Home workouts with dumbbells are ideal if you're short on time and want to build muscle - 8 best to try

Here's how to get lifting from home.

Home workouts with dumbbells: A woman working out at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Home workouts with dumbbells might just be the best and most affordable way to improve your fitness. That's because dumbbells are a form of resistance, meaning they break down the muscles so they grow back bigger and stronger, and training from home is perfect for people who don't have a lot of time, don't want to pay for a gym membership and prefer training solo. 

Don't believe you can get a good dumbbell workout in from home? Research from 2023 reported that virtual resistance training programmes improve fitness and curbs depression. The benefits of strength training are tenfold - as other studies show, such as this 2023 BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation paper, also show that dumbbells are a be just as effective as the machines you'll find in a gym. 

One person who's a fan of dumbbell strength training at home is PT and Pilates instructor Rachel Lopez. Below, she's joined me - Chloe Gray, a health and fitness editor and fitness instructor who regularly coaches people to use dumbbells in class - to share how to have an effective home workout with dumbbells. 

Don't miss our guides to weight training, strength training for beginners, low impact strength training, while you're here. Wondering, what is strength training? Our expert guide will explain.

Home workouts with dumbbells: your guide

What are home workouts with dumbbells?

Home workouts with dumbbells are a form of - yep, you guessed it - a workout that involves using weights (dumbbells) for resistance. One of the big perks of this form of strength training is it can be done away from the gym - in other words, from the comfort of your own home. 

"You can use dumbbells in every way possible," says Lopez. "For your strength-based upper-body workouts and lower-body strength workouts. I even use dumbbells with my advanced clients to further develop their core strength programming. If the dumbbells are light - between one to two kilograms - they can be used during Barre workout or as part of a Pilates workout."

Dumbbells can be used by beginners and advanced exercisers alike - the key comes to choosing a weight that you can lift while maintaining form. Good form with dumbbells looks like lifting with control, rather than momentum, engaging your core during all movements for stability and never locking out your joints (including elbows and knees) when loading muscles with weight. 

What are the benefits of home workouts with dumbbells?

Where to start with the benefits? Just some of the reasons you should train with dumbbells include: 

1. Building muscle strength

To build strength, you need to work your muscles very hard. That's tricky to do with your bodyweight alone - bar some tricky moves like press ups, you'll need to perform 10s, if not hundreds, of reps to truly exhaust your muscles. 

But you also don't need huge weight setups: studies show that dumbbells are as effective as barbells when it comes to building strength and power.

2. Building confidence

Research shows that weight training can build self-efficacy - and it's easy enough to understand why. Lifting heavy things can feel scary and unachievable, but when you do it, you'll learn that you're stronger than you think: a lesson that transcends the workout. 

3. Breaking a plateau

"You may have already hit plateaus where your progress halts when training with your body weight. Using dumbbells can challenge your muscles and push yourself out of your comfort zone - forcing them to adapt, change and strengthen," says Lopez.

4. Progressively overloading

To keep up the strength gains, you need to progressively overload, meaning adding more challenges every week. That might look like more reps or more resistance which, while possible, is hard to do without equipment. Dumbbells allow you to keep increasing the challenge and overload your muscles."You have a better change at building muscle with weights rather than just working against your own body weight," agrees Lopez.

What dumbbell weight is right for me?

It's hard to prescribe a dumbbell weight without knowing your starting point, but Lopez has some guidelines. "Once you've perfected your bodyweight form, begin with 1.5-3kg dumbbells for the upper body and 3-5kg for the lower body," she says. Then progress: first do this by increasing reps - for instance, if you were doing eight reps with 5kg and feeling like you can do more, increase it to ten to twelve reps. Then increase the weight: this might mean buying more dumbbells, but it's worth the upgrade to keep up your strength gains. 

"5kg is often an excellent place to start with RDLs, deep sumo squats, squat to press, swings, lunges and split squats. If your glutes are strong, 5kg can even be appropriate for quadruped hip extensions, hip raises, and hip abductions. 5kg would be a little bit too heavy for some ab exercises if you are new to training," she adds.

