8 Best Dumbbell Exercises To Build Muscle

Build strength and muscle definition with this efficient workout: the 8 Best Dumbbell Exercises, combined in an engaging AMRAP format. This full body workout targets the arms, legs, chest, back and core, and can be completed at home. A combination of muscle-specific isolation exercises and functional compound exercises makes this workout both effective and efficient for building muscle and burning fat.


This post is brought to you in partnership with The Northern Pulse Growers Association.

Build strength and muscle definition with this engaging full body workout: the 8 best dumbbell exercises to build muscle.

You loved the “you versus you” challenge of completing as many reps as possible in this 30-Minute AMRAP workout. Today’s workout repeats that format, alternating an upper body dumbbell exercise and lower body dumbbell exercise in each circuit.

AMRAP workouts are an excellent way to fit a high number of reps into a brief workout. This is an effective method of training because it pushes the muscles to fatigue in around 30 minutes, without the need for gym machines, heavier weights or barbells.

Timed intervals of work make this full body home workout scalable for all fitness levels. Take each exercise at your pace, performing as many reps as possible while maintaining good form.

two women performing a dumbbell reverse lunge as example of dumbbell exercises

Best Dumbbell Exercises FAQs

Can You Build Muscle with Just Dumbbells?

Yes! Dumbbell exercises are an effective way to add resistance training to your workouts and build muscle. Compared to using gym machines (such as a leg press machine or lat pull down machine), dumbbells engage more of the smaller, stabilizing muscles in the lower body, upper body and core.

What Are The Best Dumbbell Exercises?

The best full body exercises are compound exercises, or exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once. Compound exercises are a form of functional strength training, building strength for the motions you perform every day, such as pressing, pushing, lifting and twisting.

two women performing a chest press with dumbbells

30-Minute Full Body Dumbbell Workout (AMRAP)

Build muscular endurance and total body strength in just 30 minutes with this total body AMRAP workout.

Each circuit includes an upper body dumbbell exercise and a lower body dumbbell exercise to build strength and definition in the arms, legs, back, chest and core.

Add full body workouts like this one to your workout routine 1-2 times a week to build muscle mass and increase endurance.

Workout Equipment:

Medium-to-heavy set of dumbbells. I’m using 10-25 lbs. Option to add an exercise box, bench, chair or couch.

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woman performing a bulgarian lunge as example of best dumbbell exercises

Workout Instructions:

Follow along with the guided Full Body Dumbbell Workout video on YouTube, led by certified personal trainer, Lindsey Bomgren. 

Your Workout Looks Like This:

  • 4 AMRAP Circuits
  • 2 Exercises Per Circuit (one leg exercise and one arm exercise)
  • Repetition Based (perform 8-10 reps of each exercise “AMRAP”, or as many rounds as possible, in 4 minutes)
  • “Power Minute” (the final minute of each AMRAP circuit will have optional power moves)
  • Rest For 1 Minute Between AMRAP Circuits

Workout Outline


  1. (10) Heels Up Squat
  2. (10) Alternating Bicep Curl and Shoulder Press


  1. (10) Goblet Squat Jumps
  2. (10) Press Jacks


  1. (8) Bulgarian Lunges
  2. (8) Incline Single Arm Back Rows


  1. (8) Jump Lunges
  2. (8) Burpee Back Rows


  1. (10) Deadlift and Clean
  2. (10) Overhead Tricep Extensions


  1. (10) Snatches
  2. (10) Overhead Marches


  1. (8) Single Leg Dumbbell Hip Thrust
  2. (8) Single Arm Dumbbell Chest Press


  1. (8) Lateral High/Low Jumps
  2. (8) Push Ups

two women performing single arm shoulder presses as part of dumbbell exercises post

8 Best Dumbbell Exercises

Heels Up Squat

Targets: Legs, quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs (hip abductors), chest and core.

Raising your heels allows you to get deeper range of motion in your squat.

two women performing heels up squats as part of best dumbbell exercises

How To Do Heels Up Squats

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the ground behind your feet. Stand with your feet hip width apart, placing your heels on the bar of each dumbbell. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Inhale as you bend your knees and sit your hips back (as if sitting down in a chair). Aim for 90 degree bends at each knee, focusing on pushing your knees out (not letting them cave in). Keep your torso in an upright position.
  3. Exhale as you press through your heels to stand tall, driving your hips forward to return to standing position.

Modification: Perform this move with feet flat on the floor if heels raised isn’t comfortable for you.

Alternating Bicep Curl and Shoulder Press

Targets: The biceps brachii (the front of your arms), shoulders, triceps, rear delts, upper back and core.

two women performing alternating bicep curls and shoulder presses with dumbbells

How To Do Alternating Dumbbell Bicep Curls and Shoulder Presses

  1. Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart and core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing in towards each other (hammer curl).
  2. Then, perform a bicep curl on the right side, squeezing the front of your arm to curl the dumbbell in your right hand up to shoulder height. Think about keeping your elbow tucked into your side and shoulder blades pulled down.
  3. Pause when the dumbbell reaches your shoulder, then perform a narrow overhead shoulder press by pushing the dumbbell overhead until your right arm is fully extended, bicep near your ear.
  4. Slowly and with control, lower the dumbbell down to shoulder level. Then curl the weight down to your side, returning to starting position.
  5. Repeat, this time performing a bicep curl and then a shoulder press on the left side.
  6. Continue this pattern, alternating sides with each rep.

Targets: Legs, glutes, quadriceps muscles, hip flexors, hamstrings and core.

