3 Dumbbell Workouts That Aren’t Boring

Do you always work out at home, with a small range of weights? Or are your kids sick at home, and you’re stuck with only a few dumbbells? Or are you on a vacation and your hotel gym only has a rack of free weights and a treadmill? Do you need some dumbbell workouts that aren’t boring?

Here’s the truth: dumbbell workouts can be incredibly effective for building strength, boosting muscle, and improving body composition. Resistance training is resistance training – you don’t have to be lifting 3x your bodyweight to experience the muscle-building benefits of weightlifting. 

The only problem is that sometimes dumbbell workouts can feel repetitive and lackluster. 15 reps of these lunges? Three more times? Really??

I know that, personally, this is the reason I tend to shy away from dumbbell-only workouts. I love the focus and density of a good heavy workout, and sometimes, dumbbell workouts can have a bit of a yawn quality for me.

But the reality is that sometimes a dumbbell workout is exactly what we need! We just need the non-boring version, with more creative programming that doesn’t sacrifice solid exercise science for the sake of mental variety.

And this where I brought in my friend Miles Suing, who is a Toronto-based personal trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Miles wrote a guest post for me here, and he created three excellent routines that could either be standalone workouts, or serve as finishers to a heavier workout. And in these workouts, there are no straight sets or supersets. Meaning, this goes way beyond “do 8 reps, rest a minute, then repeat.” These are also great workouts for those days when you’re stuck at home and just need to do something but are having difficulty motivating yourself. Miles and I specifically chatted about creating workouts that are more engaging and interesting to our brains than traditional supersets.*

So from here on out, this post is in Miles’s words. I highly encourage you to screenshot the workouts (or save this blog post in your browser, since Miles has linked video demos for each exercise) and try these out over the course of the next week or two. I know I will be!

*We don’t always need workouts to be SUPER INTERESTING. Sometimes, we just need to do them! But we also have to balance that with the fact that, as humans, we do get bored. When it comes to our exercise habits, we’re going to do the best job of sticking with them if we enjoy our workouts. So if you need to spice up your dumbbell workouts to get the job done, do it!  

3 Dumbbell Workouts That Aren’t Boring

Author: Miles Suing, CSCS

Miles Suing

A fun workout doesn’t necessarily have to be a complex workout.

Depending on your goals, different variables can change – with exercise selection, sets, and reps being the top ones.

A well-balanced program will contain some variation of the six basic movements – squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry. Depending on who you talk to, a seventh movement – rotation/twist – may be added. For the remainder of this article, let’s stick with just six.

If you’ve participated in any workout program to this point, you’ve likely done a variation of these movements.

Each of the workouts I’m going to include today will include basic dumbbell variations of the movements above – nothing fancy – so you’re able to cover all your bases.

The workouts will come in three levels: Light, Medium, and Spicy.

Depending on what your experience level and objective is, you can pick and choose to your liking.

They’re meant to be simple workouts you can do, whether at home or in the gym, and they don’t take much to get started.

I’ve also given you more intermediate protocols – with density workouts, ladders, and EMOMs (I’ll explain shortly) among them – to give you something outside of the popular 3 x 8-12 methods.

Getting Started

I recommend starting with a short warm-up. You can do your warm-up of choice or you can follow this short 5-minute one:

Workout 1 – Light

When I describe this workout as “light,” I mean this is in that it’s shorter but still challenging. The workout will take 15 minutes and consists of 3 exercises for when you want a quick workout break in your day.

It consists of a “ladder” of 8-6-4-2. This means that you’ll do 8 reps of all the exercises on the first round, 6 on the next round, and so on. Once you get to the bottom of the ladder, you go back up and restart at 8 and repeat the ladder until time runs out. In this case, you’re trying to get in as many repeats of the ladder as possible in 15 minutes, and you stop when the clock runs out. 

I suggest being conservative in weight selection in the beginning as fatigue catches up to you quickly.

  • Goblet Squat – 8 reps in the first set, then 6 reps in the second set, then 4 reps in the third set, then 2 reps in the last set (before you start over, if you still have time) 
  • 3-Point (Single Arm) Row – 8, 6, 4, 2 (each side) 
  • Elbow Tap – 8, 6, 4, 2 (each side) 

Set a timer for 15 minutes then run through the ladder for as many rounds as you can (with minimal rest) until time runs out.

Workout 2 – Medium

While this workout is described as “medium,” it’s still big effort. In the last workout we did a “ladder,” and in this workout we’ll be doing a “giant set” – a series of more than 3 exercises combined with minimal rest. In this case, you’ll be getting two circuits with six exercises each.

Circuit (Giant Set) 1 – repeat 3x with no rest 
Circuit (Giant Set) 2 – repeat 3x with no rest

Want bonus points? Do 4 sets of each Giant Set instead of just 3! 

Since you’re hopping from exercise to exercise, you’ll not only be working your muscular endurance but there’s also a small cardiovascular component to these workouts.

Workout 3 – Spicy

This last workout is also a 2-part workout, but isn’t quite as straightforward as the “Medium” level. This adds some extra sauce at the end! I highly recommend working up to this level.

The first part of this workout is similar to the previous “Medium” workout, in that you’ll be doing a Giant Set with minimal rest. This part should take you about 12-15 minutes. 

Part 1 – 12-15 minutes – Circuit (Giant Set) – repeat 3x with no rest

The second part involves an EMOM, which is short for “every minute on the minute”. In this case, you’ll be alternating between two exercises.

Part 2 – 10 minutes – EMOM – repeat until timer hits 10:00

EMOM means, in the example below, that you start a timer, do 8 goblet squats, rest until your timer hits 1:00, then do 8 push-ups, rest until the timer hits 2:00, then do 8 goblet squats again, and so on. You start each set on the top of the minute. This means that you’ll end up with 5 sets of each exercise at the end.

If you’re used to the more traditional straight set or superset type of training, these workouts are low-equipment but high challenge.

My Notes (Rachel)

  • When doing these exercises, be sure to pick weights that elicit a good training response. Meaning: go as heavy as you can while still doing the exercises with good form! Don’t undershoot weight. Check out this blog post about getting the most out of your workouts for more information on this.
  • It’s okay if you need to decrease weight on subsequent sets in order to keep going. We just want the best training response possible.
  • If you have lighter weights at home (i.e., you don’t have more than 8-lb. dumbbells), you may choose to use higher reps for some of the exercises.

Want to see more content from Miles? Follow him on Instagram at @milesstrength for more workout ideas and nutrition inspiration.

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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