Can You Build Good Muscles with Just Dumbbells?

Free weights -- including dumbbells -- can be the best way to build muscle mass, or muscle hypertrophy. With the appropriate workout format, dumbbells alone can help build good muscles because they are versatile resistance equipment, and they can be used in functional multi-plane exercises, according to John C. Griffin in “Client-Centered Exercise Prescription." Using free weights, you can do exercises that work multiple joints and muscle groups, the recommended way for beginners to start their muscle-building program, before advancing to single-muscle exercises.


Constant Resistance

Dumbbells provide a constant resistance throughout the range of motion, which works muscles harder than variable resistance. When a muscle lengthens or shortens, as it does during lifting, its perception of effort changes, according to Griffin. This increased effort is effective for building muscle.

Progressive Overload for More Mass

Progressive overload, or incrementally increasing resistance is important to building good muscle mass because your muscles adapt to the initial level of resistance, and no further growth -- hypertrophy -- is experienced unless your muscles are challenged. Dumbbells usually have weight increments that range from 1 pound to pounds, allowing lifters to increase weight or resistance gradually. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a 2 percent to 10 percent increase in weight after you can perform the current workload for one to two repetitions over the desired number during two consecutive workouts.

Mix It Up

Versatile resistance equipment, dumbbells can be used with countless exercises, providing resistance in dynamic movement patterns such as lunges, in which multiple muscle groups work together. Speed, direction and range of motion can be altered during dumbbell exercises, increasing the versatility of this piece of exercise equipment.


Lifting with dumbbells works the stabilizing or assistant muscle groups. Because the dumbbells are not attached to any machine, the lifter must stabilize the dumbbells throughout the range of motion, which requires more work on the part of stabilizing muscles. Therefore, lifting with dumbbells not only builds good primary muscle groups, but also develops the stabilizing muscle groups.

Workout Frequency

Perform strength exercises two to three non-consecutive days a week at five to eight repetitions of one to three sets, or one set of eight to 12 repetitions. Using dumbbells at higher resistance -- more weight -- and lower repetitions demands more from muscles and helps build muscle mass and strength. As you advance in your workout routine, you can increase training days to three per week every week for total body workouts, or four days per week for upper/ lower body split -- doing upper-body work on two days and lower-body work on two other days.


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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or