Also called Bulgarian Lunges, or Rear Foot Elevated Lunges, this challenging split squat exercise is an excellent way to build quad strength. Lean forward to shift the emphasis to the glutes, or keep your torso upright to focus on the quads.

two women performing bulgarian lunges as example of dumbbell exercises
  1. Kneel in front of your bench or chair, then place your left foot behind you on a chair or bench, shoelaces down. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Step your right foot forward (it will vary for everyone, but a little over a foot in front of your bench). Your front thigh will be parallel to the floor. This is the bottom of your movement.
  3. Drive through your front right heel, squeezing your right glute to stand tall. Feel your front quad and glute engage to power the movement.
  4. With control, bend your knee to lower down back to the starting position (back left knee should lower down close to the ground), to make your front thigh parallel with the ground. Shoulders remain stacked over hips throughout the movement.

Modification: Perform split squats from a standing position instead of elevating your back foot.

Incline Single Arm Back Row

Targets: Latissimus dorsi (or lats), upper back, chest, shoulders, arms and core.

Bonus: unilateral exercises (single-sided exercises) like this single arm dumbbell row also work the abs and core.

two women performing single arm back rows as example of best dumbbell exercises

How To Do Elevated Plank Single Arm Back Rows (Renegade Rows)

  1. Start in front of a bench, box or couch. Place one dumbbell on the ground below your right arm. Brace your left forearm horizontally on the bench, shoulder stacked over elbow. Then step both feet back, finding an elevated high plank position.
  2. Gripping the dumbbell in your right hand, pull your right elbow to your right hip (performing a renegade row, or plank back row).
  3. Slowly and with control, extend your arm, lowering your dumbbell towards the ground and returning to starting position.

Modification: Perform standing single arm bent-over rows.

Deadlift and Dumbbell Clean

Targets: Lower body (glutes, hamstrings, hips, quads, calves), upper body (trapezius, deltoids, lower back), abs and core.

two women performing a deadlift and dumbbell clean as example of best dumbbell exercises

How To Do Romanian Deadlifts and Dumbbell Cleans

  1. Start standing, feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
  2. Hinge forward at the hips to perform a deadlift, pushing your hips back as you lower the dumbbells down along the front of your body. Focus on keeping your back in neutral alignment with your neck and shoulders throughout the entire movement. Keep a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Then, drive through your heels to push your hips forward, squeezing your glutes as you return to a standing position. As you press your hips forward to stand, “clean” the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. Catch the dumbbells at your chest in a front rack position.

Overhead Tricep Extension

Targets: The long head of the triceps and all the stabilizing muscles in the shoulders, core, glutes and lower back muscles.

One of the best tricep exercises to strengthen the back of the arms.

two women performing overhead tricep extensions as part of best dumbbell exercises

How To Do Overhead Tricep Extensions

  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart, core engaged and soft bend in your knees.
  2. Hold one dumbbell vertically overhead and activate your core by squeezing your glutes and abs to protect your lower back.
  3. Bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle, bringing the dumbbell behind your head. Think ‘hide the dumbbell, show the dumbbell’ if you were watching yourself in a mirror. Keep your elbows close to your ears throughout the entire movement (don’t let your elbows flare out as you fatigue).

Single Leg Dumbbell Hip Thrust

Targets: Glutes (both the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius), hamstrings, hip adductors, core and pelvic floor.

two women performing a single leg hip thrust with dumbbells

How To Do Single Leg Dumbbell Hip Thrusts

  1. Sit in front of a bench or chair, feet flat on the floor and hip distance apart. Lean back, resting your upper back on the bench. Option to hold one dumbbell at your hips, resting on your hip bones.
  2. Press your weight into your right heel and lift the left foot off the mat.
  3. Then press through the right heel to lift your hips until your right knee, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes and pull the belly button in towards the spine to protect the low back and prevent overextension.
  4. Hold at the top of the hip thrust for a moment before lowering your hips back to the starting position with control.

Modification: Perform staggered glute bridges from the floor.

Single Arm Dumbbell Chest Press with Glute Bridge Hold

Targets: Chest (pecs), shoulders (deltoids), triceps and core.

two women performing a single arm chest press with dumbbells as part of best dumbbell exercises

How To Do Single Arm Dumbbell Chest Presses 

  1. Sit in front of a bench or chair, feet flat on the floor and hip distance apart. Lean back, resting your upper back on the bench. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing towards your knees, elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Press your weight into your left heel and lift the right foot off the mat, finding a single leg glute bridge hold.
  3. Exhale as you press the dumbbell overhead, straightening your elbow. Think about keeping your wrist strong, and stacking wrist over elbow over shoulder.
  4. Slowly and with control, bend your elbow to lower the dumbbell down towards your chest, returning to starting position.

Modification: Hold a staggered glute bridge from the floor, then perform single arm chest presses.

Pin these Dumbbell Exercises To Build Muscle:

woman performing shoulder press as example of best dumbbell exercises

This is a sponsored post in partnership with the Northern Pulse Growers Association. All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Nourish Move Love, making the content you see on this blog possible.

Northern Pulse Growers Association

The Northern Pulse Growers Association is a nonprofit association representing dry pea, lentil, chickpea, lupin and fava bean growers from Montana and North Dakota (where 80-85% of pulses are grown).

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines recommends adding 1.5 cups of pulses per week to your diet, or 1/2 cup serving three times a week (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

I love using pulses to extend a meal (my kids love this chicken and chickpea curry) and add nutrients, fiber and protein to my go-to lunch salad.

Pulses are also a great way to fuel and recover from workouts because they:

  • Are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and potassium
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  • Reduce post-meal “crashes”
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases
  • Help maintain heart health

This post does include affiliate links and I earn a small commission on products purchased using these links (at no additional cost to you). All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Nourish Move Love.

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