What Are the Best Seated Dumbbell Exercises?

Free weights such as dumbbells activate smaller stabilizing muscle groups to control the exercise. On the other hand, resistance machines tend to work for muscle groups in very strict planes of movement. The downside of this very strict movement is that while some muscle groups will become significantly stronger, other, smaller muscles are neglected.

The other advantage dumbbell exercises have over machines is that they fit around your body so the movement can be performed correctly. Although resistance machines can be adjusted, such as seat height, the movement pattern is still largely governed by how the machine is built.

Athletes typically favor dumbbell exercises over machines as they can replicate sport-specific movements more accurately. They also know that they will develop a more balanced physique and structure if most of their routine employs free weight exercises. 

Check out this post for more seated dumbbell exercises

How to Properly Use a Dumbbell When Sitting Down

Dumbbell exercises engage some muscle groups more efficiently than more equipment-intensive barbell and Smith machine workouts. So let's start with three dumbbell classics.

Biceps Curls

If you want to work the lower biceps (a.k.a. the brachialis), upper biceps and traps, but all you've got is one dumbbell and a solid place to sit, concentration curls are your ticket.

Seated on a bench or chair with your knees out at roughly 45-degree angles and feet flat on the ground, hold the dumbbell between your feet with your palm facing outward. This should position you so that your arm is extended and your bicep is resting against your inner thigh.

Bend your arm at the elbow to raise the weight up to the front of your shoulder, then lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Since you're working with a single weight, make sure you perform an equal amount of sets and reps with each arm.

Preacher Curls

For a biceps-blasting workout that requires just one dumbbell and a special seat called a preacher bench (standard equipment at most gyms), add dumbbell preacher curls to your upper-body day routine.

Seat yourself on a preacher bench with a dumbbell in hand, placing the back of your bicep against the bench's curling pad — your armpit should be right on the top ridge of the pad, so a little adjustment of the seat may be necessary. Brace your core to help stabilize your spine and assume the exercise's starting position with your arm extended and palm facing out, leaning your body into the pad and resting your other arm atop it.

With a slow and controlled motion, exhale as you raise the weight up to your shoulder. At the top of the movement, your forearm should be vertical, and your palm should directly face you — keep your wrists in line with your forearm and your spine straight throughout. Inhale as you return to the starting position. As with any one-handed dumbbell exercise, perform an equal amount of sets and reps with each arm for a balanced workout.

Rear Lateral Raises

To strengthen the back of your shoulders:

  1. Perform rear lateral raises.
  2. Sit at the edge of a chair with your feet slightly beyond your knees on the floor.
  3. Grasp a set of dumbbells with an overhand grip, so your palms face down.
  4. Bend forward until your upper body touches your thighs, and the dumbbells come together behind your ankles.
  5. Face your palms toward each other and keep your elbows slightly bent.
  6. Raise your arms out to the sides until your elbows are level to your shoulders.
  7. Hold the contraction for one second and slowly return the weight to the starting position.
  8. Perform three sets of 12 repetitions.

Seated Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press — which targets the deltoids while also working the triceps, traps, biceps and pecs — is just about the most straightforward seated dumbbell exercise you can do.

Start in a sitting position with your back straight (if your seat or bench has back support, even better), but flat on the seat and feet flat on the floor, or positioned on the bench's footpad. Hold the weights so that your palms face out, beginning with the dumbbells at your shoulders and your arms positioned so that your elbows and wrists are in line.

Keep your core tight as you inhale, then exhale and press the dumbbells upward until your arms are extended so that the outward-facing weights meet. Then, with a smooth and controlled movement, lower them to the starting position to complete one rep. Be careful to avoid bending your wrists throughout the exercise, and always keep your back straight rather than arched. 

Triceps Extension

Sit up straight and grab a dumbbell with both hands. Raise it above your head, so it's vertical and in line with your spine. Brace your core and lower the weight behind your head until your forearms touch your biceps; then press back up to the start, keeping your upper arms stationary.

Wrist Curls

To work the wrist flexors in your forearm:

  1. Perform wrist curls.
  2. Sit in a chair with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand with an underhand grip.
  4. Bend your left elbow and place your left forearm on your left thigh, so your wrist extends beyond your knee.
  5. Bring the back of your left hand toward your knee and let the dumbbell roll down to your fingers.
  6. Slowly bring your left hand up so your knuckles point toward the ceiling, and you hold the dumbbell with a firm grip.

Lower the weight back down to your fingers and complete one set before switching hands. Complete three sets of 12 repetitions.

Advantages of Dumbbell Training

Serious strength and mass goals can be achieved by training with dumbbells. We will even say that to maximize strength and hypertrophy fully. Therefore, dumbbell training must play at least a partial role in your training regimen. 

Let's look at seven advantages of using dumbbells over everyone's reigning favorite, the almighty barbell.

Increased Stabilization and Muscle Activation

One study compared the EMG activity of the chest, triceps, and biceps when performing a barbell bench press, smith machine bench press and a dumbbell bench press. The dumbbell bench press and barbell bench press were similar in chest and triceps activity. However, biceps activity was significantly higher with the dumbbells. Why?

Dumbbells require greater stabilization, ergo why it is rare to see a world-class bench presser with spaghetti arms. 

