An Effective Total Body One-Dumbbell Workout

You already know that strength training is a crucial component to any workout routine if you want to get fit, get healthy, and lose weight. Lifting weights allows you to build lean muscle tissue and burn more calories overall and all of this happens by challenging your body with more resistance than it is accustomed to.

Yes, you can use your body weight, of course, but if you really want to make significant changes, you need equipment and there's a lot of that out there. Walk into any gym or sporting goods store and you'll see dumbbells, barbells, bands, machines... there are so many pieces of equipment, it can be overwhelming.

It's no wonder so many people stick with cardio and avoid the weight room. There's a way to solve that problem by simplifying your workouts and the equipment you use. In fact, you can get an excellent workout with barely any equipment at all if you have the right exercises.

One Dumbbell, Multiple Exercises

Imagine you're in a crowded gym with everyone fighting over a set of dumbbells or a weight bench. Or imagine you're at home, you're in a hurry, and the thought of having to lug all those weights around the room is just too much.

What if you had a go-to routine that only required one thing: one dumbbell? That's what this workout is all about. Effective, total body conditioning with just one dumbbell.

Compound Exercises

This workout is all about power and strength, taking the body through dynamic, sometimes ballistic movements that will not only challenge your strength, but they'll also get your heart rate up so that you burn even more calories. It's almost like having a cardio and strength workout in one, something that will save you time without compromising your results.

These moves aren't your traditional strength exercises but, instead, unique, compound movements that involve your entire body. What makes this great is that the moves are functional. You move in all different planes of motion while working multiple muscles at the same time, which is how our bodies work in real life.

Types of Weights

Best of all, you don't need much space and you only need one piece of equipment, a dumbbell. You can also choose to perform these moves with a kettlebell or medicine ball.

There is one caveat—you may not be able to do all the exercises with the same weight, so while you only use one weight at a time, it's a good idea to get three different dumbbells: Light (3-8 pounds for women, 5-10 pounds for men), medium (8-10 pounds for women, 10-20 pounds for men), and heavy (10-20 pounds for women, 20-30 pounds for men) so you have some choices.


Skip any moves that cause pain or discomfort and see your doctor if you have any medical conditions or illnesses.


  • Warm-up with about 5 or more minutes of cardio.
  • Grab 1 to 3 dumbbells of different weights and find a space about that's about 4' x 4'.
  • Do each exercise as directed, performing each with slow and controlled movements for the suggested time.
  • Do each move one after the other with no rest in between.
  • Complete one circuit for a 15-20 minute workout or do 1-3 circuits for a more intense routine.
  • End the workout with a cool down and a stretch.

Pulsing Squat With Dumbbells

Close up of kettlebell weights on floor of dark gym
John Fedele / Getty Images

Grab your heavy weight and stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbell in both hands and bend the knees into a squat. Send the hips back, keeping the torso straight, and squat as low as you can.

Holding that position, press up a few inches and then lower back into a squat. Repeat the for 8 pulses and stand up. Continue squatting with 8 pulses each time for 60 seconds.


Side Lunge With a Triceps Extension

With a moderate to heavy dumbbell in the right hand, take a giant step out to the left and bend the knee into a side lunge. The right leg should be straight.

As you lunge, extend the right arm out into a triceps extension. Lower the arm, return to starting position and continue this pattern for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.


Side Lunge

Stand tall, holding your heavy weight at chest level. Step the right foot out into a side lunge. The right knee is bent, the left remains straight and the hips are behind you. Press off the right foot and return to the starting position with the feet together. Repeat on the left and then continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.


One Leg Row

Holding the dumbbell in your right hand, shift your body weight to your right leg. Lean your torso forward, keeping your chest up and shoulders back. Raise your left leg straight behind you while keeping your hips parallel to the ground.

With the weight hanging down, bend the elbow and pull the weight up, bringing the elbow to the torso level. Staying balanced on one leg, continue to do one-arm rows for 30 seconds before switching sides.


Squat and Reach

Begin with the dumbbell resting on your shoulder, standing tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Lower into a squat, and as you squeeze your glutes to stand, press the dumbbell overhead. Continue this pattern for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.


Triceps Extension With Kicks

Use both of your hands to hold a single dumbbell and take the right foot behind you, toe touching the floor. Bend the elbows, taking the weight behind the head. As you straighten the arms, squeeze the triceps and kick the right leg up as though you're going to touch your toe with the weight.

Repeat for 30 seconds and then switch legs.


Squat With Dumbbell Swing and Leg Lift

Hold one end of a heavy dumbbell with both hands, feet hip-width apart. Bend the knees into a squat and swing the weight down and back between the legs.

As you stand, swing the weight up and lift the right leg forward a few inches. Lower the leg and swing the weight again, this time doing a leg lift on the left leg.

Lower and repeat for 60 seconds.


Pivot Squat Curl

Hold a weight in your right hand with your feet wider than shoulder-distance apart and knees in line with your toes. The dumbbell should be resting at your shoulder, as if at the top of a biceps curl.

Pivot to the left, taking the left foot back into a squat as you lower the arm. Pivot back to the front, squat, and curl the weight into a biceps curl. Repeat for 30 seconds and then switch sides.


Single Arm Clean and Press

Start with the feet a little wider than hip-distance apart, heavy weight in the right hand. Squat, touching the weight to the floor if you can, and as you stand, pull the weight upward and "catch" it on your shoulder. From here, press the dumbbell overhead.

Lower and repeat for 30 seconds on each side.


Stand to Kneel Lunge With Dumbbell

While standing on a softer surface, hold a dumbbell in your right hand and press it straight overhead, keeping it there throughout the entire movement.

Step backward and lower both knees to the ground (the dumbbell is still pressed overhead). Carefully return to a standing position. Try to keep the weight up the whole time, if you can. 

Repeat for 30 seconds and then switch sides.


Crossover Lunge With Front Swing

Hold a weight in the right hand and take the right foot back behind you in a crossover lunge, lunging diagonally behind the body. Return your leg to the starting position as you curl the dumbbell to your shoulder.

Lower and repeat for 30 seconds before switching sides.


Dumbbell Pullover

On a mat or bench, hold a single heavy dumbbell at one end with both hands. Brace the core and, elbows slightly bent, lower the weight behind you very slowly, stopping when you feel a stretch in the lats. Squeeze the back to pull the weight up.

Lower and repeat for 60 seconds.


One Arm Chest Fly

While laying on a mat or bench, press a single dumbbell straight up toward the ceiling. Brace the core to keep you steady and, elbow slightly bent, lower the weight out to your side until your arm is parallel to the ground.

Bring the weight back to start and repeat for 30 seconds on each side.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."