Are Dumbbells Enough? YES, Here's How and Why

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 21, 2022

Many people can’t make it to the gym for various reasons - your schedule is too busy, or the gym itself is too far, or any other number of reasons that make working out a hassle.

Luckily, what many people can do is work out with the fitness equipment they already have in their own home; of which is most likely a set of dumbbells.

Yes, dumbbells alone are indeed sufficient enough equipment to develop muscle mass and strength - so long as you know how to use them properly.

How are Just Dumbbells Enough to Build Muscle?

In truth, practically any heavy object can be used to build muscle mass, it just so happens that dumbbells and barbells are specifically purposed for such developments and as such are the most frequently used implements.

steel dumbbell

What makes dumbbells particularly effective at building muscle mass is in the ease with which they can be purposed for a variety of different exercises.

This, alongside the fact that the unilateral potential of dumbbells allows for greater training specificity, equates to dumbbell-based exercises being excellent for developing a balanced and strong physique.

It should be kept in mind that not just any sort of dumbbell is enough to build muscle, as one must take into account total weight in order to continue the path of progressive overload. 

Without succeedingly greater amounts of weight or higher amounts of volume, it is likely that your muscular development will plateau at some point.

How Heavy Should Dumbbells be to Build Muscle?

How heavy your dumbbells should be in order to build muscle will depend on what kind of exercises you plan to perform, and your current state of athletic experience. 

Individuals with some muscle mass already under their belt will require heavier dumbbells in order to challenge themselves, as well as those that plan to perform compound movements that require significant resistance so as to accrue training stimulus.

What Kind of Dumbbells Should be Used to Build Muscle?

While just about any kind of dumbbell can induce training stimulus, it is our advice that home gym owners purchase adjustable dumbbells so as to save space, money and allow them to adjust the weight of the dumbbell as they switch from one exercise to another.

adjustable dumbbell

In the event that you do not have access to an adjustable dumbbell - or if your training level surpasses the maximum weight of your adjustable dumbbell - it is also possible to purchase a set of incremental dumbbells, though this will take considerably more space and money.

What are the Benefits of Using Dumbbells?

Dumbbells present just as many advantages as their barbell or machine counterparts, with a more evenly applied training stimulus going hand in hand with their far greater recruitment of targeted muscle groups.

Not only do dumbbells ensure that both sides of the body are trained equally, but they are also far more effective at developing synergist muscle groups during compound exercises, thereby resulting in more stable movements.

Best Dumbbell Exercises for Building Muscles

Though we have established that it is indeed possible to develop your musculature through the use of dumbbells, we have yet to cover what specific exercises are most effective at doing so.

The following dumbbell exercises are primarily compound movements because of the far greater rate of muscular hypertrophy seen throughout the body - as well as the fact that compound exercises remain the most efficient way of utilizing a scarce amount of equipment.

1. Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows are a frequent sight in many bodybuilding training programs, where they are used to develop the musculature of the upper and middle back alongside the biceps. 

single arm dumbbell row

They are most often performed with a moderate to high amount of weight with one side of the body being trained at a time, ensuring a higher level of neuromuscular recruitment than in non-dumbbell row variations.

2. Dumbbell Chest Presses

The standard dumbbell bench press and its numerous variations are likewise often performed in bodybuilding routines, as they are one of the most effective ways of developing the deltoids and chest muscles without risking a muscular imbalance.

dumbbell chest press

Unlike dumbbell rows, the dumbbell chest press or bench press is usually only performed with low to moderate amounts of weight, as the position of the exerciser makes it difficult to move the dumbbells into the correct starting position otherwise.

3. Dumbbell Squats

Though it is often the barbell squat that is considered the king of leg exercises, the dumbbell squat should not be discounted - with the correct amount of volume and sufficient grip strength, it can rival the former exercise in terms of intensity and effectiveness.

dumbbell sumo squat

If one lacks sufficient grip strength to hold heavy dumbbells in both hands, they may instead opt for the goblet squat, which should allow for a greater maximal load.

4. Dumbbell Deadlifts

Somewhat less common than other dumbbell exercises in this article, the dumbbell deadlift is exactly as it sounds; a conventional deadlift, performed with dumbbells.

dumbbell deadlift movement

Much like the conventional barbell deadlift, dumbbell deadlifts train practically every muscle group in the body to a certain extent - though they are most effective when used as part of a strength training routine rather than a bodybuilding one.

It is important for novice lifters to take care when performing this particular dumbbell exercise, as the risk of injury can be significant without sufficient knowledge of correct form and proper exercise mechanics.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Workout with Dumbbells Everyday?

Unless specifically training entirely different muscle groups on consecutive days; no, it is not advisable to workout every single day, dumbbells or not.

This is to allow the musculature of the body to recover and therefore grow in size and strength prior to being taxed once more by resistance training exercises.

Should Dumbbells or Barbells be Used?

Ideally, a mix of both dumbbells and barbells should be combined within a single workout so as to accrue the benefits of each one.

However, it is entirely fine to structure a training routine around the use of dumbbells alone - and may even surpass training routines centered around barbell exercises, in certain measures. 

A greater range of motion, no risk of developing muscular imbalances and greater muscular recruitment specificity are all hallmarks of dumbbell exercises.

Are Dumbbells Good for Weight Loss?

Yes - dumbbells are capable of inducing caloric expenditure due to the stress they place on the cardiovascular and skeletal muscular systems. 

This, when combined with a proper diet, can result in a significant reduction of body fat composition, or what is otherwise known as weight loss.

It should be noted though that any sort of resistance exercise will be less effective than aerobic exercise, as it is the latter type of training that results in the greatest level of caloric expenditure.

Conclusion

To conclude this article, we can indeed see that dumbbells are more than enough to build muscle mass and develop physical strength - so long as the correct exercises and training methods are utilized.

For the best possible progress however, it is best to see your dumbbell-only training program as a temporary solution prior to acquiring more fitness equipment with which to use. Even if dumbbells are enough to induce muscular hypertrophy, there are still benefits to the utilization of other resistance equipment as well.

References

1. Farias, Déborah de Araújo1,2; Willardson, Jeffrey M.3; Paz, Gabriel A.1; Bezerra, Ewertton de S.2,4; Miranda, Humberto1. Maximal Strength Performance and Muscle Activation for the Bench Press and Triceps Extension Exercises Adopting Dumbbell, Barbell, and Machine Modalities Over Multiple Sets. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2017 - Volume 31 - Issue 7 - p 1879-1887 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001651

2. Atle H. Saeterbakken, Roland van den Tillaar & Marius S. Fimland (2011) A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:5, 533-538, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2010.543916

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
Inspire US serves as an informational hub for people looking to start their fitness journey.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information being shared is for educational purposes only. You must consult with a medical professional before acting on any content on this website.
Copyright © Inspire US 2022