Planning Your At-Home Dumbbell Weight Training Program

Young athlete lifting weights
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Dumbbells offer excellent variety for your weight training efforts. If you can't afford an ongoing gym membership, investing in dumbbells you can use at home is a good alternative. You can achieve an excellent workout using your dumbbells and this weight training program at home.

You might be wondering how dumbbell workouts compare to using strength-training machines in a gym. Studies have shown no difference in muscle mass or strength when using dumbbells versus using resistance machines found in a gym setting. Dumbbell workouts are much more accessible because you only need to invest in a small amount of equipment upfront.

Benefits of Dumbbell Workouts

Working out with dumbbells has so many benefits to your health and fitness. From improving your bone density to easing anxiety and depression, the benefits of dumbbell training are wide-ranging.

Builds Muscle

Of course, one of the biggest advantages of dumbbell workouts is that you increase muscle mass. This can be especially important for adults as they experience the typical loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging.

Increases Resting Metabolic Rate

Increasing muscle mass means that the number of calories you burn at rest increases. This can be useful in maintaining your optimal weight. For those participating in intentional weight loss, it is also one way to increase your caloric burn at all times of day.

Improves Bone Health

Strength training in general has profound benefits to your health. Building muscle helps you get stronger, of course, but it also improves bone health. Resistance exercise like a dumbbell workout can help prevent osteoporosis, and can help build increased bone strength.

Improves Functional Fitness

Building strength through dumbbell training can help with functions of daily living. Stronger muscles and bones help you with everyday tasks like carrying heavy groceries, picking up your kids or grandkids, and gardening or yard work.

Improves Mental Health

Studies have shown that strength training, whether through dumbbell workouts or other routines, can help improve aspects of mental health. Any physical activity can help improve anxiety and depression. Furthermore, strength training in particular has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and social function.

Equipment

There are two great options for dumbbell equipment, depending on your budget and goals.

Use Two Sets of Dumbbells

You don't need much equipment to commence a full dumbbell program at home. At a minimum, all you need are two sets of dumbbells: one heavier set and one lighter set.

Use the heavier set for exercises in which you can manage more weight, such as squats and lunges. Use the lighter set for exercises such as raises, rows, curls, and similar joint-taxing exercises.

For example, you might do shoulder squats with 15-pound weights and lateral raises with 5-pound weights. Try to figure out what weights you need to start with if you use this minimalist approach. Test with a friend's weights, pay for a gym session to become acquainted with the weights, or ask a personal trainer to help you.

You can do the complete program below with your two sets of dumbbells, even if a little compromise is required with weight selection.

As you get stronger and fitter, you will probably need to move up to heavier dumbbells. However, do not buy heavier weights in anticipation of growing into them. You may be tempted to move up too fast, which is a sure way of causing injury to yourself.

Buy a Dumbbell Rack and Sets 

If you can afford to spend more, you can buy a full rack of dumbbells or a set of adjustable dumbbells. Dumbbell prices vary considerably depending on the manufacturer and the design.

You may prefer a small rack, however, such as adjustable dumbbells like Bowflex, Stamina, and Bayou. These have the advantage of saving space in small rooms, basements, and garages.

Get an Adjustable Training Bench

You don't have to use a bench with an adjustable backrest, but they are useful. You can do all sorts of seated dumbbell exercises like presses, rows, raises, curls and extensions, plus dips and crunches.

At-Home Workout

Here is just one version of an at-home dumbbell workout you can try. There are plenty of other workouts available online that can help target specific muscle groups, or that help address variations you might need.

As you begin this workout, aim to perform two sets of 12 of each exercise. Add reps and sets as you gain fitness.

Warm Up

Start by performing your favorite warmup. If you're just starting out, try starting with a brisk walk or jog, followed by some calisthenics such as lunges, plank, and star jumps.

Shoulder squats

Woman performing a dumbbell shoulder squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Should squats work your thighs, shoulders, and hips. Use the lighter of your dumbbells as you start this exercise and increase the weight you use as you gain fitness.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold your dumbbells above each shoulder, with your palms facing your ears.
  3. Squat down as deeply as you can.
  4. Push through your heels back into a standing position.
  5. Lift the weights above your head as you move into a standing position.
  6. Lower the weights back to your shoulders as you move into the next squat.

Bent-Over Rows

Woman doing a bent-over row with dumbbells

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Bent-over rows work your back muscles. Specifically, you will activate your latissimus dorsi and your trapezius muscles with this exercise.

