6 Functional Dumbbell Exercises for a Full-Body Workout

Posted by Aaron Laurence on Oct 7th 2022

Female athlete performing a back lunge to bicep curl with YBells in center grip.
YBells are the perfect addition to your home gym for performing functional exercises, like the dumbbell squat press performed by Aaron “Az” Laurence.

6 Functional Dumbbell Exercises for a Full-Body Workout

What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘functional training’? Crossfit and cable rows? Flipping tires and pulling sleds?

Yes, those are functional exercises. But believe it or not, so are planks. And sit-ups. And push-ups.

Push-ups are actually far more complex than most people would think. It's a compound movement that recruits multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Push-ups build your core stability and hip strength and require muscle coordination.

Whether you're new to working out or just new to functional training, there really are functional exercises for any experience level to help you reach your health and fitness goals. This blog will dig into what functional exercises are and their benefits. And I'll share some tremendous full-body functional dumbbell exercises you can try at home (or you can do them as bodyweight exercises). Let's dig in!

What are Functional Exercises?

Functional training is a type of strength training that helps you perform better in athletics, physical training, and everyday life. Functional exercises are compound movements that involve multiple muscles and prioritize building your core strength and stability. More specifically, they're movement patterns that strengthen and engage your central nervous system.

Functional training stands out from other training forms because it mimics movements in your daily life — squatting, climbing, pushing, pulling, hinging, twisting, carrying, lifting, and reaching. You'll find that many functional exercises are also mobility exercises. By building functional strength, you'll improve the way your body moves and, well, functions.

Some key features of functional exercises are that they:

  • Recruit several muscle groups at the same time
  • Work your full range of motion
  • Involve multiplanar movements
  • Include core strength and stability training
  • Integrate your fundamental motor skills:
    • Strength
    • Endurance
    • Mobility
    • Coordination and balance
    • Speed

6 Benefits of Functional Training

Some benefits of functional training include:

  • Increases Your Mobility — Training based on your daily movement patterns means your joints are going through their full range of motion, which helps you build muscle strength across your full range of motion.
  • Improves Your Athletic Performance — Functional exercises help you build full-body strength and stability, making you more agile and enhancing your athleticism.
  • Builds Functional Strength — Building muscle through functional training improves the way you perform everyday activities like moving furniture, climbing stairs, carrying your kids, picking up groceries, opening doors, or pushing shopping carts.
    1. Reduces Your Risk of Injury — Functional exercises improve your muscle strength, stability, and balance, which makes you more resistant to injuries like muscle strains and tears.
  • Increases Your Calorie Burn — Functional exercises can burn more calories than traditional strength exercises. That's because functional movements use more muscles, meaning you're burning more calories and increasing your post-workout fat oxidation and energy expenditure.
  1. Trains Your Full Body — Rather than training in isolation, functional exercises train the muscles of your body to work as a whole so that different muscle groups can work together smoothly. That’s everything from major muscle groups like your glutes and abdominals down to your stabilizer muscles (which are often forgotten in other forms of training).

What Type of Equipment Should I Use for Functional Training?

You don’t need fancy or expensive equipment to do functional exercises. In fact, it’s a good idea for anyone new to functional training to start with bodyweight exercises to get used to the movements and focus on their full range of motion.

But, if you’re planning to buy functional fitness equipment for your home gym, here are some traditional fitness tools for you to consider:

Most commercial gyms will have this equipment readily available for you to use. But try avoiding isolation machines for your functional training since you want to work multiple muscle groups.

If you’re new to functional training and have a limited budget, functional exercises with dumbbells are more than enough to get a full-body workout in. Now, let’s dive into those functional dumbbell exercises!

6 Dumbbell Functional Exercises

Before we jump into the core of your functional workout, here are some bodyweight functional exercises for a dynamic warm-up:

  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Side plank
  • Knee-to-chest walks
  • Spiderman lunge
  • Inchworms
  • Frog squats

Many people assume dumbbells are only for training your biceps. However, many full-body functional exercises with dumbbells target your arms, chest, core, glutes, and legs. Below are just a few you can try out.

1. Bent Over Rows

Targeted muscles: Biceps, pectoralis major, teres major and minor, latissimus dorsi, middle and low trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, core, and spinal erectors

Bent-over rows are an excellent upper-body functional exercise for strengthening your posterior chain. This movement explicitly works the muscles between your shoulder blades (rhomboids), which is vital for improving your posture and coordination of your upper-body muscles.

