Whether you’re aiming to enhance your power, optimize your training routine, or maximize your gym investment, you’ve landed on the perfect guide for dumbbell compound exercises.
These aren’t just randomly selected workouts. Every dumbbell compound exercise in this guide is supported by research regarding its efficiency.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Dumbbell Compound Exercises
- 2 Benefits of Compound Dumbbell Exercises
- 3 FAQs
The Best Dumbbell Compound Exercises
- Dumbbell press
- Dumbbell bench press
- One-arm dumbbell row
- Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
- Goblet squat
- Dumbbell forward lunge
- Dumbbell split squat
- Chest-supported dumbbell row
1. Dumbbell press
Benefits of dumbbell presses
- Improves shoulder strength and stability
- Engages core muscles
- Offers joint health benefits
Improves shoulder strength and stability
By pressing the weight overhead during this compound exercise, you target deltoid muscles in a way that promotes muscle growth and stability. Stronger shoulders can be highly beneficial for a lot of upper body exercises.
Engages core muscles
Although the exercise focuses mainly on the shoulders, it’s a movement that requires stability from the abdominal muscles.
Offers joint health benefits
The movement during the overhead press encourages a full range of motion in the shoulder joints. When done with proper form, this can contribute to improved joint health and shoulder flexibility.
How to perform dumbbell presses
- Grab two dumbbells of a suitable weight. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain stability.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. You can sit on a chair or bench with a backrest if performing this exercise seated.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended above your head. Keep your core engaged, avoid arching your back, and don’t let your elbows lock out fully at the peak of the movement.
- Inhale as you slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position at shoulder height.
- Repeat the steps above for the desired number of sets and reps. Ensure your form remains consistent throughout each set.
Pro tip: If you’re performing this exercise standing with a particularly heavy weight, using a gym belt is highly recommended. It can provide you with extra stability and prevent injury, especially if your core is relatively untrained. If this exercise doesn’t quite work for you, don’t worry – there are plenty of overhead press alternatives out there.
Dumbbell exercises offer a unique challenge and add versatility to your workout. But, you still need to know how to do them correctly. Dive into the proper technique for the dumbbell press with this instructional video:
How to program
The dumbbell press can be programmed for 6-12 reps for building strength and muscle. Heavier loads, around 75% to 85% of one’s one-rep max (1RM), are recommended for lower reps (6-8), while moderate loads, between 60% to 75% of 1RM, are suitable for higher reps (10-12).
2. Dumbbell bench press
Benefits of dumbbell bench presses
- Increases chest muscle mass
- Promotes balanced muscle development
- A safer alternative to the barbell bench press
Increase chest muscle mass
Performing compound exercises like the dumbbell bench press can be an effective way to increase muscle mass in the chest. The exercise targets the chest muscles while still functioning as a compound exercise, giving you well-rounded development. This is what makes it one of the top compound chest exercises out there.
Promotes balanced muscle development
Using dumbbells requires both sides of the body to work independently, which helps to identify and correct imbalances between the left and right sides. Also, this ensures that both sides of secondary upper body muscles like the shoulders and triceps are equally engaged and developed.
Provides a safer alternative to the barbell bench press
The dumbbell bench press can be a safer alternative to the barbell bench press, especially for those who are concerned about pec and shoulder injuries. The ability to adjust the arm movement to a more natural angle reduces the stress on these muscles and joints, lowering the risk of injury.
But, you’re still better off forming your own opinion on the barbell vs dumbbell bench press debate to see which one really works for you.
Also, depending on how you set up the exercise, it’s generally easier to fail on the dumbbell version compared to the barbell version.
How to perform dumbbell bench presses
- Grab two dumbbells of a moderate weight and then lie on a flat bench. Ensure you’re grabbing each dumbbell while lying down with a pronated grip.
- Lift the dumbbells in the air, lining them up with your shoulders. Don’t extend your arms out fully while doing this, as your elbow should still stay below the bench.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended above your chest. Keep the movement controlled.
- Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.
