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12 Week Dumbbell Workout Plan – Three Months to Insanity

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Do you realize what you can achieve with a well-designed and well-executed 12 week dumbbell workout plan?

It’s preposterous. 

You know those geek-to-freak transformations that you see online? That’s absolutely possible with this program. It’s the kind of transformation approach that can change not just your body, but your mind too. 

It’s a dumbbell workout program that will challenge every facet of your fitness. It’ll push you to places you didn’t know you could go. Most of all though, it’ll change your body in a way you didn’t think possible. 

We’re not just talking any old 12 week dumbbell workout plan, the kind you find in magazines. This is an evidence-based workout plan.

It has been written based on 20 years of in-the-trenches experience, combined with science-backed training approaches.

I don’t say this lightly… do as I say here, and in 12 weeks you’ll have a brand new body.

Table Of Contents
  1. Three Months to Insanity: Benefit of the 12 week dumbbell workout plan
  2. 5 Steps to Use the 12 week dumbbell workout plan to get insane results!
  3. Training Program Notes – the learning section!
  4. Three Months to Insanity – the 12 week dumbbell workout plans
  5. Phase 1 (Strength), Workout 1:
  6. Phase 1 (Strength), Workout 2:
  7. Phase 2 (Volume), Workout 1:
  8. Phase 2 (Volume), Workout 2:
  9. Phase 3 (HIIT), Workout 1:
  10. Phase 3 (HIIT), Workout 2:
  11. What to expect in the 12 week dumbbell workout plan…
  12. Three Months to Insanity 12 week Dumbbell Workout Plan: The bottom line

Three Months to Insanity: Benefit of the 12 week dumbbell workout plan

12 week dumbbell workout plan general infographic

For a lot of people, 12 weeks is a long time to commit to anything, so this program is going to have to keep them interested. And that’s fine… it’s amazing what seeing results will do to motivation levels!

Here’s three of the benefits of the approach…

12 week dumbbell workout plan benefits

Benefit 1: We tick a lot of fitness boxes

A 12 week program has to be all-encompassing, and this one is. With a 12 week training process we can work on three main aspects of fitness – strength, hypertrophy and stamina. Dumbbells are an excellent tool for providing us with a lot of training versatility, so we’re going to be using them.

In order to maintain motivation for the whole 12 weeks, the program has to evolve over time. If it remains too static and lacking in any variety, motivation slips.

This is shown in the evidence from a study in 2019 by Baz-Valle et al titled ‘The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men’.

The researchers concluded…

‘Varying exercise selection had a positive effect on enhancing motivation to train in resistance-trained men, while eliciting similar improvements in muscular adaptations.’

By using dumbbells over the 12 weeks, we have plenty of opportunities for training variety. This will help to keep motivation high, training intensity up and we won’t see any drop off in results at all.

Benefit 2: A physical reset is going to happen

There’s far more to resistance training than just vanity. It’s an opportunity to achieve a complete physical reset. Depending on your age and training status, it’s an opportunity to press a metaphorical ALT-CTRL-DEL on your physical condition.

Our 12 week dumbbell workout plan is designed to build strength and flexibility. It’s designed to add muscle. It’s also designed to improve our stamina and burn a lot of calories.

All of these (and more) are benefits of resistance training that were published by Westcott in a 2012 issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports.

The report highlighted…

Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, accompanied by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation.

Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg. 

Benefits of resistance training include improved physical performance, movement control, walking speed, functional independence, cognitive abilities, and self-esteem.

 This 12 week dumbbell workout plan isn’t exercise… It’s medicine.

Benefit 3: It’s time efficient

I’m a believer in workout efficiency – getting the maximum value out of each and every session, rather than training for a long time in the vain hope that it’s better or more effective.

The bodybuilding legend, Dorian Yates used to hit short (45 minute long) workouts, but they were incredibly high intensity. Whilst I can’t promise you Yates’ level results (you need elite genetics and a fair bit of ‘chemical’ help for those), we can take his principles and apply them to this workout.

We’re shooting for 4 workouts per week, 45 minutes per workout. A combined 3 hours of training time per week. We know from the research this isn’t just beneficial… it may even be better than traditional training approaches. 

A 2012 research project by Paoli et al on High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training was published in the Journal of Translational Medicine. They concluded that…

‘Our data suggest that shorter High Intensity Resistance Training sessions may increase resting energy expenditure after exercise to a greater extent than traditional training and may reduce respiratory ratio, hence improving fat oxidation.

The shorter exercise time commitment may help to reduce one major barrier to exercise.’

This research should help us think of shorter exercise at a higher intensity being more effective. It’s quality over quantity.


5 Steps to Use the 12 week dumbbell workout plan to get insane results!

My end of this bargain is to give you a 12 week dumbbell workout plan that will help you to achieve insane results. Your end of the bargain needs to be that you’ll follow these 5 steps.

These are the non-negotiables you’ll need to hit in order to make the workout plan as successful as it can possibly be. I’ll go into more detail with each one, so read them all carefully. They’re important.

Step 1: Work hard, every session

I can’t stress this one enough. If you want to achieve results, you absolutely have to be working hard. It doesn’t matter what program you follow, what exercises you do, how much protein you eat… If you’re not working hard, you’re not going to be getting the results. 

My favorite way to track my workout intensity is to wear a heart rate monitor in my workouts. There’s no hiding place from data. 

If that’s not an option, an easily available guide to workout intensity is called the ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’ (RPE) scale. It can be 1-10 or 1-20 (I think the 1-10 version is perfectly suitable). It works like this…

Rate of Perceived Exertion

We’re looking to hit 8-10 on every set of every workout. This is why we’re keeping the workouts to around 45 minutes per session. Anything longer and we simply wouldn’t be able to recover in time for the next session. 

You’ll have to be honest with yourself as well. If you’re not working hard, you won’t be getting results. Simple as that.

Step 2: Follow the program phases properly

This 12 week dumbbell workout plan is written in stages. None of these are accidental, so make sure that you follow them all. Don’t take workouts from the later phases and do them earlier in the program.

Here’s the phases, and why they’re in place…

Weeks 1 – 4: Strength Phase

Here in the first 4 weeks we’re focussing purely on strength training. This will build the strength of the muscles and connective tissues. It builds the capabilities of your body to deal with the volume and intensity of the training later in the program. 