How To Do Bent-Over Rows With Proper Form:

  1. Start from a forward-leaning stance: Your feet will be shoulder-width apart with a slight bend at the knees.
  2. Keep your back straight, and hinge your torso until it’s almost perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Your arms will hang in front of your legs, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold dumbbells of equal weight in each hand, with your palms facing in. This is your starting position.
  4. Bend your elbow and pull or row the dumbbells toward your chest, pausing at the top of the movement. Your legs, torso, and chest will remain still in the starting position.
  5. Reverse the direction with control and return to the starting position. This is one rep.
  6. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

Pro Tips:

  1. If you have difficulty keeping your body from rotating, try placing your head on the end of an inclined weight bench.
  2. You can also perform bent-over rows face-down on a 45-degree bench, flat bench, or as an inverted row with a barbell rack for more complex variations.
  3. If you’re performing this movement with a YBell, you can use a center grip to mimic a dumbbell for better balance. However, if you’re comfortable with the movement and want to give your lats an extra challenge, try using an outer grip to mimic a kettlebell.

2. Jump Squat

Targeted muscles: Deltoids, core, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles)

Jump squats are a great bodyweight functional exercise that can add a cardio element to your workout. By combining a plyometric component (jumps) with a squat, you’ll train the fast-twitch fibers in your lower-body muscles for explosive strength movements. This lower-body functional exercise is beneficial for runners.

How To Do a Jump Squat:

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in your knees. Grip the floor with your feet and keep your weight evenly distributed.
  2. Keep a neutral spine and tuck your chin. Keep your arms by your sides with a slight bend in your elbows. Pre-tension your shoulders and hips, and engage your core. This is your starting position.
  3. Engage your glutes, push your hips back, and bend your knees to load your posterior chain. Quickly lower down into a squat, stopping just above parallel. Simultaneously bring your hands behind your body and maintain an upright chest position.
  4. Begin your jump by extending your knees and hips and explosively pushing through the ground. Swing your arms forward as you straighten your legs.
  5. Your arms should be above your head, and your legs should be straight at the top of the jump.
  6. Land softly on the balls of your feet with your knees slightly bent. Immediately lower down into a squat to repeat the movement.
  7. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

Pro Tips:

  1. If this combination is difficult for your coordination, you can focus on the squat and jump movements separately until each feels comfortable.
  2. You can progress this exercise by holding a light free weight in each hand, such as dumbbells, YBell Arcs or YBell Neos.

3. Dumbbell Squat Press

Targeted muscles: Deltoids, shoulders, triceps, core, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles)

The dumbbell squat press (AKA: dumbbell thrusters) is an explosive full-body functional dumbbell exercise that combines a squat with an overhead press. Thrusters are traditionally done with barbells, but dumbbells allow you to train muscles on both sides of your body to help improve muscle imbalances. This movement is especially popular with strength training and Crossfit workouts.

How To Do a Dumbbell Squat Press: 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a set of dumbbells (or YBells, using a center grip) at your shoulders, with your palms facing each other. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale as you engage your core, push your hips back, and bend your knees to drop into a squat. Go as deep as you comfortably can, preferably going below parallel.
  3. At the bottom of your squat, exhale and drive through your heels to reverse the squat, thrusting your body back to a standing position. Use your upward momentum to press both dumbbells up, fully extending your arms straight overhead.
  4. Bend your elbows and lower the weights back to your shoulders with control. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Pro Tip:

Throughout this movement, keep your upper arms slightly above parallel with the floor so that your elbows are raised. This takes stress off your shoulders and further engages your core muscles.

4. Dumbbell X-up

Targeted muscles: Biceps, triceps, rotator cuffs, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, and transversus abdominis

The dumbbell X-up should be your go-to if you're looking for a functional core exercise with dumbbells. This movement adds a torso rotation to a classic sit-up, making it a transverse plane functional exercise to get your obliques fired up.

An exercise mat isn’t needed but can be helpful for added comfort.

How To Do a Dumbbell X-up:

  1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended at an angle, forming the shape of an X. Tuck your chin to lengthen your neck. Place a dumbbell near your right hand, sitting up, so the handle is perpendicular to the ground. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale, bring your left arm over to your right side and grab the dumbbell with both hands, bringing it to your right shoulder.
  3. Exhale, engage your core to lift your upper body off the ground. Simultaneously, rotate your torso to bring the dumbbell from your right side to the outside of your left knee. Your legs should remain flat against the ground during this upward movement.
  4. Slowly reverse the movement to lower your torso back down and return the dumbbell back to the ground above your right shoulder. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps on each side, alternating sides as you go.

Pro Tips:

  1. If you’re struggling to keep your legs flat on the ground, try bending your knees (like you would for a classic sit-up) and focus on keeping your feet flat to the ground.
  2. Start slow and without a free weight to focus on your form. Don’t add the free weight until you become comfortable with the rotation on the upward lift. And remember to keep your core engaged each time you lift yourself off the ground.