Pro tip: Always make sure the dumbbells you pick up are actually the same weight. This may sound elementary but it’s very common for people to mistakenly grab two dumbbells that look similar in size but are of a different weight, especially if they’re not properly marked.
If you want to take your upper body strength to the next level, mastering the dumbbell bench press is a must. For anyone who’s confused about how to do it, here’s a video demonstration to show you the ropes:
How to program
For the dumbbell bench press, aim for 5-10 reps with heavier loads and 10-20 reps with moderate loads. Heavier loads should be around 75% to 85% of the lifter’s 1RM, while moderate loads can range from 50% to 75% of 1RM.
3. One-arm dumbbell row
Benefits of one-arm dumbbell rows
- Targets the upper back and lat muscles
- Enhances unilateral strength
- Improves core stability
- Promotes shoulder health
Targets the upper back and lat muscles
The one-arm dumbbell row is one of the best dumbbell exercises for targeting the muscles in the upper back and lats. Despite being a compound exercise, it isolates the muscles on each side so that they’re worked evenly. This promotes balanced muscle development and strength.
Enhances unilateral strength
Focusing on one arm at a time means you can identify and fix strength imbalances between the left and right sides of your body. With unilateral exercises, the weaker side is forced to work independently, catching up in strength with the dominant one.
Improves core stability
This is another compound dumbbell exercise that works the core. Your core is used to prevent torso rotation and maintain core stability. Engagement of the abdominal and lower back muscles during the exercise helps to strengthen the core. This can result in improved posture and reduces the risk of back pain.
How to perform one-arm dumbbell rows
- Get a dumbbell and place it on the floor next to a flat bench.
- Standing side-on to the bench, place your right knee on it, along with your right hand. Your right arm should be straight.
- Pick up the dumbbell with your left hand, ensuring your back is flat and your core is braced.
- Pull the dumbbell upward by bending your elbow and dragging your upper arm back. Keep the arm close to your side and lift until your upper arm is parallel to the ground, avoiding torso rotation.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
- Hit the target number of reps before switching sides. Repeat for the desired number of sets.
The one-arm dumbbell row targets those hard-to-reach back muscles. Watch this detailed guide to perfect your form and maximize gains:
How to program
The one-arm dumbbell row is typically performed with moderate to heavy loads for 8-15 reps. Moderate loads, which are about 60% to 75% of your maximum effort for a single rep, are ideal for muscle growth. Heavier loads (above 75%) can be used for strength building in the lower rep range.
4. Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
Benefits of dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
- Strengthens the entire lower body
- Improves posture
- Enhances hip mobility
Strengthens the entire lower body
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is the go-to exercise for many people looking to improve their lower body strength.
Doing this exercise regularly can lead to big improvements in posture. Unlike a lot of other compound exercises, this one actually strengthens the posterior chain. The posterior chain is crucial for maintaining upright posture. Having a strong posterior chain greatly reduces the risk of back pain associated with prolonged sitting.
Enhances hip mobility
The movement pattern of the Romanian Deadlift encourages a full range of hip motion. This can help to alleviate stiffness and improve hip flexibility.
How to perform dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Keep your knees slightly bent.
- Keeping your back flat, hinge at your hips and lower the dumbbells along the front of your legs. Move your hips backward as you descend, maintaining a slight bend at the knees throughout.
- Drive through your heels to go back to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Ensure your core is engaged throughout the exercise.
- Do however many reps and sets you’re targeting.
You can really transform the muscles in your lower body by doing Romanian deadlifts – it’s a real powerhouse for the lower back and hamstrings. So, have a look at this tutorial to make sure you’re doing it to the best of your ability:
How to program
This exercise is effective for 8-12 reps with moderate to heavy loads. Lighter loads (50% to 65% of 1RM) can be used for higher reps (10-15) focusing on muscle endurance and technique. Heavier loads (up to 85% of 1RM) are recommended for lower reps (8-10 reps) to focus on strength and hypertrophy.
