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5 Day Dumbbell Workout – Lose 20lbs in 12 Weeks By Ripping Up the Split Routine Rule Book

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You know what’s boring about the 5 day dumbbell workout articles you find in magazines? They’re all the same regurgitated dross, that assumes everyone wants to train like a bodybuilder. They’ll follow a split routine that looks something like this…

  • Chest
  • Back 
  • Shoulders
  • Legs and Abs
  • Arms

There’s more creativity in a potato. It’s also a bit insulting to dumbbells… they’re an amazing, versatile training tool. Restricting their use to a predictable 5 day split is like getting a top spec computer and only using it to trawl through Facebook. 

So we’re changing things.

This 5 day dumbbell workout is going to rip up the rule book and turn you into an adonis. You can expect to lose 20lbs in 12 weeks following this approach (if you pair it with a fat loss diet that is!)

So strap yourself in. We’re doing things differently from now…

Table Of Contents
  1. 5 Day Dumbbell Workout Program: Lose 20lbs in 12 weeks
  2. 5 Steps to Use the 5 Day Dumbbell Workout to Transform Your Body Composition
  3. The 5 Day Dumbbell Workout – How it’s done
  4. The 5 Day Dumbbell Workout – FAQs
  5. 5 Day Dumbbell Workout: The bottom line
A wide choice of dumbbells on display

5 Day Dumbbell Workout Program: Lose 20lbs in 12 weeks

5 Day Dumbbell Workout General Infographic

The great thing about training with dumbbells is their versatility, so let’s maximize that in this 5 day dumbbell workout. We’ve got the opportunity to drastically change how you train here, so we’re going to take advantage of it. 

Here are three of the many benefits of training this way…

5 Day Dumbbell Workout Benefits

Benefit 1: You tick all of the fitness boxes

A split routine has one aim – to improve your physique by adding muscle mass. That’s all. Now, if you want to be a bodybuilder, that’s fine. But it leaves a lot of potential fitness benefits on the table.

By following this programming you can not only increase your muscle mass, but you can also improve your conditioning, burn a lot of calories (keeping fat levels down), and experience a lot of variety in your training. 

This program isn’t a CrossFit workout, but it shares the idea of combining multiple different fitness benefits within the one workout program. 

In a research study called ‘CrossFit – Development, Benefits and Risks’ by Wagener et al, this multi-factorial approach is shown to…

‘…be effective for the improvement of several physical fitness parameters as enhanced endurance, increased maximal aerobic capacity VO2max, aerobic and anaerobic capacity and a positive influence on participants’ body composition, strength, flexibility, power and balance, BMI, fat mass and waist circumference.’

Not a bad return for a 5 day dumbbell workout!

Benefit 2: You’re more likely to stick to the program

Building on the point from the previous benefit, research shows that when you’re faced with a dynamic, multi-disciplinary workout plan you’re likely to adhere to it. 

This is based on findings from a 2019 study by Gianzina and Kassotaki into ‘The benefits and risks of the high intensity CrossFit training’. Their research study highlighted that…

‘CrossFit has also positive psychological effects on athletes, such as exercise enjoyment, challenge, satisfaction, and goals achievement, which lead to high levels of retention and adherence of participants.’

This is important, because any program is only effective if you stick to it. I’m hoping that by providing you with a myriad of challenges and experiences across the 5 days, you’ll enjoy the program and stick to it for the long haul. 

Benefit 3: It’s a time efficient form of programming

Historically, fitness (especially body composition changing) was done in cycles… you’d do a bulking phase where you’d increase calories and seek to add mass. You’d inevitably add some fat too, even when you were tracking calories.

There’d then be a ‘cutting’ phase, where you’d drop your calories, switch up your training (often adding in more low intensity cardio) and seek to drop body fat. In many cases, this approach came at the cost of a significant amount of muscle mass. 

By following this 5 day dumbbell workout program, you won’t have to go through these phases. The idea is that the muscle building and the calorie burning is done at the same time. 

If you don’t believe it’s possible, check the research…

A review from 2020 into the research around concurrent fat loss and hypertrophy training was performed by Barakat et al. They analyzed a lot of the research and concluded that…

‘Despite the common belief that building muscle and losing fat at the same time is only plausible in novice/obese individuals, the literature provided supports that trained individuals can also experience body recomposition.’