During this phase it’s important to keep the calories and the protein high. 

Weeks 5 – 8: Volume Phase

In the middle we build on the strength work early with huge volume. We dial down the weights, but we hit bigger sets. This is designed to add muscle to your frame. Like the strength phase, these workouts are simple but high volume. 

At this point maintain the protein in take, but reduce the calories by around 10%.

Weeks 9 – 12: HIIT Phase

This final phase of the program is designed to maintain the muscle mass and ramp up the calorie burn. You can improve your conditioning whilst burning a significant amount of fat.

It’s these last 4 weeks that peel the fat off you (as long as you’re following a calorie controlled diet throughout the program).

Reduce the calories by around 20% for the final 4 weeks of the program.

Don’t mix these phases. They’re designed to build on one another, building the body from the ground up. All fitness is built on a base of strength. Higher volume workouts are only possible if you’re strong in the first place.

Heavy resistance training on weak muscles and connective tissues is a recipe for injury.

Step 3: Don’t cut corners – respect the volumes

I want you to pay attention to the volume of training in each phase. In the strength phase, the sets are shorter but heavier. In the volume phase, they’re bigger sets, with slightly lighter weights. By the end of the program, the sets are very long but they’re performed with lighter weights still.

It’s important that you respect these volumes, even on the days when you feel tired. You can do this by reducing the weights you lift. Above anything else in the program, I want you to respect the training volumes. It’s vital for muscle growth.

When the topic was studied by Schoenfeld et al in 2016, they concluded that there was a definite relationship between volume and muscle growth. Their research suggested…

‘Outcomes for weekly sets as a continuous variable showed a significant effect of volume on changes in muscle size. Each additional set was associated with an increase in effect size of 0.023 corresponding to an increase in the percentage gain by 0.37%.’

Volume appears to be more important than the size of the weight lifted, the exercises you perform, the rest periods etc. Always stick to the volume I’ve asked you to hit.

Step 4: Keep exercises as they are (range of movements)

In this program you’ll see there are exercises that are performed in a different way than usual. This is on purpose – I’m doing this to increase range of movement and time under tension. By approaching the exercises this way we increase their effectiveness.

It’s a way of putting a new spin on an old exercise, plus it helps to improve connective tissue and joint health. You’ve got a reduced risk of injury when your joints are healthy enough to work through a full range of movement. 

There will be tips to adjust the exercise set up. This is to allow for these effective tweaks.

Don’t just look at the exercise on the program and do it as you’ve always done. As the saying goes, ‘if you do as you’ve always done, you’ll get as you’ve always got’.

These tweaks will demand more from your body, make the workouts more effective and improve the results you’ll see from the training.

Step 5: Recover properly

If strength is the bedrock on which fitness is built, sleep is the bedrock on which recovery is built. 

We need you to approach your recovery in three ways…

Sleep: You should be aiming for 7-9 good quality sleep hours per night. Usual rules apply… no caffeine or alcohol on the nights before a workout. They impact sleep. Keep night time phone and screen use to a  minimum. Plenty of protein an hour or two before bed.

Nutrition: Lots of protein in your diet. Resistance training breaks down muscle tissue. Protein helps to repair it. Eat around 1g per pound of bodyweight. That’ll be sufficient. Even when you diet down by reducing calories, maintain a solid protein intake.

Rest: On your days off, keep exercise or movement to a very low intensity. I don’t mind you moving, but keep it to easy cycling or walking. Your days off training are about recovery, not doing even more work! You want to be rested ahead of your next workout.

You’ll be doing 4 workouts per week, so take the three days off easy. 


Training Program Notes – the learning section!

In this bit we go into more detail as to why the program is written in the way it is. It helps you to understand more about what we’re doing and why…

Why the phasing is important

One of the most important rules in workout program design is ‘do no harm’. In order to transform a body in 12 weeks, we need to work really hard in the gym. You can’t work hard unless you’ve prepared the body properly. 

In these phases we’re systematically preparing the body, step by step. Build strength, which allows us to cope with volume. With volume, you can then build muscle. We end with the high intensity element. This builds muscle, but it also builds cardio capability. 

We’re also lifting lighter weights here, because fatigue is likely to be kicking in by this point. 

Why two workouts per phase?

At each phase you’ll be performing two workouts on rotation. This is purely an anti-boredom play. I want you to last the whole twelve weeks, and if you performed the same workout four times per week for twelve weeks, you’d think (rightly) that the program sucked.

We have two workouts per phase. They’re done on rotation, so each workout is performed twice per week. I suggest a weekly training pattern like so…

Monday: Workout 1

Tuesday: Workout 2

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Workout 1

Friday: Workout 2

Weekend: Rest

This is a 4 day training week, allowing you plenty of rest. If you want to do some gentle cardio, you’ve got 3 days you can pick from.

Why so much training volume?

This is a combination of research and anecdotal evidence. 

I’ve noticed that when I program higher volume workouts for my personal training clients, they tend to produce better results. 

In my weightlifting days, my body personally responded better to higher volume training. When I wanted to add more muscle, the volume approach suited me best. Further reading and research on the topic has shown me that my observations weren’t unique.

In fact, I’d go as far to say that volume is the most important metric of anything. It really separates those who are successful and have a great physique from those who are not.

There’s absolutely a time and a place for 15-20 minute workouts, but if you want radical physique change, you’ll need to put the time and effort in. Those changes won’t happen overnight. 

Why whole body workouts?

I’ve long believed that whole body workouts are the most effective and efficient way to train.

Anyone with even a basic working knowledge of physiology will know that the idea of trying to isolate body parts is very difficult, bordering on impossible, so why bother trying?

We also know the frequency and volume of stimulation is what makes muscle grow, so only training a body part once in 7 days, rather than 4 times in 7 days just doesn’t make any sense to me. 

There are times in the strength workout phase where we emphasize one body part more, but you’ll still be training other muscles in the workout too. 

Why 45 minutes as a target workout length?

This is an energy management point. The longer a workout goes on, the more fatigued you get. This causes technique decline, motivation decline, energy decline, fatigue increase and a more difficult recovery.

It might so happen that the workouts take you an hour, and that’s fine. I’m just hoping you get them done in less time.

A high-quality 45 minute workout has less impact on the rest of your day, is easier to recover from and still allows plenty of time for you to get great work done. It means there’s less time for chatting between sets, or playing around on your phone…

But since when has that been a bad thing in the gym?!


