When it comes to strength-training equipment, dumbbells reign supreme. They're more compact than barbells, easier to hold than kettlebells and better for progressing your workouts than resistance bands. Plus, you can add one or two to just about any exercise.
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"Dumbbells wake up your muscles in the sense of activating more muscle fibers and challenging their stabilizers," says Mathew Forzaglia, certified personal trainer and founder of Forzag Fitness on the NEOU App. This means you're never just working one muscle — all the surrounding muscles work together to help you lift the weight.
And because dumbbells are unilateral (you hold one in each hand), you can use them in more varied ways than a barbell, Forzaglia says.
But working out with dumbbells is a bit more complicated than just picking up a set and lugging it around. Form becomes even more important, as the added weight puts more stress on your muscles and joints compared to body-weight exercises.
To help with all aspects of dumbbell training, the LIVESTRONG.com team joined forces with Forzaglia to create the 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge.
Our most recent session started August 1, 2021, but you can begin any time you want. This month-long, full-body program will help you master proper form for common exercises and build strength in all your major muscle groups.
How the Dumbbell Challenge Works
This challenge features four workouts that each target a different body part. You'll do one workout each day and rest every three days. (Keep scrolling to see suggestions for what to do on your days off.) Here's what the order looks like:
- Legs and Butt: While body-weight exercises like squats and lunges are great for beginners, adding dumbbells to those exercises helps you build muscle and get stronger even faster.
- Chest and Arms: Push-ups and other body-weight exercises can only do so much for your chest and arms. Dumbbells will take your upper-body workouts to the next level.
- Abs: Holding a dumbbell while you do your favorite ab exercises forces all the muscles in your core to work harder to stabilize and move the extra weight.
- Back and Shoulders: It can be difficult (though not impossible) to target your back and shoulders with body-weight exercises, so dumbbells are particularly helpful for building strength here.
- Legs and Butt Round 2... and so on!
Get a printer-friendly version of the challenge calendar here.
Over the 30 days, you'll end up repeating each workout five times. Every time you repeat a workout, you'll change the number of reps or sets you do:
- Round 1: 2 sets of 10 reps
- Round 2: 2 sets of 12 reps
- Round 3: 2 sets of 15 reps
- Round 4: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Round 5: 3 sets of 12 reps
How to Join the Dumbbell Challenge
Step 1: Print and/or Save Your Challenge Calendar
Print out the calendar above or save it to your phone and use it each day to help you stay on track. Do the workout (or rest day) listed, then check off each day as you complete it.
Step 2: Join Our Challenge Facebook Group
Our community of more than 50,000 members is here to support and motivate you through this challenge. Tell the group how the day's routine went, post photos or videos of your dumbbell workouts or share your favorite meme or motivational quote.
Step 3: Grab Your Dumbbells
The only thing you'll need for this challenge is a set of dumbbells (or a few sets if you have access to them). Don't have any at home? Shop our recommendations:
If you can't find a pair in stock or don't have the room in your budget, try using these household objects as dumbbell alternatives instead.
Step 4: Start Your Dumbbell Workouts
On Day 1, kick things off with the Legs and Butt Workout. Check out the links below for details on each of the four routines:
Step 5: Enjoy Your Rest Days
Days off are just as important as the active days of this challenge. That's because your muscles repair and grow stronger on your rest days.
You have two options: You can take the day completely off, or you can try active recovery, which can involve any low-intensity activity that gets your muscles moving without taxing your body too much, like walking, hiking, cycling, yoga, stretching or foam rolling.
Check out these ideas for how to spend your days off:
Step 6: Celebrate Your Success
You made it to the end of the 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge! Take some time to appreciate that accomplishment — and let us know how it went in our Challenge Facebook Group.
When you're ready, keep your momentum going with a new challenge, such as:
You can do any of our challenges on your own whenever you want, or you can visit our Challenges page to see what we have planned for the full year.