Full Body Dumbell Only Workout

Believe it or not, you don’t need access to an expensive gym to build muscle. What you do need is a basic understanding of some principles and a set of dumbbells.

Muscle is built through the application of three simple rules. To build muscle you must

  1. progressively lift heavier and heavier weights
  2. provide your body with enough nutrients
  3. provide your body with enough rest to utilize those nutrients and repair damaged tissue


dumbbell workout


The first rule is formally known as progresive tension overload and was coined by U.S Army physician Thomas Delorme in the 1940s (1). I like to call it the golden principle of muscle hypertrophy.

It claims that inorder for muscle to grow, it must adapt to a tension (or load) that it has not previously experienced. And studies have shown that load is the single most important important variable for stimulating muscle hyptopry (2, 3).

As long as you follow this golden rule, you will make progress. It’s really that simple. And you don’t need any fancy equipment- a set of dumbbells will suffice. The only caveat is that you need a wide enough range of dumbbells to allow progressively increase the amount of weight you use and to lift as heavy as you can.

The fact of the matter is that access to range of dumbbells (say 10-70 lbs) is sufficient enough to build muscle. Seriously.

The only downside is that you may not have heavy enough dumbbells to effectively target certain muscle groups- namely, the quadriceps and hamstrings. For this reason, we will train lower body with high repetitions.

The amount of amount of variation in dumbbell exercises may surprise you. To get an idea, check out Bodybuilding.com’s exercise finder. On the left hand side, under “Equipement”, select “Dumbbell”. You can then filter the results by muscle group.


Workout Description

This workout follows a common 3x/week full body training protocol and is designed for those who have access to a range of dumbbells and an adjustable workout bench.

Before jumping into the split, let’s look at a few important principles.



Intensity refers to the amount of work done during each lift and is proportional to the amount of weight used (4). Make sure you perform each lift with maximum intensity! This means lifting as much weight as you can for the target rep range (discussed next).



Volume refers to the number of reps and sets performed during each workout season (4).

  • Reps: You should complete 6-8 reps for large muscle groups (chest, back, and shoulders), 8-12 reps for small muscle groups (biceps and triceps), and 15-20 reps for legs.
  • Sets: This workout involves a total of 22 sets- 4 sets for each of the large muscle groups, and 3 for the small muscle groups. If you find that you can’t complete all 22 sets within 45-90 mins, do 3 sets for each muscle group (for a total of 18 sets).



Frequency refers to the number of training sessions that are performed each week (4). This workout involves 3 full body workouts per week. If you are new to weightlifting, you may find that your body cannot recover quickly enough for each session. If this is the case, start with 2 workouts per week, then move up to 3 when you feel ready.


Remember the golden rule — progressively lift heavier and heavier weights!

For instance, if today you complete 6 reps of dumbbell bench press using 60 lbs, you should aim to hit 6 or 7 reps the following week and to increase the weight by 5 lbs the week after that. Keep in mind that is merely a general guideline, and how quickly you progress will depend on a lot of factors including age and genetics.


Always Warm up

The workout below does not include warm up sets. Before starting each exercise, do a warm up set (with about ½ the weight you normally use) for as many reps as possible.


3 Day Full Body Dumbbell Workout Routine

Day 1

Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Stiff Legged Dumbbell Deadlift – 4 sets of 15-20 reps

Standing Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

One-arm Dumbell row – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Dumbbell One-Arm Triceps Extension – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Dumbbell Bicep Curl – 3 sets of 8-12 reps



Day 2

Dumbbell Flyes – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Dumbbell Hamstring Curl- 15-20 reps

Side Laterals to Front Raise – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Straight-Arm Dumbbell Pull-Over – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Alternate Hammer Curl – 3 sets of 8-12 reps


Dumbbell kickback


Day 3

Incline Dumbbell Press –  4 sets of 6-8 reps

Dumbbell Goblet Squat – 4 sets of 15-20 reps

Arnold Press – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row – 4 sets of 6-8 reps

Seated Triceps Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Concentration Curls – 3 sets of 8-12 reps


Written by the Olympic Muscle Team


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1 – “Progressive Overload.” Optimizing Strength Training: Designing Nonlinear Periodization Workouts, by William J. Kraemer, Human Kinetics, 2007, pp. 33–36.


2 – Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 24, no. 10, 2010, pp. 2857–2872., doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e840f3.


3- Fry, Andrew C. “The Role of Resistance Exercise Intensity on Muscle Fibre Adaptations.” Sports Medicine, vol. 34, no. 10, 2004, pp. 663–679., doi:10.2165/00007256-200434100-00004.


4- “Strength Training.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Jan. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strength_training#Intensity,_volume,_and_frequency.