Kali started going to the gym about 5 months ago. She’s been able to get on a schedule and come to the gym on a consistent basis.
While her gym is packed full of the newest and best machines you can exercise on, she is starting to realize that machines only is not the way to train – she will have to start using free weights.
Looking around the gym she notices there are a lot of people who use dumbbells that have the type of body she desires and starts to venture over to try them out.
The problem Kali is having now is that she knows which machines work certain muscles, but is clueless on their dumbbell counterparts.
Maybe you’re like Kali and want to start using dumbbells, but you aren’t sure what the dumbbell alternatives to machine exercises are.
A reader of this website asked for this article, I hope this helps!
* I will try to link to as many how-to videos as I can so you can see the proper form before you attempt the exercise.
Upper Body Dumbbell Alternatives to Machine Exercises
There are a lot of upper body exercises that use dumbbells. Since you are most likely new to using free weights, I will stick to exercises that are considered “beginner friendly.”
Biceps are a smaller muscle so doing a higher volume of work on this muscle helps build lean muscle.
Triceps are much larger than biceps and need a lot of volume to build lean muscle. This muscle takes longer than the bicep to recover.
- 1 Arm Tricep Extension
- 2 Arm Tricep Extension – same as 1 arm, just use both arms at the same time instead
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
Many people notice higher volume works well with their shoulders while others prefer heavier weight. If you start to have shoulder pains with higher volume, you may want to cut the volume down and add more weight.
- Seated Overhead Press
- Arnold Press
- Standing Bent Over Laterals
- Side Lateral Raises
- Front Lateral Raises – The video uses barbells, but doing 1 arm at a time alternating is recommended with dumbbells
Dumbbells are used a lot with chest exercises and work a lot of stabilizer muscles. These exercises take a bit more attention to form so you don’t get hurt.
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- 1 Arm Bench Press – Any of the bench presses above this can also be done with 1 arm alternating at a time
- Dumbbell Flys
- Incline Dumbbell Flys
Train back with as much weight and volume as possible. Many powerlifters and fitness models train back at least twice per week. The back also has the fewest effective moves with dumbbells than with anything else.
Other than a few moves with a barbell, back is best trained with machines because you can start at different heights (like pull downs and seated rows) but with dumbbells, you can only row from the ground. There are different moves you can try, but I personally feel this is the only effective exercise with a dumbbell.
- 1 Arm Dumbbell Row – Go as heavy and do as many as you safely can
Ab Dumbbell Alternatives to Machine Exercises
There aren’t a lot of ab exercises you can do with dumbbells.
Lower Body Dumbbell Alternatives to Machine Exercises
A lot of the lower body dumbbell alternatives are going to overlap each other. This means that one exercise could help your butt, hamstrings, and calves.
These types of exercises take a little bit more skill and attention to form, but they are time savers in the gym and really help you progress towards your goals..
Many of these exercises target other areas but there is a point where you can emphasize a squeeze on your glutes to help shape them up.
- Standing Calf Raise – Use dumbbells instead of a barbell
Tips and Conclusion
Hopefully as you decide to try free weights you will see that machines do have their place in your workout routine. I always like to use machines as a workout “finisher” since you are safer to go until failure with a machine.
Picking the right weight is the next struggle you will encounter and is something you will figure out after a few sessions. The main thing is to start light and work your way up.
There is a simple way to figure out if you have the right weight:
- If you complete all of your reps easily, it’s too light
- If you can’t complete all of your reps, it’s too heavy
- If you struggle to complete all of your reps and complete them without your form breaking down, it’s just right
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for new articles, leave them in the comments section. I will read and respond to everything.