Are Dumbbells Enough to Build Muscle?

Building muscles is not easy. It’s not simply about eating pounds and pounds of protein or going to the gym. However, it’s more about pushing your muscles to the limit and letting them recover. 

To do this, you must have a proper recovery environment, build the right weight, and use the right equipment to strengthen your muscles. And one gym equipment that fitness enthusiasts love is the dumbbell. 

But can it put your muscles into hypertrophy? Are dumbbells alone enough to build muscle? That’s the question that trips up many lifters. 

Let’s find the answer below, plus other dumbbell exercise tips to help you pack strength and muscles.

So, Are Dumbbells Enough to Build Muscle?

Yes, dumbbells are indeed enough to build muscle mass. They have been proven scientifically and anecdotally to increase coordination, gain strength, correct muscle imbalances, and improve coordination.

However, the quest for muscle growth involves various variables throughout the day. The work you do in the gym does push your muscles to the limit. So do the things you put in during the 20 hours or so when you’re not in the gym, such as active recovery, rest, and nutrition.

For instance, tearing or breaking down the muscle as much as possible is essential. You can only do this by increasing the weight of your dumbbells over time. 

Aside from lifting progressively heavier weights, you also need a decent diet and workout regime. Remember that effort is a definitive driver of muscle gain. You must couple it with a desire to push your body farther, which we call “progressive overload.” 

Rest is also essential for muscle growth, allowing tissues to heal and grow.

How Heavy Should Dumbbells Be to Grow Muscle Mass?

If it’s your first time working out with dumbbells, I suggest you keep it simple and opt for light dumbbells – between five and ten pounds

Learn the workout movements correctly and the proper form so the weight won’t be too heavy later on. Good form likewise helps prevent the wrong muscles and joints from bearing the brunt of the weight.

Everyone can get used to 20 pounds, a minimal amount for dumbbell training in men. Opt for this weight if you want to go a little heavier on your workout, especially if you prefer to add leg-based compound movements.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University researchers suggest that the ideal weight to build muscle is 70% of your maximum weight on a given lift. Still, you must understand your strength and consider your endurance level to know the specific weight you need to achieve a particular result. 

A pro bodybuilder may be okay with 40-pound dumbbells for warm-up or when doing bicep curls. But for anyone, it would already be heavy for strength building and muscle gain.

What if you’re already in good shape?

If you’re already muscular and strong as you’ve been working out for years, a pair of 20lb dumbbells are enough to target all your major muscle groups.

How are dumbbell weights measured?

We measure dumbbell weights in pounds (lbs) or kilograms (kg). One kilogram is equivalent to 2.2lbs. 

Moreover, selecting the right dumbbell weight is essential to achieving your goal. Different skill levels, physical abilities, and exercises will necessitate different dumbbell weights. Start light and add weight gradually to avoid injury or muscle strain.

Read: How to Clean Dumbbells

8 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Building Muscle

Dumbbell exercises are a phenomenal way to go if you’re planning to build big muscles. Even if you just hold them for lunges or squats, you can expect massive gain over time with some weight resistance training.

Here are seven of the best dumbbell workouts you can do to sculpt your muscles.

1. Bent-Over Row

Muscles Worked: glutes, spinal erectors, lats, forearms, shoulders, hamstrings.

Rows target several muscle groups that help you build muscles in your upper body. It’s even one of the best workouts to get that V-shape back. It’ll also hone your deltoids, giving you that T-shirt-filling shoulders.

2. Flat Dumbbell Flye

Muscles Worked: biceps, delts, pecs, rotator cuffs, serratus anterior, rhomboids.

This move is best for muscle gain and is comparable to a barbell bench press. It stimulates the chest muscle fibers, and you don’t need heavier weights. Just observe proper form, and make sure not to lock your arms during the extension.

3. Arnold Press

Muscle Worked: Triceps, deltoids, traps.

You can do this by standing or sitting on a bench with dumbbells in front of you. This potent upper body move hits different sections of your deltoid and is an excellent workout to build muscle.