Three Months to Insanity – the 12 week dumbbell workout plans

Here’s the actual workouts we’re going to do as part of the program. There’s two workouts per phase, done (ideally) in the two days on, one day off, two days on, two days off plan I mentioned earlier. 

Warm Up

12 week dumbbell workout plan warm up

I want to keep the warm up here very simple. Start with light cardio to stimulate blood flow through the body and warm the muscle and connective tissues. It’s important there’s an element of upper body movement in there too, so avoid standard cycling for example.

5 minutes of any of the following works…

For example, if you’d normally lift 60 LB dumbbells on a bench press, instead start with 30 LB dumbbells for a set of 10 to get warm and practice the movement pattern. After this go into the real work.

The warm up set isn’t written on the workout by the way – the only sets written are your working sets. So, if the workout says  5 x 10, they’re your working sets. You should still do a light set beforehand to warm up. Effectively therefore you’ll have done 6 sets of the exercise.

This is the same for every workout on the program for the whole 12 weeks, to keep things simple. 


Phase 1 (Strength), Workout 1:

This is the first workout of the first phase. It’s a strength workout with an emphasis on the upper body, with only minor involvement of the lower body.

ExerciseSetsReps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press56-8
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows6-8
Dumbbell Shoulder Press56-8
Dumbbell Shrugs510
Dumbbell Goblet Squats510
Dumbbell Deadlifts510
12 week dumbbell workout plan strength phase workout 1 part 1

1. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

An incline dumbbell bench press is a great variant of the exercise for a number of reasons… It stimulates the upper chest more. It forces each side to work independently, so you don’t bias one side.

It allows a greater range of movement. It’s easy to learn. It’s a great exercise and ideal in any chest program.

Remember this exercise is much harder when performed with dumbbells, so perform a warm up set before to gauge your working weight. Don’t think you’ll just equal your barbell weight. 

Equipment needed for incline dumbbell bench press:

How to do incline dumbbell bench press:

  • Set the bench to an incline – the steeper the incline, the more you involve the shoulders
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand or neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a good stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

2. Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows

This is a horizontal row pattern that allows you to lift a lot of weight. There’s also no need for the lower back to support a heavy weight, because the bench takes care of that for you.

The ability to move freely and adjust grip are also benefits of the exercise. In addition, the fact that it’s unilateral means that both arms will work as hard as each other, minimizing any imbalance in effort and strength/muscle gain.

You can lift a lot of weight because of the lack of lower back engagement, so I use it almost primarily as a heavy weight exercise. I don’t like an unsupported heavy dumbbell lift where the lifter maintains a hinged position. It’s not a great risk/reward ratio.

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do chest supported dumbbell rows:

  • Set the bench to an incline and lie chest down – you should be able to reach dumbbells placed on the floor
  • Hold the dumbbells with the grip of your choice – overhand, underhand or neutral
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbells, but don’t let them touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press is the same as the bench press in many ways – you automatically think of them as a shoulder exercise but forget they’re actually a great way of training the triceps.

I like the dumbbell shoulder press for triceps because it’s an overhead pressing movement, making it a different action compared to the more common tricep exercises. 

Overhead pressing in all forms, but especially dumbbells has huge crossover benefits in sports too.

It helps to develop strength, power, hypertrophy and upper spinal stability, so there’s much more to the movement than pure aesthetics – it’s a functional movement too. A must when training triceps with dumbbells. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

How to do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

12 week dumbbell workout plan strength phase workout 1 part 2

4. Shrugs

Shrugs are a great way to train the upper back and shoulders, making them helpful for developing strength and preventing injury in the area. They’re a very simple exercise to learn and execute, but the payoff is huge. 

The shrug itself is an exercise that has a lot of athletic carry-over, and a carryover into techniques of other lifts. Shrugs help with upper back stability in pull ups, deadlifts, carries and all of the olympic lifting movements. It’s a real bang for your buck exercise.

Equipment needed for shrugs: 

How to do shrugs:

  • Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand – the arms should be straight either side of your body
  • Keeping the dumbbells by your sides, shrug your shoulder up – visualize trying to touch your ears with your shoulders!
  • When the shoulders are as high as possible, squeeze them together and lower back down
  • Repeat as required

Note: check out also our dumbbell back exercises if you enjoy using dumbbells to strengthen your back.


5. Dumbbell Goblet Squats

The Dumbbell Goblet squat is an under-utlizied squat pattern in my opinion. Holding the weight in front of the body engages the core, and the shoulders are utilized to keep the dumbbell in place. The quads are activated and used through a full range of movement.

Like many of the exercises here, we’re all about the volume.

Equipment needed for goblet squats:

How to do goblet squats:

  • Hold the heavy dumbbell directly in front of your chest
  • Keep your torso bolt upright as best as you can throughout the movement – this maximizes your range
  • Slowly lower down into the squat, going as deep as you can
  • Pause at the bottom, then stand back up
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

6. Dumbbell Deadlifts

The dumbbell deadlift is one of my favorite dumbbell leg exercises. You can load the muscles well, whilst benefiting a lot of the other muscles around it. It’s also a simple and safe way to lift if you have a decent deadlift technique.

You won’t be able to hit the super heavy weights with a dumbbell lift that you could with a barbell, so we’re going as heavy as you can in the circumstances, but hit high volume. Plenty of reps to enjoy!

Equipment needed for dumbbell deadlifts:

How to do dumbbell deadlifts:

  • Hold the dumbbells in each hand
  • Deadlift the dumbbells into your starting position, which is where you’re holding the dumbbell with straight arms, just to the side of you
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and bend your legs as your torso starts to point towards the floor
  • Keep pushing your hips back, with your legs bending slightly as you lower the dumbbells towards the floor
  • As you reach the bottom of the movement, pause for a split second and push the hips forward and lift the dumbbells back to the starting position
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together
  • Repeat as many times as required

As you can see from this workout, the emphasis is on the upper body, with a couple of lower body exercises thrown in. It means we can do something similar on the opposite workout. This keeps the training balanced, and allows the opposite body part time to recover. 