5. Goblet squat
Benefits of goblet squats
- Improves squatting technique
- Emphasizes quad development
Improves squatting technique
Performing this compound exercise can greatly improve your overall squatting technique. Holding the weight close to your chest encourages a straighter spine and deeper squat. This means that you’re developing proper form which carries over to other squat variations.
Emphasizes quad development
The goblet squat is a potent variation of the standard dumbbell squat that places a lot of emphasis on the quadriceps. It strengthens the front of the thighs and engages the glutes and calves.
How to perform goblet squats
- Stand with your feet a little further than hip-width apart and point your toes outward slightly. Hold a single dumbbell vertically in front of your chest with both hands, elbows pointing down.
- Keeping your chest up and core braced, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Go as deep as your mobility allows, aiming to get your elbows to the inside of your knees.
- Drive through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
- Do the target amount of reps and sets.
When you start doing goblet squats, you’ll immediately see how well the exercise engages the muscles in your lower body. This video will take you through the steps to perform them correctly.
How to program goblet squats
Goblet squats can be programmed with light to moderate loads for 8-15 reps. Lighter loads are suitable for higher reps to focus on endurance and form, while moderate loads can challenge strength without compromising technique. They can also be performed with either a dumbbell or kettlebell.
6. Dumbbell forward lunge
Benefits of dumbbell forward lunges
- Promotes functional movement
- Improves balance and coordination
Promotes functional movement
Lunges mimic natural movement patterns, making them excellent for improving functional strength. This can make it easier to perform everyday tasks that involve walking, climbing stairs, and squatting.
Improves balance and coordination
Performing lunges with dumbbells requires (and develops) balance and coordination. The exercise challenges your stability, forcing the core and lower body muscles to work together to maintain posture and movement control.
How to perform dumbbell forward lunges
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Engage your core and keep your chest lifted.
- Step forward with either your right or left leg to begin the movement.
- Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is nearly touching the ground. Ensure your front knee is directly above your ankle and not pushed out too far.
- Push through the heel of your front foot to return to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement on the opposite leg. Do the desired number of reps and sets.
Step up your leg game with the dumbbell forward lunge. Here’s a video to guide you through the proper technique and avoid common mistakes:
How to program
Forward lunges are best performed with light to moderate loads for 10-20 reps per leg. Beginners can start with bodyweight lunges to focus on form, balance, and coordination. Advanced athletes can add variations such as walking lunges or increase the weight of the dumbbells. Program forward lunges into your routine for 4 to 6 weeks
7. Dumbbell split squat
Benefits of dumbbell split squats
- Quad targeting
- Improved flexibility and mobility
By maintaining a static lunge position, this compound exercise places tension on the quads. It also engages the glutes and hamstrings.
Improved flexibility and mobility
Compound dumbbell exercises like this can greatly improve hip flexibility and mobility. It stretches the hip flexors of the rear leg and encourages a greater range of motion. This results in smoother movement patterns.
How to perform dumbbell split squats
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. Step back with your right or left leg if you’re starting the movement, placing the ball of your foot on the ground.
- Bend both your knees to lower your body. Ensure your front knee is in line with the ankle. Descend until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is close to touching the ground.
- Press through the heel of your front foot and return to the starting position.
- Complete the planned number of reps on one leg before switching to the other.
Pro tip: If you want to save time in the gym and get your upper body involved, try the dumbbell squat press variation of this exercise.
Sometimes, it’s better to see how an exercise is done before jumping into it yourself. We’d highly recommend checking out the instructional video below for the best tips on form and balance:
How to program
This dumbbell squat variation is effective when performed for 8-12 reps per leg with moderate loads. If you’re a beginner, focus on mastering the split squat form using bodyweight or light dumbbells. For advanced athletes, playing with the tempo or adding a pause at the bottom of the movement can further enhance muscle engagement and growth. Include dumbbell split squats in your training program for 4 to 6 weeks
8. Chest-supported dumbbell row
Benefits of chest-supported dumbbell rows
- Minimizes lower back strain
- Comprehensive upper back development
Minimizes lower back strain
Because you’re being supported by an incline bench while you do this exercise, there’s a lot less strain on your lower back. This makes it one of the best bent-over row alternatives and an excellent choice for people who experience lower back pain performing traditional rows.