You have to train hard, eat well and sleep well of course, but the point is it’s possible


5 Steps to Use the 5 Day Dumbbell Workout to Transform Your Body Composition

Step 1: Train Hard

This is one that goes without saying. If you want to create significant change in your physique, you’ll need to train consistently hard, for a consistently long period of time. 

Research from 2021 by Brennan Harris and Kuo looked at Scientific Challenges on Theory of Fat Burning by Exercise. In particular, they looked at the nature of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss. Their conclusions were that…

‘Despite the fact that lower exercise intensity relies more on fatty acid oxidation, high-intensity exercise training (anaerobic in nature) provides a superior abdominal fat loss effect than low- and moderate-intensity exercise training.’

So in other words, if you want to lose abdominal fat, you have to work especially hard! That thinking forms the basis for a lot of the work in this program.

A lady doing lat raises with a pair of dumbbells

Step 2: Never Miss a Workout

Let’s run some basic numbers…

In single pound of fat there are 4086 calories. Typically on a fat loss diet we burn restrict calories by about 500 per day.

When we’re working out, we’re typically looking to burn an additional 500 calories (or more on super intense days, but let’s go with the lower number). 

So on this 5 day dumbbell workout program, we’ve got the potential to create a minimum 6000 calorie deficit per week through diet and exercise.

Add to this the water loss etc and you can reasonably expect to lose around 20lbs over the 12 weeks, all whilst building some serious muscle. 

But…

Let’s say you get lazy. You drop from 5 days of training to 2 days. That’s 1500 calories you haven’t burned. Then a couple of days you slip up on your calories, and you wipe out another 3 days of deficit.

That’s another 1500 calorie deficit you’ve missed. All of a sudden you’re 3000 calories worse off.

Over 12 weeks, those 3000 calories pewr week are the equivalent of around 9lbs of fat loss you’ve missed out on.

So stay on top of things. Daily discipline = weekly progress.

Step 3: Sleep Well

If you want to train well, you absolutely must make sleep an important part of your training schedule. We know there are huge impacts of sleep deprivation on weight training performance, so schedule in a full 7-10 hour sleep every night.

This will ensure maximum recovery, leading to improved gym performance.

Research from by Reilly and Piercy in 1994 focused on The effect of partial sleep deprivation on weight-lifting performance.

What was interesting in their findings was that the performance on the small, isolation exercise (bicep curl) wasn’t impacted by sleep, whereas the big, multi-joint compound exercises were.

Given the 5 day dumbbell workout is full of compound exercises, if you want great results, you’ll need to ensure you get some great sleep as well!

Step 4: Track calories

In the fat loss hierarchy, calories are king and protein is queen. If you want to lose weight, you have to restrict your calories. We go into more dietary detail in our ultimate guide on nutrition for fitness.

But for now, remember two things…

  1. You CAN’T lose fat unless you’re in a calorie deficit. The easiest way to track your food intake is by using an app. I like MyFitnessPal because it’s easy to use an has a huge food library.
  2. The key macronutrient for you is protein. It’s super important – it’ll help to keep you full, it helps to repair tissues, maintain youe muscle mass and can even help to supply energy. Make sure you hit your protein target daily.

As always, I’d recommend you consume your calories from healthy sources. Basing your diet around natural foods such as lean meat, organ meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, rice and potatoes is the best way for most people.

Supplements should be just that – a supplement. They should never be used instead of real food.

Note: Like to learn more about fat loss? Then be sure to check out our ultimate guide on how to lose fat.

Step 5: Push for progress

In a workout plan like this there are different types of progress… in the strength workouts you have increases in weight. In the conditioning workout you have the time it takes you to complete the workout as your progress measurement.

The important thing is you seek to progress throughout the program.

Your progress might not be linear, every single week. It might stall for a couple of weeks, then make a few progressive jumps very quickly. As long as you’re making progress though, that’s the important thing.

Progression might be psychological as much as it is physical. Forcing yourself to complete the extra reps, or to work faster is a mental process. It’ll demand a lot of you, but the results are worth it in the end. 


The 5 Day Dumbbell Workout – How it’s done

Given there are 5 different weekly workouts within the program, each one justfies an explanation. To maintain simplicity the warm up is the same each time, but the 5 dumbbell workouts are individuals.

Some of the movement patterns will be similar, but that’s OK. The execution is different each time.

The 5 workouts consist of a mixture of a standard push/pull/legs split (one workout each), and then we have an accessories day (we also have a separate article on the push pull legs and push pull routines).

Finally we round the week off with a conditioning day.

