You don’t need anything to get in shape, build muscle, or lose fat. If you have a healthy body and enough space to raise your arms overhead, you can transform your body and health.
Today, though, we’re not discussing bodyweight workouts. We’re looking at a one-dumbbell workout and what you can do with a single dumbbell to keep costs low, but drive results higher.
Let’s start with how having just one weight limits you and how you can transform that limitation into a gift. By the end of this article, you’ll completely rethink a one-dumbbell workout and learn that effort – not equipment – makes a great workout!
The Limitations Of Just One Dumbbell
The hard part of using a single dumbbell is that you’re bound to that exact weight, or the main movements you can do with it. Lifting a 40kg dumbbell overhead with your shoulders alone is tough, but it makes a good goblet squat weight.
The challenge of single dumbbell workouts is adapting your exercises to what you have.
Think about it as an upgrade on the things you could do without a weight, and remember that weight isn’t the only way to improve. You can add complexity, slow your exercises down, increase stability challenge, work on speed and power, and more.
Having only one dumbbell changes your workouts but will open you up to new ways of training and multiple exercises that other people miss out on.
Best One Dumbbell Exercises
1. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is your basic, go-to leg exercise with one dumbbell – and a perfect choice for beginners. It’s the best way to start squatting to depth, build posture, and develop your legs and glutes.
We especially like goblet squats and other related leg exercises with the goblet position. This is because it forces upper back and core activation – letting you lift more, move better, and focus on great technique.
Progression And Scaling Options
You can use a goblet squat in a few ways, as it’s a versatile and adaptable exercise:
For more challenge: elevate your back foot for Bulgarian split squats – a fantastic leg and hip exercise for all-round development and strength. Fair warning: they’re tough!
For less challenge: squat down to a seat and slowly lower it over time as your confidence and strength improve.
For bodybuilding: raise the heels and keep the feet together – a ‘cyclist squat’ variation for a ridiculous quad pump.
For sports performance: try the goblet squat jump for height. Focus on full hip and knee extension, and a stable and soft landing.
For lighter dumbbells, focus on expanding into exercises like the goblet Bulgarian split squats.
How To Perform A Goblet Squat
1. Take a standing position with your feet between shoulder width and hip width.
2. Keep the dumbbell at chest height with your torso straight.
3. Keep your torso straight, ease your hips back and down, bending the knees. Keep your torso upright as you squat.
4. Squat to the bottom of your range of motion, then reverse the movement by pushing the floor down, bringing the hips forward and up.
2. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The dumbbell row is a classic one-arm movement to build bigger biceps, a stronger back, and that classic ‘V-taper’ with only one dumbbell.
It’s a great all-rounder, and – depending on how heavy your dumbbell is – it could be one of your ‘big’ compound exercises or an excellent choice for a finisher. It also helps beginners feel the ‘sweep’ motion of the lats.
The heavier your dumbbell, the earlier in the workout you should use this row – it’s easy to fatigue the muscles around the shoulder blade, especially with other heavy ‘pulling’ exercises.
For more challenge: slow down the lowering portion, and pause your arm at 90 degrees on both the way up and the way down.
For less challenge: use both arms, grabbing the dumbbell at each end, before rowing to your chest.
How To Perform A Dumbbell Row
- Take a standing position with the dumbbell in one hand (for example, your left hand).
- Support your body with the right arm, placing your hand on a sturdy object, keeping a straight arm throughout.
- Bend at the hips and row the dumbbell to your chest, with your palm facing across your body.
- Bring your elbow back in a sweeping motion, holding at the top to squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Pro Tip: think about starting the exercise with the upper back, not just bending the elbow. Try to really lengthen your lat at the bottom and feel the stretch as you change direction.
3. Dumbbell Overhead Press
You do a lot of things with one arm at a time, and now that includes building bigger shoulders. You also get added upper back gains – perfect for all-round functional strength.
This is a perfect exercise to build a great silhouette with bigger arms and shoulders. Because of the stability challenge, it’s also a great way to improve your upper back control and strength.
However, because of that stability demand, it can be challenging to progress and hard for beginners. It should be used after heavier options.
- Take a dumbbell from the shoulder, with your elbow under your wrist, supporting the dumbbell.
- Keep your shoulders even (or ‘square’), and your shoulder blades pinched back to create a ‘shelf’.
- Push the dumbbell up while keeping the shoulder blades down and extending the elbow.
- Stabilize the dumbbell overhead, holding the top position briefly, before lowering the dumbbell back to the shoulder under control.
Pro tip: focus on upper back control – a stable upper back is the key to good pressing!
4. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
The single-arm dumbbell bench press is one of the heaviest upper-body exercises you can use to build bigger arms, pecs, and shoulders.
You can also use a floor press version if you don’t have access to a flat bench.
The dumbbell bench press or floor press is great for your “big” compound lift. You should use it before other upper body exercises, and it’s great before movements like the overhead press.