Phase 1 (Strength), Workout 2:

This is the second workout of the first phase. It’s a strength workout with an emphasis on the lower body, with only minor involvement of the upper body. It’s basically a reverse of workout 1, forming a (kind of) upper and lower split routine.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Front Squats56-8
Bulgarian Split Squats6-8
Dumbbell Single Leg Calf Raises510 (per side)
Dumbbell Walking Lunges510 (per side)
Dumbbell Deficit Squats510
Dumbbell Power Clean58
12 week dumbbell workout plan strength phase workout 2 part 1

7. Dumbbell Front Squats

The dumbbell front squat is an important leg exercise. Front squats are the squatting pattern that I feature most in my own training and that of my personal training clients.

It is fantastic for building leg strength, has excellent athletic cross over and it spares the lower back more than back squats. Front squats may protect the knees slightly more than back squats, ideal when you’re doing a lot of leg work. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell front squats:

How to do a dumbbell front squat:

  • Clean the dumbbells into the front squat position – dumbbells high, elbows up, chest up
  • Take a breath in and engage the core – this keeps the lower back safer
  • Keeping the chest up throughout, push your hips back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Drive feet into the floor and stand back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

8. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

The rear foot elevated split squats allow for great squat depth, and it stretches the hip flexor as you go. This has large injury-prevention pay off later. The unilateral nature of the exercise reduces strength imbalances between limbs.

It’s a great way to focus a lot of work on the legs, and the back foot resting on the bench takes weight off the lower back. This is a dumbbell leg exercise that will really challenge you.

Equipment needed dumbbell Bulgarian split squats:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do dumbbell Bulgarian split squats:

  • Place the back foot on the bench behind you and hop your front foot ahead
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Keeping the chest up throughout, bend your back knee towards the floor and lower the front thigh until it reaches parallel to the floor
  • Drive front foot into the floor and stand back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Note: It’s important to diversify your workouts. If you want some more ideas to replace this exercise, our Bulgarian split squat alternative exercises article provides you with plenty of variations to target your legs.


9. Dumbbell Single Leg Standing Calf Raises

The dumbbell single leg standing calf raise is almost like a rest stop in this workout! It’s a way to give your quads, hamstrings and glutes a rest by focussing efforts elsewhere. The standing calf raise is simple to set up, but the results are certainly worth the effort.

It’s an isolation exercise, but the intensity is high because it is focussed all on one spot. Don’t be surprised if (as when fatigue kicks in), you feel this in the hamstrings as well. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell standing calf raises:

How to do dumbbell standing calf raises:

  • Place a thick plate (a heavy bumper is ideal), or couple of thinner plates on the floor – this is to elevate the heels and improve the range of movement and contractile range of the muscles
  • Place the balls of one foot on the plates, allowing you to move your heels up and down to train your calves
  • Whilst holding a dumbbell in one hand, get your balance and lift your heels off the floor by standing in a tiptoe position
  • At the peak of the contraction, slowly lower it down
  • Switch the dumbbell from one side to the other at the halfway point (for balance purposes)
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: check out our seated calf raise alternatives if you want to get more exercise ideas on training your calves.


12 week dumbbell workout plan strength phase workout 2 part 2

10. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Walking lunges in this context can be done with any type of load – kettlebells, barbells or my favorite, dumbbells. I prefer dumbbells because they’re easy to hold and you can keep them closer to your sides than most kettlebells, which can be bulky as they get heavier.

The dumbbell design has the thinner handle section which helps. This quad exercise is designed to load up each leg for large rep numbers, so pick a challenging weight. Again, a volume play here.

Equipment needed for dumbbell walking lunges:

How to do dumbbell walking lunges:

  • Take the weights and hold them in position
  • Keep your chest up and your core tight
  • Lunge forward, so you have one foot in front of your body and one behind
  • Keeping your chest upright, bend the front and back leg at the same time
  • When the back knee almost touches the floor, switch sides by stepping forward with the opposite leg
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

11. Dumbbell Deficit Squats

This is an exercise where simplicity and effort combine to produce a great outcome. You can make the exercise more difficult in a couple of ways – up the weight (obvious), or increase the size of the deficit you use. Either one is effective.

Not only does this exercise really help you build a lot of lower body muscle and function, it can also help you with flexibility. The range of movement here is massive, so work through the full movement and enjoy the muscle and mobility benefits.

Equipment needed for dumbbell deficit squats:

How to do dumbbell deficit squats:

  • Stand with a foot on either plate, with the plates about 12 inches apart (enough space for a dumbbell to fit in)
  • Put the dumbbell on its end, so it’s standing upright
  • Squat down with your chest up and arms straight. Pick up the dumbbell, then stand upright
  • Once you reach the top of the squat, pause, then slowly return the dumbbell back down towards the floor
  • Keep your back and arms straight throughout the movement
  • Repeat as many times as required

12. Dumbbell Power Clean

The dumbbell power clean is essentially a full body movement that is designed to generate a lot of power. It uses the lower body slightly, but the emphasis here is on the upper body. Is a good chance to use a heavy set of dumbbells to build explosive strength and power.

This is a more challenging version of the barbell power clean in my opinion, because it has two independently-moving dumbbells. This is a harder challenge to control the movement, especially when compared to a barbell.

Equipment needed for dumbbell power cleans:

How to do dumbbell power cleans:

  • Take hold of the heavy dumbbells with a neutral (palms inwards) grip
  • Bend your legs, keep your back straight and your chest up – the dumbbells should be on or near the floor
  • Drive through your legs, keeping your arms straight – this will lift the dumbbells to hip height
  • When the dumbbells reach hip height, pull them to chest height, driving your elbows underneath and ‘through’
  • As you’re doing this, ‘drop’ under the dumbbells into a quarter squat position – you should ‘catch’ them with bent legs to absorb some of the weight
  • Stabilize the dumbbells at chest height, dumbbells on the shoulders with your upper arms parallel to the floor and your elbows pointing directly in front of you (this is known as the rack position)
  • Stand up to finish the movement
  • Lower the dumbbells to the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

This workout is five lower body exercises, and one upper body exercise. It’s essentially a reverse of the first one. You should alternate the two workouts each week in this phase. Across the 4 weeks you’ll perform each workout 8 times.


