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25 Compound Dumbbell Exercises (Full Body)

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Compound dumbbell exercises are one of the fastest and most effective ways to build muscle, burn fat and transform your fitness levels, regardless of your ability.

The longer I spend in the fitness world (I’m now into my third decade in personal training), the more I appreciate the versatility, effectiveness and simplicity of compound dumbbell exercises. 

Workouts can be put together with a great flow. 

You can train all of your body. 

You have weight versatility and there’s not much kit changeover. 

In this article on compound dumbbell exercises, I’m going to list my favorites and explain the technique on each. There’ll be videos to see the technique in action, with a few coaching points along the way.

Throughout the piece, I’ll give further advice on how you can put them together to form a great workout.

Steve working out using a weight bench and a set of adjustable dumbbells

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Compound Dumbbell Exercises: The benefits of these incredible exercises

Compound Dumbbell Exercises Benefits

How to make massive gains in just a few weeks

You’d be forgiven for biasing barbells and machines in your strength training. Over the last few decades gyms and fitness magazines have pushed us in that direction. The problem is we lose sight of just how effective dumbbells can be. 

In an attempt to arrest that, here are a few simple benefits you’ll experience with compound dumbbell exercises…

Benefit 1: Huge training versatility

If you’ve spent all of your time training with machines where your movement patterns are fixed, dumbbells are going to be a revelation to you! You’ll have a world of new exercises, new challenges, different movement patterns and the like available to you.

A machine can only offer you so much versatility. A dumbbell allows you to tweak your positioning, technique, tempo etc.

A similar point can be made about training with barbells. Although barbells are excellent, there are times when dumbbells have the advantage. The single limb element, the additional ease of movement, the smaller space requirements etc. 

Dumbbells can add training variety you didn’t know existed.

Benefit 2: Re-invented strength

The old saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In strength training circles, that couldn’t be more true.

Lifting with dumbbells shines a huge, glaring light on your weaker elements. That could be your core, your technique or particular muscles. To prove a point, I want you to run a quick experiment…

Take your working weight for bench press. The kind of weight you can hit 8-10 good, clean reps with.

Divide it in half, and use the equivalent in dumbbells. For example if you bench 150 for 8 reps, try doing 8 reps with 2 x 75’s in the dumbbells. See how you get on – I’ll be SUPER impressed if you manage the same amount of reps, at the same quality.

It takes a lot of humility going back and rebuilding your strength, but think of how much better you’ll be…

  • Technique will be better
  • Strength will be higher
  • Balance and stability will be improved
  • Athleticism will be greater
  • Range of movement will be enhanced

All from such a simple switch of the equipment you use. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just change the direction it points in.

Benefit 3: New movements, new challenges

Whether you like CrossFit or not, there’s one thing that Greg Glassman said in his ‘Fitness in 100 Words’ quote that stands the test of time… Routine is the enemy

If all you do is the same exercises, in the same way and with the same equipment, your fitness and progress will stagnate very quickly. It’s the curse of a home gym if you don’t have enough equipment – your options are limited. 

The body is pretty adaptable, and once it has adapted it’s difficult to force new change.

Dumbbells give you this option. It’s a way to do the same exercises… bench press, rows, squats etc, but with a different challenge. A new technique. You force a change in the strength curves, a change in the lifting angles. A change in the results, too.

Same exercises, different challenges.

With a new client,especially one who knows their way around the gym, I’ll often train them solely with dumbbells for a while. This helps me to see how balanced their strength is, and what their range of movement is like.

For many of them, it throws them right out of their comfort zone and straight back to being a beginner… which helps them in the long term.

5 Bonus tips to using compound dumbbell exercises to boost your training

Compound Dumbbell Exercises Bonus Tips

I’m not going to write a prescriptive list of ways to approach these exercises as if they were a workout. Instead I’m going to give you a few tips to maximize your benefits from dumbbell training. 