Greater stabilization is a requirement with dumbbells, in turn, activating more muscle fibers. Thus, dumbbells are functional training without becoming a modern-day rendition of the now illegal sideshow.

Identifies and Eliminates Strength Imbalances

Dumbbells force limbs to work unilaterally. If one side is significantly weaker than the other, there is no running and no hiding.

Over-compensation is impossible with dumbbells, making them an effective agent in the war on imbalances.

Better Safety (especially When Training Alone)

Missing a heavy squat or bench press training alone means your ass is grass and the barbell is the lawnmower. When training with dumbbells, this is not the case. So drop them and move on.

More Options to Intensify Your Workouts

Rest-pause, mechanical advantage drop sets and traditional drop sets are easier to set up and an actual reality for the solo trainer with dumbbells.

The rack and run techniques are exclusive to dumbbell training. Effective high-intensity techniques are pretty much avoided by default with solo barbell training—not so with dumbbells.

Increased Range of Motion

One of the most effective ways to overload muscles for strength or muscle-building purposes is to increase the range of motion. Unfortunately, one can accomplish only so much range of motion with a row or press, not the case with dumbbell variations!

Dumbbells can add a new dimension of overload to your go-to mass movements by extending the range of motion.

More Freedom of Movement

When bench pressing with a barbell, your arms and shoulders are in a fixed position and move through a set range of motion. In contrast, dumbbell presses allow one to alter the movement pattern slightly and let the shoulders move freely.

Barbell pressing has a set range of motion; due to this fixed position, you're up crap creek without a paddle if this falls into an area where you experience pain.

Dumbbell pressing allows you to externally or internally rotate your shoulders or bring the dumbbells lower down or higher up your body to target muscles and press pain-free specifically. 

Better Awareness About Injury Prevention

A high percentage of accidents at gyms occur near the dumbbell rack. This is usually a result of a lack of focus. Dumbbells don't cause accidents. People do. In the long term, greater degrees of freedom in a more natural range of motion will result in fewer injuries. Further, by identifying and eliminating imbalances, the probability of injury greatly decreases.

What Type of Dumbbell Is Best?

Dumbbells come in a variety of sizes, shapes, weights, and materials. A person can choose to buy individual dumbbells, a set, or adjustable weight dumbbells.

It may be worth considering the following factors when choosing dumbbells:

  • price
  • storability
  • individual fitness goals and levels

A person's needs and preferences can help determine which type of dumbbell is most suitable for them.

There are three main types of dumbbells: adjustable, fixed, and studio.


Adjustable dumbbells allow a person to change the amount of weight they are lifting. There are two primary types of adjustable dumbbell: bar and plates and modern adjustable.

Bar and plates are separate bars and weight plates that allow a person to add or reduce weight by changing the weight plates.

The modern adjustable type allows a person to adjust the weight by clicking and locking more or less weight onto the bar without manually adding or removing weight plates.

These types may be suitable for people who are short on storage space but want to use various weights during their training.


Fixed dumbbells provide a consistent weight. A person can buy them individually, in pairs, or as part of a larger set. Fixed weights come in an array of materials and shapes.

Sets of fixed weights typically require a lot of room to store, unlike adjustable varieties. Consequently, people who do not have much space may want to consider a different option.


Studio weights are often lighter weights with a coating such as textured neoprene or rubber. This coating protects the weights and helps add slip resistance.

Although a person can use these weights for strength training, the lighter weight range and superior grip make them well suited for cardio exercises.

Also, they are often more affordable, and they may be useful for people new to using dumbbells.

Safety Tips

Follow these tips to stay safe during your workout:

  • To prevent injury, be sure to use proper form and avoid using a weight that's too heavy.
  • If you're unsure how to do arm-strengthening exercises safely, work with a certified personal trainer until you can do the exercises correctly on your own.
  • For exercises that require you to move a dumbbell over your head — like a military press, chest press, or overhead extension — you may want to have a spotter to help you control the weights when they start to feel heavy.
  • Warm-up before working out with weights. Take a brisk walk, or do arm circles, arm swings, or pushups to get your blood circulating and your muscles warmed up.
  • Rest for a day or two in between your arm-strengthening workouts to allow your muscles to recover.

FAQs About Dumbbell Exercises

Yes, so long as you increase the weight over time.

You can bulk up with dumbbells, but you're going to hit a wall if you don't keep adding weight. So every few weeks, increase the amount of weight you're lifting by 5–10 lb (2.3–4.5 kg) or so to keep those gains going. 

The goal here is to increase the weight so that you're exhausting your muscles after 6-10 reps for each exercise, and that won't happen if you don't keep adding weight.

If you lift the same 20 lb (9.1 kg) dumbbells for a year, you're certainly going to be stronger, but you won't get huge muscles. You need to use heavier weights as you get stronger to keep bulking up.

Dumbbells can be useful for home workouts. This is because they are relatively small, inexpensive, and suitable for a wide variety of exercises that people can perform in their own homes.

Instead, this training plan consists of high-intensity exercise involving all major muscle groups, which will help shed the excess fat from all over your body. All you need is a pair of dumbbells, which are eminently affordable if you'd prefer to follow the workouts at home.

Dumbbells are a great way to burn calories and build muscle, putting you in a great position to lose weight. With the muscle-building properties that they offer in a workout, you'll be able to burn calories not just during the session but long after as well.

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