Phase 2 (Volume), Workout 1:

This is a phase where we’re increasing the volume. Feel free to drop the weights here, but pay attention to the volume and the rest periods. We’re increasing intensity by sheer force of rep numbers, squeezed into a 45 minute target. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Push Ups512
Gorilla Rows20 (10 per side)
Arnold Press512
Dumbbell Curls515
Dumbbell Deficit Reverse Lunge312 (per side)
Dumbbell Pullovers410
Dumbbell Spanish Squats250
12 week dumbbell workout plan volume phase workout 1 part 1

13. Dumbbell Push Ups

This is a great exercise for both the chest and triceps. Keep the dumbbells just outside of shoulder width for best engagement – the closer they are the more the triceps are worked. The wider they are, the more the chest is engaged.

This simple positioning of the dumbbells can change the target muscles dramatically.

The push up is one of the exercises with a huge return on investment, so should feature highly in any list like this one. It’s a great way to train a lot of muscle in one very simple movement. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep push ups:

How to do dumbbell tricep push ups:

  • Position the dumbbells slightly wider than shoulder width
  • With an overhand or neutral grip, start with your arms at full extension
  • Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, slowly lower your torso towards the floor, bending at the elbows
  • Keep lowering your torso until you drop below the height of the dumbbells
  • Push back up to the start position

14. Dumbbell Gorilla Rows

The gorilla row is a real favorite of mine and features heavily in my training and the programs I write.

I like it for a number of reasons… It’s a single limb exercise, it’s a variation on a row, you can lift big weights, it’s functional and useful in both low and high rep workouts and it trains anti-rotation, which is a big bonus. Overall, they’re a fantastic back exercise.

It’s a great exercise for getting the heart rate up as well, so you get a couple of benefits from the one single movement pattern.

Equipment needed for gorilla rows:

How to do gorilla rows:

  • Hold the weights with a neutral (palms facing) grip
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull one of the weights up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blade in at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat the same movement on the opposite side, alternating for as many reps as required

15. Arnold Press

A classic shoulder exercise, possibly/probably invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s an exercise that forces contraction through a press and a rotation, so works the shoulders two ways. The Arnold press is a nice way to mix up pressing movements. 

Despite being around for a long time, it’s often forgotten about. I like to include it because the rotation helps to keep concentration throughout the lift and force a new type of contraction in the press.

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

How to do Arnold presses:

  • Sit upright on a bench, with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Dumbbells should be at chest height, palms facing your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead, rotating them as you press
  • When your arms are overhead and at full extension, your palms should be facing away from you (180 degree turn)
  • As you return the dumbbells to the starting position, rotate the dumbbells back so your palms are facing you again
  • Repeat

16. Dumbbell Curls

This is one of the first exercises anyone will learn with dumbbells. It’s a simple exercise (arguably even a little break in this workout), but a good one. Move through a full range of motion to get this one to work properly.

Make sure you keep your elbows tucked by your sides and move the dumbbells with control.

Equipment needed for dumbbell curls:

How to do dumbbell curls:

  • Stand up tall, with your back straight
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arm fall vertically to the floor
  • Lift the dumbbells keeping your elbows fixed
  • Squeeze your biceps at the top for a second or two
  • Lower all the way to the bottom
  • Repeat as necessary

Note: check out our dumbbell bicep exercises and variations guide if you want to get more ideas on how to strengthen your biceps.


12 week dumbbell workout plan volume phase workout 1 part 2

17. Dumbbell Deficit Reverse Lunge 

This variation of the lunge is designed to increase the range of motion of the exercise, forcing the time under tension to increase. It also increases the stretching of the hip flexors, which is helpful to offset the impact of sitting for long periods of time.

The dumbbell reverse lunge adds a challenge for the concentration as well, because the added element of the step means you have to focus on what you’re doing more.

Equipment needed for dumbbell deficit reverse lunges:

How to do dumbbell deficit reverse lunges:

  • Stand with both feet on a step or couple of bumper plates (aim for at least 4 inches high)
  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Keep your chest up and your core tight
  • Keeping one foot on the step, lunge backwards, so you have one foot on the step and the other one on the floor behind you
  • Keeping your chest upright, bend the front and back leg at the same time
  • When the back knee almost touches the floor, switch the legs over, making the back leg lunge forward and back up onto the step
  • Perform the same movement on the opposite side
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

18. Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is an excellent lat exercise for two reasons – the first is that it forces a deep stretch of the lats and thorax. The second is that it helps to activate the stabilizing muscles where the lats and shoulders meet.

It offers a unique contraction angle of the muscles, adding variety to the workout.

Equipment needed for dumbbell pullovers:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do dumbbell pullovers:

  • Lie on bench so your arms are able to reach behind you in an overhead position
  • Take a dumbbell and hold in both hands, with your arms fully extended directly in front of your head
  • Maintaining straight arms throughout, extend the dumbbell overhead and behind you, towards the floor
  • Keep going until you feel a stretch in the lats, but no further – if your lower back starts to arch, you’ve gone too far
  • At maximum stretch, hold for a second and return the dumbbell over your face to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

19. Dumbbell Spanish Squats 

Although mostly used as a rehab exercise, Spanish squats are an amazing way of isolating the quads during a squatting pattern. By taking out most of the rest of the muscles it forces all of the effort onto the quads, which results in a lot of fatigue from a simple exercise. 

Spanish squats need a band and an anchor point. Weights here will be light to medium, because we’re going very high rep! These add up, so don’t get too ahead of yourself!

Equipment needed for Spanish squats:

  • Strong resistance band
  • Anchor point (rack)
  • Dumbbell

How to do Spanish squats:

  • Secure the resistance band around an anchor point
  • Hold on the barbell like you would for the goblet squat – chest up, dumbbell gripped tightly
  • Stand in the band, then move backwards to create a lot of tension in the band
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Ensure the knees don’t cross over the toes
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

This is the first workout of the hypertrophy volume phase. It’s more upper body heavy, but that’s because we’re trying to add more muscle on the upper body. We’re taking care of the lower body throughout the program, so it’s not being neglected!

This is a challenge to get done in 50 minutes, so work hard and keep rest periods to around 30 seconds. 


Phase 2 (Volume), Workout 2:

This is another high volume workout designed to hit the whole body hard. It’s a longer workout than the last one, so you won’t get it done in the 45-50 minute range. Expect to be done in closer to 55-60 mins. As usual, go hard!