5. Plank Dumbbell Drag

Targeted muscles: Core, obliques, trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and glutes

The standard plank is an excellent functional exercise for developing core strength. But if you want to kick it up a notch, the plank drag will turn the static hold of a plank into an active movement with resistance. This move engages your core while you pull a dumbbell from side to side, testing your balance, endurance, and upper-body strength.

How To Do a Plank Dumbbell Drag:

  1. Start in a high plank position, balancing on your palms and the balls of your feet. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Your backside should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Avoid rounding your back or dropping your hips. Place a dumbbell behind your left hand. This is your starting position.
  3. Exhale and engage your core as you reach your right hand across your body to grab the dumbbell. Inhale as you drag it back to your right hand’s starting position.
  4. Exhale and drag the dumbbell in a straight line down to your right leg. Inhale as you drag it back to your starting position.
  5. Next, exhale and slide the dumbbell to the left, bringing it under your left arm. Inhale as you drag it back to the starting position.
  6. Finally, exhale as you slide the dumbbell diagonally toward your left ankle while raising your hips into a pike (creating an inverted V shape). Engage your glutes to keep your hips from rotating. Inhale as you lower your hips and drag the dumbbell back to your starting position. This is one rep.
  7. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps on each side, alternating sides as you go.

Pro Tips:

  1. Focus on holding the flat plank position along your backside. This movement will challenge your balance, and your body will try to shift with each drag. I recommend starting with a medium to heavy weight, so you can do slow pulls and focus on your form.
  2. If you're struggling with the drag, practice a standard plank and work up to holding the pose for 15 seconds. From there, add a free weight, focusing only on the downward drag toward your leg. You can work your way up to adding in the side and diagonal drags or perform the movement with a single drag in any direction that feels comfortable for you.
  3. If you're using a YBell Neo or YBell Pro, start with the traditional center grip to mimic the dumbbell handle. Once you become comfortable with the movement, try dragging the YBell using the top grip for an added challenge to your balance.

6. Dumbbell Turkish Get-up

Targeted muscles: Trapezius, pectorals, rotator cuffs, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, core, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles)

The Turkish get-up is a multi-part, multiplanar exercise that takes you from a lying to a standing position and back, all while holding a dumbbell perpendicular to the ground. It’s a full-body mobility exercise that targets all the major muscle groups, making it a perfect addition to your functional dumbbell full-body workout.

The Turkish get-up is traditionally performed with a kettlebell but can easily be adapted for using a dumbbell. However, I recommend trying this with just bodyweight first so you can focus on your form. Start with a small load when introducing free weights, working your way up to a heavy load.

How To Do a Turkish Get-up With a Dumbbell:

  1. Start on the ground in a fetal position on your right side. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand close to your body.
  2. Roll onto your back and extend your right arm, punching the dumbbell into the air with your elbow locked. Bring your right heel close to your butt. Keep your gaze on your right hand and the dumbbell.
  3. Push through your right heel and roll your body onto your left elbow. Get tall, keeping your left elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and your right arm perpendicular to the ground.
  4. Using your left palm, push the floor away and sit tall, keeping your gaze on the dumbbell.
  5. Keeping your palm on the ground, lift your torso up while simultaneously sliding your left leg behind you until your left hand, knee, and foot form a straight line.
  6. Hinge at your hip and sit on your left heel. Lift your left hand off the ground, bringing your body into a tall kneeling position.
  7. Now turn your gaze to look straight ahead while keeping your right arm perpendicular to the ground.
  8. Slide your left leg to straighten it behind you, bringing your body into a lunge position.
  9. Now stand up.
  10. Reverse these movements to bring your body back to the ground and in a fetal position. This is one rep.
  11. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps on each side, alternating sides as you go.

As mentioned, the Turkish get-up is traditionally performed with a kettlebell, keeping a neutral wrist to avoid strain from the weight. Many prefer this movement with a dumbbell to avoid that wrist strain.

Another alternative is to use a YBell, which has multiple handles and grips, allowing you to use it as both a dumbbell and a kettlebell for this (or any other) movement. When held by the center handle, the YBell mimics a dumbbell, and the weight is evenly distributed around your hand. When held by an outer grip, the weight is bottom loaded to mimic a kettlebell. However, the weight sits lower on your forearm, causing less wrist strain than your traditional kettlebells.

Pro Tip:

If you're new to functional or strength training, perform this exercise right after your dynamic warm-up but before any movements involving heavy weights. Your muscles will be warmed up, but you won't be too tired to think through each movement.

Get the Best Functional Training Equipment from YBell Fitness

As you can see, dumbbell exercises are an excellent option for building functional full-body strength. And dumbbells can be especially helpful compared to barbells or cable machines if you have limited space for organizing a home gym.

