You don’t need lots of fancy equipment or an expensive personal trainer to build muscle at home… all you actually need is a pair of dumbbells and a proven workout program to follow along to.
We’ve created this free 12 week dumbbell workout plan, and the accompanying printable PDF version, to empower you with the structure and guidance you need to target each muscle group in your body effectively. This will allow you to build functional strength, tone muscles and burn calories.
Whether you’re looking to improve athletic performance or simply make everyday activities easier, this dumbbell workout plan has been expertly crafted so it gets results, whatever your existing fitness level is.
The workouts are beginner friendly, but by selecting heavier dumbbells, they can be scaled up for elite athletes too.
(N.B. if you’re a complete beginner, recovering from an injury, or have limited mobility, you may want to consider bodyweight exercises first, before adding any sort of additional resistance like dumbbells into your fitness routine).
By the end of the 12 weeks, not only should you feel and look stronger, but you’ll also benefit from improved physical attributes, such as better balance, co-ordination and flexibility.
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Dumbbell – Required
All you need for this dumbbell workout plan is a pair of dumbbells.
You may also prefer to have dumbbells of varying weights or adjustable dumbbells, as you’ll likely find you can lift different levels of resistance depending on the exercise. For example, the maximum weight you can lift for a dumbbell sumo deadlift will likely be much higher than what you can lift for a negative bicep curl.
This ability to adapt the weight based on each exercise will help develop muscle and strength more effectively (which relates to what is known in fitness programming as “progressive overload”), as you can keep forcing the muscles to adapt to the increased resistance.
Progressive overload training (progressively increasing the level of resistance) is a golden rule in strength training and if you follow this rule (i.e. you keep increasing the “load” during your workouts over the 12 weeks) you’re going to see results.
Bench – Optional
If you do not have a bench, all these exercises can be adapted so that you can perform them on the floor too.
Nevertheless, a bench will give you more opportunities to include varied exercises, particularly if you can set an incline or a decline. This will open up more exercises to include in future workouts. Our recent guide on the decline dumbbell pullover illustrates how changing the decline of a bench can influences how the muscles are engaged.
This isn’t a requirement for this workout plan, but it’s something to consider if you plan on exercising at home for the long-run, as it can make your workouts more efficient.
Similarly, equipment like the Terra Core is multipurpose and can be used as a base to perform dumbbell exercises too.
PDF Workout Plan
To download and print the PDF version of this 12 week dumbbell workout plan, simply click the link below.
|Primary Goal||Build Functional Strength and Lean Muscle|
|Muscles Targeted||Full Body|
|Training Level||Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced|
|Program Duration||12 Weeks|
|Average Workout Duration||30 Minutes|
|Training Days Per Week||4 Days|
|Printable Version||View here|
This 12 week workout plan uses a 4 day split. This means you are following a dumbbell workout 4 times during each week, and repeating this for 12 weeks.
By doing the same weekly routine, it will be very clear how you are progressing, as you can compare your efforts from week 1 to week 12, and hopefully see vast improvements in total volume or resistance lifted.
The aim is that each week you are able to increase the weight of the dumbbells or the number of reps per set, illustrating progression in your fitness.
Although it would be tempting to do a completely different workout every day for the 12 weeks (to keep things new and exciting), this workout plan is focused on getting results, and therefore focuses on the movements and exercises that will provide you with the most value… which is why these fundamental exercises are repeated each week for the total duration of the plan.
Golden Rule of Resistance Training
The golden rule of resistance training, and this workout plan, is to keep challenging your muscles. Each week, try to increase either the weight of the dumbbells ever so slightly, or increase the number of repetitions per workout. This will ensure your muscles are challenged and continue to grow. This is the quickest way to see results from resistance training.
This also means you’re getting lots of practice with lots of fundamental movements, so by the end of the 12 weeks, you might be in a better position to attempt more advanced exercises.
The workouts are designed to take somewhere between 30-45 minutes to complete… so this should mean you are able to fit it into your daily routine.
A 4 day workout plan means you have 3 days free. We would recommend at least 2 of these days are for rest. Just let your muscles recover from the dumbbell workouts. The other day could also be used to rest, or involve some cardio exercise, such as running, cycling, rowing, or walking.
On rest days, we would tend to include plenty of gentle stretching to help avoid muscle soreness and stiffness.
You can also space out the workouts to suit your weekly schedule. Ideally, you’ll include some rest days between the training days. For example, training on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, means you’ve got rest days in between workouts, as opposed to having 3 days of rest at the end of the week and doing 4 days consecutively of resistance training.
A final thing to note is that factors like sleep and diet are also going to impact the results you get from this workout plan. Try and consume healthy lean protein, as well as cutting back on unhealthy foods, and get enough sleep each night. Especially if you’re looking to build lean muscle and lose weight, your diet will play a vital role in achieving this.