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Fly512
Dumbbell Bench Press10 (per side)
Single Arm Row512
Reverse Fly515
Dumbbell Lu Raises312 (per side)
Russian Twists410
Incline Curls315
Dumbbell Crunch312
12 week dumbbell workout plan volume phase workout 2 part 1

20. Dumbbell Flyes

The dumbbell fly is a great way of challenging the chest. It includes a pectoral stretch, an eccentric contraction of the muscles and controlled internal rotation at the shoulder.

The dumbbell fly is a very popular exercise in bodybuilding circles because it’s a perfect way to add variety and stress the muscle fibers in a new way.

The movement is an excellent way to open up the chest and improve shoulder health as well. It’s an effective muscle builder, but also a movement improver. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell flyes:

How to do dumbbell flyes:

  • Set the bench to the incline of your choosing
  • Pick the dumbbells up, lie back and hold them directly in front of you
  • Lower them slowly out to the sides, maintaining an almost-straight arm throughout the movement
  • When you feel a full stretch, pause and push the dumbbells back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: check out our lower chest dumbbell exercises if you want to explore more ideas on strengthening your chest muscles.


21. Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is my favorite of the traditional chest exercises. I like it because the free weight element forces stability on both sides of the body, so is particularly good for creating functional balance.

Word of warning here – dumbbells are significantly harder than barbells to press, so they don’t translate equally. If you’re pressing 150 LBS on the bar for example, don’t go for 2 x 75’s. Shoot much lower and build up. Maybe start with the 50’s or so.

Equipment needed for dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do dumbbell bench press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand, neutral (palms facing each other), or 45 degree (halfway between the two) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a good stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

22. Single Arm Row

Single arm rows are very effective because they force each side to work independently. They require shoulder and trunk stability to maintain good torso position throughout the lift too.

With the single arm row, you can lift some serious weight – this forces the lats to engage hard in order to maintain spinal stability and prevent over-rotation throughout the lift.

Equipment needed for single arm rows:

How to do an single arm row:

  • Place a hand and knee on a bench, with the other leg on the floor for stability.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the free hand, with your arm straight down. 
  • Pull the dumbbell up to the rib cage, bending the elbow behind you as you do.
  • Once the dumbbell is at rib height, pause and lower to the start position.

23. Reverse Fly

Reverse flyes are like face pulls in the sense that the value doesn’t lie in the weight you lift – it lies in the quality of the movement execution. Your focus should be on full scapular control, activating the muscles of the upper back and rear delts, and achieving a full muscle squeeze at the top of the movement.

Weight isn’t everything – movement quality is important too.

Equipment needed for reverse flyes:

How to do reverse flyes:

  • Bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight
  • Start with your arms pointing down directly underneath your chest, with a slight bend at the elbow
  • Lift the hands out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades as you do
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly to finish
  • Lower the arms back to the start position and repeat

12 week dumbbell workout plan volume phase workout 2 part 2

24. Dumbbell Lu Raises

The ‘Lu’ raise is named after legendary Chinese weightlifter, Lu Xiaojun. It’s essentially a lat raise with a huge range of motion, taking the weight from the sides of the body to directly overhead, and then back down to the sides. If you’re a purist it’s done with weight plates, but it’s still every bit as effective when using dumbbells.

Great for shoulders, upper back, and mobility – it deserves its place here.

Equipment needed for dumbbell Lu raises:

How to do dumbbell Lu raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in either hand and start with your hands by your sides
  • Keeping your arms straight, lift the dumbbells out to your sides, and keep going until they are directly over head
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms by your sides and return to the start position – keep your arms straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

25. Dumbbell Russian Twists

The dumbbell Russian twist is the go-to rotational exercise for many. The other good thing about it is that the position of the torso forces abdominal engagement as well, meaning there’s a double win. It’s training the rectus abdominis and the obliques at the same time.

It’s a simple, but very challenging exercise when performed correctly.

Really focus on the technique here – don’t just ‘throw’ your weight from side to side, really control the rotation with the core muscles. 

Equipment needed for Russian twists:

How to do dumbbell Russian twists:

  • Hold a dumbbell in both hands, slightly away from the body
  • Lean your torso back around 45 degrees, extend your legs in front of you with slightly bent knees
  • Lift your feet off the floor and keep them there
  • Keeping your legs in front of you, twist your torso around to each side, holding the dumbbell throughout
  • Make sure your chest moves with you – don’t just move your arms from side to side
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

26. Incline Dumbbell Curls

This is the best bicep exercise to target the long head of your biceps. It’s a tough exercise with a huge range of movement, so be prepared to keep your ego in check and lift lighter than you expect.

It’ll catch up with you very quickly – don’t be surprised if you hit failure before you’d expect to. 

It’s the one exercise that will add the most volume to your biceps and make them look bigger, quicker than any other exercise here. But there are many mistakes people make with this one so be sure to follow the steps below carefully. 

Equipment needed for incline dumbbell curls:

How to do incline dumbbell curls:

  • Raise the bench to 45-60 degree angle
  • Push your back, shoulders and head against the bench the whole time
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arm fall vertically to the floor
  • Lift the dumbbells keeping your elbows fixed
  • Squeeze your biceps at the top for a second or two
  • Lower all the way to the bottom
  • Repeat as necessary 

27. Dumbbell Crunch

I generally steer away from sit ups or crunches in most ab workouts, because I think there’s a risk/reward issue at play. You need to have decent core stability in order to successfully manage a full range sit up.

This crunch has a limited range of movement, with a very precise targeting of the rectus abdominis. This makes it safer than a full sit up, which (in my opinion) encourages too much unnecessary lumbar flexion.

Note that people with lower back problems might want to replace this exercise with some of our sit up alternatives.

Equipment needed for dumbbell crunches:

How to do dumbbell crunches

  • Lie flat on your back, feet flat on the floor and knees bent
  • Hold a dumbbell with straight arms, directly overhead (in front of you when you’re lying down)
  • Engage the abs and crunch up, lifting just the upper body off the floor – the lower back stays in contact with the floor throughout
  • Keep the arms straight throughout and the dumbbell extended in front
  • Return to the floor the second you feel the lower back starting to lift

These workouts are high volume, high intensity and designed to pack on muscle. You’ll have to dig deep on these exercises to make them work for you, but go for it. Also, make sure you pay attention to the different ways we’re exercising – using a deficit for the reverse lunges, using Lu raises instead of standard lat raises. Little touches add up… 


Phase 3 (HIIT), Workout 1:

This is the conditioning phase – the last 4 weeks of the program were we red-zone each workout. We keep it simple, but we work really, really hard during these sessions. It’s the cherry on the cake of a 12 week dumbbell workout plan.

