11 Compound Dumbbell Exercises For Total Body Workouts

You're a religious gymgoer struggling to see the fat loss or strength increase you're aiming for.

This is extremely common, especially when you see most trainers advising their clients to focus on isolation exercises.

However, by incorporating essential compound dumbbell exercises into your routine, you’ll soon start seeing the results you want.

Build your workouts up of these dumbbell exercises for maximum results. Working on major muscle groups, they’re designed to incorporate the whole body for an effective workout every time.

1. Dumbbell Bench Press

Target: Pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps, core

While there's nothing wrong with a traditional bench press used with a barbell, the dumbbell bench press demands more out of you.

Not only that, but it's easier for beginners. A barbell weighs 35 pounds, and if you can't press 35, then opt for lighter dumbbells.

Moreover, the DBS allows for a greater range of motion, engaging the pectoralis major and biceps brachii than using a barbell. With a barbell, you have a greater chance of developing muscular imbalances.

With a dumbbell, you can really focus on bringing them up and together evenly, which promotes balance by recruiting smaller stabilizer muscles.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Place a dumbbell on either side of a flat exercise bench.
  2. 2
    Sit on the bench, taking a dumbbell in each hand as you lay back, flat on the bench.
  3. 3
    Keep arms straight in the air, holding the weights over your shoulders, palms facing toward your feet.
  4. 4
    Keep feet flat and firm on the floor, flexing your core.
  5. 5
    Bend your arms at the elbows, lowering until you feel a good stretch in your front delts or until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
  6. 6
    Push the weights back up, returning to your starting position.
compound dumbbell exercises

2. Dumbbell Squat Press

Target: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, deltoids, pectoralis major, biceps brachii

Also referred to as "dumbbell thrusters," this compound exercise works the upper body and lower body. In order to keep yourself upright and stable, your core and back must work isometrically, further strengthening and burning calories.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Get into a standing squat position, holding a weight in each hand.
  2. 2
    Hold the weights right outside your shoulders, palms facing inwards.
  3. 3
    Keep your core tight, breathe in, and lower into a squat until your quads are parallel to the ground.
  4. 4
    Exhale and push through your heels, making it halfway to your starting position.
  5. 5
    Once you get halfway, start pushing the dumbbells upward as you return to the standing position.
  6. 6
    Stop before your elbows lock out, repeating the motion. 
dumbbell squat press

3. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Target: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core

These are perfect for strengthening that posterior chain! If you have lower back pain, this is a fantastic exercise for building strength and toning the lower body. The key is to really nail this movement - specifically, the hip hinge.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent.
  2. 2
    With a dumbbell in each hand, hold them in front of your hips in an overhand grip.
  3. 3
    Keep your spine in a neutral position, flexing the abs and squeezing the shoulder blades.
  4. 4
    Without rounding your lower back, move your hips back, keeping the weights close to your legs.
  5. 5
    Lower weights until they’re in front of your shins, never forcing your flexibility.
  6. 6
    Engage your back, glutes, and hamstrings as you stand back up and repeat.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Target: deltoids, triceps, core

This shoulder press can either be done sitting down or standing up. Known as one of the most important compound dumbbell exercises for aesthetics and strength-building, it's vital to any workout.

They allow for a wider range of motion (ROM) than you'd have with any other type of weights while recruiting small stabilizer muscles to balance them.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Start by standing, with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    With a weight in each hand, bring them up to your shoulders.
  3. 3
    Keep a slight bend in your knees and your abs tight, pushing the dumbbells up right before your elbows lock out.
  4. 4
    In a controlled manner, lower them back down until the weights are level to your head.
dumbbell shoulder press

5. Dumbbell Arnold Press

Target: triceps, trapezius, deltoids

If you want to develop well-rounded shoulders and minimize risk of injury, the Arnold Press will do it. Targeting the anterior delts is quite simple, but hitting the medial and posterior delts is harder.

The Arnold Press will target all three while helping with compound movements like pull-ups and the dumbbell renegade row. For many, deltoid muscle growth is difficult, but this exercise has shown effective at building muscle around the shoulders.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    While standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your arms bent with palms inward.
  2. 2
    Weights should be shoulder-height at the starting position.
  3. 3
    Rather than push straight up, lift and move your arms outward a bit as you rotate your forearms, so your palms face outwards. Elbows should be out wide.
  4. 4
    Tightly contract your delts at the top of the movement.
Standing Arnold Press

6. Lunge Press With Dumbbells

Target: quadriceps, deltoids, core

As one of the best compound dumbbell exercises, the lunge press with dumbbells works the upper body and lower body and is on many lists of compound leg exercises with dumbbells.