Progression And Scaling Options
The best approach to bench press is as many sets of moderate rep sets as possible. Your dumbbell weight is going to decide what you do – as long as you’re working hard all the time.
Less challenge: use 2-hands on a single dumbbell, on the ends, for a normal bench press.
How To Perform One Arm Bench Press
- Lay on your back on a stable object or the floor (for floor press)
- Set your dumbbell on a straight arm, directly above your shoulder joint.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell as far as possible, keeping your elbow under your wrist
- Hinge the shoulder at 45 degrees relative to the body, as far as is comfortable.
- Reverse the movement by ‘unhinging’ the shoulder and extending the elbow.
Pro tip: focus on getting more stretch in your pec and the hinging motion of the shoulder, as these will help you get the most from your chest.
5. Dumbbell Frog Pump
This is the best single dumbbell glute exercise and is a fantastic way to improve your total hip health. It’s a fantastic choice for long-range strength and muscle growth.
We all need strong glutes to stabilize the spine, get stronger, and improve other lifts or athletic goals – like squats, sprints, and jumps. Frog pumps are the perfect glute finisher because they’re lighter and focus on very high reps.
This perfect starter option will build hip strength, mass, and flexibility with a single dumbbell.
Scaling and Progression Options
For frog pumps, start with 3 sets of 20 – and work up to 5 sets of 30, depending on your available weight.
For more challenge: single-leg dumbbell glute bridges – an amazing exercise in their own right.
How To Perform The Dumbbell Frog Pump
1. Sit on the floor with your back raised on a sturdy object like a sofa or bench
2. Place your knees in a ‘butterfly stretch’ position with the knees out to the side and feet touching
3. Place the dumbbell in your hip crease
4. Raise your hips as high as possible, keeping your core tight and back flat, squeezing for a 1-2 count at the top
5. Lower as far as possible, completing the rep
Pro tip: think about pushing the hips forward and shoulders back, but don’t arch your back.
6. Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
This is one of the best exercises for building bigger arms with one dumbbell – and you can use either 1 or 2 arms for it.
The real magic of the dumbbell overhead extension is the length of the movement, stretching the tricep before shortening it. This improves muscle and strength gains, offering far more bang for your buck than a lot of alternatives.
Even better, it lengthens the long head of the tricep, which runs across the shoulder. This makes it perfect to maximize growth while building better mobility and control across two joints at once – perfect for beginners and veteran trainees.
Scaling and Progression Options
The main Scaling for this exercise is weight and reps, since it’s already as long and challenging as possible.
The real Scaling is simply moving from 2-handed variations into a 1-handed one. This is very challenging and depends on the dumbbell you’re using. Remember that this is a long exercise, so you need to be strong the whole way to prevent injuries when doubling the challenge!
How To Perform The Dumbbell Overhead Extension
1. Take a dumbbell in hand, sitting upright on a bench or other stable seat
2. Raise the dumbbell overhead on two arms, either directly above the shoulder (1-arm) or above the base of the neck (2-arms)
3. Lower the dumbbell, keeping the elbow(s) in place, until you feel a stretch in the tricep
4. Reverse the movement and lock out the arm(s), holding at a moment at the top of the movement
Pro tip: be patient with your ‘depth’ – it’s okay to start with less depth as long as you work on it over time. Rushing beyond your controlled range of motion can cause injury.
7. Dumbbell Swing
If you have a heavy dumbbell and are unsure what to do with it, dumbbell swings are one of the best choices. They’re a heavy hip and back exercise that also engages your core and forces you to think about your balance and core-back control.
These are like kettlebell swings. They can be done with heavy weights for enormous gains, or with lighter weights for a hip-centered conditioning workout. Both of these will improve spinal health, core strength, and more.
These are also great for any level of fitness; as you get stronger, you can add in more reps. The weight may stay the same, but it becomes easier to do and moves from a heavy strength-builder into a conditioning exercise as you become more comfortable with the weight.
How to perform the dumbbell swing
1. Take a wider stance, with feet roughly shoulder width apart, and rotated slightly outwards
2. Take your dumbbell with two hands, gripping one side on the rubber or metal weight section
3. Begin the movement by pushing your hips back, keeping your torso straight
4. Push the hips forward and bring the chest up, propelling the dumbbell forwards and up
5. Keep a firm grip on the dumbbell all the way to the top of its arc, controlling the momentum as best you can
6. Allow the weight to lower with gravity, easing your hips back and linking directly into the next rep
8. Dumbbell Overhead Shrugs
Dumbbell overhead shrugs are a fantastic way to build your traps while developing overhead strength. They are more challenging because of the overhead position, making them a great choice for building the shoulder girdle with a single dumbbell.
Overhead shrugs are one of the most underrated types of exercise, and they work fine with a single dumbbell. The overhead position means your traps and upper back muscles are always active while building bigger, stronger shoulders through isometric loading.