It’s really important to warm up and stretch before any sort of workout, even resistance training. 5-10 minutes of stretching, including both static and dynamic movements, would be recommended. It would also be worth tailoring your warm up for the body part you’re focusing on during that workout. Similarly, you may want to do some light repetitions before your first set for each exercise to prepare your body.
12 Week Dumbbell Workout Plan
Day 1 – Chest and Triceps
|Chest Press||Chest, Deltoids, Triceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Pullover||Lats, Chest, Triceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Chest Flyes||Chest||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Tricep Kickbacks||Triceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Tricep Overhead Extensions||Triceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
Day 2 – Legs and Core
|Goblet Squat||Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Single Dumbbell Overhead Squat||Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Shoulders, Lats, Core||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Single Straight Leg Deadlift||Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Russian Twists||Core||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell V Ups||Core||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
Day 3 – Back and Biceps
|Bent Over Row||Back, Biceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Renegade Row||Back, Core, Shoulders||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Reverse Fly||Upper Back, Shoulders||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Isometric Dumbbell Row Hold||Back, Biceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Bicep Curl||Biceps||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Hammer Curl||Biceps, Forearms||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
Day 4 – Shoulders, Legs and Core
|Shoulder Press||Shoulders||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Lateral Raise||Shoulders||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Upright Row||Shoulders, Back||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Shrug||Shoulders||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Overhead Squat Press||Shoulders, Lats, Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Wood Chop Lunges||Core, Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves||6-12 reps, 3 sets|
Workout Programming Explained
This workout is focused on body part splits, so that you can focus on specific parts of your body on certain days and give these muscle groups enough time to rest and recover before you train them again. This means you can really leverage proven methodology such as progressive overload to build muscle and get more from each day of training.
This also makes it easier to track your progress for specific exercises and movements.
This approach to dumbbell workouts also ensures that you don’t skip leg day, for example, or other muscle groups, and end up with muscular imbalances because your workouts tend to all lean towards certain movements.
Resistance training of any kind is a fundamental pillar for overall health and that’s why this sort of dumbbell workout plan shouldn’t be seen as only for those looking to build muscle mass or get shredded, but rather something everyone can leverage to look and feel healthier than ever before.
This workout plan includes exercises and programming that helps not only build strength and muscle, but also muscular endurance and overall body conditioning, meaning it provides so many benefits for all sorts of fitness goals.
Our recent guide on what women can expect after a month of weight lifting, illustrates that women are more likely to develop very lean and toned physiques from weight lifting than they are developing a “bulky” physique.
Selecting Your Dumbbells
The weight of the dumbbells is going to be the defining factor in how challenging each exercise is. If you are a beginner, we would recommend simply going through the motions without any weight so that your body gets used to each movement. Once you are comfortable, you can include very light dumbbells and slowly increase the weight.
If you’re in the gym you’ll likely benefit from a wide selection of dumbbells, which is ideal as it means you can really select the perfect weight for each exercise.
If you’re exercising at home, however, you may want to consider buying adjustable dumbbells as this makes it very easy to change weight between exercises. Similarly, you could get yourself a rack of dumbbells of varying weights.
If you only have access to light dumbbells, focus on eccentric training (slowly lowering the dumbbells). This will increase the difficulty as your muscles are under tension for longer.
Try to keep in the recommended range of repetitions. For example, in the workout plan, if it says do between 6-12 repetitions, this should help guide you on what weight dumbbells to use. If you’re struggling to do more than 3 repetitions, you’ve probably picked dumbbells that are too heavy. In contrast, if you can do 15 repetitions with ease, the dumbbells are probably too light.
Can I build muscle in 12 weeks?
12 weeks is more than enough time to start seeing some substantial differences in your physique and overall strength. The best approach to fitness is to follow a long-term plan, but a 12 week workout plan can help to kick start your fitness regime and help you regain that fitness you might have lost.
Can I build muscle with dumbbell only?
Yes, you can absolutely build muscles using dumbbells only. Dumbbells will create resistance during movements which will activate your muscles and help them develop and grow. Dumbbell variations of many popular exercises will also offer additional benefits around balance and stability because you have to lift each dumbbell up separately. This also helps avoid one side of your body overcompensating for the other.
Why follow a workout plan?
It’s very easy to simply pick up a pair of dumbbells and start doing bicep curls or an dumbbell overhead squat, but to really achieve your fitness goals, it’s always recommended to follow a more structured plan. This ensures that you can activate all the major muscle groups and create a more well-round physique and muscular development.
What happens after 12 weeks?
After you complete this 12 week dumbbell workout plan you may simply want to do it again and continue to opt for heavier weights or more repetitions during each workout. Or similarly, you may decide to take a few weeks or months off from this style of training and opt to include some barbell work or something completely different like bodyweight or calisthenic workouts (our guide on the best calisthenic chest workout is worth looking at).
A FITTER, STRONGER YOU
A simple science-based workout plan that is proven to help build muscle, burn calories and lose weight. Suitable for all levels.