6 key dumbbell exercises for women who want to build strength quickly

If you’re new to weight lifting, these core moves will help you to gain confidence and strength in no time.

The weights room has a reputation for being a bit intimidating, but using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells shouldn’t scare you. If you are nervous to lift at the gym, you can buy a couple of sets of weights to include in your home workouts – you’ll be able to build strength all the same.

Data from PureGym shows that a third of people think the most intimidating area of the gym is the squat rack, followed by the pull-up machine and then the bench press. On top of that, over 40% of people say they’re most nervous about looking like they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s a difficult conundrum: if you’re a beginner, you probably don’t know what you’re doing… and if that fear puts you off trying, you’ll always stay a beginner. 

The solution? Well, we suggest either buying a set of dumbbells to use at home or firing up a powerful playlist, sticking on your headphones and marching into the weights room with a plan of action. Check out the six fundamental dumbbell moves below – all of which are guaranteed to build strength in key areas, improve range of motion and build confidence to try other exercises in the future.

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Goblet squat

The squat is a classic strength training move, but to reap the benefits, it’s important that it’s done with proper form. So before you load up a heavy barbell, start with a goblet dumbbell squat first.

This move is a great way to add weight so you can begin to strengthen your glutes and quads, but is a slightly safer and easier first step. 

What you need: One heavy dumbbell 


  • Stand up straight with your legs shoulder-width apart. 
  • Hold one end of the dumbbell in your hands, grasping the head in your palms. Hold it just underneath your chin with the elbows tucked in. 
  • Send your bum back as you bend your knees into a squat, lowering until your elbows touch your knees. It’s important that your back remains straight throughout the entire movement, so don’t arch through the spine. 
  • Push through your heels to stand back up to the standing position.

Repeat this for 10 reps.

    Dumbbell reverse lunge

    A lunge is another key lower body exercise that targets a range of leg muscles. The further back you extend your leg, the more it works the glutes and hamstrings, so once the form is nailed you can begin to play with placement and tempo to mix up your training. 

    What you need: Two dumbbells 

    How to:

    1. Stand up straight with legs shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbell in each hand. 
    2. Lift one leg off the ground and place it behind you. As you do so, bend the front leg so that you are now in a low lunge position. 
    3. Press through your front foot as you bring your back foot back to a standing position. 

      Do this 10 times on each leg.

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        Overhead press

        This move targets your triceps for beginners and more advanced exercisers alike. It’s an intense isolation move, so make sure that you move through it slowly.  

          What you need: One dumbbell

          How to:

          1. Stand up straight with your legs shoulder-width apart and your tail bone tucked under, meaning your abs are engaged and there’s no arch in your lower spine.
          2. Hold a dumbbell at one end, with your palms gripping the head. Extend it overhead so that your fingers are pointing behind.
          3. Bend at your elbows, keeping your arms tucked in towards your ears. When you reach the bottom, squeeze through your triceps to lift the weight back towards the ceiling above your head.

          Continue to do this in reps of 10. 

          Bicep curl

          Training your biceps will pay off when you try out compound exercises such as rows. 

          Any upper body exercises that use weights can be done either standing or while seated, but the latter tends to make moves more challenging as it isolates the muscles more. 

          What you need: Two dumbbells

          How to:

          1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides and close to your body, palms facing outwards.
          2. Squeeze through the upper arms as you curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. 
          3. Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position. 
          4. Be careful to keep the rest of your upper body still as you move through the movement. 

            Do 10 reps. 

              Dumbbell shoulder press

              Strong shoulders are important for both everyday posture and supporting you during exercise. Using a bench or chair for this shoulder exercise will ensure you have the correct back support.

              What you need: Two dumbbells

              How to:

              1. Sitting on a bench or chair with back support, hold a dumbbell in each hand. 
              2. Lift the weights to shoulder height, so your elbows are bent and palms facing outwards.   
              3. Take both dumbbells up and over your head so that your arms are extended straight towards the sky.
              4. Bend your elbows to lower down again to shoulder height. 
              5. Make sure that your shoulders don’t rise up to your ears as you lift your arms. Instead, they should be squeezed back and down. 

                Again, try to go for around 10 reps. 

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                  Chest press

                  This move is a compound exercise, meaning it works multiple muscle groups in the body. Get ready to feel your chest, shoulders and triceps. 

                  What you need: Two dumbbells 

                  How to:

                  1. Lie on your back on a bench. If you’re at home then you can also lie on the floor, but you won’t be able to get the same depth in the exercise. 
                  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent at right angles and palms facing forwards. The dumbbells should be at either side of your chest. 
                  3. Squeeze your chest and core to push the weights upwards so that the dumbbells come together over the middle of your chest, pointing towards the ceiling. 
                  4. Bring them back down to chest level in a slow controlled movement. 

                    Start with five reps and work your way up to 10.

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                    Image: Getty 

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