You’ll see your stamina increase, your strength endurance increase and your heart rate fly!

In this workout you hit 20 reps of each exercise before moving onto the next one. Once you’ve done all 5 exercises (100 reps), rest for 2 minutes. Repeat as many times as you want to, but have to perform a minimum of 5.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Thrusters520
Dumbbell Burpees to Overhead Press20
Push Up to Row520
Dumbbell Power Snatches520 (per side)
Dumbbell Jump Squats520
12 week dumbbell workout plan HIIT phase workout one

28. Dumbbell Thrusters

Thrusters are synonymous with CrossFit, but they’ve made the transfer into the mainstream now because they’re so… damn… good! They combine two excellent exercises – the front squat and the shoulder press, but they include core stability too.

I like Thrusters more as a conditioning exercise (medium to low weight, higher rep ranges) than a strength exercise, but either way they’re an integral part of my programming and an exercise I rate very highly.

They’re fantastic with barbells, but in this case I want you to perform them with dumbbells… this is a list of compound dumbbell exercises after all!

Equipment needed for dumbbell thrusters:

How to do dumbbell thrusters:

  • Hold the dumbbells up by your chest
  • Keeping your chest up and back straight, squat down to a full front squat depth (thighs parallel to the floor)
  • Stand back up by driving hard through the feet
  • At the top of the squat, without pausing press the dumbbells overhead with a full extension of the arms
  • When the arms have reached full extension, drop the dumbbells back down to the chest
  • Repeat as many times as required

29. Dumbbell Burpee to Overhead Press

I don’t buy into the burpee hate – a lot of it is scare-mongering from coaches who are looking for clicks. A burpee, performed safely and appropriately is a perfectly acceptable exercise. It’s no more risky than many other exercises we already use.

The dumbbell burpee to overhead press is an incredible conditioning exercise. Using a simple pair of dumbbells, it’s a way to challenge your whole body, improve your cardio conditioning, build some muscle and torch calories.

Perfect to program for time or reps, it’s a versatile and effective exercise.

Equipment needed for dumbbell burpee to overhead presses:

How to do dumbbell burpee to overhead presses:

  • Start in a push up position, legs outstretched, straight arms with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Hop the feet in by bringing your knees to your chest and balancing on the balls of your feet
  • Holding the dumbbells throughout, stand upright quickly
  • Keeping the momentum from standing up fast, lift both of the dumbbells overhead in one smooth movement
  • When the arms are outstretched, return them down to your sides, then back to the floor
  • When you’re crouched on the floor, jump the legs back so they’re outstretched, just like the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

30. Push Up to Row

The dumbbell pushup to row is a complete all upper body exercise… It’s a chest and triceps exercise with the push up. It’s a back exercise with a row. It’s a core exercise with the push up plank position, and the push/pull element trains all of the shoulders. 

As exercises go, it’s hard to beat. As well as the upper body challenges, it’s also a skills test. You have to engage the core to prevent rotation, all whilst balancing on one side at a time. This is an exercise that will challenge you beyond what you’re used to.

If you’re not used to this exercise, practice with a light weight to start with.

Equipment needed for dumbbell pushup to row:

How to do dumbbell pushups to row:

  • Get into the push up position, with hands balancing on dumbbells and feet balancing on your toes
  • Keep your legs apart to help with balance
  • Lower your chest down into a full deficit push up
  • As you push back up and reach the top of the movement, row one of the dumbbells up to your chest
  • Perform another push up, then repeat on the other side
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

31. Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches

A dumbbell power snatch is a great start to this workout – it’s a complete upper body exercise that combines strength, power and stability. As well as being unilateral, it’s functional dynamic and will also help to build overhead range of movement if you need it to.

It’s a great addition to any dumbbell workout.

This is another one of those that will blow your heart rate through the roof, so pay attention to the heart rate monitor here. It’ll soon become a favorite conditioning exercise for you!

Equipment needed for alternating dumbbell power snatches:

How to do alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  • Set a dumbbell between your feet
  • Take an overhand grip, squat slightly and drive up with the legs, putting upward momentum into the dumbbell
  • Use the momentum to carry the dumbbell up, then lift it the rest of the way overhead
  • Once the dumbbell is overhead, drop it to the floor under control
  • Switch sides and repeat
  • Continue for as many reps as required

32. Dumbbell Jump Squats

The dumbbell jump squat is a safe and effective way to build explosive power in the lower body. It’s also excellent for building knee stability because the knees have to work hard to control the descent of the body’s mass (and that of the dumbbells) on the way down.

Make sure you keep the weight in a low-medium range so you don’t fatigue yourself too quickly.

Keep the weights light to begin with, because if you go too heavy you’ll definitely gas out quicker than you think!

Equipment needed for dumbbell jump squats:

How to do dumbbell jump squats:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand
  • Stand bolt upright, initiating the movement by driving the hips back
  • Lower yourself into a deep squat, until your thighs break parallel with the floor
  • Keeping your chest up, drive your feet into the floor powerfully, forcing the jump
  • When you land, absorb the impact with your knees bent, lower back down
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

As a bare minimum, this is a 500 rep workout, so it’s no joke. The fitter and stronger you are (or the more crazy), the more you’ll be able to push. I want you to be challenging yourself here – it’s the final phase of the program. Work hard, get those reps in and get that fitness up!


Phase 3 (HIIT), Workout 2:

This is the second conditioning workout of the third phase. It’s a different pattern to the previous one, in the sense that we’re working for 5 minutes per exercise, 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest.

Perform the full 5 minutes of the exercise before moving on to the next one. If you want to add extra sets to increase the intensity, go ahead!

ExerciseSetsReps
Jumping Bulgarian Split Squats530 seconds per side
Dumbbell Push Press30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
Dumbbell Squat Thrust530 seconds on, 30 seconds off
Dumbbell Farmer’s Walks530 seconds on, 30 seconds off
Alternating Dumbbell High Pulls530 seconds on, 30 seconds off
12 week dumbbell workout plan HIIT phase workout two

33. Jumping Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

The jumping dumbbell Bulgarian split squats are immense. They take all of the strength benefits of the standard approach, then dial it up by adding the explosive nature. It’s a great way to focus a lot of work on the legs, and the back foot resting on the bench takes weight off the lower back.

