Are you 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.

Compound dumbbell exercises are movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. 

They're some of the best movements that you can perform if you're looking to develop your muscles. As they work more than one muscle group, they give you a lot of bang for your buck. 

I often start my new clients with compound movements as it allows them to develop a strong base strength. 

Examples of compound dumbbell exercises include the dumbbell squat, which targets the legs, arms, and core; the dumbbell bench press which hits your chest, shoulders, and triceps; and the dumbbell deadlift, which hits your posterior chain muscles such as your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. 

Dumbbell compound movements are some of the best exercises that you can add to your workout routine. 

11 Best Dumbbell Compound Exercises For Full Body Training

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
man doing dumbbell bench press exercise

If you compare the barbell bench press over the dumbbell bench press, 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.

I've been using dumbbells for the last 18 months and I wouldn't look back; they're excellent.

benefits:

  • Uses a large range of motion.
  • Develops your stabilizer muscles.

How To Do It:

  1. Place a dumbbell on either side of a flat exercise bench.
  2. Sit on the bench, taking a dumbbell in each hand as you lay back, flat on the bench.
  3. Keep arms straight in the air, holding the weights over your shoulders, palms facing toward your feet.
  4. Keep feet flat and firm on the floor, flexing your core.
  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. Push the weights back up, returning to your starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • To help you lift slightly more, use your breathing. Take a deep breath at the top of the movement, lower the dumbbells and breathe out as you push them upwards. Doing so will improve your powder generation and will leave you less breathless.

2. Dumbbell Squat Press

Target: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, deltoids, pectoralis major, biceps brachii
man doing dumbbell squat press exercise

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

It's suitable for all ability levels and can be progressed by using heavier dumbbells. 

Benefits:

  • Uses your full body.
  • Ideal for all ability levels.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to keep things interesting, you can try alternating the pressing portion of the movement (pressing one arm at a time). 

Related Article - Dumbbell Vs Barbell Squat

3. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Target: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core
Man Doing Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts are perfect for strengthening your posterior chain! The stronger your posterior chain, the lower your risk of injury. 

If you have lower back pain, this is a fantastic exercise for building strength and developing the lower body as most of the focus is on your hamstrings and glutes. 

The key to nailing this movement is mastering the hip hinge, get that part right and the rest is easy.

Benefits:

  • Develops your posterior chain.
  • Can help rehab lower back injuries.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't rush this movement. You want to place your hamstrings and glutes under as much tension as possible to maximize your development.

4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Target: Deltoids, triceps, core
man performing dumbbell shoulder press exercise

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.

Benefits:

  • Uses a wide range of motion.
  • Develops your deltoids.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you suffer from shoulder pain during this movement, sit on and adjustable bench and reduce the angle of the bench away from 90-degrees. By doing so you'll place your shoulder joint in a more favorable position.

5. Dumbbell Arnold Press

Target: Triceps, trapezius, deltoids
Man Doing Standing Arnold Press

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.

If it's good enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger, then it's good enough for me. Trust me, this exercise can take your delts to the next level.

benefits:

  • Works all three deltoid heads.
  • Great for muscle mass.

How To Do It:

  1. While standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your arms bent with palms inward.
  2. Weights should be shoulder-height at the starting position.
  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. Tightly contract your delts at the top of the movement.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • As with other seated shoulder press movements, you can set the bench on a slight incline to relieve some of the pressure on your shoulder joints. 

6. Lunge Press With Dumbbells

Target: Quadriceps, deltoids, core
Woman Doing Lunge Press With Dumbbells

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.

If you're new to working out, I recommend that you perform the lunge and the press as two separate movements. I say this because together it can be rather complex. 

Benefits:

  • Works your full body.
  • Develops your balance and coordination.

Related Article - Benefits Of Lunges

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Keep your feet hip width throughout the entire movement. By doing so, you'll have improved balance and less risk of falling over.  

7. Clean And Press With Dumbbells

Target: Quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, gluteus maximus, triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius, spinal erectors, core, latissiumus dorsi, calves
Man Doing Clean And Press With Dumbbells Exercise

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.

As this movement is quite complex, I recommend only more advanced lifters attempt this exercise. 

benefits:

  • Works your entire body.
  • Develops explosive power. 
  • Burns a ton of calories.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you find using two dumbbells too difficult, try using one dumbbell at a time.  

8. Renegade Row With Dumbbells

Target: Core, rhomboids, spinal erector muscles, biceps, trapezius, latissimus dorsi
Man Doing Renegade Rows

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, I can't recommend this one enough.

I like this dumbbell exercise as you can pretty much perform it anywhere. Whether you're in a hotel gym, your bedroom, garden, or home gym, you can do it. However, if you can't perform this exercise, you can try out renegade row alternatives.

benefits:

  • Improves your balance.
  • Increases core strength. 

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try to not rock your hips during the movement, keep your body under control throughout the entire exercise. 

9. Dumbbell Pullover

Target: Upper chest, mid-chest, lower chest, latissimus dorsi, and core
Man Doing Dumbbell Pullovers

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.

I've recently added the dumbbell pullover to my chest routine and I absolutely love it.

It works my chest and lats through a wide range of motion and I can feel my muscle fibers stretching. I've even noticed that my shoulder mobility is increasing. 

If you don't have a weight bench, you can try out dumbbell pullover alternative exercises.

benefits:

  • Uses a wide range of motion.
  • Improves shoulder mobility.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.

How To Do It:

  1. Start with your feet on the floor, a bit wider than the bench.
  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. Lift your arms straight towards the ceiling, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  4. Inhale, moving the weights back over your head, keeping the core tight.
  5. Make sure the weights are never below your head.
  6. After a few seconds of extending dumbbells overhead, exhale and slowly return your arms to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're an advanced lifter looking for a further challenge, place your body perpendicular to the bench, resting your shoulders on it. Use this position to perform the dumbbell pullover, it requires a lot of core strength. 

10. Dumbbell Good Morning

Target: Gluteus maximus, spinal erectors, calves, hamstrings, latissimus dorsi
Woman Doing Dumbbell Good Mornings In The Gym

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

The dumbbell good mornings are a great single arm dumbbell exercise, 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.

benefits:

  • Strengthens your posterior chain.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't start off with a heavy dumbbell. This movement doesn't need a ton of weight, it's all about perfecting your form and stretching your hamstrings and glutes to the max.

11. Walking Dumbbell Lunges

Target: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calves, core, deltoids
Woman Doing Dumbbell Walking Lunges

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.

benefits:

  • Develops explosive power in the leg muscles.
  • Suitable for most ability levels.

How To Do It:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Ensure your feet remain hip width apart throughout the entire movement, this will help you remain balanced. 

Advantage Of Dumbbell Compound Exercises Over Barbell

The best compound dumbbell exercises recruit many muscle groups which get the blood pumping, offering a kind of light cardio benefit as well.

Because you literally and figuratively have more flexibility, with dumbbells instead of a barbell you aren't locked into one position. 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 because compound exercises not only burn more calories but improve intermuscular coordination and flexibility [1].

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. 

woman doing compound exercises with dumbbells

Workout Plan For Compound Exercises With Dumbbells

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?

Yes you can do compound exercises every day. But I would switch between lower body focused movements and upper body focused movements to allow your muscles adequate time to recover.

Can you build a good physique with only dumbbells?

Yes, you can build a good physique using only dumbbells; they're excellent tools. When used properly you can increase strength, build muscle, and become leaner.

Which dumbbell compound lift burns the most calories?

Squats, deadlifts, and lunges all burn the most 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.

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!

References: 

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

Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.