Even athletes of old, fighters and gladiators used dumbbells to strengthen their bodies. With dumbbells of different weights, called halteres, athletes in ancient Greece had to do standing long jumps.

Today, dumbbell and barbell training are primarily used to build muscle and strength. The main difference to training on machines: With these, you can train your muscles in isolation, but in most exercises with these freely movable weights, many auxiliary muscles are also used. This is the only way you can keep your body, especially your torso, stable. And that's exactly what makes dumbbell exercises so effective.

If you want to build up your muscles in a targeted manner, you are on the right path training with dumbbells and barbells. Below we'll show you effective dumbbell and barbell exercises to get your body in top shape! Whether you are a beginner, advanced or professional: You are guaranteed to find the best exercises for you to achieve your goals.


What different types of dumbbells are there?

A rough distinction is made between dumbbells and barbells. With both, an effective full-body workout at home is possible. Some prefer to work with dumbbells, others with barbells. A mix of both is definitely ideal. Dumbbells have the advantage that muscles can also be trained in isolation. The movement sequences are more natural and better adapted to our anatomy. Incidentally, they help to improve coordination skills. And if you train correctly with dumbbells, you can specifically prevent or compensate for muscular imbalances. Choosing the right weight is important. But more on that later.

Barbells are not quite as demanding in terms of coordination in some exercises. This is a plus for beginners. It is also possible to work with heavier weights. Because the muscles responsible for stability have to work less. But that doesn't mean that your technique doesn't play a major role. On the contrary: even lifting up incorrectly into the starting position can put a massive strain on your back.

In general, free weights like dumbbells or barbells require a little more practice. Even the smallest changes activate other muscles. If you work without a trainer, you should train in front of a mirror if possible. Or with a partner to correct each other.

Training Principles

How Will Dumbbell Exercise Help Me Build Muscle?

Muscles always grow when you put a lot of strain on them. Properly performed dumbbell training with the right weights leads to tiny tears at the cellular level. The body repairs this damage, the muscles regenerate and increase in strength and size. The more you train, the bigger the individual muscles become. There are two reasons for this: On the one hand, the individual muscle fibres enlarge. On the other hand, the fluid sac surrounding the muscles becomes larger. Very important: your muscles grow in the recovery phase. The training itself only encourages them to do so. Beginners should give the trained muscle groups 48 hours to regenerate. Advanced and professionals athletes can shorten this time to 36 or even 24 hours.

Training with Dumbbells

What do I have to consider when dumbbell training at home?

Even if it looks easy. Dumbbell exercises are more challenging than most people think. This is especially true for dumbbells. You move the weights freely in space, so you don't have any support like with machine training. This has the advantage that you also train the deep muscles that are so important for posture, stability and back health. However, you must take this extra muscle work into account when planning your dumbbell workouts at home. A stable posture requires good body awareness and good coordination of movement.

Therefore, the weight of the dumbbells plays an important role:

  • Depending on the exercise, beginners start with 2 – 4 kg dumbbells.
  • Advanced choose 5-8 kg dumbbells.

  • With barbells, beginners start with 10 to 20 kg, depending on the exercise.
  • Advanced users can choose significantly higher weights depending on the exercise.
  • You should repeat each exercise 12-15 times.

  • For intermediate and pro users who work with heavyweights, 6 to 8 reps.
  • Do 3 sets per exercise with 60 seconds of rest in between.

  • The optimal dumbbell training consists of multi-joint and single-joint exercises.
  • Rule of thumb: The weight is correct if you can just barely perform the last repetition technically correct.

Dumbbell Exercises

How do I train with dumbbells effectively?

Here are a few basic rules:

For each workout, do complex exercises first, and then do isolated exercises.

Train the flexors first, then the extensors.

Train your extremities first, then your core muscles.

Warm-up for a few minutes before each workout.

Beginners train 2 or 3 times a week for the first 6 to 8 weeks.

Advanced users can increase to 4 or even 5 units, but should not train the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

Dumbbell Exercises for Beginners

What are the best exercises to start training with dumbbells?

As a beginner, 6 exercises with 3 sets and 12 to 15 repetitions per set are sufficient. If you train regularly 2 to 3 times a week, you will build up a reasonable basis in 6 to 8 weeks and be able to do more complex exercises.

1: Dumbbell Squats

Trains the thigh and buttock muscles.

Take a dumbbell in each hand and hold it by your side with your arms outstretched. With a straight back, bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, hold the deep position for a moment and then straighten up again without fully straightening your legs.

2: Dumbbell Bench press

Trains the chest muscles and triceps.

Lie down on a weight bench or, if you don't have one, on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells vertically over your collarbone until your arms are almost fully extended. Then lower both weights in a slow, controlled manner until they are in a straight line at mid-chest height. Then press the weights back up in an arcing motion until they touch above your chest.

3: Dumbbell Bent-over Row

Trains the glutes and hamstrings.

Grip a dumbbell in each of your hands. Then you bend your knees and at the same time bend your completely straight upper body forward. From this position, pull the dumbbells up until they just touch your upper body. Hold briefly and then lower back down.

4: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Trains the anterior deltoids and triceps.

Sit on a stool or bench. Take a dumbbell in your right and left hand and hold it at shoulder height with your arms bent. The tip of the dumbbell points forward. Then stretch your arms up and rotate the dumbbells so your fingers are facing you. Hold briefly and lower again in a controlled manner.

5: Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Trains the biceps and upper arm muscles.

