to feel your muscles activated in any of these areas. You want to ensure that you’re not turning on your upper trapezius muscle by keeping your shoulders down, away from your ears. 

Building Your Exercise Routine

These targeted exercises are a great place to start in order to build a balanced strength-based exercise routine using dumbbells only. If these exercises are new to you or after reading this article you’ve realized you may have been using compensatory movements to complete some of them, then it’s safest to start by performing 3 sets of 12 repetitions of each exercise 2-3 times per week. Try choosing a weight where you feel like you can complete every repetition with proper form and you can feel only the intended muscle or muscle group working. You can either do all of the exercises in one workout session or you can break up the exercises so that you’re performing 4 exercises (3 sets of 12 repetitions of each) on one day and the other 4 exercises (3 sets of 12 repetitions of each) on another day.

If you’re not a strength training newbie and you’re training with a specific goal in mind, then use this handy infographic I made to determine what your workout routine to should look like:

I hope this article will help you stay on track with your fitness goals and motivate you to pick up your dumbbells more often!


Riley is a licensed physical therapist with almost a decade of experience in the health and wellness field. Her work has transitioned to being primarily remote in nature so she has enjoyed finding creative ways to continue to serve her patients and clients effectively from home. She hopes to help others who are making this transition to remote work do so in the most adroit and seamless manner possible through sharing what has helped her succeed while working from home.

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