Skip to main content

The Best Dumbbell Exercises for a Women’s Workout


Women – whether you’re looking to tone up or burn fat, look no further than a dumbbell workout. 

Many women can be nervous of weight training, worrying that they’ll risk ‘bulking up’ or appearing too muscular. The truth is, if you want to look “tone up”, you actually need to build some muscle!

For most women, lower testosterone levels mean that building large, visible muscles takes a lot more work and effort than it would do for men [1]. This includes a dedicated diet, an intense weight training regime, and a determined focus on bulking up, as well as a lot of patience!

While this unfortunately means it’s a harder process for women who want to have larger, visible muscles, it also shows that looking ‘bulky’ isn’t a concern for women who want to lift weights as part of a regular workout routine. 

This article will cover:

The benefits of weight training for women

We’ve written before about the many benefits of weight training, so check out that article for more details. But the top line is that weight training is a great tool to strengthen your body and bones, support weight loss, build muscle, and improve balance. And strength training your body today is a form of future-proofing to help maintain functionality as you get older, including reducing the risk of injuries.

For women particularly, strengthening bones is so important as women are also more likely to suffer from a higher risk of weaker bones and osteoporosis following menopause. Not only is resistance training proven to be an excellent way to maintain musculoskeletal health as we get older[2], but it’s actually been shown to improve bone mass density through menopause and beyond[3]

Check out our guide on planning your weight training programme for information on getting started, including how to know which size weights to use and how to increase and improve. 

Why should women work out with dumbbells?

There are plenty of weightlifting options to choose from, from kettlebells to barbells, but today we’re going to celebrate the dumbbell. A dumbbell workout is a great way to build fitness and strength, with the flexibility of being able to choose a weight that’s as low or as high as you need.

While training with your own bodyweight is the perfect starting point for anyone starting their fitness journey (with the bonus of not needing any equipment), being limited to your own weight makes it harder to progress in gentle stages. There are plenty of wonderful benefits to weight training with a barbell but you’ll generally need some basic fitness first, as the bar itself can be moderately heavy. Weights machines are another option, but free weights allow you to work more muscles as the body needs to stabilise the movements. Plus, dumbbells have the benefit of mobility, meaning you can have a set at home, as well as have access to them in all areas of the gym. 

10 of the Best Dumbbell Exercises for Women

We have a full beginner’s guide to training with free weights, which offers tips and advice for getting started. And once you’re ready to go, then these are some of our favourite movements - simply combine  a few of these into one workout that will target your upper body, lower body, and also includes some full body movements, so you’ll be sure to build strength all over. 

Not quite ready to make your own workout yet? We've shared a ready to follow beginner dumbbell workout here

Upper Body and Arms

  • Dumbbell Renegade Row

Renegade Rows are ideal for working your back, core and arm muscles. They’re also an excellent way to improve balance and stability. 

  1. Start in a classic plank position but with your shoulders sitting directly over your wrists. You will need to keep your legs spread wider than shoulder width apart.
  2. Take a dumbbell in each hand with your wrists strong, so you’re gripping the weight and leaning on the dumbbell rather than your hands. 
  3. Shifting your weight to the left side of your body and making sure your core is engaged, pull your left elbow backwards (while still tucked close to your body), lifting the dumbbell to around chest height. 
  4. Your body should remain steady throughout this movement - your hips and shoulders should be square, with no rocking or twisting.
  5. Slowly lower to starting position before alternating to your right arm.

Discover more variations of row exercises 

  • Bicep Curl to Shoulder Press

Classic bicep curls and shoulder presses are great dumbbell exercises in their own right. However, combining the two means you’ll target more muscle groups in just one movement, making it a quick and effective way to work more of your upper body in one go. 

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with shoulders back, core engaged and abs tight, with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Keeping your elbows tucked into your side, and palms facing upwards, curl the weights up towards your shoulders. 
  3. From here rotate your arms as you push the weights up and over your head, so your arms are straight and your palms are facing forwards. 
  4. Slowly lower your weights to the side of your ears, and return back to starting position. 
  • Dumbbell Chest Press

Perfect for targeting your pecs, deltoids and triceps, a chest press is one of the ultimate upper body exercises. 

  1. Lie back on a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand either side of your shoulders, with your knuckles facing the ceiling. Your arms should be bent with your elbows tucked into your body.
  2. Keeping your core engaged, push the weights upwards until your arms are straight and positioned above your chest (be careful not to lock your elbows).
  3. Hold for a moment before easing your arms back down slowly. 
  4. With dumbbells, you can drop the weights right down past your shoulders before lifting back up. 
  • Tricep Kickbacks

This move will help to strengthen the triceps and boost elbow, shoulder, and forearm movement, while stabilising your joints, and, amongst other benefits, helping to improve your racket-sports skills.

