5 of the Most Challenging Total-Body Dumbbell Exercises

The best way to make full-body dumbbell exercises harder? Increase the weight.
Image Credit: Tashi-Delek/E+/GettyImages

Whether your weekly workout routine is split by body part or not, incorporating some full-body dumbbell exercises is a surefire way to add a challenge to your training sessions. These six trainer-approved exercises will help build strength and muscle and boost your calorie burn — all in one workout.

"These exercises are great for those who have a time constraint when it comes to their workout time or just want a tough workout," Carolina Araujo, NY-based certified personal trainer and founder of Fit with Carolina, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "They're also a great way to increase calorie expenditure."

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Use all six as a single full-body workout or use them as part of a finisher at the end of one of your body part-specific workouts.

1. Dumbbell Thruster

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Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Abs", "Arms", "Butt", "Legs", "Shoulders" ]
  1. Stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart, core engaged, with a dumbbell in each hand held at your shoulders, palms facing in.
  2. Keeping your chest tall and core tight, hinge your hips back and down to sink into a squat. Lower until your thighs are parallel with the ground — or as low as you can comfortably squat while maintaining good form.
  3. Press through all four corners of your feet to return to standing.
  4. As you straighten your legs, press the dumbbells up over your head. Your upper arms should stay close to your ears.
  5. Slowly bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders with control.

Tip

"Make sure to fully contract your glutes at the top of the movement and engage your core," Araujo says. If this is too challenging, you can break the movement up into a squat and shoulder press.

2. Turkish Get-Up

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Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Abs", "Arms", "Back", "Butt", "Chest", "Legs", "Shoulders" ]
  1. Lie on the ground on your back. Bend your right leg so that your foot rests flat on the floor. Your left leg should be straight.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm extended above your chest. Your left arm should be stretched out alongside your body, palm down.
  3. Raise your right shoulder, pressing the dumbbell skyward, and come up onto your left elbow.
  4. Push the dumbbell even higher as you shift your body weight from the left elbow to the left hand. You’re now in a fully seated position, braced by your left hand.
  5. Lift your glutes and extend your hips to straighten your trunk and left leg. You're now in a reverse plank, balanced on your left hand.
  6. Bring your left leg back to kneel on your left knee.
  7. Stand up, keeping the dumbbell raised overhead.
  8. Reverse the steps to return to the starting position.
  9. Repeat on the opposite side, with the dumbbell in your left hand.

Tip

Although it's traditionally done with a kettlebell, you can perform the Turkish get-up with a dumbbell, too.

3. Dumbbell Swing

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Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Abs", "Butt", "Legs", "Back" ]
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent slightly, holding a dumbbell in front of you with both hands.
  2. Keeping your back flat, shoot your hips back and pull the weight between your legs and under your hips. You should feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings.
  3. On an exhale, push your hips forward and straighten your legs, swinging the dumbbell up to chest height with control.
  4. Using the weight's momentum, swing the dumbbell back between your legs and under your hips as you simultaneously sink into your hips and bend your knees.

Tip

Keep your spine neutral throughout this entire movement, Araujo says. Also, be sure to drive your hips forward with every swing and keep your shoulders back away from your ears.

4. Goblet Squat

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Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Abs", "Butt", "Legs" ]
  1. Stand with your feet just wider than hip-distance apart. (Toes can face forward or turn out slightly.)
  2. Hold a heavy dumbbell by one end at chest-height.
  3. Keeping your chest tall and core tight, hinge your hips back and down to sink into a squat so your upper legs are parallel with the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go with good form).
  4. Press through all four corners of your feet to return to standing.

Tip

To make this move even more challenging, you can elevate your heels on a stack of small weight plates or the edge of a short step. This will increase the range of motion of the exercise, Araujo says.

5. Farmer's Walk

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Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Abs", "Arms", "Back", "Legs" ]
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (or one on one side). Choose a weight that's heavy enough to challenge you yet light enough that you can maintain good posture while walking.
  2. Engage your core, pull your shoulder blades down and back and stand tall.
  3. Take a step forward and begin walking. Walk quickly while still keeping your spine tall, shoulders back and head up.
  4. Continue walking movement for a specified time or number of steps.

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