1Life Blog

Dumbbell Exercises

Posted by Paul Rayner on 11-Jan-2020 07:00:00
Paul Rayner


If you’re one of those people who have always stayed clear of the free-weights in the gym, then we want to and encourage you to give them a go.  These versatile weights are a great bit of equipment for all gym-goers, whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned pro and can be used as part of a full body workout, either at the gym or at home. 

Dumbbells are particularly effective because each side of your body is isolated and has to work on its own – building muscle and burning fat.   

Here are a few exercises to try out next time you hit the gym, suitable for all fitness levels. 


Beginner Dumbbell Exercises 

Lateral raise 

Start by standing and holding a dumbbell in each hand next to your outer thighs. Remember to keep your back straight and slowly lift the dumbbells out to the sides until your arms are parallel with the floor. Ensure your elbows are slightly bent. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position by your thighs.  

This exercise is excellent for targeting the medial (outer) head of the deltoid muscle.  The reason this is great for beginners is because you don’t need a lot of core strength to be able to perform the exercise.  

Biceps curls 

For this exercise hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing outwards. Next, slowly curl the dumbbells up to your chest and then steadily back down again. It is important to keep your elbows pinned to your sides throughout the movement to ensure the emphasis of the exercise remains on the biceps.  

If you are a beginner start with a fairly light weight and slowly work your way up to slightly heavier weights. It is worth remembering though that with biceps curls, heavy weights aren’t crucial to the effectiveness of the exercise but the focus is more on the lengthening and shortening of the muscle.   


To perform a lunge, hold dumbbells by your sides then take a big step forward and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90°. Next, push up through the front leg and return to the starting position. 

It is important to work your legs for a number of reasons, these include building strength, muscle and burning calories.   

Overhead press 

For this exercise you can either stand or be seated.  Hold a pair of dumbbells by your shoulders with your elbows out to the sides and bent at 90°. Extend through your elbows and press the dumbbells overhead before slowly bringing them back to the starting position. 

Lateral raises are great for working on the delts and building your strength. Try to avoid arching your back while performing the movement as this will work your upper chest instead.  


Intermediate Dumbbell Exercises 

Chest fly 

Start by lying on your back on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor. You should hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms almost straight and palms facing each other. Slowly lower the dumbbells out to the sides, then bring them back up above your chest. Make sure your arms have a slight bend in the elbows throughout the movement. 

Performing chest flyes is a really effective way of isolating the chest.  A lot of chest exercises also involve the shoulders and triceps but this makes sure the focus is solely on the chest.  

Bent-over row 

Place your feet shoulder-width apart, then bend your knees and lean over from your waist, remembering to keep your neck in line with your spine. Let the dumbbells hang so your arms are straight, then slowly bring them up to your chest by squeezing your shoulders together. 

The advantage of using dumbbells in this exercise is that they make sure you are developing both sides of your upper-back evenly.  

Front squat 

The front squat involves holding a pair of dumbbells up by your shoulders with your elbows by your sides and palms facing each other. Slowly lower down into a squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground, then steadily rise back up to the starting position. 

These are far less daunting than getting under a heavy barbell but work just as well.  It also engages your core in a slightly different way that if you were to use a barbell.  


Advanced dumbbell exercises  

Split squat 

Get into a staggered stance and hold the weights by your sides. Using your legs, slowly lower yourself as far down as feels comfortable, then push back up to the starting position. To really test yourself, place your back foot on a bench and perform the movement. 

If done correctly, you will feel every muscle in your glutes and legs working to stabilise your body.  It is important to keep your chest up during the exercise and to push up through your heels as opposed to your toes to better target the quads and glutes instead of your calf muscles.  

Chest pull-over  

Lie with your back flat on a bench and hold a dumbbell in both hands above your head.  Remember to keep your arms straight but not locked before slowly lowering the dumbbell behind your head until you feel the stretch in your chest. Raise the weights again and return to the start position.   

Try this exercise at the end of a chest workout as a great way to target the upper and inner chest muscles. 


This is an explosive move which you will feel in a lot of different muscles and can be a great way to even out any strength imbalances.   

Start by standing with the dumbbells at shoulder height and your palms facing. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards. Next, squat down slowly, then explode up, thrusting the dumbbells above your head so that your arms are fully extended. Try to make the movement from the bottom of the squat one quick, fluid movement.   

Now you have some dumbbell inspiration, there is no excuse not to give them a go!  Add a couple of these exercises to your usual routine to mix up your workout, you will soon start to see and feel the difference.  

 Find out more about dumbbell exercises in your local 1Life centre here.