Comprehensive upper back development
The chest-supported dumbbell row is an effective exercise for targeting the muscles of the upper back, including the rhomboids, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. This comprehensive targeting is why it’s one of the best dumbbell exercises for your back.
How to perform chest-supported dumbbell rows
- Adjust an incline bench to a 45-degree angle. Lie face down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. Let your arms hang straight down.
- Exhale while dragging dumbbells towards your hips, bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your elbows close to your body during and at the peak of the movement.
- Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the movement.
- Do the desired number of reps and sets. Ensure your posture and form are consistent throughout each set.
Many casual gym-goers and professional athletes agree that the chest-supported dumbbell row is essential for a balanced back workout. So, why not get the most out of it? This video demonstrates how to nail the technique for optimal results:
How to program chest-supported dumbbell rows
For the chest-supported dumbbell row, aim for 8-15 reps with moderate loads. Beginners should start with light dumbbells to ensure proper form and avoid straining the lower back muscle group. Program this exercise for a 4 to 6-week cycle to improve upper back strength and endurance, focusing on the rhomboids, lats, and traps.
Benefits of Compound Dumbbell Exercises
Dumbbell compound exercises can do a lot more for you than building muscle. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, here are some of the main benefits:
Maximize calorie burn
Compound dumbbell exercises engage numerous muscles at the same time, so your calorie expenditure will be higher than if you were doing isolation exercises. The single-arm bicep curl is a good example of an isolation exercise since you’re just working a single muscle group. By adding movements like dumbbell squats and overhead presses to your routine, you can sculpt muscles and torch calories, making your workout doubly effective.
The beauty of compound movements lies in their ability to improve intramuscular coordination. Exercises like the dumbbell deadlift need a bunch of muscles to work together in harmony, enhancing your overall movement and reducing the risk of injury.
Boost cardiovascular health
Who said dumbbells can’t elevate your heart rate? Compound exercises like renegade rows combine strength training with cardiovascular effort. This means that your heart is pushed to pump more blood into the engaged muscles. So, you’re improving your heart health while bolstering muscular endurance.
Forget static stretching. Compound dumbbell exercises offer a dynamic way to improve flexibility. Movement patterns like lunges and squats stretch and strengthen muscles at the same time. This promotes flexibility and mobility across multiple muscle groups and joints.
Improve movement efficiency
Compound dumbbell exercises teach your body to move more effectively. By training multiple joints and muscle groups to fire together, you’re building strength and improving your body’s movements. This often translates into better performance in sports and simple daily activities.
Are dumbbells better than barbells?
Choosing between dumbbells and barbells just depends on your goals. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Dumbbells are great for addressing muscular imbalances and targeting a single muscle group. This can make dumbbells ideal for sculpting and isolation exercises where you need to fix muscle imbalances.
Barbells typically allow for heavier lifting. They’re good for targeting overall strength and are essential for compound movements. To keep your workout and physique balanced, try to incorporate both.
How often should you train with dumbbells?
How often you train with dumbbells depends on your goals. Keep things balanced by using dumbbells two to three times per week, especially if you’re planning on doing a full-body workout. Just listen to your body and see how it responds to what you’re throwing at it.
What intensity should be used when training with dumbbells?
Align your intensity with what you’re trying to achieve in the gym. For strength gains, choose heavier weights that challenge you for 6-12 reps. For endurance and toning, lighter weights with higher reps, of around 15-20, are effective. Always prioritize form overweight to maximize benefits and minimize injury risk.
What are the most effective compound dumbbell exercises that can burn fat?
Some effective compound dumbbell exercises for fat loss include plank to upright row, squat thrusters, forward lunge bicep curls, and renegade rows. These exercises bring a lot of muscle groups into play, increasing calorie burn and muscle density, which boosts metabolism.