10 Effective Exercises You Can Do with a Single Dumbbell

Just when you thought the hardest part of getting in a strength workout was making it to the gym, your best-laid plans are thwarted by jam-packed machines and nearly-bare weight racks. Before you give up and retreat to the reliable old treadmill, here's an idea—grab one of those mismatched dumbbells! 
But what can a single dumbbell possibly do for you? According to ACE-certified personal trainer Shane McLean, it can provide a full-body workout. McLean designed this effective routine to work your body from head to toe with minimum fuss and fanfare.

1. Goblet Squats

Muscles worked: Quads, calves, glutes, core
A. Holding the underside of a dumbbell with each hand, position the dumbbell underneath your chin.

B. With your feet a little wider than hip width apart (or whatever is comfortable for you), squat down until your elbows are touching the inside of your thighs. Aim your glutes toward your heels while keeping your chest up.

C. Stand up by pushing your feet through the floor. Complete eight to 12 reps.


2. Suitcase Carry

Muscles worked: Core, obliques, shoulders
A. Hold a dumbbell on one side of your body that is approximately 25 to 50 percent of your bodyweight.
B. Check in the mirror to make sure that your shoulders are even.
C. Keeping your shoulders down and chest up, walk for 20 steps, then swap hands and walk back.

3. One-Arm Floor Press

Muscles worked: Chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders, obliques
A. Roll on your side and pick up the weight with both hands before starting exercise.
B. While lying flat on your back, press the dumbbell toward the ceiling with one arm.
C. Slowly lower the weight toward the ground until your elbow touches the ground, keeping your elbow close to your side. Do eight to 12 reps for each arm.

4. Sumo Squat

Muscles worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, inner thigh adductors
A. Hold one end of a heavy dumbbell between your legs with both hands. Widen your feet to a comfortable squat stance for you.
B. Keeping your chest up and shoulders back, squat down and touch the dumbbell to the floor.
C. Return to a standing position and squeeze your glutes. Do eight to 12 reps.

5. One-Arm Row

Muscles worked: Upper middle back, lats, shoulders, biceps
A. Stand in front of a bench or chair. Place one hand on the bench and the dumbbell beside you.
B. Bend your knees and make sure your spine is in a straight line from head to glutes.
C. Reach down, pick up the dumbbell, row your elbow toward your hip and slowly return to starting position. Complete eight to 12 reps on each side.

6. Pullover

Muscles worked: Chest, back
A. Lie down on a bench, face up, while holding the dumbbell above your chest.
B.  Breathe out, flatten your back against the bench and lower the dumbbell behind your head with a slight bend in the elbows.
C. When you feel a stretch in your lats, breathe in and return to starting position. Complete eight to 12 reps.


7.  Goblet Split Squat (Advanced)

Muscles worked: Quads, calves, glutes, core
A. Hold the dumbbell the same as in the goblet squat. Set up in half kneeling position, with back knee underneath back hip and front ankle underneath front hip.
B. Rise, pushing your front foot through the floor, and slowly return to starting position. Complete eight to 12 reps for each side.

Note: The back knee doesn’t have to touch the ground after each rep. A slight hover is okay.


8. Dumbbell Twist

Muscles worked: Abs, obliques
A. Sit on the ground with your back straight and knees bent, heels on the ground, holding a dumbbell by your sternum with both hands.
B. Twist the dumbbell to the outside of your ribcage, alternating sides.
C. Twist as fast as you can for 10 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. Do this for a total of three rounds.


9. Lying Two-Way Triceps Extension

Muscles worked: Triceps
A. Lie face-up on the floor or on a mat, holding one light dumbbell facing toward and above your head. Lower the dumbbell down to your ear and extend your elbow.
B. With the dumbbell facing away from you, lower the dumbbell to your opposite shoulder and then extend to complete one rep.

C. Repeat eight to 12 times on each arm.

10. Seated One-Arm Shoulder Press

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper back, triceps
A. Sit up straight on a bench while holding one dumbbell in front of your shoulder.
B. Press the dumbbell toward the ceiling until your bicep is by or behind your ears.
C. Slowly return to the start and repeat. Complete eight to 12 reps on each side.


Training Example

Do the following five-exercise circuit, one exercise after another, with minimal rest between each exercise. At the end of each circuit, rest for 90 seconds. Repeat two or three times for a total of four to five circuits.

  • Goblet squat, 12 reps
  • One arm row, 12 reps on each arm
  • Offset split squat, eight to 12 reps on each leg
  • Seated one arm shoulder press, six to eight reps on each arm
  • Suitcase carry 20 steps in each hand

Don't let a jam-packed gym keep you from meeting your fitness goals. Grab your dumbbell and get an effective full-body workout in a flash.

About Shane McLean: An ACE-certified personal trainer based in Dallas, Texas, Shane McLean specializes in core, strength and mobility training. Shane coaches busy professionals and older adults to move better, get stronger, slay body fat and find enjoyment in their exercise. With the belief that exercise is fun and not a punishment, his motto is "balancing exercise with life while putting the fun back into both."