It’s the same lift as a straight overhead press, but your wrists rotate as you move the dumbbells. The added movement fires up more muscle fibers in your body.

Read: Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

4. Dumbbell Clean

Muscles Worked: quads, glutes, calves, lower back muscles, spinal erectors, biceps.

Dumbbell clean is a full-body workout. It can highlight muscle asymmetries, which you may have developed due to favoring one side of your body over the other when performing other exercises or using a single piece of equipment.

It also helps you build lean muscle tissue and activate your stabilizer muscles. The moment you lift the dumbbells in a full range of motion, you stabilize your body using muscles in the lower back, core, shoulders, and arms. 

Others call this workout dumbbell squats, or dumbbell squats clean.

5. Dumbbell Kickbacks

Muscles Worked: Triceps

Dumbbell kickbacks target your triceps, representing the arm’s posterior muscle group. 

The key to making this an effective muscle-building move is to ensure you fully contract your working muscle. As you lean forward from your hips, keep your arms bent and back straight, holding a dumbbell. 

6. One Arm Swing

Muscles Worked: Shoulders, abs, quads, glutes, hamstrings

The one-arm swing can give you the momentum your body needs in a transformational workout. Your shoulder-stabilizing muscles work harder to prevent your arm from being pulled from its sockets and keep your shoulder in a good position. 

Aside from muscle building, this also helps you lose belly fat and improve core muscles. It also builds your grip strength, shoulders, lower back muscles, quadriceps, and coordination.

Read: Dumbbell Leg Exercises

7. Farmer’s Walk

Muscles Worked: Quads, upper back, erectors, calves, glutes, hamstrings, traps, biceps, triceps, hand muscles, forearms, abs.

Farmer’s walk is a full-body workout, so there’s no question that it can help you build muscle. The nice thing about this exercise is that there are no sophisticated form rules. Just brace your core and walk forward, taking quick steps.

This workout helps you gain muscle, improve grip strength, lose weight, and build endurance. And if you’ve ever asked, “Will dumbbells reduce belly fat?” The answer is yes, as it helps lose weight all over your body and eventually your belly fat.

Like other lower body exercises, this exercise will also improve your leg strength and core to become a faster and better runner.

8. Dumbbell Bench Press

Muscles Worked: shoulders, rhomboids, pecs, lats, traps, triceps

The dumbbell bench press is one of the best dumbbell workouts you can do as it works almost every muscle in your upper body. It is an exercise that allows a more significant set of motion than a barbell press. In turn, it leads to better muscle contraction.

People Also Ask (FAQs About Dumbbells in Muscle Building)

How long does it take to build muscle with dumbbells?

It takes about three to four weeks to see a visible change in your muscles with dumbbells and, after 12 weeks, to see some real results. However, it depends on your overall strength training, workout variety, and fitness goals.

How long should a dumbbell workout be?

Aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of dumbbell workout three days a week. If you train five times a week, doing a body part split is best to focus on different muscle groups per workout.

Regardless of age or gender, lifting weights helps improve balance, joint stability, motor coordination, and resting heart rate.

Is it okay to use dumbbells every day?

It is generally safe to lift weights daily as long as you rest on the other muscle groups. We recommend a split routine to avoid workout plateaus or the risk of an injury. A split routine means dividing the volume of exercise or training sessions by body regions.

Do dumbbells help with muscle and strength imbalances?

Yes, dumbbells help with muscle imbalances. They require you to use more stabilizing muscles and force your arms to work unilaterally. You can easily switch your workout if you feel stronger on one side. 

Final Words

Dumbbell training is a valuable part of a lifter’s journey. Now that you know dumbbells are enough to build muscle and the best dumbbell exercises for building muscles, it’s about time you add them into your workout routine.

So, go ahead. Grab those dumbbells and get ready to work.

Consult your doctor if you’re starting a new fitness or workout plan to ensure you’re healthy enough for your planned level of activities.

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Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.