Later in the article I’m going to list my go-to compound dumbbell exercises, so you can use them in workouts as you please, just using my tips as a framework…

Tip 1: Get creative with the movements

You have an opportunity to train slightly differently when it comes to dumbbells. One such way is by tweaking the grip. With a barbell you’ve got two grip options – overhand and underhand. With dumbbells you can tweak exercises by moving the hand position slightly.

Presses and rows of different types can be performed with an overhand, underhand or neutral grip. Try them all – mix them up and see how they each affect the movements and the results.

Tip 2: Be humble!

I mentioned earlier that you’re likely to be unable to lift an equivalent to your barbell weights when it comes to dumbbells. Take that seriously – if you think you’ll just be able to grab 50% of your barbell weight in each hand then get busy, you’re going to be sorely mistaken!

Take a step back, lift lighter weights (don’t worry – you’ll still get the same training effect) and learn how to lift again. It’ll make a big difference to your physique and fitness in the long term.

Tip 3: Challenge yourself with new exercises

If you only really train with barbells or machines, challenge yourself with some new exercises and movements. Research from Brad Schoenfeld et al in 2019 showed that exercise variation had a positive impact on motivation.

The researchers concluded that:

‘The findings indicate that regularly changing exercise selection could help to enhance adherence to resistance training’.

Mixing things up with dumbbells may boost your motivation as well as your results…

Tip 4: Keep your core engaged

When you lift with dumbbells the weight has a lot more freedom to move away from your center of mass and base of support. This can challenge your balance, which in turn makes the muscles of the core switch on.

Think exercises where the weight moves around a lot, such as alternating power snatches.

If you haven’t been lifting with a strong, engaged core you run the risk of creating a back injury, so be careful when lifting in a way that could see the weight taken away from your base of support. 

Tip 5: Use single limb exercises where possible

One of the many advantages that dumbbells have over other forms of weight training is the ability to lift with single limbs. It’s easier to squat or bench press one-sided with a dumbbell than it is with a barbell. 

Take advantage of this and enjoy the benefits of the asymmetrical loading. Research in 2020 from the ministry of the obvious (or The Jerzy Kukuczka Academy of Physical Education in Katowice, to be more accurate) on offset weight training concluded that…

The offset training method during bilateral resistance exercise may be an effective and simple approach for reductions in muscle imbalances and improvement in bilateral exercise performance.

This is a big deal, so use it properly. It’ll help you long term. You can iron out strength imbalances, removing potential injury risk and you’ll improve your athleticism.

A wide choice of dumbbells on display

My 25 favorite compound dumbbell exercises – the list

In this section I’m going to list out the dumbbell exercises that I use the most. They won’t always be the most common exercises, but I can promise you they’re effective!

These exercises all feature in the programs of my personal training clients, as well as my own training. They’re tried and tested over the decades, and they deliver life-changing results when applied properly. 

To make the list a bit easier to understand, I’ve broken it down into the following categories…

My suggestion is for you to look through them and build workouts out of them. You could do split routines, where you do say a pull and push workout. Perhaps you could do legs and core? 

Perhaps mix up the weights and set and rep ranges.

Up to you, but get creative and enjoy the new challenges these exercises will provide you with…

Dumbbell chest exercises

Compound Dumbbell Chest Exercises Infographic

My go-to chest exercises with dumbbells…

1. 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 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:

  • Dumbbells

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 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

2. Incline dumbbell 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. In short, 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:

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 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

Note: If you enjoy the bench press, be sure to also check out our bench press alternatives to get more ideas on how to develop the same muscle groups.

3. 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 excellent 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: want to explore more chest-targeting exercises? Check out our dumbbell chest exercises without a bench, chest fly alternatives, or our alternatives section if you want to explore exercise alternatives and strengthen your chest even further.

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. It’ll make you a better lifter, a better athlete and more injury-resistant.

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell bench press:

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

Dumbbell shoulder exercises

Compound Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

My go-to shoulder exercises with dumbbells…

5. 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.