We always end the week with the conditioning workout, because it uses the lightest weights, so it doesn’t matter if we go into it slightly tired.

Here’s how I suggest you divide your training week…

Monday: Push workout

Tuesday: Pull workout

Wednesday: Legs and abs workout

Thursday: Accessories workout

Friday: Conditioning workout

Weekend: Rest

By following this approach you’re hitting a tough workout each day, but allowing a couple of days at the weekend to rest sufficiently.


Warm Up

3-2-1 Warm Up

The warm up is the same each time – we’re not over complicating things here. The idea is to warm the body, prepare it for what lies ahead and get some movement going. We’re not looking for fatigue.

5 minutes cardio, ideally a form that trains everything in one go… 

  • Rowing, running, shadow boxing, skipping/jump rope, cross trainer, air bike etc

Followed by…

  • 10 rounds of 3-2-1 format Air Squats, Push Ups, Burpee

Keep this warm up the same on all of the workouts, even the ones where you only train legs. A few upper body reps are always helpful!

A couple of treadmills and air bikes in My Gym

Dumbbell Push Workout

The push workout is upper body only, because the lower body is taken care of with its own workout. The idea is to slightly emphasize the strength element of the split routine, so we’ll be focussing on higher weights, medium reps here. 

There’s a mixture of pushing angles – horizontal, vertical and both incline and decline.

There’s a lot of volume in each of the split routine workouts relative to the amount of exercises in them.

ExerciseSetsReps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press58
Dumbbell Shoulder Press510
Dumbbell Deficit Push Ups512
Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press58 (per side)
Flat Dumbbell Fly58
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press58

5 Day Dumbbell Push Workout 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. 

We’re hitting this with a lot of volume and a medium-high weight. Hit fatigue by the end of the set.

Equipment needed for incline 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 incline dumbbell bench press:

  • Set the bench to a slight 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. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

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!

Again, this is going to be a challenging exercise. Expect the shoulders to get tired towards the final few sets!

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

3. Dumbbell Deficit Push Ups

The dumbbell deficit push up really forces a stretch across the chest. It also engages the pectoral muscles through a huge range of movement, making it a fantastic exercise for a chest workout. 

I want you to really emphasize the size of the range of movement, and if you find it too easy, slow your tempo down. Take 5 seconds to lower yourself, and 3-5 seconds to push yourself back up.

Equipment needed for deficit push ups:

How to do deficit push ups:

  • Set your deficit to an appropriate width and height. Wider and higher means more pectoral engagement.
  • Start with arms fully extended and lower yourself down through the movement.
  • Lower yourself until you’ve reached full depth. You’re looking for more than 90 degree elbow bend and a full stretch of the chest.
  • Slowly press yourself back up to a straight arm position.
  • Repeat as many times as required.

5 Day Dumbbell Push Workout part 2

4. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

The single arm dumbbell bench press may be the most beneficial type of bench press there is. It’s single-sided, which means there’s no way a dominant side can take over the movement. It’s anti-rotation, because the core has to engage to prevent the torso from rolling to one side.

It’s also excellent for chest and shoulder health because the extra range of motion helps to stretch. Although it takes longer to train each side individually, it’s really worth it in this case. 

You’ll lift a lot less weight this time, but that’s OK – you want to challenge your balance, but not compromise it.

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

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 single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • With a dumbbell one, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand or neutral (palms facing inward) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell towards the side of your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a good stretch
  • Engage the core throughout to prevent your torso rotating to the side 
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

5. Flat Dumbbell Fly

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 challenge the muscle fibers in a new way. 

We’re not going too hard here – we don’t want to stress the shoulders too much. We are looking for the training effect though, so don’t go too easy on yourself either!

Equipment needed for flat dumbbell flyes:

How to do flat dumbbell flyes:

  • Set the bench flat
  • 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 pull the dumbbells back up and to the center,  under control throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: our chest fly alternatives or our alternatives section can help you dive deeper into exercise alternatives.


6. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

Decline dumbbell bench press isn’t as popular as other forms of the lift, but it’s a very effective way of hitting the lower chest as we’ve seen from research on the subject. Don’t decline too far though – a 25KG plate or two, or 15 degree decline is perfectly suitable.

If you don’t have a bench that can decline, simply stack plates, benches or something similar underneath to create a sufficient angle (as seen in the video). As always, lift well, lift hard and keep your form good.

