Build muscle with dumbbells at home with these two workouts!

A question you’ll find on various fitness and bodybuilding boards is whether you can whole body build muscle with only a pair of dumbbells.

As dumbbells are relatively cheap, easy to store and thus convenient, I am surprised I don’t get this question more often. If we’re able to properly build muscle mass with dumbbells only workouts, that would certainly make life easier for many people.

Now, I actually googled this very question when I was in my late teens. I was very skinny and had slowly but surely become more aware of that fact. I weighed just a tad below 130 lbs at a height of 5’9.

This growing self-awareness is a pretty common process during those years, but I didn’t really consider joining a gym.

After all, gyms were full of big brutes, and the only bulky thing about me at the time where my characters in World of Warcraft.

Around that time I had noticed a pair of adjustable dumbbells for sale at a local grocery store. They had this weird area of the store with a broad variety of seasonal items they likely only bought one shipment of.

Anyways, without remembering it clearly, it’s likely that the sight of those dumbbells during my growing self-awareness prompted this question.

Building muscle mass at home with just a pair of dumbbells is very possible


The great Dorian Yates.

Building muscle is not equipment specific. Instead, it’s more to do with movement patterns.

When sufficient stress is induced on a given muscle, a range of growth mechanisms are triggered. This correlates with a rise in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rates.

When muscle protein synthesis rates exceed muscle protein breakdown (MPB), the result is a net gain in muscle tissue.

Now, there are several ways to induce this stress and trigger muscle growth, such as through metabolic stress and mechanical tension.

Muscle damage was until very recently also agreed to be a key factor, but new science has led to many experts questioning the role of muscle damage in relation to muscle growth.

Anyways, these different pathways are not really of much importance to most people. It’s nerdy stuff for nerdy nerds like me.

What is important is realizing that our muscles do not have cognitive capabilities. A muscle is not “aware” of which piece of equipment applies a given stress.

Theoretically, you could grow your legs by doing squats on a planet with a much stronger gravity than earth – even without using any weights.

As long as your legs are not yet accustomed to the new stress, they will grow. You know, like in that super common scenario where you just got off the spaceship on a new planet and proceeds to do bodyweight squats (this post is getting weird..)

If you can apply sufficient stress, the target muscle will grow

Anyways, this importance of stress above most other factors also applies to many bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, which can build muscle even for non-beginners – if you tweak the movement to make it much more demanding.

I have covered this in my post Push-ups and push-up stands: Benefits and Muscle Building potential, where I explain how manipulating different elements of a movement can greatly increase its muscle building worth.

And if you wish to build muscle mass on your whole body utilizing nothing but a dumbbell only home workout, this is also what you’ll just have to do; tweak the parameters.

Now you may be wondering if there are enough exercises with just using dumbbells that will sufficiently cover your whole body?

There are tons of good dumbbell exercises 


The Governator loved dumbbell work.

You actually don’t have to adjust too much, when you consider the wide array of exercises that are dumbbell specific and perform just as well as machine or barbell based movements.

Arms and shoulders are good examples. You pretty much never need anything else than a good selection of dumbbells, so a dumbbell only workout for those muscles is pretty straightforward.

But I’ll still just list out a few of my favorite exercises, that happen to be dumbbell only moves;

Now, it gets a little less obvious with exercise selection for the chest, back, and legs – but it’s perfectly doable!

Last time I had a set of dumbbells with me for a domestic holiday, I did Bent Over Dumbbell Rows with my forehead placed on the edge of a table.

While I may have looked like a complete moron, at least my father-in-law seemed to think that, it turned out to be a decent back workout. By placing my noggin on a table, the exercise only got more demanding.

Of course for back, we must not forget One-Arm Bench Supported Dumbbell Rows, a true bodybuilding classic. If you don’t have a bench just go with some furniture or a chair.

Your muscles can’t differentiate between a leather-wrapped gym bench and a smashed up piece of garage furniture.

Lunges and goblin squats are both good quad movements. Lunges with heavy dumbbells I feel are underestimated – I do them every week.

For the hamstrings, the Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells is a straight out awesome muscle builder.

For the chest, it gets a little more tricky, as most common exercises are performed using an adjustable purpose-built bench.

You can, however, perform most dumbbell bench movements on the floor if you have a carpet or something similar to lie on.

Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses and Dumbbell Flyes are both doable on the floor, but to be honest, I don’t feel they work as well as with a proper bench.

Thus, for the chest, I highly recommend you read my article on push-ups and push-up stands, as the combination of push-ups and the floor dumbbell movements should be sufficient enough.

So, there seem to be exercises enough, as I only listed a selection. But how to actually apply this in a full workout routine, and build muscle with only dumbbells at home?

Complete dumbbells only home workout

So, rounding up on all this, I have created a routine so you can workout with using just dumbbells in your home with no other piece of fitness equipment needed.

I structured it as a full-body routine, with two different days for a little variation. Generally, though, I am not big on having to constantly switch up exercises.

I suggest implementing very controlled 2 seconds eccentrics (negative portion of the lift), and a short squeeze at the top of the movement. So at the top of a curl, really squeeze the biceps. At the top of a Romanian deadlift, squeeze your glutes (your bubblebutt..)

