A top trainer reveals how to build full-body strength with a single heavy dumbbell

Develop a stronger, more functional body with this one-dumbbell workout

A woman lifting a dumbbell overhead
(Image credit: Getty Images / The Good Brigade)

A trip to the gym means more exercise options at your disposal. But most people can make plenty of progress with minimal equipment and home workouts. 

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at this routine from fitness coach Tanya Poppett, which uses just one dumbbell to work muscles across your upper and lower body while also developing power, athleticism, and functional strength

It’s a breath of fresh air too. Rather than following the usual "three sets of 8-12 repetitions" formula or working for a set amount of time, she challenges you to build on a foundational move to create a complex of exercises. 

Watch Poppett’s video below for a full demonstration of the workout, then give it a go for yourself. 

How to do Tanya Poppett’s one-dumbbell strength flow workout

The sequence starts with a staggered stance Romanian deadlift. You'll then do a second staggered stance Romanian deadlift immediately followed by a bent-over-row. 

Poppett continues to add new elements into the movement, so by the end you’ll have completed four staggered stance Romanian deadlifts, three bent-over rows, two hang cleans and one rotational push press, all without putting the dumbbell down—a creative way to get a full-body workout. 

Once you’ve finished this, do it again on the other side of your body then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat this sequence five times to complete the workout.

If you don’t feel comfortable with any of these moves, practice them in isolation before trying the routine as a whole. You should also begin by using a lighter dumbbell and focusing on your form. Only increase the weight when you become confident with each exercise. 

What we like about Poppett’s one-dumbbell workout

Dumbbell workouts like this one are excellent for unilateral training. This simply means focusing on one side of your body at a time, which can iron out muscular imbalances while developing coordination, stability and core strength. 

Your core is made to work hard in this routine because you’re supporting a load (the dumbbell) away from your center of gravity throughout. The weight will continually be pulling you off balance, so you’re relying on your mid-body muscles to kick into action and keep you upright. 

I also like how Poppett incorporates a twisting motion by adding a rotational push press at the end of the complex. 

All movements can be divided into three planes of motion. Most exercises focus on making you move up, down, forwards and backwards—this is called the sagittal plane. As a result, we become strong in these movement patterns, but remain weak in other areas such as moving from side-to-side (the frontal plane) and twisting (the transverse plane).

In our daily lives we use all three planes of motion, so it pays to work on each one if you want to build functional strength for everyday life and reduce your risk of injury. 

The rotational push press will be particularly challenging for the core too. If you’re not comfortable doing the rotation, you could switch this to a standard dumbbell push press.

Looking for some weights to build strength at home? Have a read through our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.