Equipment needed for decline bench press:

How to do decline dumbbell bench press:

  • Set your bench to a decline – don’t go too steep, because you want a good range of movement
  • Take your dumbbells, lie back and position your hands slightly wider than your torso
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a depth around 1 inch from your lower chest
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells up to a full extension of the elbow
  • Repeat

These exercises make up the upper body push workout. Although there are only a few exercises, you should be working as hard as you can on each of them to maximize the benefits from it.


Dumbbell Pull Workout

The upper body pull workout is in the same format as the push workout. There’s a general focus on strength here, with the weights being medium-heavy, sets being based around the 8 reps mark and the volume kept high.

Several different angles and exercises make up the workout. This helps to maintain a wide variety of muscle stimulation. 

Go hard here and give it your all. It’s a short workout, but an effective one if you go for it!

ExerciseSetsReps
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows58
Gorilla Rows510 (per side)
Reverse Fly512
Dumbbell Pull Overs58 (per side)
Alternating Dumbbell High Pulls58
Shrugs512

5 Day Dumbbell Pull Workout part 1

1. 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.

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

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

2. Dumbbell Gorilla Rows

The gorilla row is a real favorite of mine and features heavily in my training and that of 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

3. Dumbbell Reverse fly

This a classic bodybuilding exercise for good reason – it hits the rear deltoids very well. I like it as a supporting exercise for the shoulders, helping to stabilize the scapular and strengthen the traps. As part of an overall dumbbell upper body workout, it’s worth its weight in gold. 

Keep your movements slow and deliberate here, don’t rush the exercise. It’s often better when you ‘feel’ the contraction with each rep.

Equipment needed for reverse fly:

How to do reverse fly:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Bend at the hips, keeping your back straight
  • With your arms straight and pointing directly below you, use your rear deltoids and upper back to lift the weights out to the sides
  • At the top squeeze the upper back muscles together
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

5 Day Dumbbell Pull Workout part 2

4. 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.

It can also help mobilize the thoracic spine, improving exercise technique and reducing injury risk, especailly when overhead pressing.

Equipment needed for dumbbell pullovers:

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

5. Alternating Dumbbell High Pulls

This is an excellent dumbbell power movement. It’s designed to work on explosive power, the kind of which you’d use in a sporting context. It’s also a perfect way to combine several body parts in a single movement, with the shoulder doing most of the work. 

Finally, it’s a vertical pull movement from the ground up, which is unique in a shoulder training concept. A great movement for lots of training outcomes. 

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell snatch high pull:

How to do single arm dumbbell snatch high pull:

  • Place the dumbbell between your feet, slightly in front of you
  • Take hold of the dumbbell with an overhand (palms facing towards you) grip
  • Keep your back straight and pull directly upwards
  • Pulling the elbow up high and wide, but squeeze the shoulder blade of the lifting arm in towards the middle
  • Emphasize the elbow traveling upwards and keeping the dumbbell close to the body
  • Lower the dumbbell under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

6. Shrugs

One of the movements people forget about when it comes to back and shoulder training is elevation – lifting the shoulders upwards, if you were trying to touch your ears with them.

This movement is important for shoulder support, and also helps to prevent injury by strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulders. 

You’ll likely be able to lift a heavy pair a dumbbells here, even for multiple reps. Go heavy for the 12 reps.

Equipment needed for shrugs:

How to do shrugs:

  • Stand with a heavy dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body
  • Keeping your arms and back straight, shrug your shoulders up (towards your ears) and together, squeezing your shoulder blades together tightly
  • Hold the squeeze for 2-3 seconds
  • Lower your shoulders and repeat

Just like the upper body push workout, the upper body pull will work very well as long as you are willing to go hard. Lift heavy, keep your form good and work hard with each rep. Only six exercises here, but 30 sets to complete.


Dumbbell Legs and Abs Workout

In this workout we’re mixing things up ever so slightly. We’re still emphasizing weight somewhat, but with a bit more volume thrown in. This is because you simply can’t lift as heavy with dumbbells as you can with a barbell.

The aim here isn’t to replace like-for-like dumbbell for barbell exercises, it’s to tweak them so you garner a different training effect. You’ll still use similar movements, you’ll just add a little tweak here and there to change the way the exercise hits the muscles.

As always, use great form and work through a full range of motion. There’s more exercises here than in the other split routine workouts.