Dumbbells only full-body home workout A (Quad focus)


  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press on floor – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions
  • Shoulder width  Push-ups (optionally with push-up stands) – 2 sets to failure


  • Bent Over Dumbbell Rows (support forehead on table etc) – 6 sets of 10-14 repetitions


  • Goblin Squats – 4 sets of 12-16 repetitions
  • Walking Lunges (Just bodyweight) – 3 sets of walking back and forth


  • Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions


  • Standing One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions – 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions


  • Standing Dumbbell Presses – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions


Dumbbells only full-body home workout B (Hamstring focus)


  • Flat Dumbbell Flyes on floor – 4 sets of 12-16 repetitions
  • Decline Shoulder width push-ups (optionally with push-up stands) – 2 sets to failure


  • One-Arm Furniture Supported Dumbbell Rows – 6 sets of 6-10 repetitions


  • Dumbbell Lunges – 4 sets of walking back and forth*
  • Romanian Dumbbell Deadlifts – 3 sets of 10-14 repetitions


  • Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 10-14 repetitions


  • Head Supported Triceps Kickbacks* – 4 sets of 10-14 repetitions


  • Standing Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 10-14 repetitions


Recommended plan;

Week1 – Monday (A), Wednesday (B), Friday (A).

Week2 – Monday (B), Wednesday (A), Friday (B).


I know that “walking back and forth” isn’t exactly the most precise instruction for dumbbell lunges, but it’s the best I can do. You have to do a few sets to gauge how long you will have to walk for the set to feel effective.

I suggest using heavy enough dumbbells so that you end up at around 5-6 steps (with each foot), before turning around and walking back.

I also know that triceps kickbacks have gotten a bad rep throughout the years as an ineffective exercise. I include it because there isn’t an easy way of hitting the lateral head of your triceps muscle with dumbbells only.

I have had decent experience with the head supported version, where I bend over to place my forehead on the edge of a table etc, and then really focus on a good triceps squeeze at the top of the movement.

The best adjustable dumbbells – a buyer’s guide


A great set of dumbbells.

I think it goes without saying that if you really want to do efficient dumbbell only home workouts, you’re going to need to invest in a pair of adjustable dumbbells.

Alternatively, you could also buy a complete dumbbell rack for your home, but that is a very expensive option.

Now for making the best purchase, you need to decide how much you want to invest in the dumbbells. While that seems obvious, I think it’s worth thinking about the investment in relation to your needs.

If you intend on doing dumbbell only home workouts very often, maybe even to avoid a commercial gym altogether – think about the money saved on a gym membership.

As well as money and time saved on transport to/from the gym (in public transport or gas), as well as the lesser hassle.

After researching a lot of the most popular options, I have narrowed it down to my 3 most recommendable purchases, split into 3 pricing categories.

The best overall – Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells



These really are the McDaddy of adjustable dumbbells. Each dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52.5 lbs, allowing 2.5 lb increments up to the first 25 lbs. The intuitive design allows for rapid adjustment of weights.

This is because you adjust the weight by twisting the handles while the dumbbells are placed on the floor or on a surface in their special stand.

This makes them ideal for complete dumbbell only workouts as there is very little hassle with weight adjustments when changing exercises or just adjusting the load.

I also appreciate the containers they come with, which will spare your floor from otherwise inevitable scratches.

Safe to say that they are also the by far most reviewed item, with over 4.6 stars out of 5 based on more than 4000 customer reviews. Of course, they are among the more expensive options, but for good reason.

Additionally, if you REALLY want to remove gym-reliance, they offer a package where you also get an adjustable bench. This allows for many more dumbbell exercises. You can check out the complete package here.

The best mid-range – Unipack Adjustable Dumbbells Kits



These are a good compromise if the Bowflex isn’t within your budget. The quality of the finish is reported as lower than the Bowflex, and some buyers report of inconsistency in the actual weight of the plates, which is unfortunate.

But as a nice plus they come with more plates, ultimately allowing you to construct heavier dumbbells.

As for the adjustment, it can be quite time consuming, but you’ll have to decide on how much of a hassle that really is or isn’t.

Some customers complain of color flaking off, but I don’t personally see that as a huge issue. A few note uneven screws though, and it’s also worth mentioning they have crude, rigged ends.

This means that when the weight is heavy, resting them on your knees, for instance, might be uncomfortable.

As of this writing, they score over 4.3 stars out of 5 based on more than 475 customer reviews, which is really quite good. Overall a very solid mid-range purchase.

The best budget buy – Dumbbells Adjustable Cast Iron Set



Based on more than 80 customer reviews, averaging out over 4.5 stars out of 5, these are my recommendation for the best buy on a tight budget.

There are complaints of fit and finish, but that is more forgivable at this price range. They are dumbbells of cast iron – they don’t have to be super pretty to me.

Once again the end pieces are quite crude and rigged, so if loaded up with lots of plates, they might be uncomfortable resting on your knees etc.

So all-in-all, while very basic and with some complaints of overall quality, they will likely get the job done.

Further recommendation for working out with dumbbells

Regardless of your pick of adjustable dumbbells, something that can be quite annoying is the scratches and scraping they might inflict on your floor or carpet.

A good example is with chest movements where you lie flat on the floor, but even exercises such as different dumbbell curl variation, you’ll have to put the weights down when finishing your sets.

To avoid this annoyance, I recommend these awesome floor mats by ProSource;



Looking through the reviews, there are very few complaints. They score over 4.2 stars out of 5 based on more than 2650 customer reviews – and the price is affordable to most people.

The multi-piece setup allows you to construct a large mat, but if you ask me, you can just as easily use the different pieces individually on the move, when you only need support for placing down dumbbells.

Thank you for reading this – Feel very free to share!

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