8 best home workouts with dumbbells to try tonight

1. 15-minute dumbbell hit by EvolveYou

What? Get your heart rate up while you build strength with a HIIT-style weighted workout.

Why? "This video has great technique which is so important for people moving fast with extra weight and resistance," says Lopez.

How long? 15 minutes.

2. 20-minute full-body workout by Mr and Mrs Muscle

What? A quick, full-body workout that pairs weights with cardio moves. 

Why? "This is definitely a more challenging workout and I'd recommend it for someone experienced in dumbbell sessions, but I love how the muscle being used is highlighted on screen for mind-to-muscle connection," says Lopez.

How long? 20 minutes.

3. 30-minute weights workout by Growingannanas

What? In half an hour, you'll use weights to work basically every single muscle. 

Why? "This is a really easy-to-follow video with a nice combination of exercises to provide a medium-level challenge. It's important to be aware that the instructor doesn't speak through form, so it might not be great for pure beginners," says Lopez.

How long? 30 minutes.

4. Full-body dumbbell workout by Krissy Cela

What? A workout you can screenshot and take to the gym with you or perform in your time at home.

Why? "This is a challenging yet totally accessible workout - it can be done with minimal equipment and in the corner of the gym or at home. The video itself is so explanatory and educational in the best way. This is a great addition to your weekly routine," says Lopez.

How long? 30 minutes.

5. 40-minute functional fitness with dumbbells by Talillah Henchoz

What? Using a dumbbell, you'll work through advanced moves such as single-leg deadlifts and snatches. 

Why? Functional strength is so important - it means the strength you build in the workout will apply to your daily life. "This might be too demanding technique and stamina-wise for a beginner, but it's a great workout for someone with experience," says Lopez.

How long? 40 minutes.

6. Full body follow along workout by Whitney Simmons

What? If you've ever wanted to train with one of the best women in fitness, now you can with this real-time dumbbell workout. 

Why? "There are no form cues given through the workout so it might not be ideal for someone who is unfamiliar with the exercises, though her form is perfect so following her would be no bad thing. The programming is amazing - the reps and the pace are really great," says Lopez.

How long? 40 minutes.

7. Full-body home workout by Shona Vertue

What? A weighted workout (OK, Vertue uses a kettlebell but you are totally fine to sub it out) you can do from home for strength and mobility. 

Why? "She offers great cueing for anyone who is unsure and her technique is so easy to follow. I love how she put the HIIT exercises towards the end - it's a really great way of managing your stamina and energy reserves," says Lopez.

How long? 40 minutes.

8. Busy gym workout by Shona Vertue

What? Sharing another of Vertue's workouts because they're always great: this time it's a dumbbell workout for a busy gym that you can also do from home.

Why? "For someone who’s experienced and just needs a motivation boost, this is perfect. Simple structured workout to break up your week," says Lopez.

How long? 40 minutes.

Shop MC UK's go-to workout kit now:

Can I build muscle with only dumbbells?

It's almost without doubt. As Lopez previously stated, you're more likely to build muscle using dumbbells than bodyweight - not because bodyweight training isn't effective but because it's less targeted (you can't really do bodyweight isolation exercises) and way harder to progress than simply picking up heavier dumbbells.

A few very small studies have compared the two, with one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research paper finding that a 10-week light-weight training program improved strength in healthy women much more so than calisthenics-style bodyweight workouts.

Research in the Journal of Sports also reported that between people who lifted free weights (such as bodybuilders and power athletes) versus those who did skill-based training like callisthenics and boxing, the former group had much stronger grip strength which is used as an overall signifier of health.

Chloe Gray
Contributing Health Writer

Chloe Gray is a freelance journalist who writes and talks about health, fitness, and wellbeing through a feminist lens. She was part of the launch team for Stylist magazine's fitness brand, Strong Women, and has written for i news, Women's Health, Red magazine, Good Housekeeping, Refinery29, and more. She's all about building mental and physical strength, eating delicious food that fuels you well, and making the fitness industry more accessible and enjoyable. She's also a qualified fitness trainer and research nerd, so you can be sure everything you read is backed by proper science.