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Deficit Squats512
Dumbbell Walking Lunges520 (10 per side)
Single Leg Deadlifts512 (per side)
Bulgarian Split Squats510 (per side)
Dumbbell Calf Raises515
Russian Twists58
Dumbbell Crunch412

5 Day Dumbbell Legs and Abs Workout part 1

1. 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, but 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

2. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic quad exercise. They’re unilateral, meaning both legs are trained the same. They’re functional (one of the 7 human movements). They’re easy to set up, easy to learn and super effective. 

They’re one of the staple exercises in any leg program for good reason. The dumbbells just make it even more of a challenge, especially for balance and for the core. 

Equipment needed for lunges:

How to do lunges:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • 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 the legs over, making the back leg lunge forward to start the next rep
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

3. Dumbbell Single Leg Deadlifts

This is a very challenging exercise, so give it some respect! It’s a great hamstring and glute exercise performed with dumbbells. It’s much trickier than you’d imagine – concentrate on keeping your back straight and not allowing your torso to rotate through the movement. 

They can be performed using either a kettlebell or dumbbells. If it’s your first time on these, go light and make sure you maintain great form throughout the movement. Emphasize the knee stability element of it throughout by controlling the speed of the movement.

Keep going until you almost hit the floor with the dumbbells. 

Equipment needed for single leg deadlifts:

How to do single leg deadlifts:

  • Hold the weights in both hands, keeping your back straight and both feet on the floor
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt forward at the torso, taking the one leg straight back as you do
  • You will now be standing on one leg, so move slowly and keep your balance and the weight moves towards the floor
  • When the weight touches the floor and your torso is parallel to it, return to start position with a straight back and controlled movement
  • Repeat as many times as required for the set, then switch sides

4. 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, so start lighter than you think you’ll need to and build up from there. 

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 and stand back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

5 Day Dumbbell Legs and Abs Workout part 2

5. Dumbbell Standing Calf Raises

The dumbbell 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. It’s an exercise that adds up, and you might need slightly longer rest periods between sets than you’d imagine.

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 your feet 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 strengthening your calves.


6. 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.

If you find the dumbbell Russian twists too much of a challenge, consider doing the regular Russian twists or some of our Russian twist alternatives instead. 

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 

7. 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.

The reason I’ve included this crunch in the workout is because it 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.

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

This legs and abs workout is a challenging one, so give it the time and respect it deserves! It’ll catch you off guard if you think you’re in for an easy ride here! As always, execute each movement with great form and a full range of motion. 


Dumbbell Accessories Workout

This workout is almost like a mid week break. I want you to use this as a chance to do some of the vanity work, plus it’s an opportunity to get some additional calories burned with some low-intensity cardio.

The exercises here are the ones you can do to help you refine your muscle mass, giving extra attention to certain body parts. You can work at a slower tempo, really emphasizing the contraction of the muscles. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Hammer Curls512
Arnold Presses510
Lat Raises512
Incline Dumbbell Curls510
Dumbbell Tricep Push Ups512
Dumbbell Tricep Kick Backs515
Dumbbell Side Plank Rotations510 (per side)

5 Day Dumbbell Accessories Workout part 1

1. Hammer Curls

Hammer curls are probably the bicep exercise I programme the most – they tend to be the most elbow-joint friendly and they train the long head of the bicep, as well as the brachialis and the brachioradialis.

This more general training of the bicep muscle group is an effective change from the other exercises, plus it gives your arms a new challenge.

You may even be able to lift heavier with the hammer curl than you could with a normal curl, so enjoy that too!

Equipment needed for hammer curls:

How to do hammer curls:

  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, hands by your sides, palms facing inwards
  • Perform a standard curl, but keep your arms in a neutral grip (palms facing one another) throughout the entire movement
  • Curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until the your arm reaches full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

2. 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.

It’s another unilateral exercise (see a theme here?!).

Work through a full range, and don’t rush it. Really use the rotation of the wrists to add extra elements to the exercise. 

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

3. Lateral Raises

The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder exercise almost everyone would have seen before. It has been popular in the bodybuilding world for years and hits the medial deltoid effectively.

It’s also a very simple exercise to do, with a range of movement that can be adjusted depending on your shoulder movement capability.

There’s no big cost to the energy levels with this one.

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

How to do lateral raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Lean forward slightly – this helps to lock the lower back into place and prevent over-leaning
  • With an overhand grip, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side, going as high as you comfortably can
  • When you reach the top of the movement, pause for a split second 
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: if you enjoy this exercise, check out our lateral raise alternatives to get an idea of a variety of other exercises that target these muscle groups (shoulder and lats).


