An expert trainer says beginners can build strength and muscle all over with these four dumbbell moves

Build full-body muscle at home with this quick workout

Joyful middle aged woman working out at home with dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Here at Fit&Well we firmly believe exercise is for everyone, whether you’re training at a gym or elsewhere. 

If you’re in the latter camp, this workout from certified strength and conditioning coach Marie Spano can help beginners build full-body strength at home with just a couple of dumbbells. 

"If you're looking to start 2024 off right, you don't have to go to a crowded gym and fight for machines—you can get a great workout without ever leaving your house," says Spano.

Certified strength and conditioning coach and nutrition expert Marie Spano
Marie Spano MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD

Marie Spano is a leading sports nutritionist who has worked with a host of top-level sports teams. She earned her bachelor's degree in exercise and sports science from the University of North Carolina, going on to earn a masters in nutrition from the University of Georgia, as well as qualifying as a certified strength and conditioning specialist, registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She's currently a Dymatize nutritionist.

How to do Marie Spanio’s four-move dumbbell workout

  • Walking lunge 2x5-10 (on each leg)
  • Sumo squat 2x10
  • Push-up 2x5-15
  • Dumbbell bent-over row 2x10

For a full workout, perform the exercises listed above in straight sets. This means you would do five to 10 walking lunges on each leg, rest for 60-120 seconds, do another five to 10 walking lunges on each leg, then move on to the next exercise. 

If you want to increase the difficulty of this workout, you can raise the weight of the dumbbells you’re using for each exercise, increase the number of sets per exercise to three or four, or up the target number of repetitions. 

Spano also says you can spread these exercises throughout your day to squeeze some extra mood-boosting movement in here and there—an example of exercise snacking.  

Warm-up

"Motion is lotion," says Spano, "so it's a great idea to get your body moving first before diving into the exercises."

She advises starting with dynamic moves including the hip 90/90 stretch and the world’s greatest stretch. Try doing two rounds of 60 seconds on each. 

1. Walking lunge

A woman performing a dumbbell lunge

(Image credit: Getty / Nortonsrx)

Sets: 2 Reps: 5-10 (on each leg) Rest: 60-120 seconds 

  • Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your torso upright, step forward with your right foot and lower your left knee until it’s about an inch from the floor. At this point, both knees should form a rough right angle, although Spano says "it doesn’t matter if your right knee extends past the foot below".
  • Drive through your right foot and step your left foot forward so you’re standing tall again. 
  • Repeat, alternating the leg you step forward with on each repetition. 

2. Sumo squat

Personal trainer Alanah Bray demonstrates a sumo squat

(Image credit: Alanah Bray)

Sets: 2 Reps: 10 Rest: 60-120 seconds 

  • Stand in a wide stance with your feet outside shoulder-width and your toes pointed outwards at 45°. Hold a dumbbell, kettlebell or another heavy household object (Spano suggests a full container of laundry detergent) in both hands with your arms extended downwards.
  • Push your hips back and bend your knees as if you were sitting into a chair behind you. Lower your hips as far as you comfortably can while keeping your chest up and your back flat. 
  • Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.

3. Push-up

A woman performing a push-up

(Image credit: Getty)

Sets: 2 Reps: 5-15 Rest: 60-120 seconds 

  • Start in a high plank position, with your weight spread between your hands and toes. Your hands should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your neck to your heels. 
  • Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, bend them to lower your chest towards the ground until it is less than an inch from the floor. 
  • Push through your hands to return to the starting position. If you can’t do five full push-ups, modify the exercise by placing your hands on an elevated surface or dropping your knees to the floor. You could also try wall push-ups.

4. Bent over dumbbell rows

A man performing a dumbbell row

(Image credit: Getty / Milan Zivkovic)

Sets: 2 Reps: 10 Rest: 60-120 seconds 

  • Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand. Then, letting your arms hang towards the ground and keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips to bend over until your torso forms a 45° angle with the floor. This is your starting position. 
  • Retract your shoulder blades (think about moving them back and down, as if you were putting them in the back pockets of a pair of jeans) then row both dumbbells up to the bottom of your rib cage. 
  • Think about squeezing the muscles in your back at the top of the repetition, then slowly lower the dumbbells until your arms are fully extended again. 

How to fuel for strength training workouts

"As you ramp up your exercise routine, it's critical to fuel your body well with nutrient rich foods and high-quality protein to build muscle," says Spano. 

Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as plant-based sources such as tempeh, tofu, lentils and beans. 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, however the Harvard Medical School describes this as "the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick—not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day". 

Instead, P3RFORM nutritionist Lily Chapman told Fit&Well people should eat "at least 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight each day" to fuel their body. 

Spano says she likes to use Dymatize ISO100 (one of our tried and tested best protein powders for weight loss) to boost her daily protein intake. 

“It's packed with 25g of ultra-fast absorbing, hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, which helps your body build muscle and recover. It’s available in a wide variety of flavors to fit everyone's taste buds," she says.

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.