  1. Grab a dumbbell in the right hand. 
  2. Rest the left knee on a bench so it’s positioned below your hip, as well as your left hand which should be positioned in line with your shoulder.
  3. Keep your right leg on the floor for balance, with a slight bend at the knee, and hang your right hand so it’s below your right shoulder. 
  4. Keeping your right arm tucked into your body, bend your elbow to 90 degrees, until your upper arm is parallel with the floor, with the weights still hanging straight down. 
  5. Brace your core and engage the triceps as you straighten your arm, lifting the dumbbell up and back as you try to straighten your arm.
  6. Pause, then lower back to 90 degrees. Repeat for however many reps and sets you have planned and complete with the other arm.

Discover more tricep strengthening exercises here and check out this upper body dumbbell workout for more inspiration. Looking for arm exercises you can do without equipment? Discover some of the best arm exercises for women here

 Lower Body 

  • Goblet Squat 

Goblet squats are excellent for strengthening your glutes and shaping that booty, as well as targeting your core. This move was practically made for dumbbells, although it works equally as well with a kettlebell!

  1. Hold one dumbbell with both hands towards your chest, and elbows tucked in towards your stomach.
  2. Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart, feet turned out.
  3. Straightening your back and bracing your abs, sink your hips back and down towards the floor. As you do this movement, allow your elbows to drop between your legs, and inside your knees. Make sure that your knees don’t go over your toes while doing this movement by keeping the weight in your heels.
  4. When your hip sinks just below the knees, stay in this position for a brief pause, and then drive your hips back up towards the ceiling to return to standing position.

Discover more squat variations here. 

  • Dumbbell Lunges 

Strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads and more with this excellent lower body movement. Lunges are also great for boosting stability and warding off lower back pain. 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Step forwards with one leg into a long stride and lower into the lunge, bending both knees to 90 degrees. 
  3. Keep your posture upright while ensuring your knees don’t travel over your toes.
  4. Drive through your front heel to return to standing.
  5. Repeat by stepping forward with the opposite leg into another stride.

Discover more lunge variations here. 

  • Romanian Deadlifts 

The Romanian Deadlift is an impressive lower body booster. By strengthening all the muscles involved in the hip extension movement, this exercise can benefit all functional movements which use this movement pattern, including running and jumping. It also helps to strengthen the lower back, which helps increase your strength in other lifts, and improves your posture.

  1. Take a dumbbell in each hand, and, keeping your arms straight and palms facing towards your body, rest them lightly on your upper thighs. 
  2. With feet hip-width apart, bend your knees ever so slightly and hinge forward from the hips, keeping your back straight and core engaged.
  3. As you bend, keep your arms straight and the weights lightly touching your legs, until your body has hinged and the dumbbells are resting just below your knees. 
  4. Hold for a moment before slowly easing up to standing. 

Discover more deadlift variations here. 

  • Dumbbell Hip Thrusts 

Hip thrusts are fantastic for strengthening your whole lower body, including your glutes and hips. 

  1. Place a workout bench on an incline so the front is lower to the ground. 
  2. Sit on the floor with your shoulders and back against the bench, your knees bent, and your feet planted on the floor, far enough away from the bench so you can extend your hip while keeping your upper back in contact with the bench. 
  3. Hold a dumbbell above so it's resting on your lower abs - grip each end to keep it steady.
  4. Engage your core and lift your hips up to the ceiling by squeezing your glutes and pushing through your heels for balance.
  5. Pause as you hit the top and then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Discover more hip thrust variations here. 

 Full Body

  • Dumbbell Thrusters

This full body dumbbell exercise movement is considered by many to be one of the best compound exercises you can do, as it engages all your muscles, raises your heart rate and boosts both your upper and lower body.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting lightly on top of your shoulders. 
  2. Engaging your core, lower down into a low squat, pushing your hips backwards and bending your knees, taking care not to let your knees cross in front of your toes. 
  3. As you push back up to standing, straighten your arms upwards, so your body is in a straight line, keeping your shoulders back and your palms facing inwards. 
  4. Lower back into the squat and bend your elbows until the dumbbells rest on your shoulders again.
  • Dumbbell Alternating Snatch

The alternating snatch has so many benefits as another excellent, full body, compound exercise. Just watch your form and keep your core engaged. Bear in mind, that this should all be one smooth, quick movement, with just a brief pause in the middle.

  1. Stand upright with feet wide, a dumbbell on the floor between them. Engage your core. 
  2. In one quick, smooth movement, squat down and take the weight in your left hand, with your palm facing right. 
  3. Powering through your left shoulder, quickly bend your elbow, snapping the dumbbell upwards, then straightening your arm above your head as you simultaneously push through your legs to return to standing. Pause for a brief moment.
  4. Lower back into the squat and gently drop the weight to the floor in front of you, before switching to the other side and repeating. 

We hope you enjoy this dumbbell workout and all the benefits that women can get from weight training! Find more inspiration for your next workout with our Glute Exercises for Women guide or if you're looking for a specific workout to follow, try our leg day workout for women.

If you’d like to try these exercises out at the gym, then find your nearest PureGym and sign up today. Need help with your workouts? Speak to a Personal Trainer at PureGym – they can help you keep good form and inspire you for even more fantastic workouts. If you’re exercising at home, try downloading our free PureGym app - it’s filled with tips, inspiration, and workout videos to help drive your fitness journey. 


All blog posts