This is a great way to build overhead stability and trap mass for beginners. It integrates the core into overhead movement and can even help you unlock more mobility. The only challenge is progressing the dumbbell overhead shrug.
How to perform the dumbbell overhead shrug
1. Take the dumbbell in hand, with one hand gripping either side of the weight itself
2. Raise the dumbbell overhead on locked arms, with the weight above (and slightly behind) head
3. Keeping your arms locked, push the dumbbell as high as possible with your shoulders, shrugging them up to your ears
4. Lower the dumbbell as low as possible on locked arms, controlling the weight and creating as much distance between your ears and shoulders as possible
Pro tip: focus on length at the bottom and squeezing at the top. This is a great way to improve trap strength, but also length, relieving neck tightness and even headaches.
9. Dumbbell Rotations (Russian Twist)
If you’ve got a light dumbbell, you can perform Russian Twists or other forms of core rotations. A single dumbbell is the perfect implement – and weight – for this kind of exercise.
You can also scale and progress this exercise easily, giving you access to all rotational core exercises. These engage more of the core muscles than linear exercises like crunches, giving you more ‘bang for your buck’ in core training.
Heavier dumbbells can be a real challenge, so be ready to scale as necessary…
Scaling and Progression Options
Scaling rotational exercises takes a bit of thought and attention – because rotation is a plane we don’t train often enough. This means you need to be smart and work with leverage, not just weight, to get the most out of your rotations.
If it’s ever too challenging, bring the dumbbell closer to your center of gravity (e.g., by bending your elbows). That’s always easier.
For less challenge: try the walking dumbbell rotation, then progress to the rotating lunge.
For more challenge: try the dumbbell rotation swing (like a plate swing, but with a dumbbell!)
1. Take your dumbbell in two hands and sit on the floor
2. Set your torso straight and upright, with your feet flat on the floor
3. Keeping the dumbbell close to your chest, initially, rotate as far as possible in one direction
4. Try to keep the shoulders level (don’t just lean back), and reverse the movement, twisting at the core until you’re as far in the opposite direction as possible
5. Slowly creep the dumbbell out as far as possible with this movement for more difficulty.
Dumbbell Workout Basics: Get More From Your Single Dumbbell Workouts
- More reps: a simple way to get better results when you’re forced to lower the weight is to add more reps. Focus on increasing your muscular endurance with only one dumbbell; you’ll get fitter while building muscle mass.
- Slowly lower the weight: if you’re using a lighter dumbbell, slowly lower the weight to make each rep harder and more effective. You still want to perform as many reps as possible, but a more controlled movement improves almost all results – no matter your fitness level.
- One arm, then two arms: If you want to feel like you’re lifting more weight and you want better pumps, then use a single-arm or single-leg exercise before an easier two-arm or two-leg variation. Squats into step-ups or single dumbbell curls into waiter curls are great examples.
- Supersets and other schemes: spend more time working, lifting with complementary single dumbbell exercises. This helps you get more results, effectively tricking your body into thinking you’re lifting more weight because of the existing fatigue.
Can You Get a Full Body Workout With One Dumbbell?
Yes – a single dumbbell can be used to get a great full-body workout. We’ve even described one above. All you need to do is make sure you’re working hard enough to get the muscles tired, and focus on working around the weight of your dumbbell.
Longer, more complex sets with light weights – or shorter sets with heavier weights.
You have to get a bit creative, but you can still get a fantastic workout with only one dumbbell.
What Is A Good Upper Body Workout With One Dumbbell?
If you’re looking for an upper body workout with only one dumbbell, try this:
- Dumbbell rows: 4 sets
- One arm dumbbell flyes: 3 sets
- One arm bench press (or floor press): 4 sets
- 2-arm rows with one dumbbell: 3 sets
- One arm seated overhead press: 3 sets
- Bicep curl + tricep extension: 4 supersets
It’s simple, but it will get into all the most important muscles of the upper body.
Can You Use A One Dumbbell Workout For Bigger Arms?
Yes – even one dumbbell is excellent equipment for an arm workout. You can row, bench, overhead press, floor press, bicep curl and tricep extend, and more.
It all depends on the weight of your dumbbell, but you still have access to hundreds of upper body exercises. You can use two hands for one dumbbell, or you can make a light dumbbell super effective with slower, paused, controlled reps.
There’s plenty you can do – don’t let a lack of kit be the excuse you use to avoid real gains!
One dumbbell is plenty of weight to get great results – it just requires ingenuity and the right choice of exercise. You need to plan around the weight you have, but there’s a wealth of exercises out there with great variations for Scaling and progression.
These are some of the best exercises with one dumbbell, and we’ve made sure there’s something for every type of movement and muscle group. This means you’ve always got something to do, no matter what type of workout you’re doing or what weight you have access to.