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10 Beginner Dumbbell Exercises You Can Do At Home

  • By Kate Moore
  • on 
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One pair of dumbbells is all you need to do a full-body workout at home. Dumbbells are the perfect piece of equipment to keep in your garage because they take up a small amount of space and can be used for so many different exercises.

In this article, we’re going to outline 10 beginner dumbbell exercises that you can do in the confines of your home.

These movements are simple, yet effective at targeting large muscle groups. They can be done in your living room or backyard. And they’ll keep you in shape without having to set aside time to go to the gym.

dumbbell lateral raise that can be performed in a home gym

Lateral Raise

The lateral raise primarily strengthens the shoulder muscles. This exercise is designed to target the deltoids, primarily the lateral deltoid. But it’s also involved in working out the supraspinatus and trapezius muscles.

To perform a lateral raise, stand tall. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides next to your thighs. Keep your elbows slightly bent, and feet shoulder-width apart.

Lift the dumbbells straight out to the side until your body resembles a ‘T’ shape. Then slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.

Remember to keep the movement slow and even. Practice breathing out as you lift the weights, and breathing in as you return to the starting position.

  • Keep your stomach muscles tight to avoid any stress on the back
  • Start with one arm at a time, and then do it with both arms

Complete two sets of 10-15 repetitions for each arm, and another set with both arms.

Biceps Curl

As the name implies, this exercise targets the biceps. The biceps are the muscles that help bend the elbow and move the forearm.

To perform a bicep curl:

  • Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with the palms facing forward.
  • Keep your shoulders retracted and legs in the split stance that is, legs hip-width apart and one leg in front of the other.
  • Slowly bend your elbows raising the dumbbells upwards towards your chest in a supine grip, that is with the palms facing forward while breathing out.
  • Then straighten out your arms and take them down back in front of the thighs while breathing in.

To get the most out of this exercise and prevent injury, keep the elbows pinned at your side. Raise and lower the dumbbells in a smooth motion perpendicular to the body. Don’t let the dumbells float out to your sides or fall inward towards your sternum.

Keep your stomach muscles tight throughout the movement and make sure not to arch your back. If you feel like you have to “swing” the weight upward, you’re using too much weight! Either cut back on reps or use a lighter dumbbell.

Perform three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

doing a dumbbell tricep extension at home

Dumbbell Tricep Extensions

The triceps are the muscles at the back of the arms that help straighten the arm. They help in pulling the upper arm towards the body and backward. To perform a tricep extension:

  • Bend forward about 90 degrees so your back is flat and place your right arm and right knee on a coffee table, couch or ottoman.
  • Hold a dumbbell in your left arm hanging down towards the floor.
  • Flex your stomach and keep your stance tight.
  • Slowly pull your left arm back so the elbow reaches up toward the sky.
  • When you can pull back no further without twisting, lower the dumbbell.

Complete 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each arm.

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If you don’t want to lean over a table, a similar exercise can be performed while sitting or standing. To do this, sit in a chair with the dumbbell raised high above your head. Then slowly lower the weight behind the back of your head. Using your triceps, raise the weight straight above your head again.

performing a dumbbell shoulder press in a garage gym

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The shoulder press works out the entire shoulder muscles along with the chest and arm muscles.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each arm above your shoulders with the palms facing forward and elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  • Extend your arms straight up above your head and come back to the starting position again completing one repetition.

The dumbbell should press can be done either standing or sitting on a bench. You want to pay particular attention to your form and make sure that you don’t arch your back. If you find yourself arching, or jumping to push up the weight, scale it back to a lighter dumbbell.

Perform three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

dumbbell leg lunge workout at home

Dumbbell Lunges

The dumbbell lunge is a great exercise to work out your lower body. These can be done in just a few feet of space in any part of the house. The main muscle group that this exercise will target is the quadriceps of the thighs and the glutes in your hips and butt.

  • Stand with one dumbbell at each side and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • With your left leg, take a big step forward and squat down until the right knee reaches about 1/2 inch above the ground.
  • Push up and back using the left leg, returning to the start position.
  • Repeat this process on the other side.

Dumbbell lunges look simple but there are a few form checks you’ll want to keep in mind to avoid any knee injuries. Never let your knee pass beyond your front foot. If you find that it’s happening, take a larger step forward.