They're a great alternative to the dumbbell squat, especially if you haven't quite built up that strength yet. Keeping proper form is crucial here, and if you need a lighter weight in order to maintain it, do that.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Stand looking forward with your spine straight and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with palms facing outward.
  3. 3
    Keep core engaged while stepping out with your left foot into a lunge.
  4. 4
    Press dumbbells overhead, keeping the natural arch in your spine.
  5. 5
    Your right knee should be close to the floor, while your left knee should never go past the toes.
  6. 6
    Lower weights back to shoulder height, returning to your starting position.
  7. 7
    Switch sides to the opposite leg, lunging with the right foot forward.
Lunge Press With Dumbbells

7. Clean and Press With Dumbbells

Target: quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, gluteus maximus, triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius, spinal erectors, core, latissiumus dorsi, calves

This next full-body exercise does require quite a bit of skill and technique, but by using light dumbbells, you can perfect it quickly.

Combining compound exercises like the dumbbell squat, deadlift, and shoulder press, it quickly strengthens the entire body, builds explosive power, and burns calories like crazy.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Grab two dumbbells, placing them on the floor in front of you.
  2. 2
    Feet should be shoulder-width apart, with the hips and knees slightly bent.
  3. 3
    Exhale, keeping your core engaged, thrusting dumbbells upward to the shoulders as you simultaneously get into a squat.
  4. 4
    Weights should be in a front squat position in front of your shoulders.
  5. 5
    Quickly push up through your heels while simultaneously doing an overhead press as you stand up.
  6. 6
    Be conscious of never locking out the arms or rounding the back.
Clean And Press With Dumbbells

8. Renegade Row With Dumbbells

Target: core, rhomboids, spinal erector muscles, biceps, trapezius, latissimus dorsi

If you're looking for compound dumbbell exercises that work both the upper body and lower body, check out the renegade row.

It's also one of the best for improving balance, focusing on the entire core. If you're bored of just doing bodyweight exercises for balance, we can't recommend this one enough.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Grab two dumbbells and get into a plank position with one dumbbell in each hand, keeping arms straight.
  2. 2
    Keep your core tight and spine straight, lifting one dumbbell while keeping one arm supporting your weight.
  3. 3
    Contract until your upper arm is a bit higher than your torso.
  4. 4
    In a controlled manner, lower the weight to the ground.
  5. 5
    Repeat with your other arm.
Renegade Rows

9. Dumbbell Pullover

Target: upper chest, mid-chest, lower chest, latissimus dorsi, and core

This is one of the best compound exercises for targeting the upper body. You'll need a reliable weight bench - one that's ideally not an incline bench.

While doing this, it's normal for your abdominal muscles to feel tight, and you'll definitely have to use them throughout this entire movement.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Start with your feet on the floor, a bit wider than the bench.
  2. 2
    Hold one dumbbell in each hand, laying back, so you're lying flat on the bench. Make sure your neck and head are completely supported by the bench.
  3. 3
    Lift your arms straight towards the ceiling, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  4. 4
    Inhale, moving the weights back over your head, keeping the core tight.
  5. 5
    Make sure the weights are never below your head.
  6. 6
    After a few seconds of extending dumbbells overhead, exhale and slowly return your arms to the starting position.
Dumbbell Pullovers

10. Dumbbell Good Morning

Target: gluteus maximus, spinal erectors, calves, hamstrings, latissimus dorsi

If you're lifting weights, you should be incorporating total-body compound exercises for maximum benefits.

The dumbbell good mornings are great for this, working your glutes, back, hamstrings, core, and much more. They're perfect for beginners and advanced gymgoers alike.

Strengthening essentially all major muscles in the posterior chain, good mornings function exceptionally well for injury prevention purposes.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Stand with your feet a bit less than shoulder-width apart, knees a bit bent, and grab two dumbbells.
  2. 2
    Keep the weights at shoulder level with your palms inward, kind of like at the top of a bicep curl.
  3. 3
    Without straightening or bending your knees further, hinge at your hips, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
  4. 4
    Do not round your back, and keep your neck in a neutral position.
  5. 5
    Once you reach the near-parallel position, pause for a second or two, and return to the starting position.
Dumbbell Good Morning

11. Walking Dumbbell Lunges

Target: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calves, core, deltoids

The walking dumbbell lunge is one of the best compound dumbbell exercises, recruiting just about every major muscle group to keep you balanced and pushing through.

This makes it efficient for fat loss, toning up, and gaining muscle mass (should you choose to use heavy dumbbells).

If you want to work all the muscles of the lower body, walking dumbbell lunges are a slightly more advanced dumbbell exercise that yields results quickly.

It's always best to start out with a lighter weight until you're sure your joints and muscles can handle heavier weight. Lunges place strain on the knees, so if you already have knee issues, keep it light until you increase your strength.

How To Do It:

  1. 1
    Stand with a shoulder-width stance, with a weight in each hand.
  2. 2
    Keeping your abs engaged, step forward with your left leg. Let both knees bend at the same time.
  3. 3
    Move lower and deeper into the lunge position until your back knee touches the floor.
  4. 4
    Push through with your left foot, extending your knee as you return to standing position.
  5. 5
    Repeat on the other side, stepping out with your right foot.
Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Benefits Of Dumbbell Compound Exercises Over Barbell

Compound exercises not only burn more calories but improve intermuscular coordination and flexibility. [1] The best compound dumbbell exercises recruit many muscle groups which get the blood pumping, offering a kind of light cardio benefit as well.