Sit on a bench or stool. Take a dumbbell in your right hand and lean the outside of your upper arm against the inside of your leg. Then bend the arm with the dumbbell. The elbow does not move forward and the outside of the upper arm remains in contact with the inside of the thigh. Hold briefly and stretch again. After three sets, train the other arm.

6: Dumbbell Tricep Extensions

Trains the triceps and elbow flexors.

Grab a dumbbell and stand up straight with your knees slightly bent. Raise your arm with the dumbbell straight over your head. Place your free arm across your upper body. Then lower the dumbbell behind your head. Pause briefly at the end of the movement and then straighten your arm again. After three sets, take the dumbbell in the other hand.

Barbell Training for Beginners

What are the best exercises to start training with barbells?

Here are four exercises that beginners can do with the barbell. Since it is first important to learn the correct movement sequence, it is often sufficient to work with just the barbell without additional weights. But after three training sessions, you can also add a few weights.

1: Barbell Overhead Squat

Works the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Place the barbell behind your head on your shoulders and grasp it with both hands. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, feet pointing slightly outward so your knees can follow your feet. Then, with your back perfectly straight and your abs and glutes tight, squat down to a 90-degree angle. Hold briefly and then stretch again in a controlled manner without locking your knees completely.

2: Barbell Bench Press

Works the pecs, triceps and anterior deltoids.

A weight bench with the appropriate barbell device on which you lie down is ideal. But it also starts from the ground. Take a wide grip on the dumbbell and then slowly lower it to just above your chest. Hold briefly and then press back up in a controlled manner. Do not straighten your arms completely to maintain muscle tension.

⊗ Important: Keep the weight over your chest and not over your head. With higher weights, train with a partner who can help if necessary.

3: Barbell rows

Works the lats, biceps and glutes.

The barbell is in front of your feet. Then you bend your knees with a straight back, grasp the barbell in a wide grip and lift the dumbbell up to shin height. From this position, pull the dumbbell up until it touches your body. Hold briefly and then lower back down.

4: Barbell Tricep Extensions

Trains the triceps and elbow muscles.

Sit upright on a bench or stool and hold the barbell shoulder-width apart. Then stretch your arms overhead. The core muscles are tense. Then slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head to your back until your forearms touch your biceps. Hold briefly and then straighten your forearms again.

Dumbbell and Barbell Training for Advanced Athletes

Which dumbbell and barbell exercises are more challenging?

If you exercise regularly, numerous processes are set in motion in your body. First, the central nervous system adapts. Experts call this neural adaptation. Also, the muscles grow. That's why it makes sense to gradually increase the weights a little bit. And since training should be as varied as possible, you can also integrate more demanding exercises into your training.

Here are two more exercises with barbells and two with dumbbells:

1: Barbell Lunge

Works the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

Place the barbell on your shoulders with a wide grip. Feet are hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Then tighten your core muscles and take a big step forward with one leg. Lower your back knee just above the floor. Hold briefly and return to the starting position. Then take a step forward with the other leg.

2: Upright Row

Works the traps, anterior deltoid, and biceps.

Stand hip-width apart and grab the barbell with a tight overhand grip. Tighten your core muscles and pull the dumbbell up in a controlled manner and tightly along your body to your chin. The hands remain below elbow level. Hold briefly and lower again.

3: One Leg Dumbbell Squat

Trains the quads, glutes, hamstrings.

You take the dumbbells in both hands, stand up straight and lunge forward. From this position, bend your knees and hips. The front knee does not go beyond the toes. Hold briefly and go back into stretching in a controlled manner. Switch legs after each set.

4: Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise

Works the posterior, lateral and anterior deltoids and rhomboids.

Grab the dumbbells in both hands, knees slightly bent. Then you bend your upper body with a straight back about 45 degrees forward. The weight plates rest on the thigh. From this position, lift the dumbbells symmetrically to the side and bring them to shoulder height. Hold briefly and lower again.

Dumbbell and Barbell Training for Professional Athletes

How can I get even more out of dumbbell and barbell training?

If you have been training regularly for a long time and have built up a decent level of strength, the question then arises: How can I get even more out of my body?

Here are two more exercises for professionals:

1: Bulgarian Barbell Squat

Works the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calf biceps, and soleus.

For this exercise, you need a low bench in front of which you stand with your back. Place the barbell on your shoulders behind your head. Then stretch one leg back and place the toes of this leg on the bench. From this position, slowly lower your back knee until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold briefly and push back up. Switch legs after each set.

⊗ Tip: This exercise is of course also possible with two dumbbells, which you hold on the side next to your body.

2: Dumbbell Push Up Renegade Row

Works the pecs, delts, triceps, biceps and glutes.

Place two barbells on the floor shoulder-width apart, grasp them with your hands and get into the push-up position. Then you do a controlled push-up. As soon as you get back up, you bring the dumbbell to your chest and back to the floor in a controlled manner and do the next push-up. Then the other arm and continue alternating.

Dumbbell Exercises FAQs:

What dumbbell exercises are there for beginners?

Exercises with dumbbells are particularly suitable for beginners. These include exercises like squats, bench presses, bent-over rows, shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep extensions.

How often should dumbbell exercises be performed?

Beginners should train 2-3 times a week for the first 6 to 8 weeks. If you already have more experience, you can continuously increase the training to 4 or even 5 units.

Which is better Dumbbells or barbells?

Dumbbells have the advantage that you can train muscles in isolation. For higher weights, however, training with the barbell is recommended.