The Ultimate 15-Minute Dumbbell Workout

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Shore up muscle imbalances, improve mobility, and reduce your risk of injury with these unique exercises.

woman with dumbbells

Dumbbells are a staple at almost every gym and YMCA for a reason: They offer a quick way to add resistance to just about any exercise.

Still, most people use them for a few classic moves, like biceps curls or chest presses, and then move on. Those exercises are great, but there’s more you can do with dumbbells. This workout uses some of the very best—but often overlooked—dumbbell exercises out there.

You’ll not only spice up your regular gym routine, but you’ll also put your body through important movement patterns that many workouts miss. This can help shore up muscle imbalances to improve mobility and reduce your risk of injury.

How the Ultimate Dumbbell Workout Works

The key to all of these exercises is performing them slowly and under control. Choose a set of dumbbells that allows you to perform all reps with proper form. You should feel the exercises working, but they shouldn’t be a struggle. If you ever feel your form breaking down, consider using lighter weights for that exercise.

Do all sets of each exercise before moving to the next. As your fitness level improves, you can repeat two or three times as a circuit, creating a 30- or 45-minute workout.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Diagonal Reach with Weight

Diagonal Reach

Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a single dumbbell with both hands straight overhead. You can also use a weighted ball (as pictured). This is your starting position.

From here, simultaneously squat down while lowering the weight to the outside of your left knee. Pause, then drive through your heels and raise your arms to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of six to eight reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

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Exercise #2: Leg Curl

Leg Curl

Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Lie facedown on the floor, and secure a light dumbbell between your feet, so that one end of the dumbbell is pressed against the soles of your feet and the other sits on the floor. Holding the dumbbell with your feet, bend your knees about 90 degrees, so that the dumbbell is now hanging. This is your starting position.

From here, slowly lower your feet until the dumbbell just barely touches the floor. Resist the urge to raise your pelvis from the floor as you do so. Pause, then squeeze your hamstrings to bend your knees and slowly return to start. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps, resting 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

Or try an alternate exercise: If getting down on the floor is uncomfortable for you, try a seated leg curl machine. Here’s how.

Exercise #3: Torso Rotation

Torso Rotation

Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Grab a light dumbbell with both hands, and stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Stretch your arms straight out in front of you, holding the dumbbell perpendicular to the floor. This is your starting position.

Slowly rotate your torso to the left so that the dumbbell points toward that side. Pause, twist back to the center, and rotate to the right. That’s one rep.

Make sure to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, and engage your core. Focus on turning from your waist, not your arms. Do three sets of six to eight reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Exercise #4: Internal and External Shoulder Rotation

Shoulder Rotation

Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps per side 

Grab a light dumbbell in your right hand, and stand with your feet hip-width apart. With your arm bent about 90 degrees, position your right elbow on the right side of your torso. You should feel gentle contact.

Making sure your elbow stays in contact with your side, rotate your right arm across the front of your body. Pause, then slowly rotate your arm out as far as you comfortably can. That’s one rep.

Focus on initiating the rotation from your shoulder, not your wrist or elbow. Perform 12 to 15 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Complete three sets, resting for 15 to 30 seconds between sets.

Exercise #5: Wrist Flexion and Extension

Wrist Flexion

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps per side

Grab a light dumbbell in your right hand, and sit on the edge of a bench or chair.  Let the back of your right forearm rest on your right thigh. Your wrist and hand should hang past the knee, palm facing up. Use your left hand to help brace your arm in place against your thigh. This is your starting position.

From here, bend your right wrist to curl the weight toward your forearm as far as possible (flexion). Pause, then slowly lower to start. Next, bend your wrist to curl the weight toward the floor as far as possible (extension). Pause, then return to start. That’s one rep. Perform eight to 12 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Complete two sets with little to no rest in between.

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