  1. Hold a set of dumbbells, one in each hand.
  2. Stand shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent.
  3. Bend 45 degrees from the waist. Make sure to keep your back flat and your chest open.
  4. Lift your dumbbells by moving your arms back, squeezing together at your shoulder blades.

Incline or Bench Press

Woman doing a dumbbell bench press

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

If you have a weight bench, set the incline to 30 to 45 degrees. You can also perform this exercise flat, laying on your exercise mat on the floor.

  1. Hold dumbbells by your side with your elbows bent and your palms facing your feet.
  2. Press up with the dumbbells until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Return to the starting position.

Arm Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

As you perform dumbbell curls, make sure you control your movement and don't allow momentum to take over. You can do both arms at once, or alternate between arms.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with dumbbells at your side, palms facing out.
  2. Bend the elbows as though you are trying to touch the dumbbell to your shoulder. Bend your elbow as far as they go.
  3. Lower your forearm until both hands are at your side.

Triceps Extensions

Woman doing a skull crusher exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Triceps extensions are also known as skull crushers. You can do this exercise laying on a weight bench or simply on your exercise mat on the floor.

  1. Hold a single barbell above your chest with both hands.
  2. Bend your elbows, lowering the weight to just above your head.
  3. Exhale, returning to your original position. Make sure not to lock your elbow.

Deadlift

Woman performing a dumbbell deadlift exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Position your dumbbells on the floor just outside your feet, with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  1. Engage your abdominal muscles.
  2. Bend down into a slight squat. Keep your should blades pinched and your chest up.
  3. Grab the dumbbells and, as you exhale, push through your heels to stand. Your hips should do a slight thrust at the top of the deadlift.
  4. Return to the squat position.

Side Lateral Raises

Woman performing a side lateral raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise works the middle part of the deltoid muscles in your shoulders. Be sure to do side later raises with lighter weights and progress as you get stronger.

  1. Stand shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Exhale while lifting your arms straight out to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold for a second, and with controlled movement, return to the starting position.

Overhead Press

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Overhead press is an excellent shoulder strengthener. You can press both arms at once, or you can alternate arms. If you notice one arm is stronger than the other, you might choose to do more reps to build strength in your weaker arm.

  1. Stand shoulder-width apart holding you dumbbells at your shoulders, palm facing out and knuckles on top.
  2. Exhale and press the dumbbells above your head.
  3. Hold for a moment, and return to your starting position.

Cooldown

Make sure you cool down after a dumbbell workout. This allows your heart rate and breathing to return to normal. Try body stretches that emphasize areas that you worked during your regimen.

Safety

Whenever you start a new exercise regimen, it's smart to speak with a healthcare provider to make sure the exercises you have in mind are going to be safe and effective for you and your health goals.

There are also general safety precautions that are smart to keep in mind during a dumbbell workout.

Warm Up First

Warming up your muscles before strength training is vital. Warmups get blood flowing to the muscles and joints that you will be taxing with heavy loads. This helps loosen up muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Some simple warmups to try include running in place, jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, and the bird dog exercise.

Take Your Time

Don't rush through a dumbbell routine. You want to move slowly so that you are getting the most from your workout. If you life dumbbells too quickly, you might start relying on momentum to lift the weight, rather than your muscle itself. Not only does this defeat the purpose of resistance training, it can increase the risk of injury.

Make sure to drink plenty of water while you exercise. A good rule of thumb is to drink a pint of water an hour before and just after exercise, with additional water every 20 minutes or so while you work out.

Remember to Breathe

When you are lifting heavy loads, many people have a tendency to hold their breath. Remember to breathe! Exhale during the more intense lifting phase of each movement, and breathe in as you relax into a neutral stance. Regular breathing actually helps regulate your blood pressure while you exercise, and ensures adequate blood flow to your brain.

Rest Adequately

When you strength train, it is important to rest for at least two days between working out a specific muscle group. Make sure your exercise regimen is balanced, with strength training on some days, and cardio and flexibility work on other days.

A Word From Verywell

Strengthening your body with dumbbells is an accessible way to begin resistance training. As with any exercise program, speak with a healthcare professional if you have questions about how this type of workout applies to your situation. And remember to err on the side of using lighter weights. Pushing yourself too fast won't do any good if it means you have to interrupt your new routine because of injuries.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.