4. 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’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

5 Day Dumbbell Accessories Workout part 2

5. Dumbbell Tricep Push Ups

This is a great exercise for both the chest and triceps. I like to position the dumbbells closer together to really emphasize the work done by the triceps – 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 program like this one.

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep push ups:

How to do dumbbell tricep push ups:

  • Position the dumbbells relatively close together – no 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

Note: check out our overhead triceps extension alternatives if you want to get more exercise ideas that target your triceps.


6. Dumbbell Tricep Kick-Backs

Dumbbell tricep kick-backs have been (possibly unfairly) put into a patronized category of exercises.

Years of magazines recommending housewives do them with tins of beans to ‘tone their arms’ hasn’t helped their reputation, but they’re very useful if you are smart about how and when you include them in your program.

As an isolation exercise, a pre-fatigue method or even a finisher, they’re great. They’re not going to build massive strength, but they’ll help to refine a physique and give your arms extra muscle. Perfect for adding volume to an arm workout. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep kick-backs:

How to do dumbbell tricep kick-backs:

  • Stand with your torso and upper arm parallel to the ground. If you need to, put a hand on a bench to support this position
  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, with the upper arm remaining parallel to the floor and the dumbbell pointing downwards
  • Straighten the arm behind you, so your whole arm is pointing backwards
  • Bend the elbow back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required

7. Dumbbell Side Plank Rotations

This is a great exercise because it trains the abdominals in a static sense (with the plank), and a rotational sense, with the dumbbell rotation. The side plank element also trains the obliques and upper back as well as the abs, making for a real all-round ab exercise.

There’s a useful shoulder element too.

Equipment needed for dumbbell side plank rotations:

How to do dumbbell side plank rotations

  • Assume the side plank position – lie sideways, with your weight on the side of your foot and your forearm
  • Suspend your hips from the floor by engaging your abdominals and lifting up
  • Hold a dumbbell in your non weight bearing arm, starting the movement from underneath and behind your body, forcing your torso into a rotated position
  • Rotate the dumbbell from behind you, around and in front of your body, then directly above you
  • Extend the arm straight, with the dumbbell over you
  • Once your final position is stabilized, return to the start position and repeat

This workout is a chance for you to refine your physique slightly. If we’re being totally honest, it’s a vanity workout! It does serve a purpose in the overall program though, because it gives you a chance to have a slight break ahead of the conditioning session.


Dumbbell Conditioning Workout

This is the final weekly session of the 5 day dumbbell workout program, and for many people it’s the toughest. It’s a pure conditioning session, done with lighter weights, high volume and executed at speed… obviously without compromising on form and safety though.

This workout follows a simple ‘chipper’ pattern – perform all of the reps of an exercise before moving on to the next one. The progression measure here is to see how long it takes you to perform the entire workout.

When you’re making quick progress, increase the weights you lift. 

ExerciseReps
Dumbbell Thrusters50
Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches50 (25 per side)
Dumbbell Jump Squats50
Renegade Rows50
Dumbbell Step Ups50 (25 per side)
Dumbbell Push Press50
Dumbbell Burpee to Overhead Press50
Dumbbell Walking Lunges50 (25 per side)

5 Day Dumbbell Conditioning Workout part 1

1. 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 dumbbell workout afterall!

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

2. Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches

A dumbbell power snatch is a great addition 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

3. 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

4. Renegade Rows 

There are few more complete upper body dumbbell exercises than Renegade Rows in my opinion. You combine the elements of upper body push, upper body pull, core and scapular stability.

It’s also a challenge for balance, for upper body strength endurance and the ability of the muscles to maintain form during fatigue. This is a legitimately tough exercise when done for high reps, which is why it has earned its place in this workout. 

Equipment needed for Renegade Rows:

How to do Renegade Rows:

  • Assume a push up starting position, balanced on a dumbbell in each hand
  • Perform a full dumbbell push up
  • When at the top, push one dumbbell into the ground and row the other one up, until the dumbbell reaches your torso
  • When the dumbbell reaches your torso, lower it back down to the floor and complete another push up and row the other side up
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

5 Day Dumbbell Conditioning Workout part 2

5. Dumbbell Step Ups

Step ups combine a few important elements of leg and glute training for me. As a single leg exercise, they offer no hiding place for a weaker side, forcing it to strengthen. Secondly, there’s a stability element to them which activates the glutes further and improves injury resistance.