Make sure that your knees aren’t falling inward toward your midline. Not only is this hard on your tendons, but it’s a weaker position and it will be harder to balance.

Don’t be afraid to do a few sets without the weights to get a feel for how the movement should be performed.

Complete two to three sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg.

Dumbbell Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great exercise for working out the glutes and hamstrings. It can also strengthen the back and spinal muscles making for a valuable lower body workout. To perform a dumbbell deadlift:

  • Hold one dumbbell in each arm with the palms facing towards your body.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart with the knees slightly bent.
  • With your back straight, lean forward and squat straight downward; lowering the dumbbells towards the ground.
  • Try not to let your knees pass over your feet
  • Straighten your torso and come back up again with a straight back.

Deadlifts should be done with slow, even movements. It’s especially important to make sure that you don’t round your back. Some beginners will not be able to get the dumbells all the way to the floor without rounding their back and that’s ok; just squat as far as you can.

You also want to make sure that you push your knees outward while performing this movement. 

Practice doing three sets of 10 repetitions.

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Upright Dumbbell Row

The upright dumbbell row works the upper trapezius and deltoids as well as smaller muscles within the shoulder girdle and the arms. These are similar to sumo deadlift high pulls that are performed with a barbell.

  • Start by holding one dumbbell in each arm close to the midline with the palms facing towards your body.
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, shoulders over the pelvis and with slightly bent knees.
  • Breathe out while you raise the dumbells up to your shoulders, stopping just under your chin. The elbows will be high and pushed outwards to the side.
  • Breathe in as you lower the arms slowly back again to the starting position.

This movement gets surprisingly difficult so start with a lighter weight. You’ll want to pay special attention to keeping your core tight so the back doesn’t arch.

Complete three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Adding dumbbell weights to squats

Dumbbell Squat

Variations of the squat can be performed with all different types of equipment at home. Squats are a lower-body exercise that primarily strengthens the quadriceps muscles of the thighs and the glutes.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each arm at the shoulders with the ends pointing forward.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart with heels planted firmly on the ground.
  • Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground and make sure the knees don’t extend beyond the toes when you squat.
  • Raise yourself by pressing into the heels and get into the standing position.

To perform a squat with proper form, avoid looking down at the floor. Keep your chest and shoulders upright and push your knees outward. Warm-up with a few air squats before adding weight.

Complete three sets of 10 repetitions.

Modified bulgarian split squat on a fitness ball in a home gym

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat targets the glute muscles of the buttocks and the upper leg muscles. This movement requires a lot of strength and balance so you’ll want to master it without weights before adding dumbbells.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides and the palms facing towards your body.
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, and step one leg back so your knee is bent and the toe rests on a chair or stair behind you.
  • Slowly squat down with the standing leg. Stop before your front knee passes over your foot.
  • Take a one-second pause and come back to the starting position by pressing into the floor with your front foot.

For the safest workout, make sure your knees don’t fall inward towards your midline. Take it slow and focus on balancing throughout the exercise. Keep your chest upright and your eyes gazing forward.

Alternate the foot placement and do three sets of 10 repetitions for each foot.

Dumbbell Swing Through

Swing throughs are typically performed with a kettlebell, but a dumbbell makes a great alternative. This exercise targets the back muscles, calves, hamstrings, and the upper trapezius.

  • Start by standing with your feet a little wider than your shoulders and knees slightly bent. Your legs should be wide enough to swing a single dumbbell through.
  • Hold the center of the dumbbell with both your hands and sway it back between your legs.
  • Then steadily swing the dumbbell directly overhead keeping your arms slightly flexed.
  • Once you’ve reached a full overhead position, swing the dumbbell back down through the legs bending slightly forward.
  • Repeat this process.

The key to a successful dumbbell swing is maintaining control. You’ll want to keep your back and abs tight so you don’t arch, and keep the feet firmly planted on the ground.

Complete three sets of 15-20 repetitions.

Dumbbells At Home

You can easily achieve a full-body workout using only dumbbells at home. This is a versatile piece of equipment that is inexpensive and takes up a small amount of storage space.

A set of dumbbells will quickly help you progress from beginner workouts to more advanced exercises.