Ultimate Dumbbell Training Plan & Workouts

Welcome to the Men’s Health Dumbbell Club, your new weekly plan for a fitter, stronger body, using just two dumbbells.

With workouts lasting from 20-40 minutes, designed to add lean muscle, build fitness and increase strength, your weekly dose of dumbbell goodness drops every Monday.

All previous workout weeks can be found below, or you can click here to go straight to this week’s drop.

Weekly Dumbbell Training Plan

















What Do I Need For a Dumbbell Training Plan?

As the name suggests, all you need for this plan is a pair of dumbbells and a small space to train.

If you can, you’ll need somewhere to record the weights you use, as well as the sets and reps you achieve in each workout. Using a simple pen and pad or the notes app on your phone will allow you to track your progress in your training, ensuring you’re consistently making gains. Recording what’s happening in your training sessions is a sure fire way to guarantee you see changes in your physique and fitness levels outside of them.

strong black male picking up dumbbells from selection of free weights in gym, ready for workout

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What Weight Dumbbells Should I Use?

If you’re training in a gym, simply post yourself up in front of the dumbbell rack and choose weights that challenge you, whatever the exercise. Each movement has a prescribed rep range, so pick weights that present a challenge at the higher end of the range, but don’t cause you to drop below the lower end.

This is where making notes can be crucial, allowing you to properly select your weights from week to week to ensure you’re constantly seeing progress, both on paper and in the mirror.

If you’re working out from home and buying a single pair of dumbbells for the first time, then aim for a pair of dumbbells you can’t press overhead with strict form for more than 5-10 reps. Much heavier than this and you’ll have a hard time training your shoulders. Go too light land you’ll struggle to challenge your bigger muscle groups such as your quads, hamstrings and back. This training programme focusses primarily on big, muscle building compound movements, meaning light weight dumbbells aren’t an absolute necessity, so erring on the side of ‘heavier’ is a safer bet.

These are the best adjustable dumbbells to buy in 2023.

If you already have a pair of dumbbells, and worry they might be on the lighter side, there are lots of tips and tricks you can employ to make lighter dumbbells feel heavier. We’ll cover those in this article as well as in the individual workouts. Conversely, you can always switch to using just a single dumbbell with both hands if your ‘bells feel too heavy for any given movement.

If you’re purchasing 2-3 pairs of dumbbells, then give yourself a decent range. A decent three dumbbell solution would be:

  • A pair of weights that are ideal for lighter, accessory movements such as dumbbell curls and lateral raises (8-12kg).
  • A ‘medium’ pair of dumbbells, suited to overhead pressing, high rep rows and more explosive movements like cleans and snatches (15- 25kg).
  • A heavy pair, dedicated to deadlifting, goblet squats, carries and other movements that allow you to shift serious tin. (25-30kg and above).

Of course, a handy, space saving solution that will optimise your dumbbell training experience is to purchase a pair of ‘selectorised’ dumbbells. These adjustable dumbbells allow you to quickly transition from light to heavy weights, across small increments, and take up the same amount of storage space as just a single set of heavy ‘bells. Perfect in a home gym setting, this option will allow you to endlessly progress your training, without breaking the bank (and filling your garage) with endless rows of dumbbells.

What Are The Benefits of Training With Dumbbells?

Whether you’re training at home, in the gym or even whilst travelling, there’s no denying the versatility of the humble dumbbell. But unlike other fitness solutions, that versatility doesn’t come at the expense of effectiveness.

First up, let’s discuss the freedom and range of motion that dumbbells offer. Unlike barbells, which require a fixed grip and often limit your movement patterns, dumbbells allow for greater flexibility and independence. Each arm works individually, eliminating the possibility of muscle imbalances and ensuring that both sides of your body receive equal attention. This freedom of movement engages stabiliser muscles, promoting better balance and coordination throughout your workouts.

preview for 15-minute Full-body Dumbbell Workout to Build Muscle

Whether it’s a chest press, shoulder press, or a simple bicep curl, dumbbells provide a more natural and functional range of motion, more closely mimicking real-life movements.

In contrast, machines can lock you into a predetermined motion, restricting the full engagement of supporting muscle groups. While machines have their place in certain scenarios, such as rehabilitation or isolating specific muscles, they lack the ability to activate the full potential of your body.

Dumbbells, on the other hand, allow for dynamic movements that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, resulting in a more ‘real world’ workout experience.

Next, let’s address the versatility of dumbbells. With nothing but a few pairs of humble ‘bells, you can unlock a vast repertoire of exercises, targeting any and every muscle group across your entire body. Whether you’re looking to build strength, increase muscle mass, or improve muscular endurance and stamina, dumbbells have you covered. From big compound exercises like squats, presses, and deadlifts, to lighter isolation exercises such as lateral raises and tricep extensions, the versatility of a few pairs of dumbbells ensures that your workouts can be tailored to any goal.

Importantly though, dumbbells facilitate ‘unilateral’ training, essentially training one side of the body at a time. This can be a vital component for building a balanced physique and helping to avoid injury. By working each side independently, you can identify and address any strength or muscle imbalances that may be lurking beneath the surface. This asymmetrical training not only promotes aesthetic symmetry but also improves overall functional strength, which translates to enhanced performance not just in the gym, but in sports and everyday activities.

preview for 20-Minute Chest & Back Workout (Dumbbell Only) Follow Along | Men's Health UK

But how does the dumbbell match up against the undisputed heavyweight king of the gym, the barbell? While barbells may excel in heavy compound lifts and allow you to shift some serious weight, they can easily over prioritise larger muscle groups, neglecting the engagement of smaller stabilising muscles. The more ‘free moving’ nature of the dumbbell, however, offers you endless opportunities to target those overlooked muscles. The constant balancing act required during dumbbell exercises activates your core and other stabiliser muscles, which can help to improve overall body control and stability.

Lastly, something that’s easy to overlook is the practicality and accessibility of dumbbells. Whether you prefer the convenience of a home gym or enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of a commercial facility, dumbbells are a portable and space-efficient choice. They take up minimal space, require no complex setup, and can be utilised in countless exercises. With dumbbells, you have the freedom to train whenever and wherever you desire, without being limited by the availability of specialised equipment.

Whilst barbells and machines have their own merits in the fitness realm, the versatility, functional gains, and practicality of dumbbells make them an indispensable tool to have in your training arsenal.

Headshot of Andrew Tracey

With almost 18 years in the health and fitness space as a personal trainer, nutritionist, breath coach and writer, Andrew has spent nearly half of his life exploring how to help people improve their bodies and minds.    

As our fitness editor he prides himself on keeping Men’s Health at the forefront of reliable, relatable and credible fitness information, whether that’s through writing and testing thousands of workouts each year, taking deep dives into the science behind muscle building and fat loss or exploring the psychology of performance and recovery.   

Whilst constantly updating his knowledge base with seminars and courses, Andrew is a lover of the practical as much as the theory and regularly puts his training to the test tackling everything from Crossfit and strongman competitions, to ultra marathons, to multiple 24 hour workout stints and (extremely unofficial) world record attempts.   

 You can find Andrew on Instagram at @theandrew.tracey, or simply hold up a sign for ‘free pizza’ and wait for him to appear.

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