This is a dumbbell leg exercise that will really challenge you.

Equipment needed dumbbell Bulgarian split squats:

How to do dumbbell Bulgarian split squats:

  • Place the back foot on the bench behind you and hop your front foot ahead
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Keeping the chest up throughout, bend your back knee towards the floor and lower the front thigh until it reaches parallel to the floor
  • Drive front foot into the floor hard, so your front foot leaves the floor in a ‘jump’
  • Land back to the start position and rebalance
  • Repeat as many times as required

34. Dumbbell Push Press

This is a pure strength endurance exercise here – we’re going for weight over time. Make sure you select a challenging weight (you’re well warmed up by now), keep your form excellent and drive the dumbbells for a full range of motion.

Keep your core tight and glutes squeezed to maintain a strong back. DON’T ARCH your lower back!

Equipment needed for dumbbell push press:

How to do a dumbbell push press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Dip your legs into a quarter squat, then drive them back up straight and hard
  • As your legs straighted, press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full arm extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position, absorbing the impact by bending the legs
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

35. Dumbbell Squat Thrust

The dumbbell squat thrust is an interesting exercise because it combines the first element of a burpee with a deadlift. This is instead of an overhead press like in the previous workout. The difference here is that you can lift a heavier load if you’re deadlifting the dumbbells, rather than pressing them.

It’s a great dumbbell conditioning exercise.

Equipment needed for dumbbell squat thrusts:

How to do dumbbell squat thrusts:

  • Start in a push up position, legs tucked into your chest, straight arms with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Hop the feet out so your legs are outstretched fully
  • Hop the feet in by bringing your knees to your chest and balancing on the balls of your feet
  • Holding the dumbbells throughout, stand upright quickly but carefully

Note: if you like using dumbbells, be sure to also check out our 5 day dumbbell workout plan.


36. Farmer’s Walks

The dumbbell farmer’s walk is a simple yet very effective lower body exercise. It’s an exercise that engages the entire core, legs and lower back.

The dumbbells should pull the torso forwards, so the lower back and spinal erectors have to work to keep the torso upright, which is effectively what back extensions are doing – working to make the torso upright.

Use heavy dumbbells and a long walking distance to make this an excellent core and conditioning exercise. The turf at my gym is 25m long, so there and back is a 50m length. That’s REALLY tough with heavy bells!

Equipment needed for farmers walks:

How to do farmers walks:

  • Hold a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand
  • Stand up, keeping the weight on either side with a straight arm
  • Keeping your back straight and your core tight, walk in a straight line for a given distance (minimum 20 yards)
  • Turn around and walk back
  • Repeat as many times as necessary
  • If this is too easy, either use heavier weights or walk a longer distance

37. Alternating Dumbbell Snatch High Pull

I love this exercise. It’s an unconventional one, but so effective. Make sure you use a heavy dumbbell here – if it’s too light you lose the effectiveness of the exercise.

The exercise uses the legs, glutes and core. It also activates a lot of the spinal erectors and upper back muscles, plus it’s a powerful, explosive movement. This means as well as being a great muscle building exercise, it also has huge athletic carryover.

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell snatch high pulls:

How to do single arm dumbbell snatch high pulls:

  • Take the dumbbell with an overhand grip)
  • Bend your knees, keeping your back straight and the chest high
  • Drive with your legs, keep your back straight and pull directly upwards
  • Pull the elbow up high and wide and squeeze the shoulder blade into the center of the body
  • Maintain the pull until the dumbbell reaches chest height
  • Lower the dumbbell under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

This is the second exercise of the conditioning phase. As with the other phases, alternate these workouts during the week. Like the first workout, this is a minimum of 5 sets. If you want to carry on doing more, add extra sets in.


What to expect in the 12 week dumbbell workout plan…

If you’ve never followed a program to completion before, here’s what you can expect. There’s a few points that might surprise you!

You might feel like a total beginner!

Each phase here is 4 weeks long, so just as you’re getting well established with things, the program changes! This is to keep you challenged, but it’s also to keep you fresh mentally as well. When a program gets stale, it gets boring. At that point, you’re likely to program hop.

We try to avoid that here with the relatively frequent changes of focus and intensity.

There’ll be a lot of fatigue!

You’re likely to be upping the ante here, going from training quite hard, to training like a beast. That delivers excellent results, but it’s tiring too. You’ve got to really want to achieve something here to make it worth the effort and the work rate.

If you aren’t used to dumbbells as well, this will be a learning curve. Those exercises you thought you’d mastered… think again, amigo! It’s back to the rookie-level for you unless you focus!

You’ll need to control the food intake

If you want fat loss results, you’ll have to focus on your diet. You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time (contrary to popular belief), but it’ll mean a lot of protein, a lot of work, great hydration, and plenty of vegetables!

Supplement with a multivitamin, fish oil and anything else you might need and find appropriate.

Learn all about fat loss through our ultimate guide on how to lose fat. Our guide is created by experts and based on decades of training experience.

It’ll push you harder than you’re used to

Where you’ve got a 45 minute (or less) target, the idea is to get you out of the mindset of someone who takes their time between sets, and instead focuses on their workout.

This concentration is the difference between someone who succeeds and someone who fails in their training endeavors.

You’ll CHANGE!

When you train with this focus, intensity and effort you’ll change dramatically. If you get a grip of your diet, you’ll look even better. 

This program is designed to shake you out of bad habits and into good ones. It’ll make you look at training differently. If you follow the advice in here to the letter, you’ll shock yourself with your transformation. 

Embrace this approach… It’ll be the start of something great!


Three Months to Insanity 12 week Dumbbell Workout Plan: The bottom line

Insane results require insane effort. We’re changing how you train, we’re challenging you and we’re expecting you to do things differently here. These workouts are challenging. They’ll play with your perceptions of what a workout looks like.

The volumes, setups, and rep ranges of exercises here will sometimes throw you.

And that’s a good thing. 

The next steps are simple. Re-read the workouts. Print them out. Watch the technique videos and understand what to do… Then get busy.

Get those dumbbells out. Get yourself set up. Get lifting. Embrace the process and watch the changes happen.

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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