This is a must when training the 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

6. 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

7. 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.

One of the great things about this lift is that you can easily increase the range of movement, which helps to change the exercise completely. 

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: check out our lat raise alternatives if you want more variety in strengthening your side shoulders.

8. 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.

This isn’t just a strength training movement – I use it primarily as a prehab exercise. It strengthens the rear delts, which helps to maintain shoulder health.

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

Dumbbell back exercises

Compound Dumbbell Back Exercises Infographic

My go-to back exercises with dumbbells…

9. 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:

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

10. 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 carryover, 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

11. 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.

If my client (or I) are going heavy on this exercise, I always make sure the non-lifting arm is supporting the rest of the torso as the lift is being performed. 

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.

12. Single arm dumbbell snatch high pull

I love this exercise. It’s an unconventional one, but so effective. You could easily put this one into the conditioning exercise section as well, because it is incredibly challenging when done at a high pace. 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, but the hip extension and the upper body pull are the reason I’ve included it as a back exercise here. It 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

13. Dumbbell gorilla rows

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

Note: If you want even more ideas on how to work your back, check out our article devoted exclusively to dumbbell back exercises, with the 15 best back-targeting moves.

Dumbbell leg exercises

Compound Dumbbell Leg Exercises Infographic

My go-to leg exercises with dumbbells…

14. Weighted 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

15. Rear foot elevated split squats

The rear foot elevated split squats allow for great squat depth, plus the single-limb nature of the exercise reduces strength imbalances between limbs. It’s a great way to focus a lot of work on the glutes, whilst taking weight off the lower back.

This is an exercise that will really challenge you, so start lighter than you think you’ll need to and build up from there.

This is one of the best leg exercises of all. It will make you a stronger, better and more capable athlete. Use this often and you’ll have wheels of steel!

Equipment needed for rear foot elevated split squats:

How to do rear foot elevated 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.

16. 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

17. Dumbbell deficit Sumo squat

This is a way of combining both a squat and deadlift movement pattern in one go. It’s very effective for maximizing muscle contraction as well, because the deficit increases the time under tension.

The way you grip the dumbbells also means you are challenging your forearm and grip strength.

It’s a simple squat technique to learn and one that helps challenge your legs in a new way. There’s very little to not like here!

Equipment needed for dumbbell deficit sumo squats:

How to do dumbbell deficit sumo squats:

  • Set plates on the floor, around 18 inches apart (wide enough for a dumbbell to fit in)
  • Stand with one foot on each plate and hold the dumbbell by the end 
  • Keeping your back straight and your chest up, drive through your feet and stand up straight
  • The arms should stay straight throughout – all of the work should be done by the legs
  • When the legs are straight, pause for a second and return to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

18. 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

Dumbbell core, arm, and conditioning exercises

Compound Dumbbell Core, Arm, and Conditioning Exercises part 1

My go-to core, arm and conditioning exercises with dumbbells…

19. 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

20. 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 

21. 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

Compound Dumbbell Core, Arm, and Conditioning Exercises part 2

22. 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

23. 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

Note: Want more ideas on how to strengthen your biceps? No probs, we got you covered with our preacher curl alternatives.

24. 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

25. 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

These exercises are incredibly effective when done correctly. With these 25 compound dumbbell exercises you can put together hundreds of creative, challenging workouts that will change your fitness forever.

25 Compound Dumbbell Exercises: The bottom line

I started the article by arguing the case for you to use more compound dumbbell exercises in your training. I’ve given you an extensive list of my favorites… now it’s up to you!

Get these into your training and challenge yourself to lift hard, lift heavy and lift well. You’ll break your fitness down, going back to basics in some instances.

The benefit of this though is that you’ll be a stronger, better lifter with balanced strength. Your injury risk will be lower and your athleticism will have increased.

Enjoy this return to the old school!

Be sure to check out our full body dumbbell workout if you want ready-made 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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