However, if you’re looking for home workout equipment that’s multifunctional, cost-effective, and saves space, you should consider YBells. The YBell is a compact, portable functional fitness tool that you can use for all your dumbbell, kettlebell, double-grip medicine ball, and push-up bar exercises. Its award-winning multiple-handle design offers unique grips that allow you to easily transition between movements and equipment, making it ideal for functional exercises.

If you're looking for more functional fitness exercises to improve your physical performance, download the YBell Fitness App to try our free YBell workouts.

FAQs About Functional Training and YBells

What Are the 7 Functional Movement Patterns?

The seven functional movements are:

  1. Pull — Your upper body has two types of movement patterns: push and pull. Pull movement muscle groups contract when weight is pulled toward your body, and lengthen when weight is pushed away.
  2. Push — Conversely, push movement muscle groups contract when an object is pushed away from your body, and lengthen when the object is pulled back toward you.
  3. Squat Squatting is when you change vertical levels while keeping both feet on the ground, such as sitting in a chair. Squatting requires triple flexion and extension of your ankles, knees, and hips.
  4. Lunge — Lunging is an asymmetrical stance that emphasizes lower-body recruitment. It's a variation on a squat that requires more coordination and muscle balance since it targets one leg at a time.
  5. Hinge — Hinging (sometimes called bending) is when your hips push backward, your torso bends downward and in half at the hips, and your knees are slightly bent. This movement primarily targets the muscles of your posterior chain but does rely on a solid core.
  6. Rotation — Rotational movements (sometimes called twisting) work in the transverse plane and involve twisting at your core. Rotational or twisting movements are common to sports (throwing a ball, swinging a bat or tennis racket, pivoting, etc.) and daily life (putting on your seat belt).
  7. Gait — Gait movements are any form of locomotion that creates a horizontal displacement of your center of gravity. Gait movements include crawling, walking, and running.

What Are Functional Strength Exercises?

Functional strength exercises are movements that prioritize developing strength patterns for daily activities. Functional strength focuses less on building a physique and more on developing your body to function better in your everyday life.

Functional training and functional strength stand out from non-functional training in that it recruits multiple muscle groups and focuses on balance and coordination while challenging your core.

Can I Do Functional Training Every Day?

Since functional exercises mimic your daily activities (squatting, climbing, pushing, pulling, hinging, twisting, carrying, lifting, and reaching), you can and should perform them regularly. If you’re doing an entire functional workout with weights, aim for 2 or 3 times per week, allowing yourself about 48 hours between workouts to let your muscles recuperate.

However, you can perform bodyweight functional exercises daily for added benefit, so long as you're not always targeting the same muscle groups. Try spending a few minutes on a short set of bodyweight functional exercises on your recovery days.

Is HIIT Functional Training?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective workout for getting your heart rate up and increasing your aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold. The goal of a HIIT workout is for your heart rate to reach at least 80% of its maximum capacity by incorporating short bursts of varying intensity into a single workout. That said, most HIIT workouts in gyms or clubs tend to focus on aerobic exercises like running, spinning, or rowing.

While there are many benefits to a HIIT workout, it’s not quite the same as functional training. Functional exercises are compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups and prioritize building your core strength and stability.

Are YBells Good for Functional Training?

YBell is a multifunctional 4-in-1 fitness tool that can be used as a dumbbell, kettlebell, double-grip med ball, and push-up stand. Its unique shape and award-winning multi-handled design offer new layers of challenge to your functional strength training. YBells offer variety, allowing you to increase or decrease the complexity of your functional exercises based on your fitness level.

Many trainers recommend their clients start by using dumbbells rather than kettlebells because the design of a dumbbell evenly distributes the weight on either side of your hand. Using a YBell, you can easily mimic a dumbbell by holding it by the center handle (we call it a center grip), which distributes the weight around your hand. As you advance in your functional strength training, you can start doing kettlebell movements by switching to an outer handle or outer grip with the YBell. This grip mimics the bottom-loaded kettlebell, allowing you to perform swings, snatches, and other functional kettlebell movements.

Aaron "Az" Laurence, Co-Founder, YBell Fitness

As a certified personal trainer and the inventor of the YBell, Aaron "Az" Laurence loves motivating people to become better versions of themselves. He enjoys designing challenging workouts for himself that he can use with his clients.
Az developed the YBell to replace the multiple pieces of equipment he was using in his group training sessions. He enjoys seeing his clients' reactions when they realize they only have to change grips on their YBells to change equipment. And he loves being able to dial up the intensity of their workouts with just one training tool.
Seeing clients progress both physically and mentally as a result of training fuels his passion for the fitness industry.