Finally, they make your legs and glutes work really hard! Another one that offers incredible cardio benefits – do this with a heart monitor on if you can. You’ll be amazed at what it does for your heart rate! A truly functional exercise.

Equipment needed for step ups:

How to do step ups:

  • Place the front foot on the step 
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Step up onto the box by pushing up through the front foot – don’t cheat by springing off the floor using your bottom foot!
  • When both feet are on the box, lower the back leg down slowly and under the control of the front leg
  • Repeat as many times as required per leg

6. Dumbbell Push Press

The dumbbell push press is one of the go-to vertical press movement for the vast majority of lifters… and for good reason. It builds muscle and strength very effectively. It’s also possible to increase the weight you use, thanks to the involvement of the legs.

Done correctly it’s also an excellent core exercise – the core is fundamental to overhead stability, which is a useful athletic ability. 

Equipment needed for push presses:

How to do push presses:

  • Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height, one in each hand
  • Bend your knees until your legs are in a quarter squat position
  • When you reach the needed squat depth, drive your feet firmly into the ground and smoothly, but powerfully press the dumbbells overhead until your arms reach full extension
  • Lower the dumbbells down to your chest under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

7. 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

8. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic quad exercise. They’re unilateral, meaning both legs are trained the same. They’re functional (one of the 7 human movements). They’re easy to set up, easy to learn and super effective. 

They’re one of the staple exercises in any leg program for good reason. The dumbbells just make it even more of a challenge, especially for balance and for the core. With high volume, these are another exercise that’ll boost your heart rate through the roof!

Equipment needed for lunges:

How to do lunges:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • 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 the legs over, making the back leg lunge forward to start the next rep
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

This is the full dumbbell conditioning workout. It’s 400 reps long and your aim is to complete it as fast as possible, whilst maintaining excellent form. When you find an exercise easy, or you can complete all 50 reps without stopping, it’s time to increase the weight you use!

This is your calorie burner, so treat it as such! Here’s a pic of my heart rate monitor when I did this workout as a test…

Steve heart rate after doing the dumbbell workout

The 5 Day Dumbbell Workout – FAQs

A few answers to the questions you may have about the 5 day dumbbell workout program…

Can I switch up the order of the workouts?

Sure, you can – but bear in mind this order is with good reason. You’ve got the upper body training to start the week with. Once upper body is done, legs and abs are trained whilst the upper body rests.

Mid week you’re hitting the accessory workout – that isn’t too taxing for you, so allows for further recovery.

The week is rounded off with the conditioning workout. This isn’t heavy, but it’s really hard work. You’ve then got a weekend off to recover fully.

Change it if you want, but think about it first!

Do I have to use it as a fat loss workout?

No! It’ll work really well as a muscle builder too – just increase the calories you’re eating. I suggest it as a dumbbell-based weight loss workout, but in truth it’s suitable to help you achieve a wide range of physique goals.

Just make sure you’re eating relative to your goals. If you want to lose fat, track calories lower and stay in a calorie deficit. If you want to build muscle, keep protein and calories above maintenance levels.

Can I do extra cardio alongside the workouts?

This depends on how recovered you are. If you feel like you could do the extra cardio without compromising recovery, there’s nothing wrong with adding some in.

What I would suggest is that you do it on the same day as the accessories workout – that way you’ve still got two days for resting and recovering properly at the weekend.

If the weekend is your only time to do cardio, keep it shorter and ideally, on saturday morning. This still allows you the maximum recovery time ahead of your next workout, which is likely to be on the monday.

How long should I follow the 5 day dumbbell workout program?

I’d suggest a minimum of 10 weeks, and a maximum of 16 before you switch things up. Keep tracking your progress along the way.

I wouldn’t normally suggest the same workout program for so long, but there’s a lot of variety here so it’ll be fine.

If you stick with it for that long, you’ll dramatically change your physique, as long as you’re training hard and eating properly.


5 Day Dumbbell Workout: The bottom line

This is a huge article, full of a lot of detail. It’s all relevant though – this 5 day dumbbell workout could serve as a program suitable for a huge range of abilities.

Print the workouts out, get yourself into the gym and get to work. Take progress pictures, track your food intake, keep an eye on your weights, put in a lot of effort and watch yourself change week by week.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about your progress!

Check out our 12 week dumbbell workout plan if you like putting a 12 week timeframe to your workouts.

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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