Top 10 Dumbbell Exercises for Strength & Size

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

If you don’t have access to a full gym or even any barbells and other standard equipment fear not, my friends….

You can still get great results in the confines of your own basement or garage with nothing but your bodyweight and a set of dumbbells.

Below I have listed my top 10 dumbbell exercises for strength and size. I tried to keep myself honest by only including exercises that were better with dumbbells than they are with kettlebells.

So that’s why there are no swings, Turkish get ups, farmers walks (because dumbbells tend to roll out of your hands and kettlebells are way better for those), racked or overhead walks, and sumo deadlifts.

Here we go…

1) 1 Arm Dumbbell Snatch

An awesome exercise for developing explosive power. It’s much easier to learn and safer than a barbell snatch. Because of that most people can incorporate it into their programs the first day they attempt it.
These should always be done explosively, so don’t try to go to heavy. If you feel like you’re stuck in molasses focus on jumping to get the rep initiated.

2) Dumbbell Clean and Press

This is an old school classic. Sig Klein used to have a very well known challenge. It was to do twelve reps on this movement with a pair of 75 pound dumbbells. If you can do that you’re probably a pretty strong, jacked dude. It’s definitely one of the best shoulder exercises you can do.

3) 1 Arm Dumbbell Push Press

A lot of people who can’t overhead press with two arms at a time find that they have no problems when just using one arm. Granted, that’s just putting a band-aid on the issue and not really fixing it. But meatheads will be meatheads and always looking for a way around an issue like that.

I also find that doing this movement as a push press with a little momentum to get the weight moving at the bottom makes it a little less stressful.

Because you’re only using one arm you’ll also get a great workout for the obliques and entire core region.

4) Incline Dumbbell Press

I prefer these to be done somewhere between ten and thirty degrees. Dorian Yates always said this was the best angle to hit the upper chest, while placing the least amount of stress on the shoulders. Who am I to argue? (“He’s not Flash, but he’s fast, and his name is Jay.”

The safest way to do them is with your elbows tucked and palms facing each other. The bodybuilder way to them is with your elbows way out to the sides and palms facing forward. That’s more stressful to the shoulders but does seem to hit the pecs more effectively.

A good compromise is to have your elbows and hands at a 45-degree angle. Be sure not to bounce at the bottom.

5) 1 Arm Flat Dumbbell Press

This is a great “functional exercise” that you will feel as much in your obliques as you do your chest. To incorporate even more muscle groups slide down the bench so that your lower back and glutes are completely off of it. Keep your hips up and entire body in an even line from your torso down to your knees by actively bridging. This will really force the lower body to work throughout the set as well.

6) 1 Arm Dumbbell Row

Possibly my favorite pulling exercise. There’s really not much to say about. Grab a heavy dumbbell and do work.

7) Standing Dumbbell Curl

Gotta give the guns some love. These are most effective when you keep your hands fully supinated in the bottom position. Never go super heavy on these. Unless you want shoulder issues and pipe cleaner arms.

8) Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

I’ve always found that regularly incorporating RDL’s in someone’s program does a lot more for their flexibility than doing a ton of useless hamstring stretches. It’s also one of the best ways to strengthen and build the hammies.

Keep a neutral spine and push your hips back as far as you can while you descend.

9) Goblet Squat

I may be in the minority here but I strongly prefer goblet squats with dumbbells to kettlebells. It’s just easier to hold the weight and more comfortable for those with elbow issues. People who can’t barbell squat for one reason or another can almost always goblet squat safely.

I’d consider it a staple exercise; even if you just do it during your warm up.

It’s also a good leg day finisher to do for high reps. To really burn it out, when you can no longer hold the weight in goblet position you can drop it down between your legs and finish up with some more reps in sumo position.

10) Goblet Reverse Lunge

I like walking lunges a lot. Any exercise that involves locomotion is good. But some people’s knees can’t tolerate them. That’s why I’m picking the reverse lunge here. It’s more “athletic” and requires more coordination than a rear foot elevated split squat (which I also love).

I like the goblet position over holding them at your sides because it’s usually easier to keep your balance and also incorporates the midsection more effectively.

So there you have it.

I recommend some black coffee and Public Enemy to go along with these.

Be relentless.