Hello, fat burning and muscle toning! While you can get these benefits from using a barbell, dumbbells are often preferred. Why?

Because you literally and figuratively have more flexibility with them. With dumbbells, you aren't locked into one position like a barbell demands. They offer a great range of motion and recruit smaller stabilizer muscles in order to keep both dumbbells moving evenly and at the same speed.

You could perform the same exercise and notice it's more challenging with dumbbells as your body will recruit more muscles to stabilize your load.

Many people have muscular imbalances, which put them at a greater risk of injury and discomfort. Training one side of the body at a time can help correct imbalances. [2] This means that dumbbell exercises can help correct imbalances more efficiently than barbells or even machines can.

Dumbbell compound exercises are preferable for people with wrist or elbow pain too! Barbells don't allow you to move as naturally, which can cause twinges and inflammation over time.

Even while keeping dumbbells straight, you still have the freedom to rotate your joints in a natural movement. 

compound exercises with dumbbells

Compound Exercise Routine With Dumbbells (Workout Plan)

No, you don’t need to hire or be a certified personal trainer to reap benefits from the best compound dumbbell exercises! Grab yourself a pair of free weights and get moving with this dumbbell compound exercise routine!

  • Dumbbell Squat Press
    Let's start with the dumbbell squat press, as it's a great exercise for getting the heart pumping and fat burning. Start by doing 3 sets of 15 reps.
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
    RDLs are perfect after squats as quadriceps (what squats engage), and hamstrings (what RDLs engage) work together in antagonistic pairs. [3] This will really maximize muscle growth and give one muscle group a break while you work the other. Start with another 3 sets of 15, using light weight.
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
    Let's give the lower body a break and move to the upper body for a moment. You can choose to perform it as a press stand or sit down on the bench. This is one of the most vital shoulder exercises, though to prevent injury, start out light. You'll be doing 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps but should not go until failure.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
    This one is another fantastic shoulder exercise, but as you’ve already tired out your delts with the shoulder presses, your chest will be doing most of the work now. Try another 3 sets of 10.
  • Walking Dumbbell Lunge
    These are thigh-burners for sure and will keep that heart rate up in the middle of your workout for maximum fat loss. Try doing your walking lunges from one side of a room to another until you can't do another round. After you walk to the other side, take a rest of no more than 30 seconds.
  • Renegade Row with Dumbbells
    Give your legs a breather and head straight into the rows. These are also best done with light weight at first until you can really master the form here. Try 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
  • Dumbbell Good Mornings
    Really focus on keeping the spine straight and your form on point here. Master these, and you'll be able to master all major hinge exercises—3 sets of 10 to 12.
  • Dumbbell Pullover
    Avoid using heavy dumbbells as you'll focus more on the movement rather than the raw weight. These will help with flexibility and muscle gain - particularly in the pecs and lats. Do 3 sets of 15 here.
  • Dumbbell Arnold Press
    These are a cornerstone to any quality dumbbell workout for shoulders. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 in a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Clean and Press with Dumbbells
    This total-body exercise is one of the most respected. It's not necessarily easy to do, but you'll nail the form with practice. These stoke fat loss and encourage muscle toning throughout the whole body. You'll notice that after doing these regularly, everything seems easier. Perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 with light weight.

Frequently Asked Compound Dumbbell Exercises Questions

Can you do compound exercises every day?

While you may physically be able to, it’s not ideal. You should give yourself rest between each workout to allow for proper recovery.

Ideally, you should perform compound exercises around 3 to 4 times per week. For really rigorous sessions, 3 times per week is ideal to avoid overworking yourself. [4]

Can you build a good physique with only dumbbells?

Yes, you can. Dumbbells are excellent tools, when used properly, to increase strength, build muscle, and make you leaner.

However, you have to know how to use them to your advantage. Starting out with light weight until you have the form down is preferred to minimize the risk of injury.

Which dumbbell compound lift burns the most calories?

Squats, deadlifts, and lunges all burn a similar amount of calories. Squats are known for incorporating the most amount of muscles and are oftentimes more challenging than the others, though deadlifts and lunges come in close. 

What’s the difference between compound and isolation workouts?

Compound workouts utilize multiple muscle groups, whereas isolation workouts focus on one muscle group. Examples of compound exercises include squats or military presses, while isolation exercises include bicep curls or leg extensions.

While both are great, compound workouts will really give you the biggest bang for your buck. They're functional yet yield great results. Isolation workouts can help with functionality and are great for improving the aesthetics of a specific muscle group.


Conclusion

Now that you know all the makings of a fantastic dumbbell workout, are you ready to head to the gym?

You'll no longer have to guess that you're having an effective workout because these movements all have the gold stamp of approval from athletes, therapists, and competitors around the globe.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go grab those dumbbells and get started!

Reference:

1. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/5811/5-benefits-of-compound-exercises/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4667994/

3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zpkr82p/revision/4

4. https://uhs.umich.edu/exercise

Last Updated on September 12, 2022