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10 of the best 3-move dumbbell workouts for muscle

These routines prove you don't need a lot of time or equipment to grow bigger and broader.

Sure, you love throwing around heavy weight and the satisfying clang of racking (or dropping) a loaded barbell. But dumbbells are also effective for honing total-body strength. They’re the perfect tool to fix strength imbalances, easier to use in a greater range of workouts, and more convenient for at-home gyms. (Read even more reasons why dumbbells are better than barbells here.) 

For all of these reasons, Los Angeles-based trainer Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., author of Lift To Get Lean, has created 10 routines that only incorporate dumbbells—and three moves each. 

"These are so effective because each exercise incorporates very large muscle groups within each workout," she says. "This means each of the three moves demands a great deal from your body and your central nervous system, so there's a substantial stimulus to your metabolism and hormones." 

You'll need a variety of dumbbells, varying in weight so you can challenge yourself on moves you can typically move more weight with (i.e. deadlift) versus ones where something lighter will torch you just the same (i.e. side raise). Typically, you'll have to use slightly lighter weights for circuits, too, because there's a lower amount of rest and a higher work intensity. 

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The Plan

"You can mix and match all of the workouts below to create nearly endless weekly programming," Perkins says. Aim to complete any three routines on non-consecutive days per week. "For example, you could do workout 2, 7, and 8 if you want to focus on legs and chest," she explains. "All of these mini-workouts are designed to work together as long as you allow for one day of non-strength training in between each." 

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The Workouts

1. Legs, Chest, Shoulders
Directions: Complete 5 straight sets, taking 30-60 seconds rest between every set of each exercise. (So, perform 10 deadlifts, rest for 30-60 seconds, then move on to the chest press.)
- 10 x Dumbbell Deadlift
- 10 x Dumbbell Chest Press
- 10 x Dumbbell Overhead Press

2. Legs, Back, Chest
Directions: Complete 3 rounds of this circuit, taking 20 seconds rest between rounds and little to none between exercises.  
- 15 x Dumbbell Squat
- 15 x Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
- 15 x Dumbbell Incline Chest Press

3. Legs, Back, Shoulders
Directions: Complete 6 rounds of this circuit, taking 30 seconds rest between rounds and little to none between exercises.   
- 15 x Dumbbell Walking Lunge
- 15 x Renegade Row
- 15 x Dumbbell Side Raise

4. Legs, Back, Chest
Directions: Complete 5 straight sets, taking 1 minute rest between every set of each exercise.
- 10 x Dumbbell Bench Stepup (Note: Hold dumbbells at shoulders.)
- 10 x Dumbbell Single-Arm Row
- 10 x Dumbbell Chest Flye

5. Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps
Directions: Complete 3 straight sets, taking 30 seconds rest between every set of each exercise.
- 12 x Dumbbell Overhead Press
- 12 x Dumbbell French Press (How to do it: Lie on a flat bench. With palms facing each other, arms extended straight up, lower the dumbbells down so they end up on either side of your head. Keep your elbows locked, then flex your arms back up.)
- 12 x Dumbbell Hammer Curl

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6. Legs 
Directions: Complete 3 rounds of this circuit, taking 1 minute rest between rounds and little to none between exercises.  
- 12 x Bulgarian Split Squat (Note: Split squat with one foot on a bench behind you, dumbbells at your sides.)
- 12 x Dumbbell Sumo Squat (Note: Hold dumbbells so they hang straight down in front of your body.)
- 12 x Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift  

7. Chest 
Directions: Complete 5 straight sets, taking 30 seconds rest between every set of each exercise.
- 10 x Flat Dumbbell Chest Press
- 10 x Incline Dumbbell Chest Flye
- 10 x Decline Chest Press

8. Legs, Core
Directions: Complete 6 rounds of this circuit, taking 30 seconds rest between rounds and little to none between exercises.    
- 20 x Dumbbell Split Squat
- 20 x Dumbbell Hold Leg Lift (How to do it: Lie on your back, holding two dumbbells over your chest. Keep them there, then raise and lower your legs.)
- 20 x Lateral Flexion with Dumbbell (How to do it: Come into a side plank on your elbow, holding a dumbbell over your body so it's perpendicular to the floor. From here, raise and lower your hips, keeping your core tight.)

9. Full Body - Intensity
Directions: Complete 3 rounds of this circuit, taking 20 seconds rest between rounds and little to none between exercises.     
- 30 seconds x Dumbbell “Kettlebell” Swing
- 30 seconds x Explosive Split Squats (How to do it: Hold dumbbells at your sides as you explosively jump up, switch legs, land, then repeat.)
- 30 seconds x Dumbbell Squat into Overhead Press

10. Full Body - Function
Directions: Complete 4 straight sets, taking 20 seconds rest between every set of each exercise.
- 30 seconds x Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk 
- 10 x Dumbbell Single-Leg Deadlift
- 10 x Dumbbell Turkish Getup

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