How You Can Use Little Weights to Get Big Results All Over

Dumbbells are common workout tools, but they also might be underutilized. They’re so ordinary, so plain, so old school, that it’s hard to think of them as a secret to a great figure.

Believe it or not, you can do a total body workout with nothing but dumbbells and some spare time! Dumbbell exercises are wonderful because you can do them at home or at the gym–or even at the office, as long as you’ve got some weights.

Here are 7 awesome and effective dumbbell exercises. You can mix and match them, change the order, and even add in others that you know. The key to getting a total body workout is just to include some that work each of the major areas.

  1. Overhead Press

    Start with your feet wide apart and your knees loose. Hold dumbbells in your hands and raise your arms up over your head in a “goalpost” position. Engage your abs, and extend your arms up, then slowly lower them at the elbows. Repeat this up and down motion 20 times for a quick exercise to add to your routine.

  2. Deadlift to Upright Row

    Start by grasping a 10lb dumbbell in each hand. Hold them out in front of your chest, and bend down into a squat position. Lean forward toward the ground, keeping your back straight the whole time. The weights should hang in front of your knees.

    Next, go back to a standing position, pulling the weights straight up as you do. You can imagine a straight line running from your feet to your shoulders, and that you’re pulling the weights along this line. Return to a start position, and go for 15 reps of this exercise.

  3. Rear Fly to Press Back

    Start in a “split” position, holding a dumbell in each hand. Put your right foot forward and bend that leg at the knee. Keep your left leg straight. Lean forward at a 45-degree angle at your hips, but don’t bend your back.

    Let your arms hang to the floor, then raise them up and out to the sides in a “flying” motion. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do, then slowly lower them back down. To complete the exercise, press your arms back toward your hips, palms facing up. Lower your arms back to the hanging position. Repeat the exercise, alternating left and right legs for a total of 20 reps per side.

  4. Dumbbell Pushup and Row

    For this one, start in a normal plank position, except hold a 5-lb. dumbbell in your hands. Your body should be one long line, and you can keep either the balls of your feet or your knees on the ground. To start the exercise, bend your elbows and lower your torso down. Return to the start position–that’s the pushup portion of the exercise!

    Next, do the “row” part. Pull your right arm (still holding the dumbbell) up to your side or chest, then lower it back down. Repeat the whole motion on the left side, then do 10 reps of the entire exercise, continuing to alternate your left and right sides.

  5. Reverse Laterals

    This one’s great because it works a whole set of muscles: your quadriceps, glutes, adductors, deltoids, and more. Hold some dumbbells in your and and step to the side (the “lateral” part). Do a reverse lunge, and pause in the position. Raise whatever arm is on the side of your outside leg all the way up over your head, then lower it down.

    Repeat the lunge and lift motion on the other side. That’s one rep! Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps of this exercise, with a 30 second rest between each set.

  6. Abductor Squats

    Let’s shake things up–you’ll just need one dumbbell for this one! Start with your feet set apart, wider than your hips. Hold the dumbbell in both hands. Lock your arms in a straight position, with the dumbbell out in front. Lower down to a squat position, engaging your core the whole time. Hold the position for a few seconds, then rise back up. 10-12 reps of this exercise should be perfect.

  7. Tricep Chop

    Start with your feet wide apart and your knees loose. Hold dumbbells in your hands in front of your hips. Engage your core and bring your arms up. Bend your elbows and lower your arms back to your shoulders–but don’t widen your arms out. Move your arms forward again in a “chopping” motion back down to your hips. Repeat the whole motion 20 times.

You can do a routine of just these 7 exercises, or add in other dumbbell moves. You can also work some of these exercises into other routines for variety, or to push yourself. Have fun and feel great!

Real Simple
Women’s Health